I unsheathed a smiling grimace that would surely put fear into the heart of all children, including the overgrown one in front of me. “Does it matter why I want to know?”
“I don’t know,” answered Lance, employing a coyness by rote that had probably worked on his older relatives and nannies. “Does it?”
“Is this a game of 20 questions? Or did you just learn about the Socratic method the other day in model school?” Though I do wish that you were fond of the other Socratic method: drinking hemlock. “How about this: why don’t you stop fucking around with me and go get the artist of this masterpiece?”
“You don’t have to be a dick about it,” muttered Lance, before returning to his apartment and audibly redirecting his frustration and ennui towards all nearby revelers. Amy, meanwhile, remained on the ground, enjoying some other dimension unavailable to the rest of us.
Rhonda chuckled in the man-child’s absence. “Man, you really do hate spoiled brats…”
“You will never really know just how much,” I responded, wondering if Lance would have the perseverance to complete his quest or, surrounded again by flashing lights and shiny things, if he would just return to the party. “So, Miguel…how’s it going in the building nowadays? Did all of those leaks disappear by an act of God, like I was praying for?”
Miguel shook his head, amused at the thought. “No, amigo…it’s getting worse. Two other units now have a problem where the water gets into the concrete, into the building’s…” He paused as he sought for the right word. “…structure…and then dries out under the wooden floors, making all of the boards…” He then gesticulated with his hands and formed the graphical form of a sine formula. “…wavy.”
“Yeah, that’s called warping the wood. Sometimes, you can let that dry out, and it’ll mostly go back to its original shape. But sometimes…sometimes it never goes back to normal. So good to know the building is still in good shape! It’s also good that this lawsuit still hasn’t been resolved, since we wouldn’t want to fix anything right away anyway. And Brian and Babbu still resent me for not including them when Mayor Dwek visited us?” To which Miguel nodded begrudgingly. “Well, that’s about to be expected…hey, it could be worse, right?”
“Well, you’re in an especially rotten mood,” commented Rhonda. “How did your meeting with Joe and Donna go?”
I lowered my index finger and aimed it at the floor beneath us, noting this metaphysical moment in time and space. “Something like this. It’s been one hell of a day…”
The music had turned off in unit A6, and in place of the electronic symphony, the chattering voices and various salutations served as the precursors of the eventual departing cavalcade. On top of the usual cries of whining disappointment and a lone shout of no quiero, I heard the last remnants of conversations that had just previously been enshrouded by the pumping speakers. There were a few voices that seemed to be incessantly repeating the word society as part of some pseudo-intellectual discourse, while an inebriated girl punctuated her assessment of a friend’s beauty with “She’s a sexy bitch! Go ahead and smack that ass!” Some part of me actually wanted to bear witness to this spectacle of an exodus, and in my snarky disposition, I envisioned a procession of hipsters walking in formation out the door, attempting irony yet again by marching with only shakos and nipple tassels as clothing and beating large marching drums in unison. I was lost in such visions of independent cinema when I saw Lance’s head pop back into the hallway and look in my general direction.
“I’m sorry, man,” shouted Lance, attempting to be heard from the roaring din pressing against his back. “I couldn’t find Neve.”
“Who?” I asked, caught off guard while still in the midst of my daytime reverie.
“The girl who drew that pair on the wall over there. We can’t find her. She’s…” Lance said, before being interrupted by a loud crash behind him. “What the hell was that? I gotta go, man.” And with that, Lance closed the door behind him, and he began to berate someone over something. I assumed that whatever had broken retained only sentimental value, since I couldn’t envision him in possession of something truly valuable or in taste.
Rhonda turned to me. “Well…what now? Now, if you don’t mind telling me, why did you and Miguel get all hot and bothered over those two figures on the wall? Did you want an autograph?”
“You don’t remember, do you? I told you about it before. Remember when Miguel and I were in the basement, when that little punk stole something from…” I abruptly halted my explanation, as my other senses screamed for their attention. “Wait…do you hear that? It sounds like…crying?”
We stood in silence, as our small band transformed into a listening outpost. Recognizing the realization upon each others’ faces in unison, we distinctly heard the faint sobbing of someone nearby. In the past, having been annoyed by fire alarms of absent neighbors that chirped yearningly for a battery like a hungry young chick, it had been difficult to pinpoint the offending home with the acoustics of the hallway, until I had developed a method of pressing my ear against each door and plugging my other ear with a finger. Out of habit, I started to do the same right then, and understanding the logic of my insanity, my comrades adopted my practice as their own as we now investigated the source of this muffled sadness. As we stepped over the roiling Amy and made our way further down the hall and towards the northwest stairwell, it suddenly became clear to all that the sobbing seemed to be coming from the hall’s end, in the stairwell itself. Not wanting to get too excited at my suspicions but unable to contain my excitement, I bolted towards the door with abandon, and I swung its door nearly out of its frame. There, in the stairwell, was the same young blonde woman from so many months back, sitting in almost the same way as when I had first saw her. Unlike our introductory session, though, she at least now wore bra and panties, and her squinting eyes now shed slow tears that curved in rivulets down her cheeks, dropping down onto her breasts. The lips, though, formed the same snarl of dissatisfaction at being disturbed in an obviously vulnerable moment that covets solace.
“What the fuck do you want?” she hissed.
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.