Though I am hesitant to take part in the sad, self-righteous human drama that is the letter of complaint–performed since time immemorial on the pitiful stage of apartment doors and break room fridges–I find it necessary to do just that. That is, to pen this letter addressing the acute auditory disturbances that emanate so often through the floor of your unit into my own: At precisely six thirty-five pm each weeknight I hear you return from work, slamming open your door with a fervor I would admire–if only I, anxiety-ridden over-thinker, could just once act with such brainless authority–were it not so goddamn loud. Shortly thereafter I hear an explosion of pure inanity from your television set powerful enough to rattle my bookcases which admittedly are of a flimsy variety purchased in the days when everything–life, love, mass-produced furniture–seemed as solid and unfeigned as whatever simple fates we, as schoolchildren, once imagined for ourselves. Do you follow?
Moments later your toilet seat is heard to crash into place, followed by a great expelling of the day’s wastes: Office donuts, lunch-time subs, chips hastily plucked from bags concealed in desk drawers–or so I surmise. Your defecation is a loud and clumsy thing, and I listen to it like some ancient, subterranean deity trying to glean meaning from the machinations of the inelegant beings he monitors from below. Yes, at these times I am god-like, burdened with the understanding that my disciples are nearly as inscrutable to me as I to them. Yes, I am god-like, overcome by pity for you in your moment of gracelessness. I am god-like and each time the sound of your bowel movements echo it is like a wretched prayer for which I, god-like, can find no response.
Seldom do I hear more than one pair of feet tramping to and fro above me–and by my tally telephone calls are nearly as infrequent as visitors. The rare ringing causes you to bound over to the receiver and with nary a hello you begin yammering away to the other, presumably silent party–whom I imagine to be a duty-bound parent, an old college roommate regretting his wayward fit of nostalgia, possibly a startled mis-dialer suddenly bombarded by a litany of TV shows watched, pop songs listened to, websites visited.
Be not offended, dear neighbor. In many ways I envy you and your naked, bumbling heart, swelling with whatever meager happiness it can get. My dingy, basement-level windows afford little more than a glimpse of the deadened sidewalk outside, the battered shoes of passersby, the scarred trunks of telephone poles upon which tattered missing cat posters flap, straining in the autumnal wind against rusted staples. The telephone wires themselves, humming defiantly with life, are out of sight. So demoralizing is this view that often I choose to close the blinds and sit on my bed in the gloom. That the heavy footfalls and sporadic babbling above me are not those of an intellectual is quite clear. But perhaps, dear neighbor, you know something of existence I do not.
I’ve been starved of many things in my seclusion, but knowledge most of all. My neighbor to the right for instance has little to impart. I’ve heard her no more than five or six times in the year I‘ve resided here at the Qualman–the faint flushing of a toilet, a ghostly cough, the distant whine of a vacuum that in the end may have been but the delirium of a restless and uneasy mind–and though there is nobility in such tenacious silence there is also something of the dumb and unknowable terror of oblivion, is there not?
Regarding my neighbor to the left all I know of him is inferred from the raucous, ungainly sound of lovemaking reverberating through his walls on a near-nightly basis. Seriously: It rivals the din of your television in both volume and inanity, punctuated as it is by ear-piercing spring-squeaking, over-the-top groaning and hyperbolic dirty talk. Is he hoping to impress his unseen audience? Or merely convince himself, for a moment or two, that he isn’t some hopeless, void-bound bastard like the rest of us? Or am I just jealous he’s getting some action and I am not?
As for the rest of our fellow tenants–well, I avoid them whenever possible, ducking back into my lair if I happen to hear footsteps coming down the staircase as I’m leaving. Fluorescent lights flicker overhead, steam seeps from under the laundry room door, unearthly rumblings are heard from the boiler–and I flit about like some fanged, white-skinned fiend hissing gibberish to itself. When confrontation simply cannot be avoided, I give a slight nod, a half-smile. I am rewarded for my efforts by averted eyes and unintelligible muttering as if the offended party–laundry basket clutched to chest–hadn’t realized until now that anyone else lived here in the building, least of all the loathsome basement. Now I understand: The residents of the upper floors are as lonely, fearful and imperfect as I, cellar-dweller. Who would’ve thunk it?
Perhaps the better question is this: What force has drawn us all to this desolate piece of real estate to wallow, purgatory-like, in our private little miseries? Why are we, the weary and soul-sick tenants of this life, even here at all? Is man but a mere renter, a sad creature of impermanence? I would appreciate your thoughts on this and other matters. Thus I’ve taped this missive to your door not in grievance but in appeal: Help me do as you do, dear neighbor. Help me find fulfillment in life‘s simplicities: The easy thrust of a door, the sound of one’s own babbling, the primordial pleasure of a heavy footfall, reminding us of our presence, our solidity, our unlikely existence, with each slap of foot to floor.
Stephen Langlois is a writer of the fantastic and absurd. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Glimmer Train, The Portland Review, Monkeybicycle, matchbook, Necessary Fiction, JuxtaProse, Phantom Drift, Burrow Press Review, Juked, Big Lucks, Profane Journal, Storychord, and Gigantic Sequins, among other places. He is also the recipient of a 2015 NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Center for Fiction. Visit him at www.stephenmlanglois.com or follow @stphnlanglois.