Ceiling/Floor

Submitted into Contest #119 in response to: Write a story that involves eavesdropping.... view prompt

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Fiction Funny Happy

Jason had heard it from his father, who probably heard it from his grandfather or someone else in the family that he never met: “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.” Maybe he really did not understand the meaning of that completely – is it about levels, achievement, success, he thought? No, he was not sure, but he was entertained by what he was hearing. And it all came to him just above his head.

He had lived in the Gormand Towers building for a year now as a student and had noticed certain acoustic problems in the space. His apartment, on the fourth floor, seemed to be at the “sweet sound spot” of the building (that came from his roommate, Daniel, another student who seemed to be always on the verge of dropping out). They could both sit in their front room and take in the parade of noises from their neighbours and chart all of the lives around them. To the right was an elderly couple that always played the same set of big-band jazz records on weekends to cover up their arguments about food and bills. To the left, there was a young couple, still in a romantic phase and not shy about sharing the “mattress gymnastics” with them (thank you, Daniel). Behind them was the hallway – another challenge; the students across from them were pretty quiet, even on weekends. Not much of a story there. They had some cheap furniture, laptops, desktops (why Daniel needed one, he could not figure out), and good access to the nearby campus. So, it was a typical apartment in a busy part of town that housed many students, couples starting their lives, and people who were about to end their own (again, thank you, Daniel). The only real surprise was above their heads.

“Anything yet?” Daniel came in a little late on the Friday. That meant, from what Jason knew, that he was still trying to hook up with a girl from their shared history seminar, and she was telling him off. He was truly amazed at how well he could read his roommate over bowls of noodles and cheap soup.

He pointed at the ceiling. “Just waiting for the show to begin.”

The TV was on, but they knew that they would not be able to concentrate on whatever was saved or discovered while channel surfing. This was the start to weekend and they had to listen.

And they listened.

And it started.

Doors were being slammed and furniture moved. Had they gone out all day, thought Jason? He had gotten home about an hour before Daniel after finishing a shift at the library. There was a thought that he might miss it, but no, the timing was all right and he had even had time to make something to eat for his partner in crime (was this a crime? Did not feel legal, but still…they were doing nothing to stop the performance).

“Asshole, asshole…”

“That’s it…That’s the one I love!”

“You haven’t even seen her. No idea what…”

“I have an idea. A lot of ideas.”

“They aren’t even…”

“Shhh! It’s still going…”

Jason would sit back with his food and just look at Daniel’s grin with wonder. Why did he just float through life like this? It wasn’t just money or family connections (did not hurt that he had some; Jason could not believe it the first time Daniel picked him up in a Porsche “borrowed just for a weekend or two”). It was attitude; that lack of tension that Jason felt every time the rent was due or he had a bill to pay. It did not hurt.

“He’s just an asshole, Laurie!”

“Change the record, please.”

“No, he is just an asshole! I mean, if you are going to cheat on me, don’t do it while I am sitting with you in a café and you can’t stop yourself from eye-raping the staff.”

Daniel was over the moon with that one. “Damn, that one has spirit.”

“And a boyfriend.”

“She is about to level up.”

Some more furniture got shifted and there was a pause.

“So what are you gonna do?”

Jason and Daniel both stared at the ceiling until their necks hurt.

“Change things.”

“Change what?”

“Everything.”

Daniel jumped up, almost spilling the food he did not want onto his best friend.

“Damn, that is it! That is the signal.”

Jason really was confused. “Signal?”

“Yeah, for me to make my move now.”

“Dan, you haven’t even met her, or the other one.”

“Yeah, you may have a point. Gotta play this carefully.”

“Right.”

“One might be hotter and it won’t be Laurie.”

Jason groaned. “Like a hormone without a leash.”

“Woof, woof!”

Jason actually worried that his roommate might be heard by someone up there, but then the talk continued and the above shifts of furniture ended. All the girls up there – two or three? He could not tell – seemed to talk about were boyfriends and relationships. Jason knew that there must have been more going on in their lives than just those things, but he could not place them. Why were they in the building? Why did he care so much?

There was something else that Daniel was bringing back to him: they had made a pact not to get involved with any of the girls up there until they were absolutely sure that things were clear for a new “conquest” (who else but Daniel?). It was not something that Jason cared a great deal about, but it was in his thoughts, along with his tuition fees, work schedule and homework due in his various seminars. But there was the other thing that was still bothering him: he had never seen the girls. Daniel had made it clear that he wanted at least one of them (lucky prick will probably pick up both of them with that car, Jason thought). But even the hormonal roommate had not seen either one of the ladies. They had heard their other neighbours many times and encountered them on stairwells, elevators and in the laundry room in the basement (Daniel shared a very telling story about the old couple next door who held hands as they waited for the washing machine to begin and then sat in the few chairs left behind by their landlord). A very sweet memory…

Landlord?

