The neighbors were at it again. It wasn’t unusual to hear the murmur of their voices, even in casual conversation, right through the dividing wall of the semi-detached house.
They talk too damn loud, Paul always said, even when their words were mostly indistinguishable. But more often, the fevered pitch of their angry voices carried over with enough clarity that we could catch nasty accusations and hurled curses without pressing an ear to the wall. And then afterward, if we happened to be in the bedroom, which was adjacent to theirs through the wall, we were privy to the moans and thumpings of their make-up sex.
Paul and I had bought the house back in ’75, when we were still a young couple with romantic ideas and a seemingly endless supply of tolerance. The semi-detached home in the suburbs seemed like a good compromise between the privacy and space we wanted and the price we could actually afford. Now, eight years and one child later, and three months after the new neighbors moved in, we were beginning to seriously question the decision.
That particular night, the fight began in the same manner as usual. First the raised voices, then doors slamming and feet stomping. But it quickly became apparent as the noise began climbing, rising steadily towards a brain-bleeding crescendo, that this was one was gonna be a doozy.
Paul was sitting in the living room watching TV, while I was preparing dinner in the kitchen and trying to get some dishes done. “Do you hear that?” he called to me incredulously.
“Anyone within five blocks of here who has ears can hear it, Paul.”
“I wonder what he did this time?” he mused, chuckling. “She’s always on ‘im about something.”
From his spot on the couch he had a straight sight line through the large open archway that connected the living and dining areas, and the small archway to the kitchen area. He could look through and see me at the kitchen sink. I stopped drying the pot in my hand and turned to face him, rolling my eyes. “Who said it’s always her who starts it?”
“Well, he just got home from work twenty minutes ago. I saw his car pull up. What could he possibly have done wrong in twenty minutes?”
My eyes narrowed, I marched into the living room, stood squarely in front of him, dish towel in one hand, Teflon pot in the other, and pursed my lips. “You’d be surprised,” I answered, and then turned, muttering as I returned to the kitchen, “Men never think they do anything wrong…”
“You are such an asshole!” The woman’s shrill screech through the wall.
Paul grinned. I rolled my eyes again. “You know, “ I said, not bothering to disguise the sarcasm in my voice, “dinner might be ready faster if you’d quit spying on the neighbors and help me in the kitchen.”
“Spying? They might as well be using bullhorns!”
“Yeah, well…they’re going to wake Anna. It took me over an hour to get her into bed- an hour you spent in front of the TV, by the way. I’m gonna be pissed if they wake her up!”
He sat back on the sofa and put his arms up on either side of the sofa back. “She’ll sleep right through it. Once that kid’s asleep, you could set a bomb-“
Something heavy and breakable smashed against the other side of the wall. “Crazy bitch! That was my mother’s vase!”
“Well, come in the kitchen, I have some of her plates for you too, asshole!”
Paul pursed his lips and let out a long low whistle. “Getting heavy over there. I’ve never heard ‘em this bad before.”
“Well, aren’t you gonna go over there or do I have to?”
Had I spoken another language or was he being deliberately obtuse? “Go over there?” he repeated, incredulously.
I huffed and threw the dish towel to the floor. Stamping over to the wall dividing the two homes, I balled my first and banged as hard as I could, but the wall merely thudded dully in answer, the concrete behind the drywall muting the effect of my tantrum. “Jeezus! …Shut the hell up!” I screamed at the neighbors through the wall.
Paul stared at me in a sort of morbid wonder. Upstairs, Anna begin to cry, startled more likely by the sound of my own enraged yell than by those of the neighbors. “Goddammit…” I glared at Paul, who seemed to realize that particular swear was directed as much at him as the neighbors. Vaguely, I thought to myself that if I had still had the dish towel in my hand I would have thrown it at him. For his part, Paul seemed to sense he was pushing my buttons.
“Tell you what, honey…”he began warily, “you go take care of Anna. I’ll finish the dishes.”
I sighed, feeling the anger slip away despite myself, and resigned myself to attending to my crying three year old. As the fracas continued on next door, I sighed again and thought to myself, Thank God we don’t have that kind of relationship.