Somebody rapped on my door around 2AM.

Photo by Bonnie Kittle / Unsplash

by Imogene Mahalia


My neighbours hate me. That's a strong word for an assumption, but I'd hate me if I were any of them. The weather’s not quite warm yet so I smoke indoors and burn incense to unsuccessfully cover the smell; I burn my dinner every evening and my eggs and toast each morning—the fire alarm goes off like clockwork. I record myself playing the same songs over and over on my guitar and then listen to those voice notes in the middle of the night without headphones. The man who lives below me has to endure the fact that I pace the studio apartment from tip to taint, and the girl next door politely ignores the fact that I always wake up swearing. The walls are thin, and I know our beds are head to head because I borrowed sugar from her last week and took a peek around while she was in the pantry. I think the guy who's taken up residence in the building's lobby doesn't mind me; I pretend not to notice when I interrupt him smoking crack, and he pretends not to mind that I get home around 3AM each night and leave again at 7:30. I don’t know his name but I know that neither of us care for late March. 

I like to read my own writing aloud and rehearse soliloquies from obscure postdramatic theatre. I recently wrote the protagonist of a one-act to be in dialogue with the squeaks of his rolling chair; I spent hours bending and twisting my own so I could familiarize myself with what it sounded like and translate its voice to paper verbatim. We talked politics: the intersection of race and class—namely box chairs versus high-end recliners. It had a lot of opinions. Eventually I left the work unfinished, to avoid getting cornered into another debate at my desk.


When the girl next door moved in, she introduced herself as Mads. I imagined a version of things wherein we're best friends and I can tease her until she's rolling her eyes at me with affectionate disdain, and I can say something like are ya mads? with a gesture of some kind, a wink or a playful shove. I don't know much about her besides what I can gauge from appearances. 

The man below me is a grump. Last week when we discovered the mice, I asked to borrow his cat because it had driven them into my walls; more squeaking was the last thing I needed and the scuttling and scratching quickly lost its charm. I sort of liked the idea of living alongside a quaint rodent family, but I knew deep down I didn't want more neighbours. John (the cat) allegedly has separation anxiety, so Isaac (the man) would have had to spend the afternoon in my apartment if the arrangement were to work. I weighed my options while standing in his doorway. I suppose I took too long, or perhaps my face betrayed how much I hated the idea. He rolled his eyes without a trace of affection and contemptibly told me to let him know if I changed my mind. He shut the door and I went back upstairs to my mouse house. I considered buying doll furniture, to draw them out of the shadows with hospitality. I might not mind a few roommates, instead. 

Now that I’ve accepted them, it’s sort of nice to know that there are other someones with a vested interest in the cupboards being full of food and the lights being off or on. Since we’re cohabitating I’ve been trying to establish some rules. No scuttles or scratches or squeaks after noon or before 11PM. Food dropped on the floor is fair game after I’ve walked away. Under no circumstance should a mouse be within three feet of my bed, and my shoes and pockets are off limits. I’m not sure how to communicate these things to them; the best I could come up with is simply reciting the edict aloud every once in a while. I did get some doll furniture, the kind you can paint and customise—I traded some books I won’t read again on Facebook Marketplace. I’ve taken to sitting on the floor with the little chairs, tables, and beds in front of me aside swatches, in the hopes that someone comes along and cares to share their opinion. So far it seems to be up to me. I’m thinking chartreuse, but I should do some research about how mice experience colour. They might universally despise yellowish greens or greenish yellows. I hope instead it might remind them of a meadow. 


For work I deliver flyers door to door and freelance as a phone sex operator. Both of these jobs feel like they have no place in 2023 and I think that’s why I like them; there is something noble to me about the fact that I might have had the same life twenty years ago as I do now. I leave early in the mornings to pick up the papers and do my route; I come home, I sleep until late evening, and I then wander the shadiest corners of the park to receive calls until three. I spare my neighbours that particular opportunity for eavesdropping—the fact that they can hear me doing it is more shameful than the act itself. I don’t think the act is shameful at all: the money isn’t bad, and I’ve got to pay rent. 