Landlord!

They could ask Mr. King about the girls. But that might be a little creepy, thought Jason. And they really had no reason to do so. But Daniel would not be stopped tonight.

“Are you ready?”

“Ready?”

“Please don’t wimp out on me. I need a wingman when there are two of them.”

“Are you out of it? I have papers due next week…”

“Papers, papers… You’re gonna drown in papers and parts of you will fall off if you don’t forget about school for a while. We have a beautiful…”

And then, another slam, right above their heads.

“Shhh!”

Daniel was frozen to the spot, pivoted on his back left leg.

There were no other sounds coming out of the ceiling.

“Okay, they have left. They got plans.”

“Right.” Daniel looked at his watch. “Right. It’s Friday.”

Jason did not like the look on his friend’s face.

“Seriously?”

Daniel was already at the door. “I am putting my math skills to work.”

More like physics, Jason was thinking, but he did not say a word.

Daniel ran out and went straight to the elevator. Jason followed from a distance and could see his friend pounding on the down button extra hard. After a few moments, they both looked at each other.

“Poor math skills…”

“More physics…”

“Save it, prof. Probably better for them to come home after a break up to see what’s what.”

Jason walked back to the couch and picked up the cold noodles his friend had not finished. It was still early, but the show was done for the night.

“Be patient, young grasshopper, and all the sexual disappointment you can bestow will soon be…”

Daniel flung a cushion at his head, and dropped to the couch.

“Fridays…”

*

Another long week passed. Jason did get his papers done and had another set of shifts at the library, helping to put some cash aside for the holidays. Daniel, almost impossible to find on campus, had no success with the ladies above their heads. It never occurred to him to just go up to their apartment and explain what was going on (would ruin everything, right?) and deal with the consequences (no action, man; that’s what result would be). And so, they both waited for another Friday.

And that would have been fine. It would have worked out really well. But that is not how it wound up for Jason as he was about to close the desk for the day.

“Hey, what time does this place close?”

He thought this was a joke. A sign was on the desk and the hours were clear from the bulletin board near the front door. He was leaning down to check out how much recycling had to be tossed and grinned at what he was about to say…

“Are you…?”

He looked at the woman in front of him and stopped for a moment.

Not a student; definitely not. He had people in some of his classes who came from money – Daniel, hello, my brother – but they did not dress like that on campus. The woman had a clear handbag with at least two smaller bags inside of it. She was also wrapped up in a cream-coloured coat that went down to her boots, sunglasses (perched on her forehead; nice) and something gold holding up her hair. The cellphone in her hand was her focus of attention while he took this all in.

“Miss?”

“What time do you close?”

“Um, the hours are right there.” He pointed at paper display next to the exit. “Today, it’s 6 pm.”

“Okay, cool. And you have to be a student to check things out, right?”

“Right. Do you have something…?”

“No, but my friend wanted to know. It’s the nearest library for us.”

“Okay. Well, you can check out anything if you are a student. Or, you can pay for a card…”

“Cool. Great. Thanks.”

The woman never looked up as she spoke. She walked out through the turnstile and left an odor of what must have been a very expensive perfume in the air (a strong flower and spice mix). There were no other patrons there – it was now 5:30 – but he decided to wait and see if there would be any other surprises before he took out the papers and closed down the computer.

At least he had a story for Daniel that night.

*

“Seriously? You didn’t ask her out?”

Daniel was staring at his roommate with a look that made Jason feel like one of the mice he often analyzed and placed in tests at the campus laboratory.

“Jay, she never looked up from her phone.”

“You didn’t give her a reason, man.”

“And she was in her own world.”

“That…you should have just…” Jason was amused by his roommate’s struggle with a comeback.

“Let’s just eat. The show’s gonna start.”

“Right, food. And then we are gonna take care of all this shyness and shit you keep…”

The door above them opened. They sat back on the sofa and waited.

If Jason could have found a time machine and erased the last few days, he might have done so. He might have also encouraged Daniel to go out and actually speak to a girl who was not in their building; someone they had never met before. But there was no machine. There was no other noise from the other sides. All they had tonight was the ceiling.

“You check it out?”

“Yeah, they told me they were open until 6 but I…” The voice cut out for some reason.

“What the hell?”

“Jay, what…?”

“Shhh!”

There were more noises up above.

“…cute guy in there, too. Maybe you should ask him out?”

“Really? Blind date with a librarian? My ex is an asshole, but I’m not…”

How did he not recognize the voice? All this time, he had been sitting here on Fridays with his idiot roommate and he never made the connection at the desk.

