William looked down at the woman’s olive skin. Even in the middle of winter it was perfect. Like she had just come out of the sun. His eyes moved down to her almond shaped eyes, high cheek bones, and small, straight nose, and was just as taken with her as he had been when he had first seen her four years ago.
It had been summer then. William had lived in Apartment 301 for two years at that point, and since moving in had day dreamed of having a beautiful neighbor move in to fall in love with. Given his otherwise introverted nature, someone literally living next door was about what it would take for him to meet someone. Luckily for William, early one Saturday morning he had walked out of his door and, quite literally, bumped into Sandra. William still remembered every detail from that first meeting. Her laugh of surprise, the way she had worn her hair, even the smell of her perfume. He remembered how she had introduced herself, full of life and confidence, and how he had stuttered a quiet hello. Bumping into someone had been a surprise on its own, but to have bumped into someone so, there was no other way to put it, perfect, had caused William to entirely shut down. She was Aphrodite. Venus. She was heaven itself embodied. And she was living next door to William.
But the proximity had not made a difference. William had been worried, at first, that he was going to have to come up with things to talk about, but those fears had gone unrealized for the first three months, as he had not seen her since their initial meeting. But as the seasons turned, Sandra’s calendar began matching up more with his own, and he knew, with how outgoing she had already shown herself to be, that he would only be able to get away with a pained smile for so long. This had caused William to practice, for weeks, some opening lines in the mirror. He had even written out responses to simulate full conversations. While he had felt more confident after running through these a few hundred times, in the end he came up with an even better solution: he had changed shifts at work. Now, without the possibility of these hallways interactions to worry about, there was no need to practice. But in the end, the memory of that first interaction had been too much for William. He saw her face every time he closed his eyes, and had found himself sniffing hopefully for the scent of her perfume any time he walked in and out. Once, when he had drunk a bit too much, he heard her walking out of her apartment, and had almost sprinted out the door for the chance to share the elevator with her. Unfortunately, when he got there, and she had not only started talking to him, but had said how excited she was to see him. While his heart had leapt, his stomach had dropped, and his brain, unsure of what to do with these conflicting emotions, had frozen up again. The memory of this last interaction still ate away at him.
It was that feeling which had led William, while watching the ball drop in Times Square a few days later, to decide: he would not only talk to Sandra this year, but he would ask her to coffee. Within a week, William knew he had bitten off more than he could chew. So he had quickly shifted course, and set his sights lower: He would just talk to her. One extended conversation. But as the calendar turned from March to April, he realized that this too had been overly optimistic. He still found himself taking steps to avoid bumping into her, and had even been late to work one day because Sandra had been in the hallway with a friend, and he didn’t want to have to risk conversation. So bad was William’s anxiety that, in October, he had asked the landlord if he could move apartments. Unfortunately, when his landlord had asked why, William had been unable to give even a remotely intelligible reason, so his landlord, likely thinking William just wanted to move to a cheaper apartment, had told him no. Avoiding Sandra was not going to be easy for William. So as the year turned over, William doubled down. THIS would be the year. This year, he would talk to her.
Ten months later, and William wondered who he had been kidding. Even after six months of talking with his sister almost every day about working up the nerve to do it, he still had failed. But, in November, he had taken his sister’s advice and hired a professional, and after only a month of work, felt he finally had the confidence to at least start a conversation. So, for the third time, he found himself once again resolving to start the conversation he had now put off for almost three years. Ironically, for the next five months William had not seen Sandra at all, and by June had exhausted his health benefits and could no longer afford his therapist’s services. By the time he had seen her in October, his confidence was once again shot, and he had barely managed to squeeze out a pained smile before slipping into his apartment. But even in his darkest days, William knew he had to do this. So, as soon as he could, he made more appointments with Dr. Fines, and by March was ready again to attempt the impossible. That had been a month ago, but now, today, she was here.
William marveled at his luck. He had just walked in to his office, sat down at his desk, and saw the file labeled “Sandra Bonswick.” Opening it, he saw the Sandra in question was thirty-one, a resident of Washington, D.C., and of Lebanese descent. This piqued his interested. It seemed that this description, at least, matched the Sandra next door to him. William had jumped up. She couldn’t be here. He needed to see for himself. He had run into the next room, saw her laying on the table and his heart had jumped. Finally, he would have his chance to talk to her. He had poked his head out of the room and yelled down to his boss that he would take this one and began preparing.
A few minutes later, he was back in the room, and looking down at her.
“Sandra, it’s great to see you again. I’ve wanted to have a chance to talk to you, but haven’t really been able to get up the nerve. Oh well, better late than never. So, I see you’re Lebanese. That’s great, I love Lebanese food.”
He leaned down and grabbed his tape recorder.
“Dr. William Zingerman, Friday, April 16th, 2021. Autopsy of Sandra Bonswick.”