This morning around one I had my usual call with Brian. I’m sure his name isn’t Brian, but mine isn’t Marianne, anyway. I often let my mind wander while we talk, as if I don't have enough opportunities for that during the rest of my day. This time I wondered if he was married and where he went to make these calls in the middle of the night. Maybe his spouse is in on it. 

He was slurring about the illicitness of our ‘relationship’—against protocol and hardly the appropriate word, but an in to satiate my sudden curiosity nonetheless. Do you have a wife?

I asked him with a bit too much of my real-life cadence. On the phone I speak quietly, leaning into the husk. I followed up quickly: that would be so naughty, I said. I wanted to use the word salacious

He said: “I wish.” I scowled silently. Maybe what he really meant to say is that he’s lonely; I can understand that. I resisted the urge to say “why?” and tried to get back on track. I was thinking about the mice. When it’s quiet, they're impossible to ignore. “Where are you right now?” 

I couldn’t have very well said that I was sitting on the ground with my back against a brick fence in the park near my apartment. There’s a squirrel that lives alone in the tree that conceals me; it seems I can’t help but disturb people at home. In my bed… I said. The usual routine proceeded. When his time was up, I decided to end my shift early. 


Somebody rapped on my door around 2AM. I was frying onions to cover the smell of my cigarette; I was all out of candles and incense. I don’t have a peephole so I have to roll the dice if I ever answer a knocking. This time I did so in my pajamas, with the smoking dart dangling from between my lips and a single oven mitt on. My hair is short but not short enough; I still need to pin it back if I want my ears exposed. I wasn’t all that surprised when there was no one in the hall; it was probably just a warning—we can smell you—but I stepped out to make sure anyway, leaving one foot behind to keep the door wedged open. It locks automatically. I was looking up at a lightbulb that was flickering; it had been unsteady for weeks and I’d thought someone had fixed it, but maybe I’d just become used to the yellow strobe. Now that it had my attention I almost stepped forward, compelled to screw it in tighter, but something scurried over my foot before I could make the mistake on my own. I didn’t have any socks or slippers on—a bad habit—and the door shut behind me when I flinched. I sat down on the floor and considered my options. 

About an hour later, I glanced at my watch. I’d fallen asleep. Mads was coming up the stairs on easy, near-silent steps; I smiled at her and said hi. She smiled back and ceased her ascent when her eyes became level with mine. She leaned back on her heels and put a hand on the banister to ask what I was doing in the hall. I said: oh, is this a weird thing to be doing? with too much assumed intimacy. She laughed, and grimaced, and went to her door, unlocking it without the faintest jingle of a key ring or click of a latch. 

“You can come over if you’d like. Unless you think that’s a weird thing to do.” She did something like a wink. 


I’m telling Mads about the mice. She’s fascinated. She wonders who knocked on my door and she wants to write a story about it being a man-sized one who came to collect his children. She says he’ll keep coming back; she says it’ll be about redemption. I tell her I think I’ll build them a mouse house out of one for dolls, in the meantime—she calls me a doll. She has a lot of charisma. She says she likes the smell of my cigarettes and onions and lavender incense, especially all at once, and tells me don’t stop. She says she thinks Isaac is a creep and that we should steal John. I ask her why she got home so late tonight. 

“How do you know it’s just tonight?” 

“Because this is usually when I get home.” It's the most direct I’ve been with anyone besides my bank teller in a long time. Her face (the teller’s) usually tells me I don’t have to be so candid about where the money comes from. Now I raise my eyebrows at her (Mads) when she raises hers at me. I decide not to be too candid. “I work at night,” I say. She nods. “I was on a date,” she says. She asks me for a smoke and I pat my pockets before remembering I don’t have any—I’m in boxers and a pullover. I’m still barefoot. She pulls at her ear and points at mine; I remember I’d pinned my hair back and tucked a spare between my cartilage and curls. 

