"There it is, that goddamned thumping. I swear to god I’m going to have another talk with him if he doesn’t turn down that asinine music."
"Hmm?" Molly asks me, not looking up from the book in her hands. It has a man and a woman on the cover, their clothing ragged and very engagingly colored in just such a way as to pull your eyes down to the vital areas.
"The music," I say, but she doesn't follow. She cranes her neck exposing the corner where shoulder and neck meet in captivating carved hollows and then shakes her head. Even though it’s nearly shaking the vase off the coffee table, my little chickadee with her little bookie-poo does not hear the maniacal pumping of bass that drives me to distraction once or twice a day. Well, she'll learn, too, that life isn't all about pretending you don’t hear the music.
The man in the next apartment was large. Not simply tall, but grotesquely fat with thick fingers and puffy lips that brought to mind the sounds of Thanksgiving dinners and hot dog eating contests. On a whim, after seeing him huffing and puffing his way up the stairs on evening, where he practically collapsed on the last landing, I started monitoring his garbage output, curious to see just what would make a man turn into a monster. We had always exchanged polite hellos in the hallway until the day he caught me in the act of picking through his trash. I was elbow deep in the black plastic bag, sorting through empty McNugget boxes, my fingers coated with some unidentifiable grease, when he opened his apartment door and stood there looking at me. I looked back, figuring there wasn't much to say to someone at such a moment and finally he stepped back in to his apartment, letting the door slam behind him. After that, he seemed to do his best to avoid talking to me, even when I’d throw him a hearty "How's it going!"
Molly was angry with me for that. She was always very worried about our reputation among the other tenants and so, at her request, I went next door and knocked, ready to face my belligerent neighbor and to then explain, through my utter revulsion, that I had seen a roach in the hallway and was only trying to retie his bag to make sure that the little fellows didn't spread to any of the apartments. But there was no answer, and so I was off the hook. Word of the incident hadn’t spread and we were invited to the party at the Cornova's, an exclusive little get-together for their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Molly wore some green dress that she said made her feel like one of the girls in those books. I told her that she was always a babe to me, but kept thinking how much I wanted to throw out all those stupid books and give her a good shake right back into reality.
Everything was going fine before the fatty showed up. I had been having a great time, knocking back the drinks and every so often shooting Molly one of our special signals that meant something special in the bedroom later on. He walked in, and I found out his name was Mike something-or-other. I watched him make a beeline for the buffet table, where he grabbed a plate and took six deviled eggs. Six deviled eggs! I casually waved at him while he one by one wrapped his chubby lips around those eggs, getting yolk on his wide nose and his cheeks. I had to excuse myself to the bathroom to let my stomach settle. As it was, I poured out my wine and was sitting on the toilet seat when the hostess knocked to make sure everything was alright. What was I supposed to tell her? That the walking embodiment of all of humanity's problems was currently waging war on her side table? That a gigantic walking ham hock was in her living room? I assured her that I was fine, and giggled at the thought of Mike McFatty trussed up like a turkey, laid out.
That night, just as I had finally gotten Molly out of her panties, it started. A low growl and then a whine and then thump thump thump coming through the walls, with an underlying melody so faint that I had to press my ear to the wall to figure out that it was music. I sat on the bed naked, listening, my erection fading quickly, my woman no longer my main focus.
"Come on, let's pretend we're in college or something. It could be romantic," she said, eyes dull, her chest still moving up and down heavily. I shot her a dark look.
"You think pirates and farmhands are romantic. Give me a fucking break."
She started to say something, but I shut her up with my finger to my lips and then started banging on the wall in time to the music. I kept at it through four different songs, until my fist hurt and I wondered if I’d sprained it or something, before getting up and putting on my clothing. I was walking out the door when she came up behind me with a sheet wrapped around herself.
"Come on, honey, calm down. I’ll talk to Mike about it tomorrow. What’s the big deal?"
"Molly, the guy ate six deviled eggs," I explained, and left.
I went walking in an attempt to clear my head, but all I could think about was how the world had gone to pot and that all around there were signs of it. I passed dirty homeless people in doorways with their shit and piss stink and their signs. I'm so hungry. Will work for food. I felt the impulse to bust something up but instead flipped each one some change to let them know that even though I was dressed like the rest of them, I was their brother. Sometimes I felt like no one else saw it but me. Escapism. Overindulgence. If we kept stuffing stimulus into ourselves we were going to blow the fuck up like the world's biggest water balloon, all collapsed with its guts spilled everywhere.
I walked most of the night, and Molly was asleep by the time I crept in. I was tired and purged, so I slept fine and went to the office the next day, where I kowtowed to the same old idiots in the same old socially prescribed ways. Nothing new there, and I arrived home prepped for a second dose of the same mind numbing lifestyle. Molly, my sweet little girl, greeted me in the kitchen.
"I talked to Mike about his music today," she said, handing me the mail.