Daniel kept staring at him.

“What’s up with you, man? Someone…”

Daniel paused for a moment and then stood up. It was interesting for Jason to notice how the lights were going on in his friend’s head.

“You son of a lucky bitch! You lucky…”

“Daniel…”

“She’s gotta be talking about you.”

There were more doors opening up above and the hum of a TV being turned on. That meant that the show was over, at least until they decided to go out. Daniel did not really care.

“You ran into one of them?”

“She came into the library asking about the time. She had this ridiculous hand bag; really expensive-looking clothes. I doubt she’s even a student.”

Daniel was grinning from both ears and he did not blink.

“She didn’t even look at me when…”

“Make her look.”

Daniel put the bowl of ramen soup down and stared hard at the roommate he had been assigned; the one who had only dated once since they had moved in here. Some music was playing through one wall (Jason’s mother loved Benny Goodman, so he knew who was on the record); nothing on the other side; a reality-TV show was covering everything above them.

“Here’s what you do.”

“Dan…”

“Listen. You need this, man! All this time stuck with the papers and your neighbours and me… We are just students and have nothing else going on. You would probably do better than me if you head up there. Could tell her all about what you do if you have someone with an overdue book...”

Jason wanted to not laugh. He could not stop himself.

“And say what?”

“Anything, man! Just see if she likes you. They’re just watching TV now.”

And Daniel was right. But…

“But what do I say?”

“Ask for a cup of sugar…shit, ask for a whole bag. Just talk to her.”

No real excuses for staying in, were there? He stared at the door.

“How do I look?”

“Like someone with balls. Just go!”

He found himself in the hallway, his roommate promising to listen to everything he could as Jason tried to introduce himself. And Jason did know what Daniel did to meet women, besides display his parents’ wealth: negative talk, compliments that feel like they’re not too obvious (?) and then, set a timetable.

If he got through the first ten minutes of it, sure, he would do so.

He walked down to the elevator, and had a moment.

It was only one floor up, and the stairs were never used.

So, there was an option.

With the squeak of the door, he walked up the steps of the grey stairwell, listening to the echo of his steps as he went up and tried to control his breathing.

But he was not alone.

“Hey.”

If this had been a novel, it would have been some of the bad horror selections he enjoyed while waiting at the checkout desk.

“Who the hell…?”

“Sorry. I just…”

He looked down the stairwell. There was woman coming up the stairs by the third-floor landing.

“Are you heading up?”

Who was she? Jason noted her tights, slippers and messy hair under her large reading glasses. She was definitely a student; maybe in his field?

“Yeah, I just…”

“Had to go on up.”

“Right.”

“Because of your roommate.”

He stared very hard at this one. Had they met before?

“Okay, who are…?”

“Your downstairs neighbour. Well, one of them. We can hear you guys going on and on about the ones above you and my roommate said…” She walked up to face him, her face a little red (not from the effort of climbing the steps, he thought). “She said I should stop you.”

“Stop me?”

“Yeah, we know those two above. Real bitches with the guys. I met them once at the café I work at and one of them treated me like shit.”

“Did she look up from her phone?”

The girl’s eyes went wide. “No, like I was just…”

“Not there? Same thing happened to me today. And then I heard her.”

“What did she say?”

Jason stepped down and looked carefully at the girl under the fluorescent light. Pretty, not sexy, is how he would talk about her later when Daniel complained about the lack of discussion above his head.

“She said that there was someone cute at the library.”

She smiled.

“All you needed, right?”

“All my roommate needed.”

She smiled.

“Jason.”

She took his hand.

“Emily.”

And it was at exactly that moment that the newlyweds adjacent to the stairs decided to entertain them with another round of “mattress gymnastics” (she liked Daniel’s description). The sound design of the stairwell carried the noise beautifully and they both laughed until they worried about being caught. They decided to sit there for a moment and wonder about coincidence and what the neighbours would think if they were found here. Strange how things work out, they both thought. At least it was Friday. They would have a very interesting weekend ahead of them.

November 13, 2021 01:36

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4 comments

Theodora Simões
10:44 Nov 22, 2021

I loved this story! The dialogue feels so natural. Congrats, honestly. You just made me amused during a very boring class.

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Kendall Defoe
11:42 Nov 22, 2021

That is all that I aim for... And thank you. ;)

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Dhwani Jain
12:34 Nov 15, 2021

Hello all! https://wp.me/pd3y1A-fD Please check out my latest post, THE VIRUS, YOU AND ME, a podcast. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did writing it! Dhwani Jain Dream DJ {https://djdhwanijain.wordpress.com/}

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Kendall Defoe
11:43 Nov 22, 2021

I will!

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