epistolary

A Letter to The Girl Next Door

Dear Louiza,

You don’t know me, but you do.

We’ve never met in person, never stood face to face. I’ve only seen your warped figure through the spy-hole. I did try to meet you once, on one of my rare anti anti-social days. One of your thousands of parcels from Amazon arrived but you weren’t home to sign for it, so I did, and put it on my kitchen table. The temptation to open it was almost too much. Then the thought of you kindly collecting one of my parcels and secretly opening it to discover acne cream or a sex toy or a book about serial killers made me cringe, so I managed to stop myself out of neighbourly respect.

I waited until the evening when I assumed you’d be home from work. I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my hair, put a little makeup on: tried to make myself resemble a normal human being, a young woman that perhaps you’d like to be friends with. I psyched myself up, picked up your parcel, walked the short way down the hall and knocked on your door. Nothing. I noticed that I was shaking more than usual, clutching the brown box with your name on it. I worried that my knocking wasn’t confident or loud enough, and although I couldn’t hear you moving around inside, I knocked again – a little too loudly this time. Nothing. Embarrassed, I scuttled back to my flat and locked the door behind me. Still holding your parcel, I resolved to try again after dinner.

I really wanted to be friends with you then. I gather that you’re about the same age as me, mid- to late-twenties. I hear you gabbing on the phone to your girlfriends and you sound exactly like my girls, the girls that I called my best friends until I pushed every one of them away and out of my life, with no explanation or valid reason. You order lots of beauty products off the internet. And clothes. And shoes. Never any books, not like me. But hey, I guess that’s what “normal” girls do, girls that I should be friends with. I was proud of myself for reaching out (knocking on your door), for being kind and helpful to a stranger when I could’ve just ignored the buzzer, for actively trying to make an effort to make a friend. I got ahead of myself, imagining you popping in to my flat for a glass of wine after work, us eating Chinese takeaway together, me borrowing your fancy clothes, us watching daft reality shows together, laughing into the night. I thought, “I could make a friend, I could have a friend.” And a “good, normal” female friend, as opposed to the shitcunt men that I currently call “my mates.” About 10pm, I knocked again. No reply. I left the parcel by your door, worried that if it got swiped by someone else in the building, it’d be my fault, but secretly relieved that I didn’t actually have to see you or speak to you, confirming my irrational belief that everyone is stupid, I don’t do friendship and I’m better off alone.

That was then. Now, I’m scared to meet you in person because I think you’ll look at me with a face full of concern, no, worse: a face full of pity. Twice now you’ve heard him kicking off at me. Shouting at ungodly hours. Chucking cans and furniture about, smashing glasses, slamming doors. Punching a hole in my wall. Me pleading with him to keep his voice down. Then you’ve heard me screaming at him, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE,” and throwing his belongings out into our shared hallway.

You’ve heard the “aggghhh” sounds I make when I’m in agony, when all of my muscles are pulled and all of my bones feel broken and all of my organs ache.

You’ve heard the police at my door, you’ve heard the home treatment team calling out my name, giving up on me and shuffling away. You’ve heard someone trying to break my door down after I barricaded myself inside.

You’ve heard me coming home drunk at stupid o’clock, tripping on the stairs, dropping my keys. You’ve heard me accept a takeaway delivery 3 nights in a row because I was too weak and depressed to cook.

You’ve heard me screaming and wailing that I want to see my dad, I just want to see my dad. You’ve heard me crying too many times to count. Sobbing for hours. Banging my head against the wall.

I’ve heard you too. I hear you pacing in the kitchen. Four steps one way, four steps the other. On and on and on and on. Four steps left, four steps right. Four, four. Four, four. Sometimes you pause. I think, “Has she stopped?” Then four again, and four again. I wonder what you’re doing. Constant exercise – anorexia? OCD? Stress? Workout DVD?

I hear you having sex with your boyfriend. Usually between 4 and 5pm on Thursdays. Maybe that’s when he visits. Maybe it’s scheduled. Either way, the sound of you (pretending?) to come makes me feel uncomfortable but in a strange show of sisterly solidarity, I think “at least she’s getting some.” My boyfriend never came round to mine because it’s too cold and cramped and smoky and I don’t have a TV and rarely have food. You probably think I’m single and lonely. (I am now, but I’m okay with it).

