Mary dreamed she died.
She woke drenched in sweat. Her breath slipping in and out. And she knew something was different. She swung her feet over the edge of her bed and crept into the bathroom. She needed to see herself. With trembling fingers she flicked the light on but avoided her reflection with a quick snap of her neck. Because what if nothing was different and she imagined everything? But no, she had dreamed she died. Mary leaned in, her face was still cocked to the side but she pushed her body forward into the space between herself and the mirror. She felt her stomach stretch over the hard counter. She put a hand on the mirror to brace herself and then she turned her head. Her eyes looked back into her. They startled her. They were alive.
Mary’s fingers were still trembling as she straightened the painting of the cottage in the hallway outside Gerry in 4A’s apartment. The ding of the elevator made her heart jump and she grabbed the broom leaning next to her and pretended to be sweeping the hallway.
Swoosh , the door opened and Gerry stepped off onto the pink linoleum. His eyes were focused on the floor as he took a step forward. Her heart beat faster as he lumbered towards her. Gerry from 4A was a tall man, Mary liked that. He was also quiet and kind, Mary liked that too. As he approached where she was standing she opened her mouth to speak. Gerry’s phone went off. He reached for it, fumbling in his pockets as he did. Mary’s face turned red. She held her breath.
“Uh, hello. Oh hi, Rebecca,” Gerry said, standing outside his door with his back turned to Mary.
Mary faked a sneeze. Gerry looked over at her and she smiled and waved. “When you have a second,” she mouthed.
He smiled back at her as he uh, huhed the person on the phone. He reached in his pocket for his keys and Mary cleared her throat. She took a step forward as Gerry pulled his key out and inserted it into the lock. Her face was tight with a smile as he looked back at her before stepping inside.
Mary waved to Gerry as he shut his door in her face. She stood in the hallway staring at his closed door, waiting for him to get off the phone and come back out and excuse himself for his rudeness. After a few moments of silence she looked around and spotted her broom. She picked it up and started to sweep the hallway, waiting for Gerry from 4A to some back out, waiting until she could tell him about her dream, about her eyes that were alive.
Gerry snapped the phone closed. He had programmed his alarm to go off like a phone ringing. Every day he would get off the elevator and she would be there, a sickly sweet smile and some inane gossip about the most recent developments in everyone’s life in the building. He would move to just get away from her but was half convinced she would track him down to tell him about how Mrs Chickamore in 4D brought home another cat. He had never seen her leave the building, she was forever in the hallway, sweeping the damn thing. He had to be polite though, she had some disease or something. He knew she nattered on about it all the time but he never really listened.
Gerry dropped his coat and briefcase on the floor. He hated his apartment. He almost touched the sloping ceiling. With a sigh Gerry kicked off his dress shoes and shuffled to the kitchen. All he wanted was a beer and silence. All day at the office his phone had been ringing, the emails had just kept coming. He swore all he ever did at work was answer things. He didn’t even know what his real job was anymore; it had been so long since he’d done it.
The fridge was empty. Gerry slammed the door and filled a glass with tap water then shuffled to the couch. He plopped down with a grunt. He kept the lights off. He waited all day to come home and sit in the cool darkness of the living room. No questions, no answers, just silence.
Gerry closed his eyes and thought about the girl he saw on the elevator on his way up to his apartment. She was new to the building, maybe. He tried hard not to pay attention to the other people who lived in the complex. He had never seen her before and she wasn’t a visitor because she had laundry. She looked nice though, she had smiled back at him. And she was pretty, well not super pretty but pretty enough. Her smile was a bit toothy but he could live with that. And she didn’t ask Gerry any questions. She had understood his need for silence. No questions and no answers. He wondered what her name was. She smelled good, like flowers or something.
Sarah banged on the washing machine. “Fuck you, you fucking piece of shit washing machine.” She pushed the ON button over and over again hoping for something to happen. She gave it a final kick before crumpling to the ground. “Fuck!”
Sarah knew it was just her shitty luck, the same shitty luck that followed her around everywhere she went. She had just moved into the small building and she hated it. She hated every goddamn thing about it, the pink linoleum, the cramped elevator with the creep who wouldn’t stop staring at her, and now this fucking washing machine.
All Sarah wanted was for something, something good, a glimmer of hope somewhere. She sat in the dank basement for a few minutes before she heard the door creak open and someone walk in. She sighed before lifting her head up. She saw the back of a guy who was loading his clothes into the only other washer in the room. She cleared her throat and he jumped.
“Shit!” he said. “Fuck, you scared me.”
“Sorry,” she said.
“What are you doing on the floor?”
“The fucking machine won’t work.”
“Oh yeah, that one’s always unplugged.”
“Why?” Sarah asked.
He shrugged before turning back around. Sarah studied his back. He had a nice build; he looked like a runner, a runner with amazing hair. She noticed how his outfit was uniformly coordinated and smiled at herself. She was always more comfortable with gay men.
Sarah crawled around to the back and saw that the plug was lying in a pile of dust. She picked it up and plugged it back in. She got up, fished some coins from her pants and pushed them in. The light turned on and she pushed start.
“Thanks for your help.”
“No prob,” he said.
She smiled at him but he didn’t look up. He pushed the button on his machine and as it whirled life. He backed away from the washer and headed towards the door.
“Hey, sorry to bother you.”
He turned back around.
“It’s just, I’m new here,” Sarah stuck her hand out into the air between them. “I’m Sarah.”
He looked at her hand and gave a tight smile. “Michael.”
Sarah gripped his hand tight and held on.
“If you’re ever looking for someone to go out with, you know dancing or whatever, I’m in 3C.”
His eyebrows shot up and he took his hand back. “Uh, ok.”
He turned back around and opened the door. He looked back for a second and Sarah gave him an earnest smile. He walked through the door and it slammed shut behind him.
Sarah watched him go and wondered if something good had finally happened to her.
Michael walked out of the laundry room. He heard the door bang on his way out and winced. He hadn’t meant to do that. He had felt her smiling at him but couldn’t deal with a girl like that right now. When he came into the laundry room he had seen her crumpled on the floor and he had chosen to ignore it. He didn’t have the time or the patience but when she cleared her throat he had felt obliged to turn around. He had known the washer was unplugged because Larry in 2B always unplugged it.
Michael got to the elevator and pushed the button. It dinged immediately and the doors slid open with a gentle swoosh. He stepped on and pressed D. They slid closed and he looked at himself in the gold flecked mirror in front of him. He looked tired, his eyes were darkened with bags and his mouth was turned down in a frown. He looked up instead and watched the lighted numbers. When it hit the lobby the doors opened and standing in front of Michael was the most gorgeous man he had ever seen. The man gave him a smile and took a step forward.
“Oh, um, hello,” a shrill voice from behind the man.
The man turned around and Michael saw Mary from 1A standing behind him. She was clutching her broom and smiling her sickly sweet smile. Her hand was outstretched like a claw and motioning for the man to come to her. Michael felt his stomach tighten and the man turned and took a step towards Mary. Michael reached down to push the button to keep the door open but before he could it slid closed.