Rustling paper, tearing, ripping, followed by the flop of a heavy envelope landing on my desk made me realise that I wasn’t really alone in my little room.
I had just woken up. It was deepest winter and my whole body, including my head, was hidden under the Swedish quilt that was big enough to cover a horse.
I pulled back the quilt, just enough to see into the room. I saw a dark figure, a man, he stood with his back to me. He was shuffling a stack of my letters as he stood by the window. He scrutinizing the letters for clues.
As my eyes adjusted to the daylight, I saw that he was my neighbour who lived one floor above.
I wasn’t afraid. He was looking at my mail, and he used his fingers to open each letter, then snoop at the contents. I didn’t think he had weapon, he wasn’t that type.
When ever I’d talk to friends of mine, I’d refer to him as, “My Idiot Neighbour Klaus”.
I watched him, some letters interested him more than others. He stooped as he read the addresses, a shift of his neck and he was looking at the date in the top right corner. Next thing, the sound of the adhesive tearing away from the paper, a little gasp of breath, and the flip of paper as he spread the letter out in front of him.
I could see he was reading a hand written letter. I knew which one. That upset me.
I watched him for at least two minutes before I got up from my bed. I stood up in underwear and tee shirt. I noticed that he’d separated the letters into two piles on the desk in front of the window.
He was concentrating hard on reading the address on an envelope in his hand, he held it up close to his face, adjusting the distance for his focus. He shook its contents, then he groaned loudly. He seemed to lose interest, he threw it onto one of the two piles.
I knew he was a gossipy man. Anything else I knew about him was that he was a retired dancer, slim framed, he used camp gestures like fishing bait, it depended on who he was talking to as to how much bait he put on the hook. He always wore eye liner. I think he believed it made him more attractive to young men. It didn’t, it would often become wet and drip below his eyelids and make him appear foolish.
I knew when he shopped, when he ate, and when he left the building, day or night. He was my neighbour, I would know these things.
He would often catch me on the stairs when I left the building. For sure, he wanted to share some juicy titbit with me. He seemed to have a lot of knowledge about many people in the neighbourhood. I can’t stand a gossip.
He’d told me everything about the previous tenant who lived in my apartment. They had a relationship, it turned sour. He explained that he had to take action. Nobody else was interested, so he made sure the tenant couldn’t come back again. Then he began to miss him.
He’d taken this new tenant, a student, into his confidence. Then lured him with theatrical looks and a limp wrist, which developed into tea on Saturday mornings at his apartment. And just in case the new resident lost his apartment key, my neighbour convinced the student to hand over a spare for safe holding.
After a while, the student realised that his new friend, my neighbour Klaus, had abused his trust, and had been going into his apartment while he was away. He asked for the key to be returned.
My neighbour deemed this to be a betrayal of his trust. He became angry.
There was a big argument between the two of them. It seems that my neighbour had fallen in love with the student, and couldn’t bear the thought of being pushed away.
The argument spilled out into the hallway, doors were opened, people shouted, and they were told to shut up and go back inside.
Two neighbours from the third floor, claimed they witnessed Klaus storm into his apartment, then return with a heavy skillet in his hand. He took a swipe at the young student, who stepped back in time for the skillet to miss him and smash into the door.
The young man then sheepishly went back into Klaus’ apartment. The door closed, that was the last time that anybody saw the student.
I’d heard about all this because I’d visited the property manager hoping to get an apartment in this nice building. But My Idiot Neighbour Klaus, kept on about it to me. He didn’t know me.
A few days later, my neighbour told the other residents that the young student had packed and left. Apparently, in a huff. He left behind a skateboard, an iron, and a strange looking television-set, they were all still in the apartment when I moved in. I have no idea what to do with these things, it was only later when the dust had settled, that it occurred to me that he wouldn’t be coming back for them, at all. My mind gets confused.
Often, when I was on my way out, I’d hear Klaus’ door open quickly, and while I locked my apartment, his door would slam, and he’d scamper down the stairs and “accidentally” bump into me.
He introduced himself on the first night I moved in. He’d always act with great surprise. He flapped his hands around like a signalman as he spoke, then he would stop talking, and look intently at me, his eyes glistened as if he’d been drinking. The eye liner made everything worse for him.
He was an expert at dragging me into conversation, but he was irritating. But when he greeted me, he was polite. If I stopped and showed interest, he’d gasp, flap open his fingers and lightly place them onto my chest, then start gossiping. I didn’t have the time for it, but that’s how I got Klaus’ version of events.
I think a lot of the stories, the gossip, are embellished versions of simple facts. But I’m not sure of those facts, I think they’ve been distorted to protect someone.
As he continued to check my mail, I slipped on a pair of jeans. I was surprised that he didn’t hear me. His body language told me that he thought that I wasn’t home. Maybe he believed the puffed-up quilt on the bed was empty.