I hear you arguing with your boyfriend too. Never as violent as my arguments, never as loud. But I hear your raised voices and I hear you lock yourself in the bathroom, then I hear him leave. I’m too scared to look out of the window and discover what he looks like, because if he ever hurts you, and I know what he looks like, I will hunt him down and kill him with my bare hands.

Last time, when it seemed you and the other neighbours and the rest of the building thought that that one guy was going to kill me, I could hear you banging on my kitchen wall, like you were trying to let me know that you were there and let him know that there’s a witness. “I’M CALLING THE POLICE!” you shouted through the wall. He finally left. The police never showed. Then, when I emerged from my flat some hours later, there was a note by my door and a big orange gerbera daisy with the stem cut short standing in water in a shot glass. The note said, “Hope ur OK girlie. If I ever see that scumbag round here again I’ll call the police for real. No man is worth ur tears! L (FLAT 21) xoxo” I cried and put the flower by bed and the note in my notebook.

Once I was staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, psyching myself up to leave the house as I have to do every time, even if it’s just to check for mail. Our bathrooms are connected by the same wall, just as our kitchens are; the layout of our flats are a reflection of each other’s. I was staring and muttering under my breath, when I heard you run a bath. I remember thinking, “You’re home early.” Then I kept on with my pep-talk, putting lipstick on and taking it off, putting it on and taking it off. I heard you turn off the tap and climb in the bath. Then I heard you cry. You were crying softly, but I could hear it as if you were in my bathroom, in my bath. I sank to the floor, wearing my coat and scarf and shoes, with my bag on my shoulder, and I listened.

How sad it was, that two young women, with barely a foot of wall separating them, technically only a metre or so apart, could feel so sad and alone on a Friday night when they should be having the time of their lives. I wanted to hug you but I couldn’t, so I sat with you (but not with you) until the tears stopped and I heard the plug be pulled and the bathwater drain away. Then I cut one of the yellow roses of the bunch I’d been given the day before to a short stem, put it in the shot glass you’d given me and filled it with water. I left the rose by your door with a note saying, “You are stronger today than you were yesterday, and tomorrow you’ll be stronger still! H – flat 20 xx”

I don’t know you, but I do. You don’t know me, but you do. And we know more true things about each other and have been through so much over these 3 years spent separated by a wall than some “real-life friends” may have over a lifelong friendship.

Thank you for being there, next door, and for not being there the day I knocked: if we’d met for real that day we might well have hated each other. After all, you listen to Nicki Minaj in the shower while I listen to Oasis, and I hear you watching Keeping Up With The Karcrashians while you probably hear me listening to true crime podcasts, and you order clothes from posh brands while I only ever buy clothes from charity shops but, without meeting, I know one thing for certain: I’ve got you, girlie.

With love and respect,
Your neighbour,

H.

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epistolary

J6: How to Disappear Completely

J,

Sorry it has been so long, Bro, but there’s been lots of shit happening down here. I promise I will be in close contact soon.

Do you remember I said that I despised my job? My mind numbing, soul crushing position at the the data analytics firm in the City? Well, I can report that this no longer an issue. One Friday I finished my espresso and made my way with ant colleagues, through the rain, to the office. When I got there I found the the doors bolted. The company had folded, disappeared from existence, along with my job. A group of us hung around outside for a few hours, demanding answers. None came, so we conceded defeat and found a nearby bar. Oh, how we drank; hard and long.

The sun was rising above the rooftops as I forced my key into the door of my house. When I entered the home, Nicole was waiting. Shouting and screaming, telling me how I was a shit husband, and father, and son. Telling me I was a lazy fucker, who didn’t deserve loving children, or a beautiful wife, or a caring mother.

I decided not to tell her I had lost my job. It didn’t feel like the right moment.

Instead I endured and survived a weekend of silence punctuated with harsh glares. On Monday I donned my suit, kissed the kids’ foreheads as they munched on cereal, and left for the office. I hung around in coffee shops, and book stores, and then bars when they opened. A slow burning of the hours until it was time to commute home. I have a theory on elasticity of time when bored, how it stretches and hours become longer. I’ll save that for another time. And yeah, I still commuted to the City. What a dick. I could have just walked to the coffee shop around the corner from our house, then ambled back at dusk.