“Oh,” I say. I pull it out and take a match from the book on the table. We’re sitting in the kitchen; she gets up and opens a pack of pre-chopped onions; she puts them on a pan with olive oil. 

“Do you usually fry anything with them?” 

“No.” I light the cigarette. She adds some pre-peeled garlic and plastic-sealed sage, and then slices a baguette and hands me an ashtray. “How was the date?” 

“Fine. I mean, I’m here. There’s no spark.” 

“Right.” I hand her the dart; she pulls thoughtfully like it’s her first time. She offers me coffee and I tell her I don’t drink it after midnight. 

“Not even tonight?” 

I think about Brian. He’d get a kick out of this; if I told him about it he’d sully things in a way that would make me stifle a laugh. I wonder if she’d kick me out if she knew what I do for a living. 

“I guess tonight is different. Can I crash here? I’m locked out.” 

She says “Ha!” instead of laughing. I take that as a yes. 

“How are you liking the building?”

“It’s fine, I mean,” she pauses like it’s a strange question she’d never considered the answer to before. “I’m content.” 

“Oh, wow.” 

“Is content a ‘weird’ thing to be?” 

“No, I’m just impressed.” She’s got her back to me; she’s boiling water and flipping the onions. Her french press is stained and she fills it with grounds. “I’ve never met somebody who would call themselves content.” 

She says “ha,” again, with less enthusiasm. “Most people’s standards are too rigid.” So far she’s had a remark for everything. The window above the stove is open and the air flowing through is crisp and mingling with the orchestra of aromas. I ask if we can put on some music. 

She whirls around slowly to face me and lands leaning on the edge of the countertop. A romantic! she says. I ask her if she’s been drinking and she laughs. She says: you want to? She has an old radio on the sill; she reaches behind her and flicks it on, then lowers the volume to just above a murmur. It’s Leonard Cohen, I don’t know which. She says she’s had the radio since she was a kid and likes the fact that old technology that she’s had for so long can live-broadcast sounds from any time, and do so anywhere. It’s wireless. “Like, he’s dead,” she says, “but he’s singing in my kitchen right now through a radio I listened to when I was twelve. It’s whack.” I suppose it’s easy to be content when you find pleasure in the concept of ‘time’ as endearing as ecstasy. Those are strong words for an assumption, though. I decide to be candid. 

“You’re the romantic,” I say. In my head I think: like a kid in a candy shop. I think twice; I don’t want to burst her bubble. I don’t know that she’s a china shop but I won’t be the bull. I can be nice to my neighbour.

She’s got a warm look in her eye. She offers me pajamas and I gesture to myself. She makes a face like, what? and I stand and turn around with little grace, showing off my ready-for-bed-ness. 

“Ah,” she says. “This is a sleep look. Do you ever get spiffy?” 

I laugh instead of being insulted. She’s only seen me when she knocked on my door to introduce herself (in the middle of the day, to be fair, but that’s when I sleep); in passing when I’ve checked the mail and brought out the trash; the other day, when I borrowed some sugar for a cake I was baking. I ate the whole thing myself. I look her up and down; she’s in date wear. 

Yeah,” I say. I say it quickly even though I paused for longer than natural. It feels strange to sit back down so I offer to help. She’s pouring the pan’s mixture into a bowl and adding balsamic and more oil; she mushes its contents with a spoon like it’s a pestle and mortar. The coffee is ready to be pressed as well; I roll up my sleeves and do so. We’re standing elbow to elbow; she huffs like a quiet laugh at me and I inadvertently (but on purpose) bump mine against hers. 

“Should I have toasted it?” She’s talking about the bread. 

“It’s okay.” 

“Are you content?” She turns to face me and I’m afraid to look. 

“Yes,” I say, again. I start to look at her—but there’s a squeaking. My hands are still on the french press and I grip its bulb. “Do you hear that?” 

“What, that?” 

“‘What’s ‘that’?” 

“That’s what I’m asking you.”

I shush her. Instead of feeling regret about it I’m preoccupied with listening. There’s someone at the door. 

“The squeaking and scratching, you hear that? At your front door?” 

