Diane and the Upstairs Wife

Submitted into Contest #148 in response to: Write a story involving a noise complaint. ... view prompt

1 comment

Crime Suspense

This story contains sensitive content

[Warning: domestic violence]

Diane was surprised to find that the only thing she hated more than a pan filled with oil left on the stove by her roommate or the toilet paper roll left empty was living alone and finding every evening when she returned home from a long day of selling over-priced sneakers to stuck-up college students that no one, not even her gaudy roommate who was always late on paying rent, was there to greet her. This roommate, Ellie, who Diane insisted privately for a year and a half only to friends who didn’t know Ellie very well that she was eager to part ways with her roommate, had accepted an internship in New York City to work as some legal assistant. Feigning disappointment and a few tears, Diane diligently helped Ellie pack boxes and stuff a moving truck. Only, once Ellie was gone, Diane found herself to be impossibly lonely. Diane’s coworkers were her only other friends, and most of those friendships were grounded in work-related anecdotes and didn’t get much deeper than that. No one to be relied on, really. Not that Ellie had ever been particularly reliable. Diane was counting down the days, waiting for seasons to change or holidays to come around; waiting for something, though she wasn’t sure what, that would finally drag her from this apartment building which was large enough for neighbors to never interact and residents to remain completely anonymous even after years. 

Though large and bulky and impersonal, the walls of Diane’s apartment building were too thin to keep secrets and love affairs from seeping through. Especially in room number 15 on each floor, as this column of apartments hovered just inches away from the walls of two other buildings. The residents of number 15 on each floor received a $75 discount to make up for the fact that each of these apartments had two windows facing a concrete wall. A corridor for sound was created by the phenomena of the number 15’s being tucked carefully into the corner fashioned by the two other buildings. So Diane was well-aware of her new upstairs neighbors when they moved in on the cusp of summer 1976. Though she never met or set eyes on her, Diane had gathered that the person who lived there before this new family was an old woman who, judging by the months of aggressive coughing fits and then the silence that followed, was dead. 

In the mornings as she drank watered-down coffee and read the week’s gossip columns, Diane listened with interest to the activities coming from her ceiling. She enjoyed piecing together a puzzle of people she’d never meet and therefore felt no issue passing judgment. For one, she knew this family was foreign. The apartment’s thin carpets padded enough sound to dampen the voices coming from above, but from what she could tell, they were Italian. There was a husband and a wife, equally ferocious in their spats of yelling, and several children, maybe three, who were young enough to still feel the constant urge to run everywhere. Diane was never annoyed by her loud neighbors, even when one of the babies woke up screaming in the middle of the night. No, she appreciated the life they brought to her empty apartment and liked getting to know them. Even if invisible or just some voices, Diane now had someone to come home to. 

 There were certain things she wished she did not have to hear. On evenings when Diane painted her toenails with her leg perched on the bathroom sink, she could hear especially clearly the frightened children huddled in the bathroom above her, hiding from the anger of their parents who could be heard a bit more distantly a few rooms over. The oldest, who Diane could pick out because his voice was the lowest and most steady and because he spoke the most English, cooed to his younger siblings words of comfort or sometimes a joke. The daughter was the loudest crier and screeched incessantly despite her brother’s best attempts to calm her. The daughter only stopped crying when her father slammed the apartment door and her mother rushed into the bathroom, still hot with anger, spilling what Diane could only guess was a string of curses. 

Months passed and the noise above became less frequent. The upstairs wife was gone more and more often, usually leaving at the conclusion of another screaming match and an abrupt slam of the door. She took the patter of children’s feet with her, and Diane wondered if the kids had a to-go bag ready at all times, as the coming and going always seemed so sudden. How would big brother explain that to his crying sister and the baby? Diane guessed she was going to stay with a relative or close friend. Either way, things were bad enough with the husband that she needed to take the kids with her. Divorce, Diane suspected, was just over the horizon for the Italian couple. 

One evening after work, Diane made herself a big pot of buttered noodles, took a bowl, and saved the rest for her work-lunches. It had snowed for the first time that week and the old heater in her apartment could barely choke out breaths of hot air so she bundled herself in a sweatshirt and a blanket and sat on the couch to watch the day’s news. 

Behind the energetic voice of the anchorman on TV, muffled shouting came from above. Diane sighed. Another couple’s spat. Perhaps the upstairs wife was finally handing her husband the divorce papers. She turned the sound on the TV up a few notches; she was not particularly interested in discerning what today’s fight was about and wanted much more to hear the anchorman with the pretty mouth talk about the floats that would appear at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. 

