It’s 2am. He is squealing. I’ve heard a pig on its way to the slaughterhouse make less noise, I tell you.
A little detached house, somewhere on the edge of town, that would have suited me. We could have employed a gardener—some muscular, sun-kissed Adonis. That would have been perfect, but no, Gustav always has things his way.
“We already have a house.”
Yes, of course we already have the house in Lugano, and it is perfect: no neighbours. Somehow, he always persuades me to do things I am not sure about
“Let’s mix it up,” he said. “A balcony is easy to look after; we’re hardly going to be there, so we don’t need tonnes of space. The city is a short walk away, and when I’m not around, you will feel safer.”
Everything he said made sense, so I gave up the argument. The agent told me the walls and ceilings were suspended concrete, which apparently blocks out all noise. “Of course, when the balcony doors are open, you will hear noise, but that’s only to be expected in a city.”
It all sounded perfectly reasonable, so I gave up the argument. I don’t mind the distant sounds of city life, but I would have preferred the tweeting of birds to the hum of traffic.
“All you’ll get in the countryside is screeching owls. Have you heard the noises magpies make? It’s enough to send you crazy!” Gustav slipped me his I won smirk.
I relented, and now every night I get to hear the pig next door squealing. The noise is high enough to make you assume only dogs would hear it, but the torturous squeal vibrates my eardrums with chilling precision.
Gustav is in Lugano working on a sound project (funnily enough), and I am here in London to interview candidates for our new luxury personal shopper service. I need to sleep properly. It’s not easy to find the right kind of people. We need extraordinary, cultured, intuitive characters who seem to be rarer than red pandas. I get the candidates to choose the venue for the interview; it’s a good way to find out what their actual taste is rather than what they’d have you believe. There are too many bullshitters in this life, and we need to extract the truffles from the soil.
“So go round and tell them.” Gustav has no patience for my complaints. I can tell he’s only half listening. He is tapping on his keyboard as I speak. We both have our ear pods in; they are super sensitive, so I can pick up every sound in teeth-clenching detail. The TV is on in the background, and I can hear one of those boring car programs he is addicted to watching: a middle-aged presenter yapping on like an excited teen, engines revving.
“I’m not knocking on some stranger’s door I’ve never even met to tell him I can hear his ridiculous sex noises! What if he is some crazy pervert, murderer, or deaf to his own sounds? This apartment was a stupid idea; why did I listen to you, Gustav?” My eyes are sore and my skin sags when I don’t get enough sleep. He lets out a whoosh of breath. This annoys me even more; it suggests I am being unreasonable. He doesn’t have to say it; I know what that whoosh means
“OK, if I disappear, you will know the crazy, noisy sex pig has gobbled me all up, and you will have to run all the businesses on your own.”
Gustav snorts. “Why is it, Annalise, that you have the ability to interview and dissect the characters of a whole bunch of potential geniuses, and yet you can’t deal with knocking on a door to tell a neighbour to shut the hell up?”
“Get lost!” I slammed the phone down. Usually, I would scream some inventive insult at him, but I am too shattered to think of one. Besides, at least he answered the phone at this time in the morning; he’s there for me 24/7. I am lucky, I tell myself, without feeling convinced. My head hurts.
The squealing has calmed down for now. I would wear ear plugs, but I am afraid that if the apartment block is somehow set on fire, I won’t hear the alarm go off. I take a sniff of my calming night oil, breathe in deeply, slip my silk eye mask on, and sink back into my Egyptian cotton 1000 thread count sheets. Slowly, I begin to fade away, exhaustion pulling me into oblivion. And then the most ear-piercing wail penetrates my skull. It’s as if the pig has entered my apartment. I rip off the eye mask and throw myself off the bed onto the floor. It’s horrific! My heart is pounding, and my breath is ragged with fear. What if the loony next door has let an actual pig loose? Maybe it’s his pet, and it’s grown so big he can’t control it. I’ve seen stories about that in the news. People buy a cute little piglet, not realising that one day it will grow into a mammoth porker. I am sure the agent said no pets were allowed.The noise has calmed down again. This is torture. I open the bedroom door and peer into the hall, but in the dim light, I can see it is empty. There is no way I am going to go and knock on the neighbour’s door, not at this hour.
I go into the kitchen, take a carton of oat milk from the fridge, and make myself a hot chocolate. I am resigned to the fact that I won’t be going back to sleep tonight. I sit by the window, watching darkness gradually give way to an inky blue haze. I practise what I am going to say when I knock on the neighbour’s door. What time will I do it? I wander the apartment, my stomach churning and my eyes stingingly dry from lack of sleep. I could kill the freak for leaving me such a wreck. I will look like an old hag when I meet Antoine for his interview. Antoine’s picture shows hooded eyes and a slightly sarcastic curve to his mouth. This is how I interpret it anyway. I hope he isn’t a smart-arse; I certainly won’t be in the mood for arrogance today.
At 8 a.m., I pull on a sweater and a pair of jeans. I can shower and change when I return. I comb my hair back, kohl my eyes, and dab blood-red lipstick on my lips. I want to achieve a forceful, slightly scary look. This weirdo needs to know that I mean business. I search in a drawer for my personal alarm, and I will keep it in my hand. Who knows what I am about to encounter? Everywhere is completely silent now; it is light. The horrors of the night do not seem so real.
I open the front door; I will not lock it in case I need to re-enter in a hurry. I glance along the walkway; there is no one around should I need to call for help. My heart is jigging, but I have had more than enough of this hideous noise at night. Surely any reasonable person would be mortified to know the distress their nighttime games are causing others. I pause; maybe I should speak to their neighbour on the other side before I knock on the offender’s door and swap notes. But I haven’t got time to run around talking to other people.
Our apartments don’t have doorbells. I knock loudly. No answer, so I knock again, harder.
The door opens, leaving only a very small gap. I see a woman’s nose, that’s all, which surprises me; I expected a man. “Ooh, I know why you are here; I’m so sorry!”I am trying to ascertain from the narrow slither that I can see of her if she is some kind of banshee, a weird animal collector, or a torturous madam. The door opens wider, and a boy appears clutching a huge, round, fat pig toy that is nearly as big as him. He shoots me an evil grin.
“Blake, I think you better say sorry to this lady.”
Before the boy can even open his mouth, I reach forward, wrench the toy from his hands, and throw it over the walkway. It drops eight floors, and I glance over the safety rail to see it disintegrate as it hits the ground. As the boy lets out a wail, I turn sharply on my heel and walk away. The mother calls out behind me, but I rapidly re-enter my apartment, slam the door shut, and switch the bolt.
I swivel to find a parrot perched on the coat stand.
More short stories from the Apartment Block Series
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