Lessons on Idleness
by Margot Kahn
Two lesbians live downstairs. They are in their late forties or fifties. They own their apartment and two cars--a blue Passat and a silver SUV--and they are always, it seems, watching TV. Once, they banged on their ceiling (our floor) with a dull implement (a broom?) because our radio was too loud. That was after they had asked us to park our car two more feet away from theirs, and to walk more quietly. "Have you ever lived above someone?" they asked my fiancÚ after he watered the plants on the deck and the water spilled down onto theirs. Another time one said to me, "You walk like an angel, but the men!" As if I had a harem of them tromping in and out to please me at all hours. Occasionally, when one or the other of us jumps up and down in glee or accidentally trips over our shoes in the hall, the other will look nervously at the floor and say "You're going to get the broom!" Sometimes I can't help but think that, when the weather is nice and we have the windows open, they can hear us having sex and it disgusts them.
In the apartment across the hall lives a man whom I have only seen once in six months. Many men go in and out his door and none ever say hello. It surprised me when we were moving in, our door open and packing boxes everywhere, he would walk by without a glance or a 'hello'. When we came back from vacation a few weeks ago, he knocked on our door just as I had closed it, my coat and hat still on, flipping through the mail. He held in his hands a large cardboard package, roughly four feet by three feet. "This came for you," he said kindly. I, shocked, said thank you, and then he was gone--turned and two steps back into his apartment, door closed. Today I learned that he has a relative in a monastery. A package was left for him by the mailboxes and the return address, from St. Mary's Monastery, bore the same surname as his. How interesting, I thought. But then it did not surprise me. The package was small; there was no need to collect it on his behalf.
Every morning at seven o'clock, a rhythmic slapping comes from above our bathroom. It is like the sound of heavy felt soap pads at the car wash flapping against your car, except faster. It is a sound heard through a layer of world, sound occurring in a different space. It used to happen for approximately five minutes beginning at eight o'clock sharp; since daylight savings time it happens for approximately five minutes beginning at seven o'clock. (Perhaps daylight savings time was forgotten.) The morning noise, I am guessing, is caused by a shower massage shower head. I know that the woman who showers under it is tall and thin and very blonde. I have seen her. Her name is Anna and she is an artist. I've never spoken to her, but a friend knew her from an old job, used to have to take her art from gallery to gallery. She is German and assertive, my friend says; she knows what she wants and she's not afraid to tell you. I am told her art is composed of hundreds of tiny splinters of glass, like ice crystals, all fused together.
The last apartment in our unit is empty. It has been empty since we moved in six months ago. Last month a sign appeared on the street with pamphlets saying it was for sale. We took one just to see what the asking price was: three hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a two-bedroom apartment on the corner of a freeway exit and with a view only of the Bridge Motel (recently the Bridge Mot l) where the same cars and one motor boat have been parked for as long as we've lived here. If it wasn't for the view, or lack of, we would consider buying the place. We don't have the money, but we'd consider it. As it is, we like our unit better. When it's clear we can see the mountains and the lake, the lights of the city twinkling at night, and on warmer days I can watch the man across the alley tending his small rectangular garden with his shirt off, smoking a cigarette and listening to Latin music.
About the author:
Margot Kahn lives in Seattle. She has work forthcoming in Work magazine.