[The strange animal noises Ella heard when she first moved into her new, “perfect” apartment have stopped. Her neighbor, Dave, eases her concerns and feeling less anxious, she decides to explore her neighborhood]
By the end of the week, I began to believe Dave, that this four-flat with its old boiler and pipes probably made many peculiar noises unfamiliar to a former high-rise dweller—except, this was early autumn and the heat wasn’t on yet. However, I heard no more whimpers, howls, or clawing through my kitchen wall. I forgot about them and put off trying to locate the building’s handyman. Other projects occupied my thoughts: restaurant or theater dates with friends, exploring the local branch library, and expanding my walks around the neighborhood to get more exercise.
On Monday, when I went to my mailbox in the building’s small, wood-paneled lobby, I nearly toppled someone. “Oh, my gosh. I am so sorry. I didn’t expect—” I blurted. She was a round, little woman who after steadying herself continued shuffling through envelopes in her hand and peering at them through glasses resting on the end of her nose.
“Didn’t expect someone so short? Like an elf? A rabbit? A squirrel?” I guessed from her frizzy, gray hair and rays of laugh wrinkles she was at least a decade older than I.
I couldn’t help giggling. “Well, an elf, maybe.” I tried to catch her eye. “I hope you’re okay. It’s just my mind was—”
“A zillion miles in space,” she interrupted me again and looked up smiling. “Well, hi, I’m Fanny Katzer. And you?”
“Ella Volkman, my married name. I was Ella Castle before I married.”
“Volkman. Sounds familiar. Still married?”
“No, widowed. You?”
“Never married. Well, nice to meet you, Ella. In 2B?”
“Yes, but how did you—”
“Know? The movers. Bit of a racket. And they left garbage on the stairs. Had to clean it up myself, but that’s not your fault. Anyway, you like it here?”
“Yes, I’m happy here. I’m really sorry about the mess. I didn’t know. Why didn’t Joe help clean it up?”
“The building’s contract maintenance man. Dave Straybill said he comes when needed.”
“Never heard of him. Must be Straybill’s hire. That guy—never asks the rest of us. And just try to find the landlord if you do need something fixed.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not a person; it’s a holding company. They keep the place in shape. Maybe that’s the Joe guy doing it, but, then again, I’ve never had any problems.”
Fanny turned away and let herself into the inner hallway. “See you later. I’ve got bills to pay.” She unlocked the door to 1B. I glimpsed a long, red sofa book-ended by enormous lamps sitting on dark wooden tables. Scattered bright cushions caught my eye before she closed the door with a wave. So far, her place looked cozy.
Pleased I’d met another neighbor I thought worth knowing better, I zipped up my jacket, tightened my favorite blue scarf with a slipknot, and left the building to take a brisk walk. I hurried along the street lined with maples and honey locusts all about to turn color. The crisp, cool air smelled fresh and invigorating as I strolled and took in frame and brick cottages mixed with small apartment buildings like mine. Some had plastic slides and strollers parked on shallow front lawns. Other buildings had tidy gardens filled with the last plantings of summer just starting to wither.
When my feet take over a walk, when the pace is steady and the sidewalks smooth, I get to thinking. Why didn’t Fanny know about this Joe person? Dave did and was confident about getting the man to help me. I slapped my forehead: I’d forgotten all about 2A’s howls and scratching. I wondered if Fanny had ever heard anything upstairs. Surely, she would have noticed something. If I invited her up for coffee, I could ask her about it. But first, we’d talk about –what?—anything normal, then, I’d steer the conversation to the building and…lost in my thoughts, I didn’t notice I’d come to a dead end. A sprawling, red brick school blocked the intersection. I decided to turn right (I always did that—just an instinct—in museums, at the supermarket, hotels, even if I was supposed to go the other way). On that day, I should have turned left.
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