The Other Side by Emily Goodwin
I don’t know who you are, but your music taste is fantastic, and that’s good enough for me. I just moved here, into this apartment, a wall the only thing separating me from you. I moved here to get away from everything– especially my old romance– and now here I am, in this new city, in this new life, and I’ve found you. Your voice echoes through my bathroom from where you sing in your shower. I can’t help listening to you as you sing along to every song that comes on. Our music taste so similar it almost seems to come from my playlist. I want to meet you. Even here, with all my belongings still in countless boxes, I feel ready to start something new, something I never thought I would be ready for this soon.
I sing along in a sudden moment of bravery, my nerves nearly making my teeth chatter as I belt out the chorus to a song I’ve listened to since I was small. Your voice wavers and halts for a moment as you realize someone is singing with you. You soon resume though, and we harmonize together through the paper-thin walls. All too soon, the sound of water stops, and the music turns off moments later. Then nothing. Silence from your side of the wall.
This apartment complex used to be an old hotel. The only telling sign of this however is the doors between apartments, like the one between yours and mine. In the coming weeks, we sit on the hardwood floors together, unable to see each other through the crack under the door. Your name is Anthony, but you hate it, so you go by your middle name: Jay. Jay sounds more you, anyway. I tell you my name: Lani.
“Lani,” You say, rolling it on your tongue as if you’re tasting it. “That’s a pretty name.”
You tell me about your family. You grew up with three sisters, two older and one younger. Your mom was going through cancer when your dad left.
You tell me it isn’t my fault.
But it isn’t yours either.
“Isn’t it cruel for society to expect you to be okay when people like him exist?” You ask me.
“I don’t know,” I tell you. “What can I be expected to say of society?”
I’ve long since unpacked my apartment now. Sparse furniture lies still in the small living room, all pictures I used to have, gone, hidden from sight. Nothing exists to remind me of my old life, the one I left behind.
“My fiancé left me,” you tell me.
The statement echoes similar to my own situation.
“Three years up and walked away.”
“Years go fast when they are encompassed by someone else.”
I shower almost every night, changing my schedule so I can shower at the same time as you. We sing together. I look forward to it while at work every day. I stay in the shower long after my hair and body are clean, sitting on the shower bench, singing along with you. I don’t remember the last time I felt as whole as I do with you. I’m not even really with you. A wall always separates us from each other. I wish to be on the other side of it. I want to see you, to touch your skin and feel the warmth of your hand in mine.
We sit on either side of the ever-locked door once again. I want you to ask me to go out sometime. I want to see you outside if these walls. I want to see you.
“I can’t imagine living the rest of my life like this,” you say.
I want to agree. I want to tell you how much I don’t think life is all people say it is. I can’t though. I don’t want you to freak out and leave me.
“There has to be something else, right? Something more… more than this?”
“I don’t know,” I answer. “If I find out, you’ll be the first to know.”
It rains most of the time here. Drops pelt my window, and I often sit on the couch, watching them drip down the clear glass. This city is too big.
Or am I just too small?
Do people actually feel at home here? In a place where no one will ever know you?
Sometimes your apartment is completely silent. I don’t know where you go. You’ve never talked about your job before. I never really hear your door open and close either. What do you do all day?
I think I’m beginning to fall for you. You speak to me like no one else ever has. You get me. Late at night on weekends, we sit for hours. You tell me about your mom, how strong she has become taking care of your family, and how fragile your little sister is. Your oldest sister puts up a strong front, but she is really only ever her true self around you. You are an oasis, a safe place for your sisters. A safe place for me.
“What about you? What’s your family like?”
I shrug, though he can’t see me. “They’re family, I guess. I don’t really know what to say. We don’t talk much.”
A friend from home is in town for the weekend– some kind of conference. She invites me for drinks so we can catch up. As we sit across from each other in the small, dimly lit bar, she tells me all about home.
“So, have you made any friends?”
I tell her about you. About our showers together, singing duets through the wall. She giggles.
“So, what does he look like?”
“I don’t know.”
