Chapter 5-- Two Weeks Before the Key is Found

I hadn't wanted anything, really, it's just...this weakness of mine. I get anxious when I'm alone, sometimes, panicky, which is probably why I'm living with Saul in the first place, come to think of it. He hardly gives me a minute to myself. Which is how I like it. Saul's not loud or annoying, well, not usually. He's just this constant presence, drinking Pabst and smoking cigarettes and noodling around on the guitar. He plays well. He sings out of tune, but it's pleasant enough, in a Bob Dylany sort of way. Mostly he's background noise to me, and I try not to think about why he would possibly while away the hours with me, when he could be out there living, playing gigs, meeting girls. Actually I know why he spends so much time with me, and it makes me feel guilty, which I don't like, so I try not to think about it at all. Poor Saul. I wish Anton would try a little harder to make him feel included. But I shouldn't blame Anton. If anybody's inconsiderate, it's me, and if anything's wrong here, it's my fault. I just hate to be alone.

That wasn't the only reason I called him, of course. I did have an excuse. I'd have preferred it to have been Anton.
"She's crying again," I told him, feeling lame as I said it. I expected him to scowl at me, but his only expression was one of furrowed concern.
"Look, we can't keep doing this. I think I should talk to the landlord."
"And get them thrown out? That would hardly be a solution!"
"It would stop this. This is a problem. You can't even be comfortable in your own house!"
"And what about her problems?"
He walked across the room, which only took him a couple of steps. He fished out a pack of smokes, tapped one out (I have never understood why he does that) placed it loosely between his lips, and lit it. As he inhaled, he squinted out of the dingy window. He ran a hair through his hair, which was not brown, not blonde, and already greying. It fell back immediately into a heavy shelf, shiny with grease. Saul's hair was impossible. He never had taken much stock in appearances, and I had long ago given up trying to convince him of the social benefits good grooming had to offer. Shit, I was one to talk, anyway. The only body hair I really concerned myself with was that on my eyebrows, and about this, I was obsessive. I mused on this, sucking on my pipe. I often look as if I'm pondering the universes' riddles when I am in fact concerned soley with the mundane.
He sighed. I snapped back to attention.
"Does the crying bother you?"
"It bothers me." This was true. I found it impossible to do anything when I heard it. And I heard it all too frequently. Lately, it felt like any time I was alone in the apartment, it would begin, a dull wail followed by choking sobs. Sometimes they were muffled, sometimes not. Sometimes I would wake to it, and the sound would fill me with such dread that I would wonder, for the thousandth time, if the author of such profound grief could be human.
I used to think it was a child, until one rainy afternoon when I was carrying groceries up the narrow, putrid hallway, trying unsuccessfully not to touch the walls, as I was convinced that they would give me a disease. What was I afraid of catching? Poverty? Despair? Whatever it was, I was completely resigned to it now, and neither walls nor carpet nor kitchen bothered me. Or, they continued to bother me, but I had successfully squelched most feelings of fear and revulsion. I wasn't ahppy with it, but I'd accepted it. There's a lot to be said for acceptance. It makes everything easier, when you lead a miserable existence. I saw her in the stairwell. She wasn't shouting then, or pleading, as I'd heard her so often through the walls. She was just standing there, in the doorway, crying, and wearing a nightgown. Her face was unmade and her hair uncombed, and I felt somehow that it was obscene, so I turned away and continued up the stairs. A man brushed past me on his way down, so average I barely remember him. He was wearing blue jeans and a brown leather jacket, neither particularly new, and he was of average height, definitely under six feet, probably brown, thinning hair, probably medium build. I say probably because I am guessing, because I wasn't paying much attention. I didn't realize until I got into the apartment and put the grocery bag on the counter that she was crying for him, that the unassuming man on the stairwell was the reason I was up so many nights. He hadn't looked like anything. I couldntve picked him out of a lineup.
I wished I'd known in that moment in the stairwell, wish I'd looked closer, into his face, into his eyes. If I had, I would have something to picture all of those late nights, something besides her face, raw, pathetic, and streaked with tears.
"We could call the cops," Saul was saying.
I shook my head.
"They won't do anything unless she stands up for herself, and I don't think that's very likely."
"Well, what do you want to do? Find a new apartment?" He said this out of frustration, I knew, but it wasn't a real question. Neither of us could afford anything more that what we were paying for already, not unless it we got something even further out, in an even rougher neighborhood. My busride was already an hour. No way.
"I don't know," I admitted, "I don't have a solution. It's just driving me nuts."
He looked at me with frustration, but his expression immediately melted into sympathy when he saw the tears in my eyes. He hugged me again, a bit closer this time, and again, I allowed myself to enjoy it.
"Don't worry," he told me, "we'll think of something." His phone rang, and, with a sigh, he pulled away. He has a habit of screening his calls, so that I could read the name before he answered it, even if it was upside down.
"Anton," he said, sounding a bit more cheerful than I guessed he was, "hello."

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