Wall of Knowledge
The apartment building was cheap. Not in a dumpy sort of way but in the way it was remodeled when the owner converted the former large single story retail space into apartments. The walls were thin and it was easy to hear voices, footsteps and movements through the barriers.
Jon had been living in his apartment for a couple of years but he didn't know his neighbors well. They came and went quite frequently – somebody was moving in or out every few months, it seemed.
The apartment next to his had been empty for a few months but one night when Jon came home from work he heard the muffled sounds of a guitar through the wall and he realized that somebody had moved in.
Sometimes, at night, if the window was open, Jon could hear the sounds drift through the air. He realized that his latest neighbor was a woman when he heard her voice accompanying the guitar floating through his window. Their kitchens were next to each other and that's when he could hear her the clearest.
If he was quiet in the bathroom, Jon could hear his neighbor in hers – usually the sound of the shower running or the toilet flushing but sometimes he'd hear the sounds of her singing or humming coming through the vent above the ceiling that ran to the outside wall.
Jon had been dating Brenda for a few months and sometimes she spent the night. It wasn't a serious relationship but they got along well and the sex was enjoyable, satisfactory and mutually convenient. But now that Jon had a neighbor again he worried about the noises of sex.
Brenda was quite loud, demonstrative, vocal, expressive and wild when it came to sex which had never been Jon's forte but he went along with it even though sometimes he felt like he was in a porn film because it seemed a little much.
Brenda joked that Jon was a prude and she insisted that she was just outgoing in that way in that she liked to express herself. Now that there was a neighbor next door, Jon asked Brenda if she could tone it down a little which caused a fight, especially one night when he put one of the pillows over her mouth.
Brenda was quickly promoting her way up the executive staff at a local law firm and Jon knew she wouldn't be long to be dating a 'maintenance coordinator' for a local non-profit. And now that the sex was becoming an issue he figured his days were numbered.
Jon finally bumped into his new neighbor in the hall by the mailboxes late one afternoon. He noticed her because she walked with a slight limp and what appeared to be a flat foot.
"Hello," he said cheerfully as they stood at the mailboxes inserting their keys.
She was quiet and obviously not interested in carrying on a conversation.
"Nice day today," Jon said, figuring he should at least attempt general pleasantries.
The woman took her mail from the box, closed it, and headed back to her apartment without uttering a word. Jon watched her, noticing her unusual gait. He wondered if she thought he was a pervert – she must have heard him and Brenda in bed.
Jon respected his new neighbor's wishes for privacy so he didn't push it beyond the normal arcs of politeness whenever the bumped into each other in the hall or at the mailbox. He found himself becoming intrigued by her presence, especially curious about her unusual walk.
The woman was strangely plain in her appearance yet strikingly attractive. She dressed in modest and unappealing clothes – baggy khaki pants and loose-fitting flannel shirts even in warm weather. Her brown hair looked straw-like brittle, hanging on her shoulders like dried out seaweed.
A few weeks passed and Jon realized he still didn't know anything about his neighbor except that she played the guitar and sang well.
"Can I ask you your name?" He asked politely as they stood by the mailboxes one evening.
"Laura," She replied, not looking at him.
"I'm Jon," he replied pleasantly but Laura wasn't interested in asking any questions of him.
Jon wasn't sure if Laura was painfully shy or apathetically uninterested. Maybe she was convinced he was a deviant. He hadn't seen her with anybody and there were no visitors to her apartment but he didn't know if that should raise any suspicions.
Laura bumped into Jon and Brenda one evening as the couple left for dinner but it was clear that Laura wasn't interested in engaging in conversation when Jon said hello.
"This is Brenda," Jon said.
Laura nodded but didn't respond and Jon was strangely charmed by her aurora of mystery.
"She looks like she escaped from the local mental hospital," Brenda remarked as they walked to Jon's car.
Brenda wore expensive clothes, had her hair professionally tended to, and wore pounds of make up to cover her acne and other defects. Her hair was flaming red in color
"I think something happened to her," Jon theorized.
"What makes you say that?" Brenda wondered.
"I don't know," Jon shrugged. "There's just something about her."
A few weeks passed. Jon was watching a ball game on the television when he heard a knock on the door which was unusual. Brenda had her own key - which she had returned to him ten days earlier when she finally pulled the plug for real and for good. Strangely, Jon was relieved by her decision.
