The Next(7)

By: Rafe Haze

It had been half a year at least since I’d last opened the thick heavy curtains and observed The Couch Potatoes, Schlongzilla, the Beached Whale, the Little Old Man, the Princess, or the Perfects. And, I suppose, it had been a year since any of them had observed me. Part of me was curious who had said “Screw this!” to this year’s rent jacks and who had endured. If you can’t pay the rent in New York, you’ll get booted and replaced in a matter of minutes by ambitious landlords. I was curious who remained, but drawing back the red curtain was more psychological adjustment than I could muster at that moment. But as the disposal continued to growl in a low continual anger, fate mustered it for me.

Knock knock.

Who managed to get past the street door buzzer to reach my door? Unless…oh, damn it! Please don’t let it be Mrs. Abraham and her yapping toy dog Minnie from down the hall.

Mrs. Abraham was in her seventies and had lived with her sister when I first moved in. The sister had Parkinson’s disease, and her condition was progressing rapidly. But Mrs. Abraham was warm and generous, knocking on my door with yappity yap yap to bring me foil-covered leftovers. At first, I enjoyed the idea of a friendly gabby neighbor who enjoyed sharing food and looking after each other. However, one evening I returned her casserole dish and encountered Mrs. Abraham dealing with her sister fidgeting epileptically on the mint-green carpet, drooling in a steady stream down her jaw. She inadvertently struck her sister in the mouth with her fist, but Mrs. Abraham ignored the split lip as she grabbed hold of her sister’s right hand and held it tightly. I did not know what to do except crouch next to Mrs. Abraham and take the sister’s other hand. The convulsions began to mellow, mellow, mellow, then stopped. Mrs. Abraham and I waited, holding the sister’s hands, listening in silence to the breathing until it resumed a steady calm rhythm.

Minnie stared in wide eyes at the procedure from atop the bright yellow couch, not yapping in my presence for the first time ever.

In the silence, the sister on the floor gently opened her eyes. She looked at me. Studied me. And then, with a wide smile that would be called radiant were it not for her teeth’s darkened, rotting state, pointed and said, “Look, Dinah! It’s Jack!”

Mrs. Abraham’s first name wasn’t Dinah, and mine wasn’t Jack.

Mrs. Abraham petted her sister’s forehead tenderly. She responded softly, “No, Lucy. It’s Phillip.”

I smiled, not knowing who the hell Phillip was either.

Then my heart froze as I realized the connection.

Jack, Phillip, Dinah, and Lucy were characters in the rust-brown hardback Enid Blyton Adventure books my brother and I had read as children after my mother’s parents handed them down to her. Since these books were immensely popular among our grandparent’s generation, it made absolute sense that Mrs. Abraham and her sister would have read them too. I had not thought about them for decades. I drew a sharp breath. My jaw stiffened. My teeth clenched.

“My name is…” I began to correct.

“…is Phillip.” Mrs. Abraham interrupted.

Okay, I could play along for the sake of the addled mind lying weak and confused on the floor, drooling, her grey hair unkempt and tangled, her arthritic pointed finger, and her thin cracked lips smiling, assuaged gently by Mrs. Abraham with her soft patient green eyes and bleeding lip. But my blood was icy. Mrs. Abraham could have no knowledge as to why. At the time I could barely acknowledge why myself. The two smiled at each other, now comforted. I let go of her hand and departed, closing the door as silently as I could.

The sister died a month later.

Through no fault of her own, Mrs. Abraham had now become an elderly woman living alone in New York City, which meant she was a woman with tremendous needs. But I was still a writer with only one—to be left alone. I needed no maternal substitute, nor had I ever asked for one, and I needed the desserts from her kitchen even less. Most annoying was the mounting feeling of guilt and obligation to return her neighborliness, and those feelings evolved into a Pavlovian resentment every time I heard the knock on the door hailing another steaming foil-covered casserole dish of buttery guilt. Plus I began to imagine drop kicking Minnie to oblivion every time I heard it yappity yap yap when anyone padded his way past her door. But we were neighbors. I accepted her apple strudel once and would be plagued with accepting it until the day one of us kicked it first.

Knock knock.

Whoever knocked would not go away, apparently.

What was interesting was that there was no yappity yap yap leading up to these knocks, which only meant this visitor did not approach from the stairs. If it was not Mrs. Abraham, he or she would have had to come from Mrs. Abraham’s apartment, for there were only two apartments on our floor. I opened the door without asking whom.

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