She gives me a knowing look as I tell her about how we have never really met. “You know, you could always ask him out.”
She’s always been braver than me. More of a person. She’s tequila. I’m water.
No, I can’t. The boy is supposed to ask the girl. If I’m too forward, it will scare you away.
She can see it in the way I speak to her. Pity fills her green eyes. “Lani, you can’t be hung up on Cameron forever. He left. You have to move on.”
It’s only been three months. How can I move on?
“Hell, at the very least, let’s go out to the club. You need a night out.”
I decline. I want to talk to you later tonight. I want to sing with you.
“Fine,” she says, defeated. “But the next time I come up here, I better be able to take both of you out for coffee.”
When she hugs me goodbye, I can’t help but feel the girl who used to be my best friend is now a stranger.
Maybe it’s just me that changed.
We talk again that night, and I begin to wonder if you’re okay. The closer we get, the darker you seem to become.
“Sometimes I want to run away. Would you run away with me?”
I am silent for a moment, surprised by the proposal. Run away from everything. Hadn’t I just done that? And here I am: away.
“You’re right. What a stupid idea,” you say before I can respond. “Anyway, I need to go to bed.”
I don’t stop you.
I stand up from where I sit with my back against the door. I should go to bed too.
You’re on my mind, though. I want to keep talking to you all night. I don’t want to leave you by yourself.
What you say scares me.
I can’t sleep that night. I can’t stop thinking about my conversation with my friend from home. I’m tired of waiting for you to make the first move.
So I make my resolve: I will knock on your door tomorrow morning and see if you will go get coffee with me. I will finally see your face and maybe somehow knowing each other will be enough to pull you out of the deep sadness you possess.
Maybe you can pull me out of mine.
Rain pounding on the big windows of my apartment wakes me before my alarm. The fat, silvery drops slide slowly down my window, obscuring the velvet clouds from which they came, distorting the city lights below, just waking. Everything is grey aside from the red neon splashes on the rain; another grey day for a grey, sleeping city.
I shiver, hugging my arms close to myself.
Today I will see you.
I take care choosing my clothes and drawing on my makeup. I want to look perfect for when I meet you; I need to look perfect.
The city is wide awake by ten, and the rain has cleared up, leaving only the grey clouds to remind us of the morning showers.
It’s time to meet you.
The door to my apartment seems heavier today, and I struggle against the voice in my head telling me to go back inside. Don’t take this leap. Although I have talked to you almost every day for weeks, the possibility of seeing your face is a daunting one.
I stand in front of your dark wood door for a full minute, working up the courage to knock.
Maybe you aren’t home.
With this slight hope in my mind, I reach up and knock on the door. Three knocks. Did that sound too authoritative? Too assertive? If I ran back into my apartment right now, you wouldn’t even know it was me standing out here, knocking on your door.
The elevator dings behind me.
I turn, but it’s only the landlady. She sees me, and grows a strange look on her face. “What are you doing?”
I feel like I can’t tell her the truth. It feels almost shameful, like I’ve been caught in the act.
“I just wanted to see who lived here,” I say, not really lying.
“No one lives here. That door has been locked since before you arrived.” The stoutly woman leans past me and jiggles the doorknob, and it doesn’t open.
“What? What do you mean?”
“The man that lived there died about a week before you moved in. He hanged himself from his ceiling fan. Poor bastard was depressed as hell and everyone knew it. No one had the sense to say anything to him.” She shakes her head.
Dead. So who have I been talking to?
I pause. “Can I ask what his name was?” I’m afraid I already know.
She gives me a strange look. “Hum, I think it was Anthony something, but he didn’t go by that name. I think… I think he said to call him something else.”
My tongue is sandpaper as I utter the name. “Jay.”
“Yeah! That was it!” The woman exclaims. “Did you know him?”
I shake my head. I don’t know him. I don’t know what I know.
“Well, I gotta get going.” She waves around a plunger I hadn’t noticed before. “Room 1463 has a clogged toilet. It isn’t pretty.”
I shower again that night, turning on my music at full volume, singing along to it.
You don’t sing with me, and won’t again.