A/N: Covid-19 did not happen in this storyline.
The Man Upstairs
Barbara Brewington often heard the man who lived upstairs piddling about in his apartment above hers, his footsteps on the creaking floor, the sound of his television or stereo, and the occasional flush of a toilet when it was especially quiet in the building, so she knew that man upstairs heard her screaming fights with Matty and that both embarrassed and shamed her.
It was one more reason why Barb wanted to move out and leave Matty once and for all but she had nowhere to go and, at thirty-six, it depressed the hell out of her to realize that her life had hit such a dead end.
She once enjoyed her job but recently she had become burnt out on her customer service responsibilities at the Dalton GM-Cadillac Dealership, tired of listening to people's complaints about high repair bills and long appointment waits.
She was hired because she was good with people - cheerful, positive, polite, friendly, humorous, good natured and responsive. But lately Barb found herself impatient, disinterested, and unfocused in her duties. She knew it was because her general malaise and unhappiness had spilled over into all aspects of her life.
Even coming home to the condo she once found charming felt like a burden as her relationship with Matty continued to strain and wane.
One of her few enjoyments left was listening to the Reverend Jeremiah Upton on the car's Sirius FM Christian Radio Station, a mixture of Christian Rock and the Reverend's inspiring sermons. The Rev Jeremiah was constantly talking about The Man Upstairs and Barb found The Reverend to be uplifting and grounding, a throwback to her childhood religion before her parents split up.
Sometimes Barb took the long way home or rode around the block a few times to listen for a few extra minutes of Reverend Jeremiah's words of wisdom or a particularly uplifting song.
Because she had been increasingly stressed by her decreasingly satisfying life, Barb's nasty smoking habit had gotten worse. Unfortunately, Matty loathed the smell of cigarettes (another point of contention between them) and he forced Barb to smoke outside the condo.
There was no smoking allowed in the public spaces so Barb had to stand outside to enjoy a cigarette and that's when she began bumping to the (other) Man Upstairs.
She stood on the side entrance steps because that had the least amount of traffic/usage but The (other) Man Upstairs parked his car at the end of the side driveway and it was easier for him to use that side entrance to gain access to his condo rather than using the back or front entrances.
Barb would have ignored him completely if he didn't have the knack of saying hello whenever their paths crossed, usually with her standing on the step sucking a cig. Even when she stood underneath the trees on the other side of the cut-through drive, the upstairs neighbor would wave and say hello.
She often felt silly standing out in the elements of all sorts of weather and, worse, she knew that the upstairs neighbor knew that she and Matty fought (he could hear them) and that she often escaped their condo not just for a needed cigarette but to get away from her boyfriend for a few minutes.
This little ritual went on for weeks – with the (other) Man Upstairs extending his hellos to other pleasantries like 'Nice day, today, isn't it?' and "How are you, today?' as he passed through her cigarette smoke on his way to his condo, often carrying shopping bags.
Barb resisted engaging the man in conversation for the longest time and she thought it was strange that someone who lived alone was carrying plastic bags full of groceries into his apartment nearly every day.
Finally, Barbara felt the responsibility to at least acknowledge the man's existence and show a decorum of politeness so she began returning his 'hello' or 'good morning' and she started saying 'yes it is' to his 'Nice day, today, isn't it?' and 'I'm well, thanks' (even though that was a lie) to his 'How are you today?'
The man always had a smile on his face (no matter what the weather) and he was forever cheerful. It occurred to Barbara that he'd probably be better at her job than she was these days.
He was older, though, maybe sixty, with thick gray hair and matching goatee and 'Wally Cox' dark framed glasses that dated him. He seemed to be in good shape for a man his age although he moved abet slowly. He was usually dressed in nylon warm up running suits of various colors although she doubted he was athletic.
Barbara realized that he usually saw her at her worse – fatigued, stressed out, often wearing sweats, her hair a mess, rarely with her make up on as she often caught a smoke first thing in the morning or after a long day at work. She wondered if he thought she was older than her years – she was thirty-six but she probably looked to him to be in her forties because of her disposition and unhappiness.
