He hears pounding on a wall of his apartment. “I can hear you thinking in there,” his neighbor Maryellen shouts. “Come out in the hallway. I’ve got something to show you.” He doesn’t resist. He can’t complain he’s being interrupted.
He opens his door and finds her waiting in a buttoned-up robe, an envelope in hand, her eyes on him. “These are my three suicide notes. Never followed through on the act, but I wrote them to be read. You have to promise not to put them online.” “Agreed, but are you sure?” She hands him the envelope. “I’d ask you to come in, but it’s too embarrassing, not fit for the eyes of others.” He’s heard this line several times before. She told him once that no one had been in her apartment in years and she planned to keep it that way. “Don’t grind your wheels too hard,” she says as she goes back inside, “you’ll keep us awake.”
He sits with the envelope at his wobbly kitchen table. The notes may be too intimate, too gory, but he’s curious and tears the envelope open. He finds three folded sheets of paper. The first one says: Nothing. The second one: Still nothing. The third one has only Maryellen’s signature. He wonders if they’re what she claims. Does she mean to imply his thinking amounts to nothing?
He stuffs them in the envelope and goes out in the hallway and slides it under her door. Then he listens for a knock, at his door or on the wall, and imagines her asking herself why he hasn’t put a note of his own in the envelope. Her silence leaves him hanging and he suspects she’s letting it ride to make him consider what’s inside it. But she may not have seen the envelope or she may expect him to comment when he sees her. She’s apparently trusted him with an intimate part of her history, and he reacts with suspicion.
She knocks on the wall. “I don’t know what you’re thinking. Come out in the hallway.” She wants him to show his face, just a chat, not worth a no-show that could provoke nagging.
He opens his door and Maryellen’s waiting for him. “So?” she asks. “Thank you for letting me read them. I understand. Words fail to express what the blank page can say. From the edge of a cliff, what do you see below? Nothing.” He didn’t know he had these exact words in him. Did he mean them? She seems to be sniffing his mind. Suddenly she eases and says: “Do you want to come in?”
He feels he’s being cornered. “I’m meeting someone,” he says. She nods, drops her eyes. He’s embarrassed her, but he doesn’t want to backtrack, tell her he’ll postpone his meeting and knock on her door in a minute, after which they can share miserable tales till sunrise. He dreads she’ll ask where he’s going and he’ll have to come up with a story, but she retreats without another word.
He steps inside but knows he has to leave, and he fears she’ll follow him to see where he goes. It could lead to a blowup in the street, and what could he say in his defense? He decides to stay put, but he has to make a show and he should do it before she has time to change out of her robe. He opens his door, counts to two, and then shuts it. She’ll assume he’s left, he hopes, but he’ll have to keep quiet, no music or throat clearing or talking out loud.
“I know you’re still there,” she shouts. She must have checked her peephole, but she could be bluffing, figuring if he’s gone he won’t hear her.
What if he hears a gunshot? He can’t risk it, he’ll tell her he’s changed his plans and he’s not declining her invitation. But why plunge into her apartment if there’s no reason? She could begin to bare her soul, reveal her personal history and expect him to reciprocate.
He sits and closes his eyes, his mind drifting, but it drifts toward her and he resents the way she’s insinuated herself into him, using his emotions against him to create sympathy. But his aversion to her may have more to do with him than with her. In some ways she’s like him and he’s uncomfortable seeing himself in aspects of her. Is he looking at himself in twenty years?
He hears a knock on his door and gives up pretending he’s out. He opens it and sees Maryellen, who appears distraught and begins by apologizing. She regrets dropping the notes in his lap; she’s put him on the spot, she now sees, and what could he have said under the circumstances? If he’d told her he had nothing to say she’d have thought he was making fun of her notes. She realizes some things shouldn’t be shared and she doesn’t want to cause tension that will lead to him never speaking to her again. She looks past him, at his doorway, but he doesn’t invite her in.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she says. Is she hoping he’d rather let her in than ask what she means? He says nothing. “Till later then,” she says. He dips his head and closes the door.
He sits in his chair and chokes down his groans, if she hears him the situation could escalate. Her words, Till later then, stick to him, portending his next encounter with her. She may be cursing him, but he doesn’t regret his silence. He tilts his head back, his inner noise blurring, and in his mind’s eye Maryellen hovers over him.
He wakes up with a sore neck, sore molars because he’s been grinding them, his neck and molars seeming connected as his eyes move to the shared wall. He wonders how she’s doing, if she’s suffering, angry, if she’s muttering to him. He won’t ask.