Apartment 5B was my first apartment. It was perfect, except the mold…and the gas stove which scared me…and the overly thick carpet that felt squishy and not soft. On the plus side, it had two doors. The one at the rear of the apartment had a set of stairs with a little mini patio beside where I parked my car. Most of the apartments in the complex only had a front door, while my apartment had two doors. I loved sitting out back with Benny, my black Jack Russel Terrier, and a good book. I never used the front door. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I would probably run into the Trunchbull. That really wasn’t her name, but I loved that movie as a kid, and the name served as code to anyone who had heard my stories of the reclusive woman that lived directly across from me.
She could have been forty or eighty. I will likely never know. She disapproved of life in general it seemed. From the moment I moved in, she expressed disgust, irritation, and annoyance at everything I owned and did.
“You do know that cacti and bamboo will not survive long in Ohio weather,” she said as I carried in my small potted plants.
“Yes,” I replied cheerily, “I am not much of a gardener, so my grandmother bought me these because she was sure I could keep them alive for a while.” I smiled at the family joke and waited for my neighbor to reciprocate but she didn’t even breathe. She just stared at me, and I chuckled once more before walking into my apartment.
Eventually, I started avoiding using the front entrance altogether. If I had to park out front, I would use the peephole to check to see if her door was ajar and then make a quick exit before she could open her door and inform me of another failure of my existence. However, she always knew when I opened my door. Her sense of hearing must have been superhuman and her perceptions about life must have kept her company because she never had visitors. I never heard a television, movie, or music come from her apartment either. Her conversations became mini lectures she had prepared for me for any moment.
“You should walk more,” she said angrily one day as I left for work.
“I walk Benny every day through the park,” I offered as I still tried to inch myself toward my car.
“The gas alone would save you a fortune; plus, you could save us all from having to breathe the exhaust of that old car of yours.”
My old car was a tan Ford Escort, and I was convinced that car would last forever. My mom drove it, my brother drove it, and then I received it as a “gift.” Actually, my mom and dad had no idea what to do with the car that never quit and figured that once I had it, it would finally realize its age and decide to stop running. Nope. It ran rather loudly, spit out the occasional puffs of sketchy fumes, and only had a working radio. However, it was a free vehicle and Fordy and I were going to make our vehicular relationship work for as long as we had to.
“I am saving for a new car,” I started to explain but was cut off like always.
“You said that the day after you moved in a year ago Miss Priss,” she hissed, “Just put on your big girl pants and put the down payment on a better car. One that won’t destroy our planet and hurt my eardrums,” she swirled her grey head back in the direction of her apartment and all but slammed the door.
I sighed and relaxed now that another confrontation with my neighbor was over.
“And another thing,” I heard loudly from her front window now slightly open to let her voice reach me, “Shouldn’t you be dating someone? In this day and age, a pretty girl like you should be able to find a man or woman that would want to spend time with you.” The window closed back down with a dull thud, and I was left wondering if any of our other neighbors had heard that rather loud advice.
I vowed to park out back from now until forever as I started to pull out of my parking spot. I wasn’t sure, but it looked like she was watching me as I left that day. Resentment was starting to brew in me. My mom just laughed as I told her about my latest run in with the Trunchbull over lunch.
“She seems harmless,” my mom reflected naturally, “Actually, she sounds like my mom.”
“She’s ruthless,” I said and stabbed at my salad, “She never says anything polite or positive. She must be…She must…” I was lost for words because the woman made no sense and I just wanted to avoid her at all costs.
“She must be rather lonely,” my mother offered quietly without looking up.
“Please mom, it is 2001, who could be lonely now?”
My mother’s eyes slowly raised up to meet mine at then table. She didn’t need to say anything, and I realized my mistake as I caught her gaze. We moved on to talk about my brother and how work was going for both of us. Then we briefly discussed dad and commented on how men could be both childish and necessary in our lives before she paid our bill.
“Thanks for lunch and tell Mrs...” my mother’s voice trailed off slightly, “What is her name? You’ve only ever said Trunchbull. You’ve never mentioned her actual name, have you?”
I thought for a second and realized that I didn’t know my neighbor’s name. The conversations never lasted long enough, even in the beginning, for me to introduce myself or ask her name.
“No. I don’t know her name,” I said regretfully, “I should know it, but I don’t. I’ll find out today.”
My mother hugged me and said she’d be in touch this week. I watched her walk to her car and remembered how long it took for me to get her to agree to go to lunch after dad left her. His new wife came as a surprise since none of us knew that he had been seeing another woman for the final two years of their marriage. He divorced all of us at one time, moved thirty minutes away, got remarried within a year, and celebrated with twins. My stepsisters and I are twenty years apart and my mother was abandoned. I think she might have had a date or two lately, because she kept mentioning a guy named Deon while we ate. I didn’t want to ask though. She’d tell me when she was ready.
As I drove home, I vowed to actually knock on my neighbor’s door and formally introduce myself. I started to pass the front of our apartments to park out back when I realized there were ambulances in front of our complex.
