I Heard Their Laughter

I MEANT THEM NO HARM but they were bothering me. Try to understand. Until they came I had lived alone on the top floor of this abandoned building for all of thirteen years and eight months, isolated by deliberate intent in this forsaken, cold-water flat right beneath the roof, disturbing no one, desiring nothing more than to pursue these final days in unmolested solitude. In all those years I have had no neighbors to assail me with their have-a-nice-day vapidities. Except for infrequent trips out for food and to cash my miserly pension check, I avoid going down to the streets below. I wish to impress upon you that I seek no company, I need no one. Socially speaking I am as absent a person as you can be and still remain in the world. And I am content that it be that way. Even my name on the mailbox in the lobby of this wretched building is no longer legible. Perhaps I should darken the letters now that—I dread to say it —this building, accommodatingly empty for so long, is taking on tenants. Perhaps I shall redraw my name, right at the end, as my epitaph, so that these intruders will understand that this weird, unnamed presence up here on the top floor had been a real person, he too had a name. But then I ask you, why should I?

I trust I have made myself clear. Until now I bothered no one and gave no one cause to bother me. I wish to impress this upon you strongly in view of these measures I felt obliged to take. I have no history of arrests, of formal complaints against me. I have always sought to keep myself invisible to the police. If these intruders on my floor complain about me, what do I care? What do they mean to me? Nothing, I can assure you of that. The entire world could expire at my feet and it would mean nothing to me, nada, just as my demise will mean zero to it. And I am reconciled to this. I have long since given up the notion of meaning anything to anyone, even to myself. I know in my bones I can never add a sum like the one I subtracted years ago. I have long since even ceased to try.

I hope you will understand why this new circumstance has become so calamitous. Why I had to do these unpleasant things. Let me explain. Thirteen years ago I was homeless, passing sleepless nights in the city’s subways, and my days wandering aimlessly down its streets, like a Hamlet pondering reasons to stay or not stay in this world. And finding none, I might add, yet not knowing what to do, where to go, how to abide a life that could never come to anything, and worse, not knowing even how to end it. Then, by happy circumstance, I chanced upon this building with its huge CONDEMNED sign, this vacant little apartment structure squeezed between dark, windowless warehouses. It happened that the entrance door was ajar, almost as if somehow I had been expected. I immediately went in. The interior was unlit with the dead quiet of a mausoleum, all perfectly suited to the state I was in. I saw at once that if I were to hole away in a building like this, I could take my time for what, logically speaking, lay ahead. So I began to explore the premise. The elevator of course wasn’t working so I climbed the stairs and peeked in on each floor. The halls were short with just a few flats. Tall, dirty, hall windows at both ends let in light enough for me to try the doors. Invariably they were locked tight. . . .