I sat in the jacuzzi sipping a glass of wine, and letting the stress of day slowly drain from my shoulders. I enjoyed looking into the night stars, and the privacy of the pool to myself. She entered the area then, and I was upset at the interruption of my privacy. She removed her towel, and slowly moved into the hot swirling water. She nodded at me. I obligatorily returned her greeting. I hoped somehow we would arrange to be in our separate spheres. It was not to be.
She settled into her depth, and the water jets massaged the muscles of her neck and arms. She began to cry. I suppose it was the release of tension. I knew that women carried their emotions ever near the surface. The sudden release must have reminded her of of much pain she unknowingly carried in her body. Her tears flowed like a steady low key sob, not hysteria, and not uncontrollable wailing, but a steady moderate sobbing, like the wheezing of congested lungs.
I pretended the sound of the water jets muffled the sobs so completely that she would think I did not hear or notice. That she dared to cry while I was there seemed to me an odd plea for help–so indirect that it alarmed me even more than the sobs themselves. Was she so desperate that she would cry like this in the presence of a complete stranger?
I studiously avoided eye contact. Afer some minutes, I noticed that she seemed to become very still. The sobbing stopped. Her head lowered so far that her chin rested against her chest. Her arms draped over the sides of the jacuzzi, resting there, barely holding her head above the water. I stealthily exited, so quiet, I was sure she did not notice. The next morning, I saw an ambulence just outside the entrance to the pool. Two paramedics pushed a guerney bearing a white drapped form. Her head was covered, and I heard no more sobbing.
Separate Spheres, Installment 2.
The Glen Oak apartments are boxes stacked three high, and store up to 6 people per unit. I live in one of the lower boxes. The rains never reach me as a result. I lie awake at night alert to the sound of raindrops. At most, after they have given up their melodies to the top tier of boxed residents, the raindrops are gathered like captured slaves to drain down a pipe adjacent to my unit. The gurgling sound provides me with some comfort.
It rained furiously the night after the woman was pulled out of the jacuzzi and her body shipped somewhere I did not know. I lay in bed, my window open, wanting to be enveloped by the sound of the rain. I wanted the rain to wash away the death stain that seemed to disfigure our geometrically precise community. The units are assigned numbers. I live in Unit No. 839. The dead woman I later learned lived in unit 840.
That evening, when I returned to my unit from my office, I saw that East Indian women had gathered like a bouquet of randomly picked sarees to chat in several dialects. Their black eyed children screeched in English chasing one another in circles around the playground. The late afternoon sun brought out the shine in the women’s jet black hair, and a slight breeze lifted the light fabric that enwrapped them, like shrouds out for a holiday. Their husbands, almost never seen, worked as programmers at the local high tech companies. The women talked in a circle, so that a pair of eyes was cast in every direction to trace the wild movements of their children. I wondered if these women knew about the death of the woman I had seen in the Jacuzzi the night before.
As I approached my unit, I saw that an older man was standing near my door. He was holding a clear plastic storage box of cosmetics. The door to Unit 840 was open, and as I drew closer, I glanced inside. I saw Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” framed upon the far wall. I averted my eyes, embarassed at seeming to pry. I tried to walk around he man, whose sagging frame filled most of the narrow passage leading to my door. Unit 840 was just one or two steps opposite my own door. I marveled that I had never once peered into Unit 840 in my four years of living there.
“Excuse me” I said. He did not move. He looked up. A trickle of tears had left a path of wetness down his cheeks that caught the evening light, and almost sparkled. “Did you know her?” he asked. “Excuse me” I said, trying to be pleasant but slightly irritated. I was tired and hungry from a long day, and wanted to be alone. “Did you know my daughter?” he asked. “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t know who your daughter is.” “You lived here didn’t you? You lived right across from her.”
I wondered how he could know that. I had reached for my keys, but I had not approached my door because he was standing in the way. “She lived just across from you, and you never once said “hello” to her?” His voice was firm now, and accusatory. I was taken aback by the shift in his tone. “Come inside” he said. His voice was flat, factual, suddenly unemotional. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time right now. I have some things I have to take care.” He reached inside his jacket and withdrew a handgun. “Come inside” he said. I stepped inside.
With a strange civility, he asked me if I would like to sit awhile. He offered me a cup of coffee or water. I declined. He retrieved a book from an end table, and holding the gun in one hand, opened the book to a marked page. “This is my daughter’s journal,” he noted, “and I think you’d been interested in what she wrote on the last day of her life.” He read the page slowly, as if the words were like pieces of glass in his mouth, tearing at the soft skin of his tongue.
“There is a man who lives across from me. He lives in his box, and I live in mine. Four feet of space separates his door from mine. For four years we have offered each other the sounds of footsteps in the hall, and the closing of doors in the morning and night. Not once have I met his eyes. Once, looking through the peep hole of my door, curious at who might live so close to me, I saw him, round and irregular, like an image from the magic mirrors at a carnival. One day, when I was leaving my door just as he was arriving at his, I said “Hello” to him. I felt I had breached a sacred code of silence. He said nothing to me. He seemed eager to get inside his box as quickly as possible. I feel so completely alone, as if I don’t really exist. I might as well not even be here. Tonight I will put my life on the line with this man. I am betting he will not care, just like no one else cares.”
He looked up at me then. I was confused, and he must have seen that. He put the book down. “You were in the jacuzzi with my daughter the night she killed herself, weren’t you?” “I don’t know how she died.” I said. “I don’t know where you’re going with this. Yes, I was in the jacuzzi with a woman I never saw before. I saw that a body was removed from the jacuzzi the next morning, and I learned it was the same woman. Are you her father?”
He put the gun away. “It isn’t loaded” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m so distraught I hardly know what I’m doing. You can leave.” I didn’t move. “Why did you read that journal entry to me?” “I’m not exactly sure” he said. I think my daughter’s death might have meant something if I told you what she wrote. “Is that all she wrote?” I asked. “No,” he said, “She wrote that she was more than ready to die, but that she intended to follow you to the jacuzzi when she saw you leave from your apartment. She wrote that if you asked about her, showed her any concern at all, she would tell you what she had just swallowed a bottle of pills.” He hesitated. “She wrote that she was quite confident she would die that night.”
The woman’s father began to sob in front of me. I felt uncomfortable. I got up to leave, taking a few steps, and looking back. “Why did you force me here to share that?” I asked again. “Do you really think I’m going to take responsibility for your daugther’s suicide?” He looked up, and composed himself. “Of course not” he answered. I just thought my daughter’s death might have meaning if it helped you take responsibility for yourself.” I stared at him for a minute. My knees grew weak, and I struggled to catch my breath. I began heaving. Dry, shuddering sobs rose up from my chest, and finally tears, tears that washed over my face like a hot summer rain that I could never hear within unit 839.
(c) 2011 FXP