It was inevitable she would find out about my fake trips to work. It took about about three weeks and one phone call. She discovered my subterfuge, along with my infidelity. Did I ever mention the brunette who worked in my department has the most perfect tits you could imagine. That night confirmed me as shit husband, and father, and son. Fact-based, not emotive opinion – irrefutable when proven by a female data analyst.

My marriage has disintegrated. I am jobless. And homeless. I have moved in with Perfect Tits, not because I want to, but out of necessity. On the surface she’s my perfect woman. She hates sushi takeaway, preferring red meat and red wine, and adores a big cock in her ass. What more could the shallowest of men want? But even amazing breasts get boring after a while. Imagine eating a fillet cut of steak every night, and after a while you want a bit of basic skirt.

At first, the only other option I saw was to return home, to Mum. Well fuck that. Then I saw there is one more possibility, another way out of this mess. I will return home, in a geographical sense. Not to our old house and Mum. Under the light of the new moon, I will walk through the cemetery to the cottages. To your cellar. It makes perfect sense.

Even if I get it wrong and survive the immediate drop, nobody will discover me at the cottages. It will be slow, but I will ultimately die, hanging in the dark. Time will correct my fuck up. Weird that. It is rare that the passage of time makes things right. In my experience the movement of time concentrates the feeling of failure, boils despair down to it’s constituent components.

And as I hang naked, my skin, caressed by the darkness and the cold air, will be barely able to contain my soul.*

My body will lie undisclosed by my loved ones, maybe forever. Strike that, I have no loved ones. I have pushed everyone away. They will forget me quick enough. Will I remember any of those I leave behind? You never answered my question. How, or indeed do, memories work where you are? Where I am coming? You can tell me when I get there.

As an aside, I have found my perfect song to play myself out. You see, I told you I would be in close contact soon.

See you soon J. Missed you, Bro.

FIN.

 

Radiohead – How to Disappear Completely

 

* Reproduced with kind permission. 😉


 

This post is the last in a collection, so you may want to work your way through in sequence if you’re not familiar with the back story:

J1: Bones

J2: Where I End and You Begin

J3: Lucky

J4: Airbag

J5: Exit Music

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J5: Exit Music

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J-Dog,

You are lucky you are dead.

Monday begins, as it always does for me, jammed into a metal can with eight hundred other poor fuckers. We are burrowing our way through tunnels hidden deep beneath the streets of London. Going nowhere fast, as usual. The weight of the River Thames rushes unheard, somewhere overhead.

The early commuters respect the edict of absolute silence, following its doctrine as if the carriage were unoccupied. No tourists are present at this hour to break the unwritten law. To speak on the London Underground is a distinct, un-British activity, don’t you know.

In the crush of bodies, there is no room for accessing my own entertainment this morning. I am apathetic. So I resign myself to Fleetwood Mac, leaking from cheap headphones somewhere behind. Or snatching passages of Dickens, from the dog-earred paperback of a passenger in front.

A man to my left grows more tomato-faced by the minute. What little hair he owns is splayed across his damp scalp. The buttons of his shirt strain across his girth. Sweat marks have appeared at the pits of his suit jacket. On the spot I make a promise to myself. I am going to eat healthier, drink less coffee, resume my running and make sure I sort out my work to life balance. In truth I will commit to none of these; again.

I exit the station and am confronted by an Autumn London morning. The street is a bobbing sea of black umbrellas, each attached to a scurrying commuter beneath. I push open the door of the coffee shop and run a hand through my slick hair. Over an Espresso, I check the news and the sport on my phone for overnight updates. I ignore the missed call from our Mum, opting to text Nicole to say I love her. I think for a moment about perusing my work email, but resist. I put my phone away. From my regular seat by the window, I watch the world pass.

The rain stops. Ants fill the streets, a series of black dots scuttling towards offices. They cross at designated spots, neat lines of regular purpose flowing in every direction. Hurry ants, quick, before the clouds rupture once more. I too live this familiar routine of torpor. The daily routine where the direction I take is against my own will. I am not sure if this is coming across, but let me be clear: I am dissatisfied with my job.

My desk is in a room with no windows and no doors. The colleague with which I share the space is one of the most flatulent men it has been my displeasure to know. My work is not exciting. I am in a lull between deadlines, so the craziness of last month is unremembered. My emails are clear by lunchtime so I can take myself out for a languid sushi. My colleague asks where I am going and in fear of him offering to join, I tell him I am going to the dentist. ‘Again?’ he asks, and I nod in affirmation as I leave.

