This interesting article was written by
Nikolaus Maack (former owner of this website)
Names not changed to protect the innocent – no one is innocent.
The apartment immediately above ours was playing their stereo as loud as possible. My glass of Coke on the coffee table was vibrating with each thump of the bass. Michelle was trying to type at the computer and I was slumped on the couch, pretending to read a book. Neither of us could concentrate what with the noise. It was the same song, set on repeat, playing for the last twenty minutes.
“I want you to go upstairs and beat him up,” Michelle said. She’s a feminist, but she has these occasional lapses.
“He must be having sex with a screamer,” I said. “One of those women who just screams at the top of her lungs while she gets fucked. She’s shy and doesn’t want the neighbors to hear. Maybe they’re afraid someone’s going to call the cops. So they have the stereo up loud, for cover. Weird, that they’d have sex on a Tuesday evening. I didn’t know people could do that. Doesn’t that go against the Geneva Convention or something?”
“I don’t care why he’s got the stereo blasting, I just want him to turn the thing down. Are you going up there?”
“Sure, okay.” I clambered off the couch. “But you’d better get a bag of ice ready for when I come back with a black eye.”
The man upstairs had just moved in a week ago. He was young, tall, blond, and beefy; probably one of those students going back to school. I met him once. He knocked on my door, wanting to let me know he had an exercise machine, and had been using it for the past hour.
“I just wanted to ask if, to know if, maybe, the sound of it was bugging you.”
Something about him made me nervous. He was defensive, couldn’t stand still. He leaned backwards as if afraid to get too close to me. His paranoia was infectious, and I stammered too when I spoke.
“No, not at all. We just, no, we… We didn’t hear anything.”
“Great, good,” he said.
“Let us know if our dog bugs you. Although she’s the… She tends to be quiet.”
“Okay, fine, yeah,” he said, and ran away.
How strange that he’d been so considerate and nervous about bothering us before. Now he had his stereo blasting in the most assholish way. As I slowly walked up the stairs, trying to delay the inevitable conflict, I decided he really must have a screamer in there. Sex can make even the politest man become an inconsiderate bastard.
I paused on the landing. How would I phrase my complaint? This was such a cliche situation — the last thing I wanted to do was play out the same old routine. There had to be some new and interesting way. Could I come up with a good story? Some artistic way of doing this?
Inspiration struck. What a perverse and twisted notion! It delighted me. The idea was a little bizarre; I wasn’t certain at first if I could make it believable. But I’ve heard it said that the more outrageous the lie, the more embarrassing and confessional, the more likely people are to believe it. So maybe being ridiculous would work in my favor. There was the problem that I’m a lousy liar. It’s a skill I’d been meaning to work on. Well, if the guy called me on it, I could just tell him I was joking. He might think I was a little sick and crazy, but I’m pretty used to people thinking that.
I stood outside the apartment door — apartment fourteen — practicing my story in my head. The door shook under the barrage of sound. The numbers “1” and “4” were rattling against the wood.
The best liars are the ones who believe their lies, so how would I feel if my lie were a reality? Angry, sad, scared. I tried to remember experiences in my past where I’d felt those emotions. A car accident a few years ago. A fight with Michelle. An exam I hadn’t prepared for. I opened and closed my eyes forcefully several times, trying to make my eyes teary.
When I felt I was ready, I knocked on the door. There was no answer. I knocked slightly harder. When that didn’t work, I started kicking the door, pounding on it with my fists, yelling, “Hey! Hey! Come on, man, open the… Open the fucking door! This is serious! Open up, you fuckhead!”
I’m afraid I’d gone into my role a little too deeply, and might have been over-acting.
The stereo died. A few seconds later the door flew open. The blond man, his hair all mussed, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, looked very pissed off. He stepped out into the hall and pulled the door shut behind him. Before it closed I caught a glimpse of a young woman wrapped in a sheet, peering out of what I assumed was the bedroom. Funny — she didn’t look like a screamer.
“I had the stereo on too loud. I’m sorry.”
He didn’t sound sorry; he sounded pissed off. I thought he might take a swing at me.
“I’m, I’m sorry, I kicked your door and, but it really was on very loud and… Fuck, it’s just…”
Looking at me, his rage faded. He was concerned all of a sudden. There was a hysteria about me, and it was making him wary.
“My girlfriend,” I muttered. “She’s not well and… The sound was… It was bothering her.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, begrudgingly. “I hope she’s…” his voice trailed off when tears spilled from my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. He looked incredibly surprised. I hoped there wasn’t an equal look of surprise on my face. I was just as shocked as he was that I was crying.
“She’s got… brain cancer,” I said, trying not to sob. “Tumors. In her skull. The blood vessels… There’s a lot of pressure. The doctor told us not to… Not to go to clubs or bars or anywhere with loud music because… Fuck.”
I wiped my eyes, trying to pull myself together, then looked him in the face. He was paralyzed, grim, impersonally respectful — the way a funeral director might look before the bill has been paid.
“We’re supposed to, stay out of clubs, because a loud noise, a really loud noise, like the bass on your stereo… It could pop one of her blood vessels. That’s all it would take, to give her a stroke. And then she’d… be dead for sure. So, could you, please, please keep your stereo down? I’m, sorry, to, dump all this on you, but I’m… Well, I’m kind of fucked up right now, but, I think you can understand why.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled. “Jesus, that’s rough. That’s… Fuck.”
“I’m sorry, to have, bothered you.”
“No, no, really!” he said, his apology now a little too enthusiastic. “If I’d known, I never would have, my stereo is, it’s not necessary, you know?”
“Thanks for understanding,” I said.
“Hey, no big deal.”
We stared at each other awkwardly.
“I’m, gonna go back downstairs,” I said. “And check on my girlfriend.”
“Yeah, okay, well, see ya.”
“See ya,” I said, and slunk down the stairs.
I have missed my calling. Writer? Painter? Forget that stuff. I should have been an actor. The guy had bought my story completely. A warm rush of pride filled my chest. I could take an Oscar away from DeNiro, if I tried.
When I got back downstairs, Michelle was waiting at the door.
“What happened? You were gone so long. I thought he killed you. Why are your eyes all red? Have you been… crying?”
I wrestled with the idea of not telling her what I’d just done. The thought of the guy bumping into Michelle in the hallway, tiptoeing around her, thinking any loud noise could kill her. Michelle not knowing, wondering if the guy was insane. It was a delicious notion. But the pride in my newfound acting abilities wouldn’t let me keep quiet. We went inside and I told her everything.
“I can’t believe you told him I have brain tumors,” Michelle said.
“Saying it isn’t going to make it happen.”
“I know. But it’s like you wish I had brain tumors.”
“Don’t be silly. I just wanted a bizarre excuse to give him, and…”
There was a noise upstairs. It sounded like a woman’s moan. Michelle and I glanced up at the ceiling. The moaning got louder.
“Oh God, oh God, yeah, oh, ohhh!”
It sounded like the enthusiastic praying of someone who loves Jesus just a little too much. There was also a rhythmic thumping — what I’m assuming was a headboard banging against a wall. Then the screaming started. If I hadn’t known it was a woman getting laid, I would have assumed it was murder. True, it wasn’t shrill or panicked, but it was somewhat scary.
“Okay,” I sighed. “Which one of us is calling the cops?”
“Me, I guess,” Michelle said. “You went upstairs and talked to him after all.”
Michelle picked up the phone and started dialing.
I have no idea if the cops showed up, but after twenty more minutes of shrill sexual opera, the rest of the evening was blissfully silent.