“Yes, I hear that. Just papa coming home, remember?” Then she winks for real. “Okay,” I say. 

I return to the coffee. There are already two mugs waiting on the countertop—I ask if she takes anything with it and she says I like it straight. Not that I am—. I start to laugh at the poor segway before she’s finished: what about you? 

“Yeah, I take it black,” I say. She laughs. “What are you asking?” Now I do turn to her. She goes back to the table with the bowl and the platter of bread, and then retrieves a flask and a small bottle of baileys as well. She offers them, I suppose that I changed my mind, then she pours and stirs them accordingly with care so tender it feels sarcastic. Bon appétit, she says. Or would you rather sit on the couch? 


In the morning I woke up surprised. I was surprised I was conscious and I was surprised I felt so at peace. Mads was beside me, cradling a bundle of the sheets. I got up and went out into the hall, without thinking; my door was unlocked—somehow I knew it would be, though it shouldn’t have been. There was a mouse by the kitchen sink, catching the faucet’s drips in his mouth. He gave me a disparaging squeak. 

I was late for work so I walked the route twice as fast. When I got home around midday, I knocked on Mads’ door to apologize before considering how sweaty and unappealing I must have looked and smelled. She answered in the same state that I’d left her in: practically unconscious. She said shhhhh… when I tried to speak, took my hand, led me back to her room and fell asleep on my arm. When I awoke again I left again without saying goodbye—again I returned to my mouse house and they squealed and snickered. They sang the KISSING song and then scurried into the walls. I dozed and awoke for my phone calls hours after the sun had sunk. 


Brian says he wants to meet me in person. It is nice to know for sure that someone doesn’t hate me. I say: wouldn’t that be something… because that means nothing. He sighs, but it’s not the kind I want to hear. I still get paid if he finishes early and cuts the appointment short. “Where are you right now?” 

I say what I always say—what I said the night before. He sighs again. I know that’s not true, he says. I don’t stop walking—I’m walking through the park. You’re right, I say. I’m walking. I can’t sit still when I talk to you… I get too riled up. This isn’t entirely untrue. It’s the same reason I stopped writing plays. 

“At least you’re not lying to me,” he says. 

I try not to consider this too carefully. There are still 45 minutes left on his time—he’s the sort to pay for an hour because he likes to chat and can afford it. I don’t see most of the money but I know it’s not cheap. This is a niche market now; only the rich-adjacent of the weirdos bother with it and I think that’s supposed to be appealing. We talk about the upcoming election and I stay diplomatic. He makes a pun about Trudeau and ejaculate—it’s terrible, I won’t repeat it—and my half-hearted chuckle is all he needs to reach the punchline. Before we hang up he says: see you soon, and I laugh again but genuinely.


This time Mads knocked on my door. I opened it quickly, thinking it might be my landlord. For once the apartment was clean—I was clean, the air was clean. I’d just finished talking to the mice; they’d been gathered in the dollhouse I’d found at the side of the road. Now you have your own spot, I’d said. I’d been explaining that I’d have to swing it shut if I ever had company and they’d need to be quiet as—before stopping myself. I was experimenting with living well; I was eager to make a good impression on someone—especially someone with power over me. 

“Well, well, well,” she said. I said it back. “What are you up to?” 

It was 2:30 in the afternoon and I should have been headed to bed. “Nothing really. Do you not work?” It was a rude question but I’d been wondering for a while. She laughed. “I work,” she said. “You wanna hang out?” 


We walked. I tried not to lead us on the route I’m used to taking; for the first time I considered the different parts of my life intersecting without my knowledge. I asked her what her job was and she said she does this and that—I could have said the same. She said she had a lot saved up and was riding it until she couldn’t anymore. I understood that as well, though I’d never been in that position. I related to her lack of ambition. 

I updated her on the mice. She went along with the bit but it felt like she’d only been enthusiastic before because of the circumstances and her state. Are there a lot of them? she asked me. I told her only three. They’re all boys, I said. I think their mama must have died or something. She was quiet. 