Jon went to the door and he opened it to find his neighbor Laura standing in the hall. She was wearing white bagging painter pants and a red checkered flannel shirt three sizes too big for her.
"Hello?" He said with surprise.
"Are you good at fixing things?" She asked. He was stunned that she was (finally) speaking to him.
"Yes." Obviously, Laura was unaware that her neighbor was the Maintenance Coordinator for a local non-profit.
"My bathroom pipe has been leaking for days," Laura said. "The landlord keeps blowing me off."
"He's been known to be slightly unresponsive," Jon remarked. "Let me get my tool box."
"Thanks," Laura said with appreciation.
Jon dug his tool box out of the hall closet and he followed Laura into her apartment. He was still in his work clothes so it worked out well. The layout was the same as his although her decor was completely different. There was a cheerful and light appearance in her art selections and furniture pieces and she was much neater than he could ever hope to be.
Laura led him into the bathroom. She took a seat on the edge of the bathtub instead of the commode which might appear to be a bit unbecoming. Jon lay on the floor, opened the cabinet underneath the sink and checked the situation.
"Yeah, it's leaking," he observed.
"Yep," Laura agreed.
"All I should probably do is stop the leak until the landlord can repair or replace the pipe."
"Okay," Laura said.
Jon shut off the water value to the pipe and then turned on the faucets to drain the water that was still in the pipe. He borrowed one of Laura's towel's to wipe the pipe dry.
"We should let this air dry for a few minutes before continuing," he said, pulling himself into a sitting position on the bathroom floor.
There was a long, almost interminable silence between them and finally Jon became so uncomfortable that he forced himself to say something.
"You don't talk much," he observed.
"I talk when I have something to say," she said.
"Like 'my bathroom pipe is leaking'?"
She gave him an annoyed look. "I haven't seen your woman friend around lately."
"Me either," Jon replied. "She left," he said with a shrug when she didn't respond.
"Is that pipe dry yet?" Laura finally asked.
Jon used his putty knife to apply some epoxy to the leaking area. He then covered the leak with a rubber pad which he secured with a clamp.
"We should let this set for a while," he said. "Then I can tape it up."
"Long enough to make this even more awkward," Jon replied.
"We can wait in the living room if you want," Laura said. "Unless you like sitting on a bathroom floor."
Jon stood as did Laura and he followed her into the living room, taking a seat on the couch. She sat in an arm chair across from him but she didn't say anything.
"So, you from around here?" Jon finally asked. "Originally, I mean."
"No," she replied. "I went to Green College about ten years ago though so I knew the area."
"I was born and raised in Hillsboro," Jon said. "Graduated from the tech school."
"So, you're a tradesman," she realized.
"Jack of all trades," Jon smiled. "I'm the Maintenance Supervisor for Blue County Mental Health Association. We have several office and program buildings and residential homes so there's always something going on."
Laura appeared surprised. "What were the chances?" She mumbled.
"What?" Jon asked, not quite hearing her.
"Nothing," she said, clearly annoyed.
"So what brought you back to the area?" Jon asked. "Job?
"I'm presently disabled," Laura revealed.
"Oh," Jon said, caught off guard. But it explained the limp. He knew from his job not to ask too many questions or risk violating somebody's HIPPA rights. "Well, Blue County is certainly a nice place to live."
"Your family still here?" She asked.
"Yes, but my parents kicked me out," he joked.
Laura seemed perfectly calm which struck him as courageous given what she had revealed (and he had seen) so far. He noticed her guitar resting against the wall
"I'm sure you've heard me playing," she said knowingly.
He tried not to blush knowing that meant she heard him too.
"I'm playing on Open Mike night at the Upstairs Tavern over by the campus on Thursday night at nine," she revealed.
"Wow!" Jon replied. "That's great."
"Do you think the pipe's ready?" She asked.
"Sure," he said politely, rising from the couch.
John used water resistant tape to cover the rubber. "This will serve as double protection," he told Laura who was standing in the bathroom doorway with her arms folded across her chest. "But it won't last forever so the landlord should definitely do something about this."
"Okay," Laura said.
Jon turned the water value back on to make sure there was no leak.
"Looks good," he reported.
"Thank you very much," Laura said, stepping back as her cue to let him know it was time to leave.
Jon put his tools back in the box and left the bathroom, following the limping Laura to the apartment door.
"Good night," she said.
"Good night," he replied, stepping through the door and hearing it close behind him.
He hesitated in the hall for a moment trying to figure out exactly what that was all about.