The Couple in 5F are fighting on the street again. Well, the sidewalk. I know this because I saw them fighting on the street again. I mean the sidewalk.
He is a small business owner, has a bad knee, a slight temper, and just enough charm to pull it all off. She is a schoolteacher, a piano player, a piano teacher, and a girlfriend. She is pretty; her eyes give her that old soul look but her freckles almost undo it. And she's nice. I know this because she once complimented my blue eye shadow as we passed each other in the stairwell.
One day when my own boyfriend was on his way over, I heard them all talking in the hall. They were so excited to meet my elusive partner. He is elusive because he does not live with me, like they live with each other.
Sometimes when The Couple in 5F fight on the street, I don't see them. Sometimes, another neighbor mentions it to me like it's news. Bleak. Sometimes, when I do see them fighting on the street, I walk by with my dog, smile through my mask, and try to give them eyes that mean I understand.
I don't know them too well. It is nice to know my neighbors though, even just a little bit. Knowing your neighbors, even just a little bit, makes NYC apartment living less like living in a big empty box with whispers of occupancy and more like living in a place teeming brimming spinning simmering with people. The people are lingering, lounging, laughing, passing by, smoking in their units, smoking out their window, burning food in their kitchen. Sometimes there are too many people, approaching overcrowded.
As I walk by the 36 units on my way down to the lobby, I take note. First, the bright yellow brick walls, covered in generic artwork and photos of the old owner's family. There are pictures of a smiling old lady, a boy leaning out a window, three girls in Atlantic City Hooter's uniforms, Tupac. I could go on. In the air is some sort of spiced chicken, maybe with Adobo, the clarinet playing in 4F that fills the halls with music, the moaning of the man who moans about six times a day loud enough for our building and the next to hear, the reefer coming from 3F, the dog barking in 2A, the baritone opera singer from 2C. I pass by the supers and we small talk while my tiny dog jumps up up up his favorite super's leg and the super scoops him up and snuggles him before we head on our way.
When my boyfriend and I make love in my apartment, we pull the headboard away from the wall, to spare the neighbor, who are not The Couple in 5F, but a woman who I twice paid to walk my dog, and her ghost of a roommate. We pull the bed away and I grab the metal bedframe. We start. We keep going. Slowing, breathing, trying, crying. His hand across my cheek, around my neck. Him between my thighs.
The window is open.
We do more than just make love in my apartment. Once, we made love all the time. Now, not so much. It hurts me too much, too often, but that's another story. Never mind.
In my apartment we cook––well, he cooks, mostly. I clean. He rolls the joints, I smoke them with him. We watch tv shows. Sometimes we fight like the Couple in 5F. Heated, tense, splitting, spitting at each other with words that tumble out of our mouths. We almost breakup and then we don't; we never do. We still love each other, we think, I hope, but love is funny in that way.
When we fight, I try not to raise my voice, to spare the neighbors. To keep my life mine and only mine.
Sometimes I am alone in my apartment when we fight. Over the phone. That's when I fall apart the most. That's when I yell. Into the air. Into the receiver. That is when I pick up my book and throw it at the wall. Then I take a break from all that outwardness and turn inward. I scream into my pillow.
Everything is always too much, except for when it's too little.
Because I scream into my pillow instead of in my kitchen or out the windows, I don't think the neighbors can hear me.
But maybe The Couple in 5F can.
Heather Domenicis is an Upper Manhattan based writer moonlighting at a tech startup. She holds an MFA from The New School and is a Non-Fiction Editor at LIT Magazine. Her work can be seen in Hobart and [sub]liminal and she is writing a memoir about her childhood. She sometimes tweets @heatherlynnd11.