Diane’s ears perked as the woman’s shouting suddenly shifted to a different tone, one of panic, pleading. Then came the sound of feet shuffling on old carpet, then silence followed by a dull thud against the floor, as though something heavy had been dropped, sounding so directly above Diane’s head that she feared something would crash through her ceiling. Diane paused the TV. Things were silent for several minutes. Not a sound came from either the husband or wife. Diane strained her ears and thought she could make out the soft hum of sobbing. 

A chill ran through her body and a sense of dread settled deep in her stomach. Wide-eyed, she leaned forward and waited for the voice of the wife to calm her fears. No such voice came and Diane could only assume that the husband, always so quick to anger at his wife and children and was horrible enough for the upstairs wife to want to leave him, had killed the woman. If not killed, then knocked her out cold. Yes, Diane thought, biting her nails, that large thump must have been a body. 

A pair of feet dragged around upstairs–heavy footsteps, those of a man’s. Then, rather slowly, the sound of something larger than feet being dragged. The sound of a body being dragged, and Diane suddenly wanted to vomit out the buttered noodles that sat uneasily in her stomach. 

“Oh my god. What do I do?” she mumbled to herself. “What do I do?” While Diane certainly enjoyed snooping, she was never one to meddle. She had never thought to complain of the yelling above her as so much nuisance went on behind closed doors, and who was she to assume and take action against a relationship she really knew nothing of? Now, with a dead body above her head, she came to deeply regret her complacency. 

The body gradually being dragged across the floor above her sounded like nails on a chalkboard to Diane. “Jesus. What do I do?”

Diane stood and grabbed fistfuls of her hair. Part of her wondered why the husband was having such difficulty moving the limp wife but maybe he was not as ferocious in reality as he was in her head. Timid looking perhaps, weak. An excellent disguise for someone so violent. 

It was only seven o’clock. Diane knew someone would still be at the front desk. But should she call the police? What if it was all a big misunderstanding–she’d hate to get the Italian family in trouble if nothing had really gone on, and what about the kids? Where were the kids? She shook her head to ground herself. She’d start with the guard at the front desk. 

She picked up the phone and strained her other ear to try to get a sense of the husband’s activity. 

“Hello, this is Bill. Are you a resident or inquiring resident?”

“Hi Bill. My name’s Diane and I live in room 515. I, uh, am calling about a noise complaint.” Diane winced and realized she had bit her nail to the nub. 

“Alright, Diane. What’s the problem?”

“Well, the couple who lives above me, I think in 615, were having a terrible fight and I’m worried something worse happened because I can’t hear anything anymore. They just went silent. And I heard what sounded like a, uh, struggle between the two of them, see, and I didn’t know what else to do but call. Could you knock on the door, maybe, see if everyone’s alright?”

Bill sighed across the line. “Sure, Diane. I have to wait for my partner to come man the desk but then I’ll go up and check on them. I’ll call you back once I do. Alright?”

Diane was relieved. “Oh, thank you, Bill. That sounds great. Thanks again.”

She hung up, grabbed a Band-Aid for her finger, and put the kettle on the stove. With a cup of chamomile in hand, she lay on the couch and listened. But no other sounds came from above like the husband had learned how to float. Had he left with the body? Surely she would have heard the door close at the very least. She heard Bill’s booming knock on the door fifteen minutes later. There was no response. He knocked again, louder this time, but still nothing. 

Soon after the phone rang. 

“Bill?” Diane said.

“Yes, hi Diane. I knocked a couple times and there wasn’t an answer. I’m guessing the couple just went to bed or maybe left. I think if anything else had happened I would have been able to hear something from behind the door.”

Diane frowned. She felt silly. The couple fought all the time; she was tired and probably made the wrong assumption. “Ah, ok. Well, thank you for checking, Bill. I appreciate it.”

“Alright, well, call if you hear anything else you’re worried about. Have a good night.”

“You, too. Thanks.”

Diane slumped against the frame of her kitchen door and listened harder. Nothing. Silence. She felt unnerved but didn’t know what else she could do. She hardly slept that night. Every sound, no matter how small, electrified her senses. Diane feared each creak and moan of the building was really the husband slithering above. 

The next evening Diane stretched out on her couch exhausted from a total lack of sleep the night prior and a day’s worth of blabbing sales pitches to customers. It was only half-past six but already her eyelids fluttered shut, lulled further by the low hum of the anchorman’s voice on TV. Caught between consciousness and sleep, his voice mingled with her dreams as she heard but couldn’t quite interpret as he announced, “...in other news, another body was found floating down the Potomac early this afternoon. Identified as Cecilio Galletti, a recent immigrant from Italy who worked as an auto-repairman in West End and father of three. While no evidence suggests this, some wonder if this is another mob hit or…”

June 03, 2022 08:21

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Angela Creasy
12:14 Jun 09, 2022

I really enjoyed reading this story. I found my myself wondering if the story she made up in her head was real or not. I enjoyed Diane's character, she is very relatable.

Reply

Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.