Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The girl on the fourth floor

Many years ago I had a friend who played the bass, a guy from the east country. When I first met him he was on a short-term contract for a musical production of Little Orphan Annie. We would sit in the sun outside the theatre between rehearsals, drinking beer and smoking joints. He was always complaining about the two horrible twelve-year-olds who shared the lead role. And then suddenly the show was over and he was out of a job.

About the same time, I was offered a job that required a crew of three, so I asked him and another one of my deadbeat friends to help me out. We were to lower the floor of a cellar in a house up by the park, a low, cool room down a flight of stairs from the street. Huge stone slabs covered three quarters of the floor, the remaining corner was concrete. That’s where we took our breaks if it rained outside, sitting up against one of the supporting beams.

The guy who owned the house had offered me a fixed price, money right in the hand, and the job was supposed to take two weeks, three at the most. Well what do you know.

We constructed a ramp and wrestled the huge granite slabs to the dumpster at the curb using a pallet and some ropes. I don’t know what they weighed, maybe two, three hundred kilos each. It took longer than we had expected. And then when we finally started digging we found that a subterranean stream ran through the dirt underneath, making most of it the consistency of really heavy porridge. Then of course we had to break the concrete floor up. Pretty soon we didn’t have much to sit on.

We started taking longer and longer breaks each day, smoking cigarettes in the light of a halogen lamp and cursing the guy upstairs.

After work we would most often go somewhere to drink beer and smoke joints. My other friend was married at that time to a girl we gradually came to realize was a compulsive liar. We would sit in their living room exchanging glances when she started telling about the time her junkie boyfriend died in her arms, or the time she took a pilot’s exam and flew to Brazil. I can’t remember all of her ridiculous stories, but there were tons of them.

The bass player, when he was stoned, often became overly sensitive to social signals. He just couldn’t take the awkwardness of sitting there when we all knew she was lying, and she knew that we knew, and we knew that she knew that we knew. After a while we started going to his flat by the bridge instead, which he was renting on a short-term basis since the whole building was going to be demolished to make room for some sort of soundproofing on the bridge or something.

The two of us would sit there stoned, with the TV on in the background, him playing his bass, me scribbling little drawings on Post-it notes. Little faces mostly. It was a nice flat, but he didn’t have much furniture because he kept selling it. When he needed money for dope he would sell a chair or some of his records. His vinyl collection dwindled down to a few Steely Dan albums that summer.

The thing was, he had decided to go back east. The house was condemned, so in a couple of months he had to be out of it anyway. He was just killing time ‘til then. When we finally finished the cellar job and got paid, well he didn’t really feel he had to leave the flat much anymore. Mostly he just went out for food and dope, and he only stayed in touch with those of us who came to see him. If you wanted to talk to him you had to come to the flat.

It was around that time he developed an interest in the house across the street. It was a wide street and he was on the fifth floor, so he had a good view. Since he was home all the time he began noticing the people coming and going. He soon knew who lived where, with whom, and if they worked or not. He even made guesses at their professions: That guy is a plumber. He and his wife had a fight yesterday. I think he may be having an affair. Things like that.

His own building being condemned, most of the tenants had already moved away. From the outside the house looked almost empty. Maybe that was why the people across the street seldom bothered to draw their curtains. They were endlessly fascinating to him, it was like a soap opera unfolding right across the street. He confessed to me that he would sometimes hide behind the living room curtains, stealthily gathering little clues.

It was hard for him to pull away from it, even if he had visitors. He would sit on the couch with his back to the window, but he kept turning his head. You have to see this, he would say, the schoolteacher is taking her dog for a walk, or; looks like the three students are having another party.

One time when I came to see him he quickly let me into the dark hallway. He was whispering to me, impatiently: Come in, come in, quickly. The girl on the fourth floor just came home. You have to see this. I followed him into the dark kitchen and we knelt down behind the counter. Across the street a young girl of maybe sixteen was walking into her bedroom. She put her knapsack on the floor, took off her jacket and started undressing. It was like we weren’t there, and of course we weren’t to her.

When she was down to her underwear she took up position in front of a large closet door mirror. She just stood there, expressionless, examining herself. After a while she turned to one side, straightened her back a little, sucked in the belly. Then she turned 180 degrees to look at herself from the other side, one hand on the back, one on the front. She turned around and looked at her ass, bending over ever so slightly, scrutinizing it for a long time. Then she returned to the front again. She cocked her head a little. She turned to the side. She lifted up her hair. She let it down again. She returned to the front. It went on and on and on.

My friend the bass player was holding his cigarette down below the counter so the glow wouldn’t give us away. Look at her, he whispered. She can stand like that for hours.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

part of me is afraid this is a metaphor for blogging, and that I may be the man with the cigarette.

but then, we all would be, wouldn't we?

the rest of me loves this story.

6:18 am  
Anonymous maître said...

Great story! I'll always remember that guy as the one with the hemeroides. Quite odd, come to think of it.

9:46 am  
Blogger Susanne said...

You have been caught in the act of writing a short story.

1:27 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...


2:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

:) And the sick swedich duo he had a crush on.... I only think he herd them on the tv comersial Yakkida or somthing...Jeez it stunk.

6:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such great pictures - I mean in the story -not the photos, well OK also the photos - ...!! You know what I mean!

1:46 pm  
Blogger surly fag said...

mikkel you're a fantastic writer. i swear, i'm so picky and elitist i very rarely say that to anyone. i really really really love it. i can't believe i only just read it.

7:01 pm  
Blogger Mikkel said...

You've mellowed.

4:48 pm  

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