The Upstairs Neighbor

March 31, 2020

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The night her mother died, it rained, and Caroline giggled when the warm, wet drops squeezed through the cracks in the ceiling and landed on her nose. She remembered the smell of ozone and damp cedar. She remembered the sound of leather suitcases dragging across the hardwood floor, and her mother emptying entire drawers of her clothes into them without folding. She remembered her mother saying in her Southern warm-honey drawl that they had to hurry.

 

Then her father came home, and the rain stopped.

 

The police said her mom’s death was an accident, but Caroline knew better. She didn’t fall down those stairs on her own. But no one believed a little girl who was born with no eyes. They thought she was simple. They thought she had an over-active imagination. They were right.

 

After the funeral, her father sold their house and everything in it. An estate sale. He said he wanted to start over, but that was a lie. He was haunted by what he’d done. He was running from her mother’s ghost.

 

They were halfway across the country before he felt safe again. He promised Caroline he was going to be better from then on. He would get sober and find a job. He would be a good father.

 

At first, he kept that promise. They moved into a new apartment in the city, and he purchased new furniture. He bought Caroline nice clothes and a little record player with a top that opened like a mouth. She fed it Loretta Lynn albums all day long. He started attending AA meetings. He didn’t shout at her. He didn’t hit her. He read her bedtime stories. He called her “my little angel.”

 

She knew it wouldn’t last.

 

The day he started drinking again, someone moved into the apartment above them. Caroline heard them dragging their leather suitcases across the hardwood floor. She smelled the ozone and damp cedar.

 

From then on, there was no peace. The upstairs neighbor was loud and never slept. They danced and they jumped and they laughed. Her father scowled at the ceiling and drank more. He started going out late at night. He lost his job and stopped attending meetings. He screamed at the upstairs neighbor and pounded on the ceiling with a broom. Caroline stayed in her room and played her records.

 

One night, the sky opened up and it rained so hard her father couldn’t go out. He sat on the couch staring at the ceiling while he slowly emptied a bottle of Wild Turkey. The upstairs neighbor laughed and laughed. Caroline played her records.

 

Finally, he jumped off the couch and broke the lock on Caroline’s door. He picked up her record player and smashed it against the wall. She could smell his whiskey breath and his sweat. Lightning flashed outside, and the upstairs neighbor began pounding on the ceiling so hard pieces of plaster fell off.

 

That was when her father lost his temper. He stormed out of the apartment, and Caroline heard his boots ring on the steps as he stomped upstairs. She heard him pound on the door above. She heard him scream at the occupant to show themselves. She heard the door upstairs open and her father shriek. After that, there was a single loud crunch and the sound of something new being dragged across the floor.

 

Then the rain stopped, and everything was quiet.

 

Caroline giggled when the warm, wet drops squeezed through the cracks in the ceiling and landed on her nose.

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