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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Keith Prosser

The alarm clock in Jocasta Smith's apartment beeped from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. every morning for three weeks before the tenant next door found the nerve to knock on my door and ask me to check it out.

I've been a building manager long enough to know this can't be good.

"Sorry, what was that Edith?"

She stares up at me like a mouse asking a cat to pass the cheese.

"I said, at first I thought maybe someone was just on vacation? And forgot to shut off their alarm? But then I thought, what if something's wrong?"

Edith Brennan moved into the bachelor suite next to Jocasta's just under two months ago. I have never heard her speak in more than a breathy whisper. Every time I talk to her I start wondering if there's something wrong with my hearing. She also tends to end her sentences on a higher pitch, as though she's asking a question.

She looks like she's waiting for a signal to leave, standing there fidgeting with her sleeves.

"Don't worry," I sigh. "I'll check it out. I'm sure it's nothing."

Edith murmurs something that could be 'thank you' and scurries back to her apartment. I take a deep breath and follow her down the hall.

I've had this gig for five years now. I can handle the plugged toilets, the dripping ceilings, the periodic battles with roaches and ants. I can play the heavy when the rent's overdue and I can coax old Tony Tsui, who owns the building, to spring for a new dryer when the old one stops working. But oh God, I do not want to deal with this.

I lived in an apartment as a tenant once where someone died. The dead man's apartment and the two next to it were roped off as a biohazard. The next-door tenants were put up in a hotel for a month while all three suites were scoured clean by men and women in yellow hazmat suits.

The smell didn't respect the yellow tape. I don't know how far gone the body was. The sweet rot smell crawled into your nose and down your throat. If you breathed through your mouth you tasted it on your tongue. It's impossible to describe just how revolting it was. The reaction to the smell is hardwired into us: stay away, don't come close.

I'm at Jocasta's door. I knock, because despite all I am an optimist. Predictably, there is no answer. I sniff the air ... if Jocasta is in there, she's not ripe yet. There's a faint smell of cooking bacon and, oddly, cat piss. No pets here. One more thing to check out.

Enough delay.

I knock once more, for form, and turn the key in the door. I'm sweating and cold. The hair is standing up on my forearms.

"Jocasta? Are you here?"

But there's nothing. No one around. The apartment is immaculate except for one meal's worth of dishes drying in the sink and two wine-stained glasses resting on coasters on the coffeetable. I walk into her bedroom and turn off the alarm.

I wipe the sweat off my face with a sleeve and heave a big sigh. No calling hazmat this time.

Then it hits me: the door was unlocked. Who goes away for three weeks and doesn't lock her apartment? Who does all the dishes except for a couple of wine glasses, and yet uses coasters?

Not hazmat. Police. Damn.

5 Comments:

  • I had intended to put something in there about Jocasta being old and about Keith worrying one day he'll have to deal with the death of one of the old folks in the building, but I'm not sure where it can go without breaking the flow. Any ideas?

    Keith is a younger guy in my head, about 30ish. I haven't described him because it was more important to me to establish other aspects of his character. Edith lives in the building now, but I'd like to see some characters make friends with Keith so that he has more than just interactions with tenants.

    I'd also be interested to see if anyone will pick up the Jocasta thread. I don't know what's happened to her yet.

    By Blogger Briana, at 5/26/2005 09:04:00 AM  

  • You could sneak in a comment about doilies or candy dishes during the scan of the apartment, to make the apartment a bit "older". Think about your grandparents' houses and what makes them distinct from your peers.

    What it will do is make Keith's observations seem less focused on the dishes and wine glasses, at the same time as creating more of Jocasta's personality. I like the idea of photographs of her never-seen grandchildren or something.

    I find it very difficult to create one character without drawing in another.

    By Blogger Corinne, at 5/26/2005 11:10:00 AM  

  • I also like the fact that the broken stove was Edith's fault, in a sense. I just assumed she moved into a cheap, bum apartment with an absent/jerkass manager; perhaps that is how Edith sees Keith.

    Awesome tie-in.

    By Blogger Corinne, at 5/26/2005 12:03:00 PM  

  • Honestly, I forgot about the stove. I just thought it was neat that I was already writing a painfully shy character at the same time as you were. I think Edith doesn't see herself as quite this bad, but I figured that to someone who is used to being firm and loud and big she would seem even smaller and mousier.

    Glad you like the tie-in too. It's neat to see your character in others' stories - I was tickled to see Wes and Keith in Donna's story!

    By Blogger Briana, at 5/26/2005 12:29:00 PM  

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