The afternoon passes with interminable slowness. I spend it plugged into my headphones, searching for the perfect funeral song to which I can take my leave. My colleague watches shemale anal porn on his laptop in the corner, demonstrating a careless abandon for which I feel deep jealousy – of his balls not her balls, to be clear.

Nicole texts to ask what time I will be home tonight. I tell her I must attend drinks with the team after work. She asks if I can I pick up some dinner on the way home, suggesting sushi. I say of course, but resolve to pretend they are sold out, and instead buy steak and a nice red. I text to ask if I can take her up the ass tonight. She replies, asking if I can also get some gyozas.

And so the days go. I get through to bed time, which itself is a form of success, I suppose. Each morning I wonder if I will triumph again, and so far have I always have done. That said, I am uncertain I know what appearance failure takes.

We are all contemplating there must be more to life. Yet ‘more’ is unachievable without effort on our part, and that is too exhausting to undertake. Especially as there are drinks with the team after work.

Fuck. I wish I were dead too.

Sometimes.

Yours,

A-Cat

Radiohead – Exit Music (for a Film)

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J4: Airbag

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J,

Do you remember when Dad used to drive to the next village, and deposit us in front of Aunt Jane’s television set? He’d go to the bar with Uncle Derek, drink all night then drive us home. The olden days, where drink driving was acceptable.

Do you recall the stretch of twisting road that separated the two villages? The windows wide open, cold air doing it’s best to keep Dad alert, or at least awake. The stench of alcohol still filling the car from his laboured breath. The sound of the cassette player banging out Fleetwood-fucking-Mac. The terrifying darkness. The the sight of rusted crash barriers, lit up by our headlamps, accelerating at us like a video game.

Then you died. And he stopped taking me with him on Sundays. Left me at home. Relieved, I no longer had to run that drunk-driving gauntlet of inevitable death.

Then he died. I remember the call.

The phone rang. Mother shuffled to the bottom of the stairs and lifted the heavy receiver from it’s cradle. The colour drained from her face. I looked at her, then walked to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of milk.

For months afterward I would lie awake at night, the house silent save for Mother snoring next door. She used to be a light sleeper. Catching us as we crept across creaking floorboards, seeking out midnight snacks or television. Remember? Now she had stopped coming to comfort me, like when you and I were young. She was dead to the world on a cocktail of downers and uppers. Busy dealing with these tragedies in her own way, I guess, so I resided in her peripheral vision.

After the crash I gained a week off school on compassionate leave. Truth is, nothing much changed for me. As a Dad he had been absent since your death four years earlier. We were a single parent family, pretty much. Rumour was Dad had taken to visiting a woman at the other end of the village, and it was a small village. He reduced Mother to the role of his personal Cafe and Dry-Cleaning service. She seemed content with the arrangement. Mother, in turn, took solace upon the shoulder of Uncle Derek. To this day she swears blind they never did anything until after both Dad and Aunt Jane died. I never believe her.

They are married now, by the way.

It was Uncle Derek who took me to the site of the accident, the next day. A gleaming new crash barrier stood out like a neon sign. Beyond this a slope led down to the riverbed. Gorse bushes had been ripped out of the ground, creating a path the width of a medium-sized Ford. We descended. The twisted shell of the vehicle was still there. Paint licked clean by the intense heat, the interior melted, tyres blown out. He had parked it nose-first against a rock outcrop. A perfect circle of scorched earth. When they finally removed Dad’s car it was all that remained as evidence. Later, nature reclaimed the spot, as it would his body. As we walked back to Uncle Derek’s car I found a cassette tape on the floor. Fleetwood-cunting-Mac.

Shit happens, you know, but the future is not fixed. I have acute awareness that my own life is starting to look like a fucking car crash.

Yours (in desperate need of his own, personal airbag),

A.

 

Radiohead – Airbag

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J2: Where I End and You Begin

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Hey J,

I decided I would add a second letter to our collection of one. I have a lot to tell you. Like this … do you remember the new girl who started at our school? Moved from France. Paris. You would have been about fourteen, not long before the accident. She joined your class, sat in the row in front of you. Never fitted in.

