A Series Of Stories – 1

 

There are two of them. That much, I can see.

Across a narrow ravine, concrete-lined; across a narrow street (ten or twenty storeys down, at that point where numbers are only numbers, no longer functions); across street lights and parking signs and empty cars full of black, and that vending machine which never works properly and stole my money one time; across all that, I can see. There are two of them. Two that I can see, at any rate.

By day the apartments are dimmed, licked only by the unmanageable sunlight that glances across glass and steel at certain, very specific times of day, circumventing clouds and smoke and balconies of stained brick to fossick through the living rooms or kitchens, vanishing within minutes of the earth’s rotating. Then, that unmanageable sunlight is no longer in what it believes to be specific enough. By day, I can see the two apartments, side-by-side; the same. My eyes can’t penetrate too deep into the living room or the kitchen, but, I can see the fridges -sleek and silver, the table tops – whipped-cream marble, the wooden floors and the stucco walls. In these ways, they are identical, the two apartments. I can see this. The building was erected not long after I moved in to my own apartment across the street, opposite the thieving vending machine. Each apartment is a replica of the others around it, to save on cost. I saw them come with tall cranes, digging at the soft, brown earth. Now, the apartments stand there, echoes of the others, so close and so similar and so dark that it’s impossible to tell which is the origin.

By night, they are different.

By night, they are alive.

By night, the one on the left has a red and black painting above the leather couch in the lounge room; the one on the right, has black and white photographs. The one on the left has a small Persian rug splayed beneath a wooden coffee table; the one on the right has only a glass table, stain and mug free. Most interesting are the occupants of the apartments: preparing dinner, sleeping, moving to the bathroom to relieve themselves, working on a desk strewn with sheets and pens (the apartment on the right), or watching TV as a gentle blue glow envelopes their still body (the apartment on the left). By night, the lights are on, in the apartments and without, so I don’t need to rely on the unmanageable sunlight – the apartments are their own sun. I can see more detail than before. I can see the dishes piled in the sink, or the list beside the phone. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see either of the occupants’ faces, since the light within their apartments is so bright and strong, it casts deep shadows on their faces. They could really be anyone.

I sit by my window, staring out over the parking signs and city lights. And that vending machine, beeping and flashing innocently.

The one on the left is watching TV again, sitting almost motionless as layers of silent sound wash over. From time-to-time, they rearrange themselves, or fidget with the remote control or their phone. I see them glance at the kitchen beyond the marble tabletops. The room is empty; just a fridge, silver and sleek. The one on the right is in the kitchen, cooking dinner. From my desk, it’s hard to tell what they’re making, but there are multiple stainless steel pots, a chopping board covered with herbs, a besmirched cookbook, and a glow coming from the oven. They turn around and cast their eyes to the living room beyond the marble tabletops. The room is empty; just a couch and glass coffee table.

I see their lights go off and darkness sink into the two apartments. By the light of my lamp, I continue working, ignoring the pain in my neck.

Daylight again, and the rooms are dim. I read a little. Open up the door and smoke on the balcony. My partner would kill me if I were caught smoking inside. The view from here is not as good as from my desk. I’ve stalked all around my apartment, searching for the best view and if it were here, I would’ve set up my desk amid the damp concrete, water-filled pots swimming with shed cigarette butts, and cold wind that brings the scent of a thousand balconies from throughout the city, depositing it here and then mixing my own damp-concrete-and-water-filled-pot-and-cigarette-butt scent before carrying it off and depositing it at some other balcony. I kneel down, listening to the grinding of invisible grains beneath my shoes, and the sound of sighing pipes below. I pick up one of the pots and empty the water slowly, watching as it puddles along the concrete, running towards one of the drains. I stub the end of my cigarette into one of the pots and stare over the edge of the balcony’s railing. That breeze is still here, in my hair, smelling like far off pockets of the city. I look down and try counting the floors below me, but, they’re too close and my eyes start hurting and I give up. Inside, I’m warm.

It’s night. They’re home. I can see them.

They always come home at almost the same time. The one on the left is usually earlier, but, tonight, they arrive simultaneously. They must’ve passed each other in the elevator or the corridor, sharing each other’s breath and weight on the floor. From their compartments, they have no idea, but, from my desk, I can see that each of their actions are almost identical, just as much as their apartments – as if they too have been given a single blueprint to work with, and made small, personal alterations as time goes on. Together, they step out of their shoes and place their keys on a rack beside the door. And switch on the lights. I can almost see their faces, but, that may just be a trick of the light. They both walk from their door to the kitchen and open the fridge. They rummage around at what I can’t see, but, can infer from the contents of my own fridge – left over roast with rosemary, sour cream, old yoghurt that I really should eat, milk, chocolate, butter, cheese, half a carton of eggs. They walk into the bedroom, beyond my sight and return after three minutes in comfortable-looking pyjamas, sit down at their couch, and sigh visibly. I can see it from here. Their whole body – bodies – move.

