Dear Downstairs Neighbor;
At first you seemed so nice.
When did the weirdness begin? I only became aware of it that morning soon after you’d moved in, when Cookie was yanking me toward our door and you jerked your toddler away from us. Even after I said, “Oh, sorry! Cookie’s really very friendly!” you frowned silently all the way to your car.
Well, sometimes people just have bad days. I let it go!
Then there was that afternoon out by the playground. I was yapping with our neighbor, J, about our shared petition to install up-to-date soundproofing and hardwood floors in our units. I laughed about the family with three teenagers that used to live below us, how we drove them crazy by knocking on their door every night to ask them to please fucking turn down the NASA-grade subwoofer on their 500-inch TV. However, I told J, our new neighbors (you!) were so nice, we only had to explain once about the fact that these condos were insulated with cotton candy and soundproofed with tinfoil, and they (meaning you) understood. And we were so grateful to be living above reasonable people that we ignored the weird, strangling-a-duck, thumping sounds that came up through our floor now and then.
Yes, I was talking with another neighbor about you when I noticed that you were behind me on the play equipment with your son. Frowning.
Later, I went over the conversation with Jack — had I said anything mean about your family? No! But maybe just the fact of being talked about as though you weren’t there was like giving little chunks of raw hamburger to the venus flytrap of your antipathy toward me.
Was it my stupid license plates? Or was it because I’d inadvertently grown into the habit of ignoring you.
It’s certainly not your fault that I only got one good look at you when we met, but you seemed so conventionally pretty — so practical and vaguely bohemian in a predictable, twentysomething way — that my mind registered no retrievable impression of your face.
It’s not one of my more winning traits, having to be introduced to some people three or four times before I remember who they are.
So, every time I saw you I thought you were just someone visiting another family in the complex. You’d drive by, I’d look to see if I recognized you, and when I didn’t I’d go back to checking my mail or picking up a pile of dog poo with a plastic bag, only realizing, as I glanced at the out-of-state license plates as your rear bumper receded down the street, that goddamn it! Once again for all the world it appeared as though I’d snubbed you.
Then, two weeks ago — oh, I know you remember! The night Jackson was delightedly thumping his heels on the floor and you responded by pounding on your ceiling? Jackson wanted to know if the people downstairs were mad at him. I said no, that sometimes people were busy and couldn’t come knock on your door and tell you politely that you were being too loud, they just banged on the ceiling.
But the anger, it rose up like fumes through our floor. That’s when Jackson and I both started tiptoeing around the house.
Jack ran into your husband and actually thanked him for the warning shot through our floor; it taught Jackson that he needed to think about the effect of the noise he was making on family below. Your husband rolled his eyes and said, “She’s . . . uh, yeah.” He seemed like he’d had enough of something but he didn’t tell us what.
Huh, we thought. Maybe there are some bigger issues down there.
So it was that yesterday you and I parked our cars at the same time and as you walked past you . . . waved and said hello! I said hello back! And pretended that it had never been otherwise, but whoa, I cannot tell you, what a strange relief fluttered through the air between us.
But — hold on a minute — that was you? Your hair is darker than I admittedly only sort of remembered. I started thinking back on all the times I thought I’d seen you with your son, and holy shit, maybe that hadn’t been you. Was it a sitter with a similar vaguely bohemian style? Was it your slightly older sister with somewhat lighter hair?
Yes. We are, aren’t we. Destabilized as I’ve become, it will be that much easier to open a time portal beneath my shower and soon my brain will end up in a jar at NORAD. Then Major Healey will steal it and, pretending to be his own pregnant wife, smuggle it onto an Air Force jet and into hiding with your uncle the rug merchant in Baghdad.
Those cute genie outfits may work in Cocoa Beach, evil Jeannie, but Baghdad’s not what it used to be, back in the day. I’m just telling you. Blink yourself into a burkha, ASAP, and GIVE ME BACK MY BRAIN!!!
P.S. That lady who walks around the neighborhood wearing a fur coat, turban, and bedroom slippers, her name wouldn’t happen to be Endora, would it?