You must remember.

Her face didn’t help her assimilation. Her eyes were wide apart, pushed to the side of her head like a Cubism portrait. I recall you once said that she could see around corners better than straight ahead. Those eyes man, a semi-vacant permanency to them. They looked right through you, even as she was telling you to fuck off after you called her “the Alien”.

You must remember. Nicole was her name.

Her nose was also something of a calamity. From her forehead it projected out then plummeted, ending in a ball of cartilage and a flare of nostrils. Her hair was long, lank and greasy. She had acne over her forehead and nose. Her cheeks were round and ruddy. Her chin was weak.

You must remember. You fancied the pants off her.

You thought of little else during your formative masturbatory years. Many a soiled tissue found its way into the sewage system thanks to immature fantasies of Nicole. You wanted her to be your girlfriend. That is why you would humiliate her on the school bus as we made our way home each day. Seeking her attention in the limited way you knew how.

You must remember. I do. I recall her lips were perfect, even then.

I hope you will be pleased to know that as she grew older, the way she occupied her face improved. She became quite the looker you had anticipated, you might even say she was beautiful. Others caught on to the potential that you had seen in her. In your honour I fought many a boy, defending her honour, and your memory.

This you wouldn’t know. She came to have many admirers – including me.

If you had been alive today, you would be calling her your sister-in-law. Jealous? Good. Can’t wait to tell you about our kids.

yours, A.

 

Where I End and You Begin – Radiohead

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J1: Bones

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To J,

You must remember that day. Do you? I feel embarrassed to ask, but I have no idea how, or indeed if, memories work where you are.

Let me explain how it works for me. Within my head is a private screening room. It has one movie which I have seen before. I have no desire for another screening. Yet I find myself in one of the purple, velvet seats at the back, near the emergency-exit. The whirr of a cine projector comes at me from behind. A funnel of light stretches across the room, ignored by the hanging motes of dust it illuminates. A monochrome image is cast, high-key and over-exposed, scratched and with heavy vignette. I watch the images playing out the story, familiar to me as if it were yesterday, or is today, or will be tomorrow.

This is the movie:

A fog had descended upon the hill, and seeped into the bones of the cemetery. I had lost you; or rather you had lost me. Among the gravestones, dark slabs that punctuated the lighter grey hue in which we were enveloped. I heard your whoops and hollers as you inhabited your role of oppressed Sioux. I followed your voice as it taunted me for being a crybaby Pale-face Cowboy. I gave chase, a posse of one.

I stumbled down the slope with no respect for the dead. I left footprints in the sodden earth of their graves. I climbed a wooden stile, up and over the barbed wire fence that protected the boundary of the consecrated land. After a few minutes I was at the foot of the hill. The fog had thinned enough to see you in the middling distance. You had made your way to the abandoned cottages. Through my wet eyes, I watched you pull aside the wooden panel that we had together worked loose some months previous. Then you slipped inside.

I slowed to a walk. My breathing loud and heavy; while you had stopped your whooping. I approached the cottages and called out your name, claiming you as my prisoner, making me the victor. Silence. I called again as the fog closed in, surrounded me, and threatened to hijack my mind.

I escaped, I pushed on, squeezing through that same hole in the wall. Now inside, It took a while for my eyes to adjust. There were footprints outlined in the dust upon the ground. A funnel of light stretched across the room, exciting the dancing motes it illuminated.

I made my way to the back room with the sprung sofa and rotting table. Then to the kitchen, then on to the stone steps to the cellar. I knew you would be down there. In the dark with your torch, and the dripping walls, and the bones of the dead rats you used to kill with your catapult. I expected to find you in that cellar, but not with your body contorted in such a fashion. Not with your leg bent grotesque. Not with the blood pooling at the foot of the bottom step. Not with that look upon your face, eyes empty and black

I wiped at my tears, leaving streaks of mud from the cemetery across my face; like war paint. Forever forward a posse of one.

yours, A.

I don’t know why I’ve written this all down, J. I am not even sure there will be more letters – maybe this is the first and last. For now, I’m going to keep this one in a box under the bed and see what happens. Feel free to take a look when you wish. Although I’m embarrassed to say, but I have no idea know how, or indeed if, an afterlife works where you are.

 

Bones – Radiohead

 

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