I haven’t wanted to fuck since J left. Instead I masturbate once, sometimes twice a night to the sounds of my neighbors’ sexy role-play. I prefer just the sounds. I have never been one for touching much, anyway. There’s no fanfare in it. It comes at you all at once, all hot and sticky, then minutes later it’s spoiled, and it’s nausea, shame and reproach. I’ve always thought it was the most overrated aspect of these affairs.
When I first came to view my apartment, two years ago, I didn’t waste time—I didn’t care about large closets or new renovations, or what the realtor meant by “walkability” and the other calculated, impulse-inspiring, however phrases she spewed at me. It was obvious the place hadn’t been rented out in a while. There were bug carcasses and beer bottles, crumpled up papers and plastics, dirt swept into all the corners. There was a quarter of a pig frozen in the freezer that had somehow still managed to rot. I didn’t care. All I cared about was listening—I knocked on the walls of every room, asked when I could move in.
So I’ve been blessed with thin walls, and I touch myself carelessly each night, a comfortable distance from the action. Often I wish to tell them what I am doing. I lie in my bed, the lights down, my eyes closed, one ankle threaded through my underwear, and the thought permeates me with some perverse hunger. But the next day, when I hear them coming down the stairs, I am either struggling with some groceries, or I am rushing to piss, or I am reading something embarrassing, like Cummings. I am grappling with the lock as my face begins to warm, and then I lose my nerve. I cannot lift my eyes as they pass by. After, I go inside and stare patiently, expectantly at my ceiling. I say to myself, They’re aware—maybe not that I’ve been using their sexual exploits like a sixteen-year-old would a magazine, kept in some clandestine corner of their room, but surely about the condition of these walls. I say to my ceiling, distant, Ultimately your disregard is as much an invitation to me as a formal letter! Then I rise, take two steps to the other piece of furniture I own, and begin to write a formal letter:
“Dear 2nd Floor,
Let us take the time to apologize for our recent bouts of carnal pleasure. You see, my partner and I have been together for a long time—and in that time—we’ve discovered nothing more perpetually arousing to us than our own brand of outlandish role-play. I’m sure you’re often cursing us in the late hours of the night. Admittedly we can get a bit loud at times; we know the way noises tend to travel between these unkept walls… That super is a cheap bastard, don’t you think? He hasn’t fixed this place up since he inherited it from his step-father. He’d hated that man, but he was rich. He went to Sarah-Lawrence to become a writer. He reveled mostly in the sans pareil stories of beatniks. He sometimes asks if I would like to read one of his stories. At first I tried to be polite about it. More recently I’ve been leaving my rent checks set atop the doorframe. He can’t reach them there! The short bastard! Hahaha! If he gives you any trouble, you ought to let us know…
Anyway, we can’t express our sincerity enough through writing. Come by our apartment sometime for a dinner. We’d be remiss to turn you away.
P.S. Should the sounds of our sleeplessness ever rouse you in the middle of the night, I encourage you to follow the lewd urges of your heart. Do so, and soon sleep will embrace you.”
I stare at the letter. I fold it into thirds. I put it in an envelope and place it under my pillow. I think, Maybe their neighbors are doing the same thing, maybe even their neighbors above them. Maybe It’s all a harmony, mutualism, all of them subsisting by each other’s sexuality. But then I think, Am I disturbing the natural habitat? Is my loneliness the problem of my neighbors? Maybe the tenant below me hasn’t come in ages, and it’s all my fault! The thought alone is too much to bear.
I consider asking the top-floor tenants if they wouldn’t mind switching. It’s late as I climb the three flights of stairs to their door. I knock, and a woman holding a cleaver, dressed in nothing but a semi-transparent apron, answers. There’s two men on the floor. They are wearing shiny leather jockstraps and pig noses and crawling around on all fours. I say plainly, Would you mind switching apartments?, and the women says, Mm, well, uhh, I do love the view, and I say, Yes, yes of course. I go back down the stairs. I masturbate, and soon sleep embraces me.
When I awake from a dream in the middle of the night, I can only remember these things:
Cereal in bed
I lie awake wondering the things I don’t. Wondering, What else? Thinking, If I could only remember, if I could only remember, if I could only…