“We could get mouse traps.”

I scoffed. “I’m being very hospitable.” 

“Well, I’m calling the landlord today anyway. There shouldn’t be a crackhead living in our lobby or mice living in our walls.” 

I tried not to get hung up. I slowed my pace, I paused, then said: “I wouldn’t equate them. Anyway—we’ve all gotta live somewhere.” 

“Sure, but if I’m paying rent, like, aren’t I entitled to something?” 

I laughed out loud and led us around the corner so that we’d make a full circle. “Right,” I said. 

“You’re judging me.” 

“I didn’t say that.” 

“At least let me defend myself.” 

“I’m not stopping you. I wouldn’t fault a squatter, though.” 

She huffed. “That’s clear,” she said. Entitled is a funny word. There was some silence and then I said it aloud: entitled is a funny word

“I’m just saying I shouldn’t have to deal with that shit in my own home.”

“Right,” I said. We were back at the building already, somehow; I spun on my heels. “I should get some sleep, I have to work tonight.” I started towards the door and she didn’t follow. 


I think the mice have taken a liking to their new set up. I like that they don't need or want to talk about things; since settling in they hardly even squeak anymore. They were crying kittens and then one day they stopped. They mostly fend for themselves—they keep the floor clean of crumbs—and they keep to themselves, too. They’re the perfect roommates. I went with the chartreuse after all; I got the impression that they like the reminder of where they came from. The weather is getting warmer. 

Isaac came to my door to ask about the “infestation.” He seemed annoyed that I was no longer concerned; I apologized for bothering him, even though he was the one bothering me now. He said “okay.” He asked about John. I said I won’t be needing him, and he said “no kidding.” I didn’t know what that meant so I didn't change my face. I thanked him for checking in. He nodded, and gestured with one hand as if to say “all right.” He was about to start down the stairs as Mads stepped out and they collided. Even that she did elegantly. 

“Isaac,” she said. 

He nodded again and tipped a hat he wasn't wearing. 

“Long way to go.” She was teasing him. 

He did something like a smile—I’d never seen it before. He hates me. He said: well worth it and then John misses you. She smiled back and said: I’ll come along. She looked at me before going down the stairs. Her eyes were cold. 

When I shut the door, the mice were gathered on the carpet. They quieted as I entered and I entreated them to continue the conversation as if I wasn’t there. After a moment, they did. I couldn’t eavesdrop anyhow. One was motioning towards the window; he moved a little towards it and the other two hesitated. I interpreted a pleading—they looked at each other, and then followed their brother. I wondered how they’d climb the wall but then they simply did it; when they reached the sill they looked out and began squeaking in earnest. It was an argument. 

I sat down at my desk as carefully as I could; it’s by the window and I wanted to be close to the action. I started to go over old work—when I leaned forward, the chair squeaked. I felt the mice turn to face me and I looked up to meet their eyes. They seemed intrigued. I shifted my weight to squeak again and one of them exclaimed. He came to the edge closest to me and spoke fervently; I nodded and tried to squeak back with the chair in conversation. He gestured to the window. I opened it. 

The mice stuck their heads out in unison and inhaled deeply. One of them hiccupped and I handed him a pen cap of water. After the last one had drained it he stuck his head out again and dropped the cap out the window; he watched it carefully until it landed. He touched the wall outside; and then he came back in and squealed. His nose was shiny. I asked them in English if they wanted to bring anything with them and they shook their heads. They blinked at me one by one, and then made their descent. I kept the window open for a while afterwards—the fresh air was pleasant after all.

Imogene Mahalia is a twenty-six year old triple threat (biracial, non-binary, bisexual) living in Montreal. Formally, she is a "voyeur of the illusory, writing concentric personal essays peppered with lies." Off-paper, she loves to laugh and play the guitar. In 2022, she graduated from Concordia University's English and Creative Writing program. Since then she has been running a small dog-walking business, freelance editing, reading for local literary mags, and working as a corporate mail clerk. Her work can be found in Joyland Magazine and Bullshit Lit. She has two cats.