And then one gray morning, the man stopped as he approached her while carrying four large plastic bags of groceries. "My name's Edwin," he said, squinting at her. "I live above you."
"I know," Barb responded automatically.
He waited for her to reveal her name but she didn't offer the information.
"May I ask your name?" He finally said while continuing to peer at her.
"Barbara," she finally answered. "Barbara Brewington."
"Why do you smoke so much?" He wanted to know. "You look like a chimney."
Barb was surprised to be called out and she was offended by his boldness. It was bad enough Matty razzed her about it. She exhaled a thick cloud of smoke into Edwin's face in response.
"Come on, Brew," Edwin said with annoyance. "Be nice."
She was intrigued by his response. "Do you need help carrying that stuff up to your apartment?" She found herself asking.
"Now that's being nice," Edwin replied with a grin, lifting his arm out so she could take a couple of the bags.
Barbara extinguished her cigarette butt in the coffee can of sand she concealed underneath the small bush by the outside cement stairs and she accepted two of the bags. She followed the older man up the stairs one step at a time, him using the bannister with his now one free arm. Barb realized that it was the first time she had been on the second floor of the building.
Edwin reached the door to his condo and opened it without using a key.
"Don't you lock it?" Barb asked with surprise.
"The outside doors are locked," he replied. "I trust the residents who live here."
Edwin lived directly above Matty and Barb's place and while the layout was exactly the same blueprint, his place looked much more airy, bright and attractive than her depressing and messy unit that she hadn't been able to keep up with in recent times with dust bunnies on and under the furniture, dirty floors, and bathrooms in need of a scrubbing.
Edwin's place sparkled in comparison and she noticed all sorts of religious paintings, artifacts, collectables and books throughout the place.
"Thanks," Edwin said once they placed the grocery bags on the kitchen counter.
"I have to get going," Barb said.
"Have a nice day, Brew."
She was flattered that he had given her a nickname. "Why are you always getting so many groceries?" She asked.
"Donations," Edwin replied, gesturing to the second bedroom across from the kitchen.
Barb glanced into the room and saw several bags lined up against the wall. There was no bed in the room, just a long computer desk with a chair and three different monitors plus what looked to be some radio equipment and control boards.
"Why is there so much fighting?" Edwin asked, still standing at the kitchen counter.
Barb blushed with embarrassment as she leaned against the door frame.
"Does he hit you?"
"He hasn't gone that far," Barbara confessed, though she feared Matty's backhand coming awfully close to her face a few times.
"Yet," Edwin worried. "Where did you two meet?"
"Oh, it's one of those stupid Facebook social media would be romance stories," Barbara sighed. "We went to high school together and after my marriage fell apart we reconnected on the internet."
"A fantasy that didn't come true," Edwin said knowingly as he placed some of the grocery bags in the office room. She stepped away from the door frame to give him space.
"Why do you stay with him?"
"My mother is in North Carolina," Barb said, walking to the kitchen counter. "We don't get along. My dad died a few years ago."
"So you fear you'll end up alone," Edwin said joining her in the kitchen.
"His name is on the lease," she said. "Where will I go?"
"Why aren't you two getting along?" He asked.
"I don't think we're the right match after all," Barbara admitted. "We don't listen to each other. We yell. He throws stuff. Neither of us is happy. We're both angry about how our lives are turning out and we take it out on each other. We got together because being miserable with someone else is better than being miserable alone. I'm just as guilty as he is for being unreasonable and out of control."
"You should probably work on that," Edwin said in the least judgmental or accusatory tone she could have imagined.
"Listen, I've got to get going," Barb said uncomfortably. "I can't be late for work again."
"Sure, Brew," Edwin said with a smile. "Have a good day."
He walked her to the door and Barb felt a mixture of confusion and tranquility having spent a few minutes with The Man Upstairs.
"Thanks, Win," she said with an unexpected smile when he opened the door, amused that she had come up with her own nickname for him.
"You're welcome," he replied with a cheerful grin before closing the door and Barbara returned to her condo with an unaccustomed smile on her face.