Monday, November 07, 2005

Ghost town

This took place when I was in my early twenties.

I returned to Lüleå in the middle of a blazing heat wave, beautifully tanned and hung over from a well organized three week international bender. Unfortunately, due to an uncharacteristic little gap in my planning, I happened to be stone cold broke. All I had on me was 50 reichmärck, a pack of cigarettes and a key.

I had figured if I could just get there I would work something out. I had money coming in a week later, and hopefully a few days after that my then girlfriend, later ex-wife, would be back from abroad. Until then I had arranged to borrow a friend of a friend’s apartment.

The one thing I had going for me was that key. As soon as I stuck it in, the door across the hall opened and my temporary next-door neighbor peeped out. She was a large, middle-aged woman, to say the very least, dressed in flowery black, with heavy eye make-up and short, spiked henna hair. She didn’t speak a word - she just glared at me. I flashed her my most endearing smile as I slipped in.

It was a ground floor flat impregnated with the smell of an overfilled ashtray left to bake in the sun a month ago. There was almost no furniture, but looking at the little there was, that was a good thing. The fridge was empty except for two inexplicable cans of cat food. There was no cat. I made a few phone calls, but they were fruitless. By some statistical fluke, everybody I knew was out of town, and I mean everybody. My parents, my friends, everybody. I decided to leave in search of some acquaintance I could sponge money from.

As soon as I opened the door, there she was again, staring at me. She had a glass of sparkling white wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other.

That night I searched every open bar in town looking for a familiar face, without luck. The streets were almost empty, the city deserted. I had never seen the place that dead before, and I haven’t since.

When I got back, there she was again. This time she had an undecipherable twinkle in her eye, and she was holding a large, wooden spoon.

I smoked a few cigarettes and went to bed hungry. All night I could hear the floorboards creak under her across the hall.

The next morning I got up really early. As I opened the door to leave the flat, she was standing immediately outside, inches from my face, wearing a grayish-pink bathrobe. Had she been waiting for me? She was mutely crying, with a desperate, pleading look on her face. A silent stream of tears, make-up and snot gushed down her flaccid cheeks. It was too early for me and I was too stunned to speak; I stole past her and scuttled off.

The last of my money bought me some bread, some cheese and some cigarette paper. When I got back to the flat she was sitting outside on the sidewalk, wearing sunglasses and a risqué bathing suit, reading a newspaper and drinking tea as if nothing had happened. What a sight she was.

Something was different inside the flat; I felt it the minute I came in. Had she been in there?

Over the next couple of days I lived on the bread until it was gone. I smoked my last cigarettes and then began rolling new ones from butts I recovered from the ashtray. Every time I left or entered, she was standing in the hall, her attire and mental faculties in varying stages of disarray. She never spoke a word to me, but it seemed that every time I saw her she was wearing less.

Every day I hunted desperately for a familiar face on the street and in the cafés, postponing the moment when I would again have to turn that damned key. It was like living next door to your landlord when you haven’t paid the rent, that’s what it was. At this point I basically existed on water and cigarettes, which only added to my paranoia.

To preserve my energy I had to stay in more. Somehow she must have sensed my predicament, because she started cooking at all hours of the day. It was so hot, there was no way I could close the windows to the smell. It was like torture, and on the fifth night it became too much for me.

She was obviously preparing a chicken. I went to the door and opened it. Like a genie she appeared, dressed provocatively in a naughty, semi-translucent baby doll. She had a look on her face that said: Am I not a woman?

The rich smell of a juicy chicken flavored with estragon filled the hall. For the first time since I’d had the pleasure of knowing her, she spoke: "You look hungry," she said, "would you like something to eat?"

I thought about her offer for a little while before I said "No thank you". I then went back inside and proceeded to eat the two cans of cat food.

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Anonymous adam said...

On a vaguely serious note, that is a really good piece of writing.
I know that posts like these don't inspire as much comment as some of the others, but I still think that that needs to be pointed out every now and again.
Very similar writing style to MGL, by the way.

10:40 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

Thank you, Adam!

It's always interesting to see which entries get comments, and what kind they get. The first comment is usually an indication.

Some entries never get commented on, for different reasons. Others have to "move down" a bit before people feel comfortable speaking about them. There's enough material for a psychology study here.

And I know Martin copies my style, of course. It's annoying, but he is my kid brother after all.

We each have a designated role to play. Mine is to say things like this.

1:12 am  

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