I parked quickly and walked directly up the front path. A male paramedic stopped me.
“Are you family?” he asked quickly.
“No. I live across the hallway from…”
“Mrs. Abernathy?” the paramedic offered.
“Yes. Is she alright?” I was speaking quicker than I wanted and almost pushed the paramedic out of my way.
“Please…” the paramedic said and caught my shoulder, “She had a stroke. It’s pretty severe.”
“When will her family get here,” I asked as I felt tears starting to form in my eyes.
“That’s just it,” he said, “She said her only family was the young girl who lived across the hallway, but you said you weren’t family.”
That’s when the tears fell and just kept falling. I collapsed onto the grass and just sat there crying. The paramedic seemed surprised at first and then knelt down beside me.
“I’m truly sorry,” he said, “We are going to transport her to the hospital, but she is not responsive right now.”
I nodded and watched as he walked back into the apartment across from mine. Mrs. Abernathy was wheeled out. She looked peaceful and even had the faintest glint of a smile on her face.
“Um…I’m sorry. I don’t know your name,” the same paramedic said.
“Nora,” I said as I brought my breathing back to normal.
“Well, there is one issue we could use your help with,” he said and motioned for me to come inside. The ambulance with Mrs. Abernathy pulled away. The paramedic waved at the other driver to wait for a minute.
I walked slowly toward Mrs. Abernathy’s door and crossed the doorway even slower. I felt like an intruder, not a neighbor, and was afraid to venture further.
“She had a companion in here that cannot go to the hospital and may need long term care,” he said and picked up a Tea Cup poodle that sat shivering on the couch, “The collar says her name June.”
I smiled genuinely for the first time all day, “Benny and June,” I said softly.
“I love that movie,” the paramedic said, “Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson are awesome in it.”
“I agree. I named my dog Benny after Johnny Depp’s character and June can keep him company now. It’s awful when anyone is lonely, isn’t it?” I said and looked directly at the paramedic for the first time. He was incredibly handsome, and his eyes were warmly looking right back at me.
“I have to go,” he said, “But Mrs. Abernathy asked me to come back and check on you and help you move June’s belongings into your apartment.”
“She spoke to you?” I asked surprised.
“Yes. She had quite a lot to say before we offered her sedation to ease her pain. She said you would take care of her dog, her plants, and especially her cactus in the front window. She left you this key. She also said you would need to be checked on since you lived alone.” There was a slight smile on his lips as he recalled his conversation with Mrs. Abernathy.
“That sounds about right,” I said, “She was very critical about me and my life. I didn’t know she had a dog, plants, or a cactus though.”
“She cared about you,” he said as he walked toward the door, “She said you work hard, treat your dog well, and meet your mother for lunch regularly so she isn’t lonely. Her last comment…”
“She wished she had invited you in for lunch,” he said.
I sighed and smiled at June in my hands.
“Is it alright if I come back this evening to help you?”
“Sure. As long as you are not busy, I would hate for you to make your family or wife angry.”
“I’m single,” the paramedic said and smiled, “I’d be happy to come back. I’ll even bring some food.” He waved and started jogging to the other ambulance.
“Hey…what…” I said rushing out of the apartment before he left without me knowing his name too.
He waved once more, and the ambulance drove off. I walked back into Mrs. Abernathy’s apartment to get June’s bowls to make her comfortable for the afternoon. Gabe would be back later to help me move the rest of June’s items and close up the apartment for a while. I walked into my apartment, petted Benny, introduced June, and then we all went out back to sit. As I watched them play, I realized how lucky I was to have Mrs. Abernathy as my Trunchbull. I hoped she would be home soon and I could introduce myself and possibly Gabe to her.
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I liked this! The way you set up the neighbor - by giving her a nickname - was clever and helped me quickly visualize who she was. The only thing that was a little confusing at the beginning as you were setting it up was that Nora says, 'I never used the front door,' but then the next paragraph depicts a scene where she got criticism around her plants (seemingly bc she entered from the front door and ran into Trunchball). Of course, in the following paragraph, you clarified that she 'started avoiding using the front door entrance altogether....
Thank you so much for reading my story and for your comments! I LOVED reading your reactions! The line about the front door does seem odd and I already changed it on my master copy. Thank you for pointing that out. Also, your comment about the three women fascinated me. I intended the running parallel, but to me they aren't necessarily lonely. The mother has Nora, Nora's brother, and possibly a guy. Nora has her dog, her brother, her mom, Benny, Mrs. Abernathy, and possibly Gabe. Conversely, Mrs. Abernathy has June, Nora, and her pla...
I enjoyed this story. Especially how the ending came together. Great details on the neighbor and your family. The only room for improvement, would be to maybe find a better was to describe "vehicular relationship." I feel like more elaboration on the car would have added to the overall story. Great read....keep up the good work.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting on this story. I truly appreciate it. Your comment makes sense, and I will look at editing that description. Thanks again!