It’s four AM and the faint sound of rainwater slapping the sidewalk is doing little to calm me back to sleep. In fact, it’s all I can do to avoid rising out of the warmth of the covers and run to the bathroom to drain my bladder, full as it is. Instead, I’ve grabbed my notebook, and as I drift back and forth to a surface level dreamland, I think of Mallory and her mother, always so sweet and kind, and how they had avoided my eyes when I came home last night.
I always see Mallory, or her mother, in the hallway between our apartments. They live at the top of the stairs; it’s difficult to miss them. Mallory spends time in the hallway because it’s cooler out there. She colors in her books, or sits with her cat in her lap, stroking its furry back while the animal purrs with content. I’m envious of the cat’s existence, an easy life with pure joy at every corner, and very little stress.
Mallory’s mother, though sweet to the degree that she’ll say hello rather than turn away when I walk past, always does so with her guard up. Her shoulders fling back and she clenches her fist every time I walk by. Not out of fear, I hope, but rather because she’s nervous at how I’ll respond. I rather think she has a crush on me, or maybe that’s my ego. I don’t think so, though. I catch her staring after me when I reach my door, and more than once I’ve caught her about to knock on my door when I’m leaving for work.
The peephole jumps from shadow to light in the second before I open the door, and her footsteps dashing down the hall are almost like feathers grazing the floor, such is the speed at which she flees. I’ve asked her about this on more than one occasion, why she’ll only knock and never wait for me to open my door. She flusters, turns and runs inside, or down the stairs and away. I’ve never heard her speak, and even Mallory rarely says more than a ‘hello’ or goodbye in the mornings.
And then there was that night, last night. When I reached the top of the stairs, Mallory and her mother were standing there, holding hands, both white as ghosts. They glared at me for a moment, and in that moment I saw sadness, and pity. And then they turned away and both went inside, the cat shortly after. I did not ask why were standing there like that, nor did I offer any greeting in return.
I reached my door, and didn’t have to insert the key or turn the knob. The door was open more than a little. They must’ve seen, from the hallway — what if they went inside?
I searched quickly, finding my box and testing the lid — it was loose. I peeled off the cover, and there was nothing inside — it had escaped, it was loose — and I might never find it again…
…To be continued