"Oh yeah? What did Fatty McFatfat have to say?"
She gave me the look and I shrugged my shoulders, because he was fat and his music was stupid, so what the hell did she want from me anyway.
"He said that he'd turn it down and that he was sorry. He didn’t think we could hear it."
Didn't think we could hear it my ass, I yelled later that evening and took up my post again, crouched, ear to the wall. Good for nothing ham hock. Fucking fat-ass. Piece of shit bass-thumping mother-fucking I don’t know what. I punched the wall in time to the music, hard, until I was leaving bloody marks and Molly rushed over, grabbed my fist and asked what was wrong. Hello, I wanted to say, hello, earth to stupid, don’t you see? Can't you face it for one second and see that this is the sort of trash that’s destroying the world? She pulled me to the bathroom and held my hand under cold water, which burned. I liked it; it was cleansing.
"Water balloons," I said, shaking my head and Molly grabbed my chin and locked eyes with me.
"Are you OK? What is up with you lately?" she asked.
"I'm fine. I just got a little upset, but now I feel very bad about all that banging on the wall. I’ll apologize to...Mike tomorrow," I said, and flashed her my best apology smile. She couldn't know. I could feel the bass coming through the wall into my hand where I steadied myself, but I ignored it for the time being and let my other hand be bandaged and healed with a kiss.
The next day, after another day at the office, I stopped at a McDonalds and picked up a twenty piece McNuggets, thinking how entirely McDelighted fatty was going to be when I knocked on his door holding a bouquet of fried chicken. His smile shook his jowls and sent his fat-pockets all aquiver when he opened the door and I watched his little eyes stray down to the brown grease-stained bag in my left hand. Yes, that’s it, I thought, look what I've got for you. First I’m going to make you eat shit, my man. I held up the bag.
"I felt bad for not just asking you to cut the music, so I brought us a little snack. You busy?"
He wobbled back into the apartment and beckoned me in. He was almost wall-to-wall in the hallways, which made me shudder behind him. Every step he took shifted his bulk and I looked down at my own reasonably flat stomach, that was nothing exceptional, and wondered if this was everyone’s future, brought on by sloth. The television was on in his living room, I could make out the opening music to Seinfeld playing quietly. Sneaky sounds, some kind of fitting introduction to a later hour when his rap would invade my brain. I slowly pulled the nuggets out of the bag and put them on the kitchen table between us. He licked his lips, snaking his pink wormy tongue around and around over those lips so that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I let him wait, torturing him, watching him stare at the box and I could tell that he wanted them and I wanted him to want them. So I could have a reason to do something.
"Eat," I said, pointing to the box.
I watched. Twenty McNuggets, disappeared into his jiggling gut to lodge perhaps with six deviled eggs and the whole slew of other nugget and nugget-esque foodstuffs that his trash had indicated to me his liking for. By the time he popped the last chunk into his maw and was licking his fingers, one by one, making loud popping and smacking noises, I was on the edge. I couldn’t hear the TV anymore. Somewhere, far away, there was a thumping tongue-slapping sickness that was begging to be cured and I realized that the slobbering asshole in front of me was going to drive me insane, one way or another, so I might as well just let it happen.
"Goddamned water balloon," I murmured, getting up, opening a drawer and pulling out a nice sharp looking knife.
"Hey man, what are you doing?" he asks, voice buzzing, slow. I don’t know if it's all the food in him or just my perception that tells me I’m lightning fast and he’s cold molasses. He stands so slowly, I almost feel sorry for him. I advance, and he retreats but there’s not really anywhere to go in the tiny kitchen.
"Listen. Mike. Mike McFatty. Could you turn down your fucking music?"
He nods, blubbers, puts up his arms to block, but he’s slow and just for kicks I knick his cheek to see if there really is a big pocket of fat. His hand drifts to his face and I’m dancing, dancing so quickly. Buzz buzz, he says.
"And how about you lose some fucking weight? People are starving out there," I say, using the knife to point out the window and when he turns to look, there it goes, disappearing into his throat like so much food, except via a newer conduit. His eyes, panicked, turn back to me, and I take my hand off the knife, leaving it to hang in there or fall out, I don't know which. I've never stabbed anyone before. There is a moment when I'm looking out through his eyes, looking at me, and then infinite remorse floods me in one millisecond of time, flowing back into the merged thing we have become. And I know that he is sorry.
Later that night, it was quiet and Molly and I made love in blissful silence, listening only to the sound of our own breathing. There were no interruptions, no inconveniences, her novels were nowhere in sight, and I was free to forget the ills of the world. Afterwards, lying wrapped around each other, she asked me about how things went with Mike and I told her that he promised not to play his music loudly anymore. Two days after that she offhandedly remarked about a particular scent in the landing.
"Probably someone's trash or something," I said, and then I heard it: bass but no melody, flowing through the walls, coming.