words & illustrations by costa koutsoutis
It hadn’t even occurred to her to try to call the unknown number back, having just picked up and answered without even looking to see who was calling her.
“It’s the perfect thing you need,” the voice had said before hanging up, leaving her confused, not even angry or frustrated, just thoroughly confused at the oddest prank call she’d ever gotten.
It was just one more annoying thing keeping her from working, she was, granted, ahead of schedule with the pieces for the show she had in a month, but figured or or two more wouldn’t hurt to have, especially if anyone at the show wanted an “exclusive” for sale. Kim brushed the back of her hand against her forehead to sweep a lock of hair back, immediately regretting it as paint smeared there.
“Damn it.” Blues, blacks, reds, and errant yellow were almost as much all over her hands and wrists as they were on the eight-by-eight canvas, stretched over the wooden frame. The uneven spread of paint in abstract splatters and solid thick-lined forms, thick in some places, barely covering the canvas in others, just needed…something. Something she couldn’t quite get.
“Ugh.” Kim didn’t want to have to do this, the first time he’d been nailing something into the wall with so much force that plaster had flown off her wall, so she’d knocked on his door until the rock music died down and he answered, the older man with a slightly lost look on his face, confused as to who she could possibly be while she explained that yes, she was the lady he shared a wall with and yes, every time he did something to that wall she could hear it. He’d stopped that day but it’d started again soon after, albeit nothing quite as loud. Kim just accepted it at this point, the least of her problems.
The neighboring apartment. The thin old walls, more timpanous membranes than actual barriers, let sound and pressure make for odd sounds and even odder living arrangements, a sort of uncomfortable symbiotic life. When she’d had Rob over she was so sure that they’d be overheard, until eventually she just started always going over to his place. The one time she’d heard him bring someone home one night, she’d squirmed uncomfortably at the obviously fake ah-ah-ah’s from her, and over-enunciated grunts and groans from him.
It was him again, rubbing or dragging something against the wall, probably not even paying attention as he did it. She wiped her hands hastily on her pants and stuck the brush behind her ear, going out into the quiet dirty hallway and walking over to his door. It was was open, late-afternoon sun vaguely lighting the single large but dingy studio apartment from the large window. Kim pushed it open, taking a step in before almost wretching at the hot, thick, awful smell.
Against the far wall, the wall that she knew the other side of…her side of, in her apartment, the ultra-thin and almost non-existent barrier, in smeared letters that eventually trailed off, amongst bloody handprints and fingerprints, he’d written something before falling down in a mess of hair, arterial spray, and organic matter.
NO ONE TO HELP YOU
“Oh my god!” someone yelled, and she turned around, seeing that young gay couple she always suspected of doing meth together at five AM with the loud music were standing there peeking out of the apartment across the hallway. “What happened?” one of them asked.
“I…I don’t know, I found, I came to ask him to stop making noise and…” It dawned on her then, dawned to her what she’d been hearing all this time inside her place through the wall.
She looked down at the ever-growing pool, so fresh the stain hadn’t even begun to form from the liquid slowly being absorbed into the dirty wooden floor. It was…alive. The puddle slowly moving its way through the room, reflecting the light at just the right angle through the dirty far window and from over Kim’s shoulder in the hallway, made it almost dance.
“It’s the perfect thing you need.” the phone call whispered in her ear again as she walked back into her apartment, grabbing at the big old-fashioned palette she used, walking again back next door as more and more people were now out in the hallway at their doors, watching and whispering, someone crying, and inside the gay couple’s apartment she could hear one of them saying “Sure, I’ll hold, officer,” while he eyeballed her.
Kim knelt, using the edge of the palette to scrape some of the still-warm, thickening fluid onto the slim piece of varnished, paint-stained wood. There were harsh and heavy thuds out in the hallway from the far staircase as someone had let cops into the five-story walkup, and she walked back into her apartment, dabbing at the bloody palette with a brush, splattering and brushing, lightly, tenderly, the thuds getting closer and closer.
The brush scraped against the harsh canvas and already-dried other paint.