My partner slips arms around my neck. My pages are blank. What have I done all day? My partner asks the same question and I laugh it off. I resolve to not smoke another cigarette.

Later, when it’s just me at my desk, I look up from the cold remains of something my partner cooked for dinner on an equally cold plate beside my papers. At one point, they were attempting to tempt me into some semblance of hunger, but, their enthusiasm seems to have congealed a long time ago. Instead, I watch the two apartments across the street. Their paths diverged, perhaps while my partner was serving our dinner. Now, the one on the right is working on their computer, back to me, screen blurring, lights glittering, and a strange silence that seems too real to be contained by the thin film of glass. The one on the left is watching TV again, wrapt in a blanket, flicking through conversations with fingertips, and there is an odd sense of noise coming from the apartment, despite the fact that I can’t hear anything, as though the apartment has been feasting off the sound from the other.

Daylight, and their apartments are cold. The dinner on my plate by my papers is cold too. I don’t smoke outside. Though I do stand on the balcony for five minutes and smell the tang of petrol and the cries of car exhausts that’s been deposited. I kick at an old black stain, soggy ash that has long since been laid to rest. The wind is in my hair again, off to some other apartment, smelling of cologne and cereal. I think I can hear the vending machine down on the street, the sound of a can or something heavy falling into its catchment. But, when I hold onto the ledge, lean against the wall, and throw my head out to get a better look, the vending machine is alone and quiet.

Nighttime, and their apartments are warm. The one on the right is making coffee on a fancy espresso machine. The one on the left is reading a book in the living room. The one on the right brings the coffee into the living room and sets it on the table. The one on the left smiles a little. The one on the right sits at the couch, settling uncertainly into the cushions which look as though they’re as soft as floorboards. The one on the left spreads the blanket out a little and continues reading. They both sit there at the couch – couches – in a silence I’ve imposed myself, from across the ravine and street. And if I cross my eyes hard enough, they could almost be talking to each other.

Daylight. My pages aren’t blank. They aren’t full. But they’re at a tipping point, as in, if they were a population of animals, breeding, their population would grow exponentially with each generation, each line doesn’t beget one line, but, instead it begets a series of lines, each of which have the power to do the same. My pages are at a stage where these lines of lines of lines are threatening to overwhelm the entire desk. One extra line doesn’t equate to one extra line. It equates to lines and lines and lines, an unending stream of words that would continuously grow and inundate my pages and all pages to come, it represents characters and back stories and likes and friends and death and music and poetry and hate and chocolate and TV shows and crying and laughing and love and I don’t know if I’m capable of holding it all back, or rather, if I’m capable of being responsible for so many implications. I let my hands fall at my sides. I can see the security alarms flashing a dull warning red with each second. I wonder if each bleep has a chance of begetting bleep after bleep after bleep, enough to overwhelm the entire apartment building.

Nighttime. The one on the left is laughing at something on their phone. I can imagine the sound, its warmth, its ease. The one on the right is pacing the room carefully, speaking aloud. I can’t see any headset and I’m forced to believe that they’re talking to themselves. They carry on their conversation for an hour, divided by a wall, the one on the left nodding and laughing and sighing, the one on the right, gesticulating and bending over and rolling eyes. The one on the left stands up and walks to the kitchen and pours a bottle of wine that looks black in the lighting. The one on the right enters the kitchen too, continuing the monologue while leaning on the marble bench top. The one on the left sips at the wine.

I wonder. I wonder if, if they were to see each other, behaving the way they do in their own apartments – separate from one another – would they continue to behave the same? I wonder if, if they knew I could see them in such detail, would they draw the curtains, or would they act differently? I wonder if the compartments they find themselves in are safe havens, or if they are lies, constructed by the occupants to retreat to when they have no way of coping with the city and its billowing gusts of exhaust, and day old cigarette smoke. I wonder if, if they knew any of this, would it matter to them? Would they just continue watching their TV, or drinking their coffee, completely aware of the ticking of the world, completely helpless to change it, and completely at ease with its passing.

 

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