Every Friday night we feature a short story, essay, personal narrative,
poem, spoken word, or short film for your enjoyment.
Helen Presents: a flash fiction piece from Stephen Koster
In the apartment below, you hear barks and hisses.
The family living under your apartment makes pet sounds, like bestial alarm clocks. One is sometimes the dog, one is sometimes the cat.
If you didn’t know better, if you hadn’t seen a young father with a scarf round his neck, a young mother in a felt jacket, leading two children along the laneway like connected subway trains, you’d think the noises were sex noises.
Your key sticks.
The dog and cat sounds grow, like one bit the other. Like they’re fighting for dominance over a cloudless dome. The kids aren’t around. They’re at the grandparents’ or a daycare. Only the parents are home. And right now, they’re biting each other on the neck, leaving wet saliva marks in the flesh.
Your key sticks and you hear walls bouncing, rebounding, straining—you smell sweat, you taste tang. Pubic hairs scrape your cheek.
You’ve unlocked your door how many times, and you can’t remember if the key goes left or right. Logically, you think right. But you aren’t thinking logically. You’re drinking your neighbour’s sweat.
Remember meeting them in the hall, the kids carrying sleds bigger than themselves, like miniature sherpas, bound so tight they couldn’t walk. Mom stood behind, wearing the same mask as always, and behind comes husband—a dapper man. A perfect father—a moustache, a beard. He wears sweaters. The two of them look hip and responsible.
She smiles when she sees you. She passes a hand through her hair and blushes.
She ushers a child forward. A child whose blue eyes follow you away. Mom speaks differently around you. She doesn’t smile with most people. The kids observe you—an object in the sky.
Remember another time in the hall, the kids going sledding, and you left the door open. Remember when mother walked your stairs while the kids were out, like she was the first arrival to a party. She saw you sitting on your bed, and she took off her jacket.
The key sticks, and it might be intentional.
The longer your lock doesn’t turn, the better chance she comes outside, leading one of the young ones, unaware, but, also innately intuitive. Miniature lie detectors. The longer the chance of her in lingerie, peeling it off like a stretch of dough which quivers over you and you wonder. Two kids, one husband, one bed-shaking whimper. What it feels like to drip from the seams, to feel yourself open, to give life arbitrarily.
Your key sticks, and her door opens.
Out comes a sweater, a beard, a moustache, two unsuspecting eyes.
“Hell of a winter,” says the husband.
His palms hold no tension, perfect for airplane rides and hugs. His fishermen beard gives cozy kisses to the same face you do.
Your key turns.
“It’s going to be a cold one,” you say.
He stares too long for absent curiosity. Maybe he sees the faded bite marks on your neck. Maybe he sees it in your eyes. Logically, you know that’s unlikely. Illogically, you don’t understand the noises he and his wife make. Maybe he can smell it on you, like you smell her perfume on him.
“Have a good night,” he says, his voice breathy.
“You too,” you say.
When you close the door behind you, you observe the floor over their apartment. You lie on the hardwood. You see the bedroom of your imagination. You put an ear to the floor, and you hear the female voice barking, the male voice purring, wondering why it is you that feels jealous.
Stephen Koster is sending all his publications along with the Mars One team, because if there’s one thing that’s comforting when you’re running out of supplies on a distant planet, it’s amateur unpublished literature. You can find him on Facebook: facebook.com/stephenkosterwriter