'there was an affair in this building'

Eric Bennett


The Poet is talking to himself in the apartment next to mine. i can clearly hear him speaking in prose through the glass i’m pressing against the wall. it’s not very good prose, i might add.

he’s mad. not angry, insane.

i watched him shed his clothes piece by piece along the sidewalk this morning. he left his socks hanging on the shrubs just outside the building. i suppose sadness kept him from entering. he was naked, well, half naked – he left his boxers on. how could I help but stare?

i suppose he went round and entered by the back door.

The Poet is pallid, eyes red. he doesn’t sleep; he reaches deep into his mouth and scoops out limited words whenever someone passes him in the hall. evidently this building has become a language trap. he once spoke in diamonds but now he uses crude alphabet sounds, misery crowding the violins out of his words.

The Poet seems to be tumbling into emptiness since The Singer left.

The Singer arrived in a cloud of chanel no. 5. she had a limousine body, a champagne voice, and she moved into the apartment on the other side of mine. she’s the sad beauty men toast in supper clubs and bars. you know the type, deep cleavage and red lips wrapped around an alto vibrato.

i suppose it was inevitable that The Poet and The Singer would meet. after all, they were only separated by one apartment: mine. walk down the hall and it was her apartment, my apartment, his apartment – all on the right. the longing arcing from the poet’s apartment to The Singer’s apartment was a hungry force.

at a glance, The Poet and The Singer appeared disparate, but before her curtains were hung they were cozy and kissing, fondling and fumbling with their keys, first at her apartment, then his. the noises i heard through the plaster and studs unwittingly evidenced the forces that bind them. together they had a kind of dash.

i listened at my walls to the rustling of angel wings all spring.

then came august.

what i am certain of: the hovering sun made everyone hot and prickly that tuesday. i was on my balcony watching a summer breeze push woozy clouds across the sky when i hear The Singer bawl, “you bastard.”

i froze.

and in that moment I imagine the tenants in the building freezing as well; old lady alma in the apartment at the end of the hall stops, hands submerged in a sink of dirty dishes. joe mechanic in the apartment across from mine clenches his pee so the lemon-colored water falling into his toilet stops (a nigh to impossible task), the landlord, mr. greeley, muzzles his poodle’s perpetual whining. we become manikins.

we–all of us, each of us, everyone of us–listen to The Poet and The Singer quarrel.

“yougoddamndog” The Singer skillfully projects from her diaphragm.

i move to my door. i’m peering through the peep hole–all i see is the oblong shape of The Singer, one hand on her slouch hip. my front door becomes an instrument, vibrating chords of angry music.

“you love your damn words more than you love me? those silly poems mean more to you than what they’re supposed to be about.”

“i do” The Poet unpoetically ripostes.

“fuck you! fuck your poetry!”

living things hold their breath for the razorblades in the air. inhaling feels like bleeding.

“but my poems are about you.”

“you love the idea of me more than you love me.”

I can see The Singer’s runaway face as she hurls all that is in her at The Poet, “fuck! you!”

i can see this is semantic acrobatics: The Singer needs to hear The Poet say he loves her more than his words, The Poet needs to know The Singer loves his words. they collide midway, plummeting without a net.

the next morning there is a riot of perfume and sequins in the hall, all that remains of The Singer’s gowns hustled away in the middle of the night like the toys of doe-eyed children in a too sudden divorce.

presently, I am here, listening to the vacancy of song in The Singer’s apartment and the death of poetry in The Poet’s apartment. The entire building is wrapped in cotton quiet.

i interiorize the soundlessness.

like a frog in a pot of boiling water, it dawns on me too late: there are no couples in this building. we–all of us, each of us, everyone of us–live alone. this realization is a thorn pressing into the pith of me, a wound that won’t seem to heal. days pass, lonely. and in the lengthening hush, lingering in this life without poetry and song becomes unbearable. the aloneness chokes. i resolve to become my own assassin.

i tenderly loop the nylon, wrapping spiraling coils, tucking the end of the rope through the top eye, a noose. it collars my neck perfectly.

kicking the kitchen chair, i am the hanging fruit of isolation.

the weeping rafters hold the rope while i coordinate my kicks. the evening becomes more hushed than i’ve ever heard except for the pinching noises of the noose – a kind of poetry, a sort of song.

there was an affair in this building.