From the Apartment Block series of short stories.
He smiles at me as we pass on the stairs. I note how smart he is in his pale blue jacket and dark denim jeans. I catch a waft of aftershave that is pleasant, not overpowering. I remember how young men used to plaster themselves in Brut or Old Spice back in the day; now the sky’s the limit. My guess is that he’s in his forties. We moved in over ten years ago, and I’ve only seen him in the past year or so. He’s a good-looking chap, still lean in middle age, and probably one of those fitness fanatics. Doesn’t appear to be married, always flying solo, or whatever they call it.
The post room is deserted. It’s rare to bump into another resident here. It’s strange when you think there are over 90 apartments in this block. There’s not much for me—a few leaflets and a small thank-you card from an ancient friend. I sent her some flowers because her cat died.
Out of curiosity, I scan names on parcels. Names and their meanings fascinate me. Mine is obvious, of course; Gloria means glory. If only my life had been glorious enough to match it. It’s fun to Google the names I’ve seen on parcels. It’s fascinating to see what I can find out about who lives here. If only I knew the name of the man on the stairs, I hope it’s unusual, romantic perhaps, a Cillian like that delicious Irish actor perhaps, or Jett or Phoenix. Please don’t let him be a Gordon or a Graham. Perhaps I can try to engage him in conversation next time, but he always seems to be in a hurry, so I will have to think of a way to capture his attention.
Oh, a car has driven into the underground car park, and the driver is speaking on handsfree; he hasn’t turned the sound down, so I can hear every word. I expect the whole apartment block can too. I poke my head out of the post room door to see if I can identify the car. It’s a shiny black 4×4. I move swiftly back into the post room, hoping the driver won’t spot me, keeping the door ajar so I can listen. He is very well spoken—not plummy, but succinct in his pronunciation.
“Yes, darling, yes, that’s right.” I’m still at work; I’m going to be late. Look, I’m sorry, I know it’s the second time this week, but this report has to be done for the court; there’s no getting out of it.”
I can hear his wife’s voice—annoyed but resigned.
He’s at work? There aren’t any offices in this apartment block. Maybe he’s a lawyer visiting a client.”No, nobody else can do it, and I’m sorry I’m going to have to miss dinner with the Harrisons, but you go ahead or try to rearrange it. Can you do me a big favour and water the garden? It’s been dry all week, and I’m worried about the lawn getting brown.”I hear his wife sigh in reluctant agreement.”I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Choose a nice restaurant, and I’ll take you there tomorrow. I should be home before ten; if not, don’t wait up; it’ll mean the case is more complicated than expected.”
I watch him get out of the 4×4, check his watch, and glance around. He’s carrying a briefcase, so I suppose he must be telling the truth about having to work. I follow him at a safe distance to see which apartment he is visiting. It’s apartment 38. He taps on the door, and a man I guess to be in his twenties emerges wearing nothing but a pair of very tight shorts. He pulls him forward by his tie, kissing him passionately on the mouth before they disappear inside.
Wow, what a betrayal! Back downstairs in my apartment, I hope no one saw me spying, but I just had to know if he was telling his wife the truth. I have an instinct for these things, and deep down I knew he was up to no good, and I was right. I take no satisfaction from being right, of course. How awful! All I can think about is that at this very moment, his poor wife is watering the garden, having to cancel her dinner plans, and blindly believing that her husband is working late. Or does she suspect he is up to no good? We women have an instinct for these things. Her tone suggested she didn’t quite believe him. I wonder if he pays for the apartment to keep his lover there. How long has this been going on? How did it all start? What if they have children? All these thoughts rush through my brain, and I’m sorry I ever spied on him. I will be thinking about this for days, if not weeks!
Perhaps I should leave a note on his windscreen. It might make him think about what he is doing if he finds out someone saw him up to no good. Whatever would I say? Something cryptic like I know what you are up to, or I am going to tell your wife. Not that I could; I have no idea where they live. How about Drop £xxxxx in the post room in a large envelope, and I won’t tell a soul what you are up to? Hmmm, blackmail is not a good idea; there is CCTV everywhere, and I would be caught immediately. I can’t key the word adulterer onto his bonnet for the same reason. How dare he be so deceitful? It’s shocking!
I pace the sitting room, trying to think of what to do. The phone rings; it’s Julia. “You’ll never guess what happened this afternoon.” I am breathless with excitement as I impart the juicy gossip to my friend.
“It always happens to you, Gloria, doesn’t it? Nothing ever happens around here. They should rename my road “Dull as Ditchwater.”
“When the door opened and I saw the young man, I thought, oh, maybe he has a secret son, or this is a client, but when I saw that the young man had nothing on but tight black shorts, I was shocked, and then to see him kiss him on the mouth so passionately… Well, Julia, I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head!”
“Are you going to tell Larry about it?”
I expect my husband will shrug and tell me not to be so nosey. He has no curiosity at all about other people. He’s away playing golf in Scotland. It’s been bliss without him here. I’ve been able to watch all my favourite TV programmes and listen to my Frank Sinatra CDs whenever I want. I tell her Larry wouldn’t be remotely interested.”I’ve got to go; the window cleaner is here. Keep me posted.”
I pour a cup of tea and go to sit outside on the balcony. I might be able to hear them talking above me if the young man’s balcony doors are open. Suddenly, a loud shriek has me jumping out of my skin, “Nosy old bat, you nosy old bat!”
I turn to stare into the beady eyes of an angry-looking parrot perched on the air dryer.
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