He breathed heavily, wheezy, and he mixed it up with various gasps and sighs. He reacted to my letters as if he was reading a best selling novel.
I felt more upset than afraid, he couldn’t punch a piece of paper, let alone a person. There were no iron skillets in my room. So I was okay.
He walked over to the student’s strange looking television set, and touched it gently. The skateboard leaned against the side of it. He looked down at it, and placed his forefinger on the base plate. I’m sure I heard his breathing increase, like an animal panting. It raised my hackles and made me feel annoyed.
I had a feeling that visiting people’s apartments when they were out, was something he did often. He seemed too relaxed and sure in his actions. There were times, when I’d returned home from a night out, and immediately feel as if someone had been in my apartment. In those times, I walked around, looking for signs of mischief, but found nothing.
It fascinated me to observe a person doing something wicked. Invading a neighbour’s private space. I knew no real harm would be done, but I would later have to chastise him for his actions by explaining things to him, and then getting rid of him.
I stood and watched for a minute longer. Then I walked towards him, two paces. He raised his head and looked out into the garden. Scuffing my feet on the carpet was loud enough, but he obviously presumed it was a person walking past the outside window.
I coughed. He turned around, his glassy eyes, framed in eye liner, glared at me. Then I saw that he was wearing pink lipstick, a little smear at each corner. He had white powder on his face and rouge on his cheek bones.
“Have I caught you in the act?” Was the first thing that came to mind.
“This is my apartment, my home, why are you here?” I asked.
He wheezed loudly, gasped, and said, “You left your door open. I brought your post.”
“The postman does a good job of it himself.”
I looked at the letters on the table and saw that there was a personal letter, the handwriting was from a friend who was in prison. He had been found guilty of murder, circumstancial evidence, but it worked for the jury. He would be locked in his dark cell for a long time, and I enjoyed reading what he wrote.
“Somebody could have stolen the letters,” he said, then he looked at the floor. That’s when I noticed he was wearing a silk dressing gown, like people did in the twenties. The silky belt hung down to his knees, he touched it with his fingers.
“I wanted to know if there was a letter from my student friend, that’s the truth,” When he said this, his eyes rolled from side to side.
He was caught light fingered. The rouge on his cheeks seemed to grow redder. Not a drop of sweat to ruin his powdered face. He was enjoying himself. I hoped that it would soon turn to fear, then he would leave.
He twisted the silk belt around his forefinger for a moment, then spooled it up around his hand.
“Why do you have my friend’s TV set, his skateboard?” He asked.
“Why shouldn’t I? You got rid of him so efficiently. It seems that he didn’t want them anymore.” I said.
“ I’d like to know where he is. Do you know? Have you had letters from him?”
He pulled at the silky belt, twisted it, then let it hang like a swinging bridge between his hands.
“I talked to the police that night — the night he disappeared,” He said.
“What was their opinion?” I asked.
“They’re suspicious. Not of me, but of another person in the block,” He said.
This was news. I thought the visit from the police was a simple gesture of officialdom.
“Have they been back, since?” I felt a shiver.
“I talked to the detective on the phone. He’ll be back when he knows more,” He looked at the skateboard and frowned, “I know what’s going on around here, even the detective told me what he suspects.”
“This detective, what’s his name?” I said.
“ You can’t speak to him. His enquiries are ongoing.”
“I just don’t like people who snoop. I get upset.”
“Upset?” He stepped back and accidentally kicked the skateboard.
“Detectives, nosey neighbours, all the same types. I get upset,” I hoped he would leave. I didn’t want things to take a turn, not here in my home.
“I know a lot. I think I know about you,” He walked across the room, and stood in the doorway that led to the kitchen.
“I’m a blank sheet to you, and let’s keep it that way,” I said.
“That letter, the one from the friend in prison. He’s no friend of yours. He has evidence that you framed him. I read it all.”
“You shouldn’t speak that way, you don’t even know the man — he’s a murderous lunatic.”
He stepped back into the room, he looked overly confident as he pointed at the table and the letters, “He writes regularly to you, I read all of them, each time I came here, there was a new letter from him,” He smiled, his powdery face cracked. “He’s begging you to help him and you don’t help. What type of person are you?”
He went to the desk and picked up the letter. He began to unfold it, and as he turned towards me, I picked up the skateboard, and weighed it in my hands, it was suitable.
He began to speak, but I have no idea what he was about to say, the skateboard smashed into his mouth so hard his words turned into gasps followed by that same horrible panting sound he’d made earlier.
It didn’t take long. I’d done it before, and I was getting good at it. The student seemed nice at first, but I did need the apartment more than him.
Klaus wasn’t a nice man, he treated that poor student like a pet, then abused his trust. So, I kept bashing him in the mouth with the skateboard. It snapped in half just as he died. A lucky break.
In the end you just need a good excuse to deal with bad people, then get on with it. I read that in a book.
So, fair’s fair.
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