My husband and I just moved into our first apartment a little over two months ago. It’s a late-nineteenth century brownstown with most of the original brickwork on the interior. The building has been divided into two duplexes. We live in the top one and Enrique has the downstairs.
I had asked the landlord about Enrique just before we moved in. I was just curious who our new neighbor would be. But the landlord didn’t know too much. He said that Enrique was recently divorced and hadn’t even lived here a year. His job, which he didn’t know too much about, took him out of the country a lot. And his two young boys visited him on the weekends that he was home.
The first time we met Enrique was in the entranceway a few days after we had moved in. We were on our way in and he was going out, so we just said hello and exchanged names. He was a few years older than us and in good shape, and his brooding dark eyes brightened up when he smiled and shook my hand.
I bumped into him a week or so later at the local Chinese takeout. We introduced ourselves again and chatted briefly until our food was ready. He said that he was recently divorced and had two sons who were sometimes with him on the weekends. I asked him what he did and he said that he was the market manager of a color company.
“But what is it you do?” I asked
“Well, he said, “I’m the market manager of a company that manufactures colors.”
He pointed to one of my jacket buttons.
“We make these.”
“Oh. How do you like it?” I asked, adjusting my button.
“Well, it’s very demanding. I’m out of the country all the time. Next week I’m going to China for ten days.”
“That sounds exciting.”
“Well, yeah, I got a lot of friends there.”
“My husband was in China. He got me this necklace.” I held out my neck.
To my surprise he reached out and fingered the edges of one of its woven silver squares, staring inquisitively at the oval turquoise stones set in the middle of each square. He smiled.
There was an awkward pause, and we both looked over the counter to see what was going on in the kitchen.
“So,” he said, “are you recently married?”
“Just ten weeks.” And I showed him my ring.
He smiled again and held his smile a moment, as if he was thinking about something. And then his food came. And as he walked out he said, “Well, I wish the two of you the best of luck. It’s no easy thing what you’re doing, you know.” He waved to me over his shoulder. “I’ll see you around.”
I thought he seemed nice enough, but wasn’t it a bit rude to make that comment about my marriage, as if he was some expert or something. And he didn’t even ask me a single question about my husband or anything. Isn’t that kind of weird? I mean, we are his neighbors after all. But I guess it’s none of my business. Besides, he ordered Egg Foo Young.
I didn’t see him for weeks after that, but I would often hear him with different women through the brick walls. They would be laughing away and carrying on at all hours with the stereo going, playing this awful seventies music. My husband called it his boom-chicky-wah-wah music. For days after that we would laugh when we heard that music again, and my husband would say, “There goes Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah Man again.”
But after a while I wasn’t so amused anymore. And I wasn’t so amused that my husband found Mr. Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah’s philandering so funny, either.
One night while I was trying to watch TV, the music just got to me up to here, and in spite of my husband’s whining for me not to, I went downstairs anyway.
There was no answer at the door at first, and after I knocked louder, I could hear Enrique moan out load in aggravation.
“One sec,” he shouted.
He lowered the music and shuffled across the floor and opened the door.
There he stood, in the doorway, reclined up against the side, in a skinny little robe that barely covered him. He was smiling gleefully.
“Sorry,” he said.
“It’s just a bit too loud,” I remarked, unable to keep myself from looking him over a spec.
“It won’t bother you again,” he said, continuing to smile.
And then he closed the door. And just then I realized that that woman of his in there had been doing something to him from behind the door the whole time we were talking, because right after the door closed the two of them broke out into laughter, and I could hear him chase her from right there behind the door, all the way off.
Then, there was this one time when the outside buzzer rang. I ran downstairs expecting the laundry man, but it was one of Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah’s girlfriend’s instead. I don’t know why, but I was excited to finally get a look at one of these chickadees. And I was thrilled to see that she was kind of shlumpy looking, wearing dark and heavy clothes. And as she shlumped up the stairs and looked up at me her glasses slid sideways on her face. But I was a little taken aback, though, because she was blonde and had fine thin features. But all this happened too fast and then Enrique opened his door saw me, and then she slid into his place.
I’ve never seen that one again, at least not from that close up, but I’ve seen her and others going up there at night from a distance, when I am standing on the corner and waiting for them to go in.
