The initial crack rang through the ceiling of apartment 2B, followed by the scuttle of steel on the wood floor above. The shot echoed several times as the plaster floated down like dirty city snow.
The occupant of room 2B pondered the sudden silence. She felt inclined to stand. She looked up to the residence, which had been the McFarlen’s for as long as she could remember. She remained like this, neck craned toward the ceiling, in her nighttime apparel as though frozen in the snow. To speak, to be silent, to call for help—her choices seemed overwhelming. Eventually, she sat back down in her chair and listened to the meaningful quiet.
His name was Potter McFarlen, a former steel mill worker, long retired and living alone. His wife, Mary, had passed on from natural causes two and a half months ago. They had lived above, in apartment 3B, for the last fifteen years. They were a quiet couple. During the course of these years, she’d rarely heard much from 3B besides shuffling feet and, late on Friday nights, the muffled sounds of Chet Baker on the phonograph. For fifteen years, she had lived below them without much thought of their lives. Intent on her own concerns the stories of the shuffling feet above seemed distant to her and unreal.
On a sunny September day, two and half months ago, there was a disturbance. Around eight o’clock, the lights flashed red through the windows of her apartment. The steps groaned noisily as nightgowned women and helpful men rushed up the stairs to apartment 3B. She had come out to investigate the commotion, more curiosity than anything. She climbed the first flight to look up at the McFarlen’s apartment door.
He stood there silently, surrounded by paramedics and firemen. A stretcher soon emerged, covered in a ghastly white sheet. She remembered thinking it curious, that they left him alone at the top of the stairs, with nothing to return to but an empty apartment. He stood there, a pair of lungs filled only with the cold that surrounded him. Then slowly, his head bowed, he walked through the door frame and closed the door. She thought of him often that day, but time went on, and she gradually lost his heavy face in her bills and knitting.
Her place seemed about the same as before the shot—besides a slight dusting of white plaster. She stared at her apartment wall. A feeling of confinement and suffocation washed over her. The building, being steam-heated, had pipes that ran from apartment to apartment, from radiator to radiator. Her attention focused on the pipe that descended from Potter’s room. Flowing slowly, a trail of red slid down the pipe.
The blood pooled on the top of the radiator at a steady pace. Drip by drip his former life collected on the heater. It then flowed down the radiator in several columns. She watched in amazement as his blood colored her floor. For over an hour, she watched the pool form. It spread wavelessly, reaching a yard in diameter. Another hour passed, and the pool darkened till it vaguely reflected the chandelier that centered her ceiling.
She sat mystified in her chair. The person she never bothered to know spread across her floor, into her room, into her mind. The faded yellow bulbs of her chandelier flickered in the pool, forming abstract shapes. Her curiosity grew. She crouched over the pool; her graying hair and forty-year-old disappointments stared back at her. She looked up at the ceiling, then down. The dancing lights began to form letters, then words. She felt dizzy from the sin of seeing him too late. She read with hungry abandon.
"Can I really have lived two and a half months without my beloved Mary?"
The room sped up as she sat straight. The weak yellow bulbs swirled chaotically across the pool. The evocation of the texture of daily life grew weak with the meaninglessness now realized. His loss formed on her lips as she recited his ghostly words. The room shook as though alive for the first time in years. The crumpled wads of discarded sewing projects lifted into the air. Her cigarette-charred desk battered against the floor. Time raced as she gazed, hypnotized, into his blood like a terrified fortuneteller.
She saw herself as a young woman, running from her fears to the place she now hid. Her shirt was damp with sweat. Her life dissolved into meaninglessness; she became one with the dust which surrounded her. Hopeless regret washed over her as the room began to spin. She gasped inside the prison of her loneliness and quickly lost consciousness.
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