Tuesday 2 October 2018

Across the Hall - A Short Story

You think about the man across the hall.

He’s lived in the building forever, according to the old woman on the first floor – a nice woman; you should probably visit her more often if you could bring yourself to care. You met him on your second day. You rode the elevator together and for a moment, you wondered if he was following you. It wouldn’t be the first time. It certainly wouldn’t be the last.

His footsteps followed yours, beat by beat. Your eyes darted back to him every few seconds and every time, he was staring back, a small smile on his face. You tightened the grip on the keys in your pocket, with every step, you formulate your plan. You can turn and scream, startle him and attract the attention of your neighbours. Although neighbours in other buildings have previously proven to be less than reliable in coming to anyone’s aid, if you were to throw him off balance, you could make a run for the elevator. Baring that, you could use your keys. Scratch any exposed skin and get out. The goal was to get away from the hallway. Up here, you were trapped. He kept smiling. It was eerily calm and you forced yourself to smile back. Only a few more feet to your door. Time to make a move.

But then he turned left instead of right at the end of the hallway and you felt your chest relax. Your head spun. You held the door for balance but you couldn’t focus. The buzzing in your ears was too strong.

He called to you and your head hit the door when you turned. He said “hello” like nothing was wrong. When you reached out to shake his hand, the ring of keys fell to the floor. He admired your keychain but lingered too long on your apartment key. You gave him your name and his smile brightened. How could you think his intentions were sinister? He seemed friendly and calm but not aggressively approachable. Your fingers brushed when he gave you back your keys. A little too rough but it reminded you of how long it’s been since your fingers brushed anyone else’s. You miss it. You miss him. So, you pulled back and offered a quiet goodbye to the man across the hall.

Objectively, he was quite attractive. Now that you weren’t afraid to walk the halls with him, you took the time to observe him in the elevator. He was sweet; kind to everyone in the building but somehow, his gentleness wasn’t annoying. He became someone you wanted to know better – someone who put you at ease. You looked forward to the days when you would share the elevator or walk down the hall together. Anticipated it, in fact. If you waited ten minutes on Wednesday mornings, you could walk to the main door with him. If you power walked home on Monday nights, you could meet him around the corner. His scheduled was varied but you figured it out, and those few extra minutes with the cutie across the hall always brightened your day. He seemed responsive: holding the door for you, straightening up when he saw you, shyly asking you out one day as you stood in your respective doorways. How could you not say yes?

He walked you down the hall, his steps followed yours, beat by beat. You didn’t feel the need to speak but as you turned your separate ways, he cleared his throat. His voice was quiet, nervous, but his words were sure – rehearsed. He wanted to get to know you better, take you to dinner. Of course, you accepted.

The date was perfect. Even if you had very little in common, he was the perfect gentleman and he cleaned up well. If you didn’t immediately find things in common, you would eventually find things. Relationships are about making it work. This was a relationship, wasn’t it? He liked you, you liked him. What more was there?

You started to watch him – observe him, really. You wanted to know everything about him. You needed to find some common ground. It was hard to find him when you weren’t together. You knew where he worked but didn’t want to bother him and you had a job of your own. But afterwards…where did he disappear to? Surely a boy like that wouldn’t be hard to miss in a crowd. You knew him, could sense him, what was it he didn’t want you to know?

You tell yourself you aren’t obsessing. You’re curious about your partner and want to get to know him better – to borrow his phrase. You’re seeking commonality in order to strengthen your relationship. After six months, you are officially in a relationship.

And then one day, you caught sight of him going down to the basement. The laundry room of course. You aren’t normally in your apartment at this time of day so naturally, you wouldn’t see him. But you were home, sick – did he know that? – so you saw him take a small hamper piled with clothes into the elevator.

You decided to take the stairs. It was an old building. You might even beat him down there.

It turns out you met each other at the bottom. Always in sync. He looked shocked to see you but that was natural: you aren’t normally home at this time of day and you definitely hadn’t told him. But he smiled because he’s happy to see you, and he even opened the door for you.

You helped him unload his laundry and leaned against the other machine as he turned it on. He’s so smooth and his arms are toned but not overly muscular – you don’t like that in a man, anyways. He’s perfect.

And then he opened his mouth.

He told you that he wasn’t interested in you anymore. Everything you worked so hard to develop – your relationship – was suddenly over with no warning. How could he do that?

Your head spun. You couldn’t focus. The buzzing in your ears was too strong.

You see red.

There’s something in your hand.

You were chopping carrots when you heard movement in the hallway and became curious.

You lunge.

His eyes go wide. Those beautiful blue eyes; wide in terror.

He stumbles back and you realize: it really is over.

It’s time to move on.

Clean up the mess made by another man walking out of your life and start again.

Your eyes clear and you breathe deeply, the smell of detergent and iron wafting through the air.

It’s time to leave this place.

Find another love.

You never did learn his name.

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