Then there were times when he would scream at his kids, I mean really scream, like he was going to murder them or something, and that scared the hell out of me, and it even made me stop listening up against the wall.
Then one afternoon when I was going out, I saw his ex-wife picking up the kids in her car. I was rather surprised. She didn’t look like the other women. I mean, she was fat. Or at least the part of her I could see in the car was fat: her face and walrus neck and slug-like arms. Enrique was leaning on the roof and talking to her while the kids got in, and she made some comment to him that she laughed at, and her pink face turned red and her blonde split-ends clung to her patchy cheeks. But Enrique only sort of grinned. And he looked over his shoulder at me and back, just barely acknowledging my presence. So I went in.
Just last week, I arrived home to find all the mail unsorted in a pile on the floor. There was a postcard from a chicky friend of his from upstate saying she would be in for the weekend and would “love to see you.” There was an issue of Esquire magazine. And there was a postcard from the library saying the book he requested has come in.
Then I did something which I couldn’t believe I did.
I actually pretended that I was Enrique’s fiancée to pick up the book from the library. I know, that’s crazy. But is it that crazy to find out who lives downstairs from you? I mean, this guy could be the psycho neighbor you hear people talk about on TV: “He seemed like anybody else, and then one day…”
Anyway, the book was nothing that revealing. Just one of those self-help type books by some PhD in something-or-other called “Coping as a Single Parent.” I didn’t even realize how silly it must have looked, me saying I was his fiancée and all, but as long as I paid my seventy cents they could give a hoot whether I was an alien.
But you know, I did actually end up flipping through the book a bit. My husband would joke with me about how I was planning to have his children and then skip town, but he had no idea why I had this book. He probably figured it was related to something I had seen on one of those TV talk shows. I did buy a book once about the aliens who live amongst us, which nearly scared the hell out of me.
But, this was different. I mean, I actually ended up feeling sort of sorry for Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah man. After all, I couldn’t possibly have known what he was going through. For Chrissake, I had no more than only met the guy.
But then, not even a week ago something awful happened.
We were having problems with our plumbing. The refuse from the sink was coming up in the bathtub. I went downstairs to see if Enrique was having any trouble with his plumbing and one of his boys answered the door. He said that his dad wasn’t there right now but that he’d ask him about the plumbing when he got back. He couldn’t have been more than twelve, and I reminded him again to ask his dad about the plumbing. He just looked at me and said, “okay,” as if he wanted to be left alone to whatever it was he was doing. Knowing he was left there alone made me feel so sad, like I should reach out to him and reassure him that everything would be all right. That was one of the things the book said to do. He just nodded at me and closed the door.
Some time after Enrique knocked on our door. He seemed kind of chipper, and one of the first things he said as he walked in was how much he liked the place. He commented on the exposed brick walls with the ivy we were growing on them, and he looked at me and smiled, the way he did at the Chinese place, that smiley-sort-of-look. It caught me a bit off guard.
My husband showed him the problem in the bathroom and Enrique said he wasn’t having any trouble in his place. He saw one of my bras hanging over the sink and laughed and made a comment about his ex-wife. And my husband laughed and I blushed. He told us we should get the landlord to call the plumber and then said to me that if I ever needed anything else I should feel free to stop by.
Then Enrique followed my husband through the living room towards the kitchen to look underneath the sink, and that’s when I noticed the book laying on the coffee table. My god, I absolutely panicked. My husband was already futzing about underneath the sink and Enrique noticed me notice the book, and then he, too, looked over on the coffee table. My husband made some joke over his shoulder to Enrique and Enrique sort of laughed while he looked back at me. Then he said rather sternly that he had to get back to his kids and had things to do and he abruptly excused himself.
Anyway, maybe a friend of mine was reading the book and left it, or why the hell couldn’t I have taken it out of the library myself, by chance, or who knows. There was nothing for him to go on up here. “Things to do.” Christ. We all know what that means.
Later that night after the plumber had left, we were watching TV and Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah man was playing his music and everything seemed back to normal around here. The telephone rang. I figured it was the plumber or the landlord checking up on us, but when I picked up the receiver there was no answer. So, I said, “hello?” a second time, and then waited.
In the background she could faintly hear the muffled tones of music, and just before she said hello a third time, she identified that music as the same sound coming through her apartment from downstairs.
I hang up the phone.