Authors: Alan Drew
REM SLAMMED THE DOOR AND THE MUSIC STOPPED. HIS ROOM
was directly above hers, just a few feet away. If she stood on her bed, she could touch the ceiling and feel the beat of his music running through her fingers and down her arm. It was wrong, she knew, but she did so sometimes when
smail wasn’t around, and she discovered that she only felt guilty for a few minutes afterward. Once, when she heard the muffled strains of his voice talking on the phone, she stood on her dresser and pressed her ear against the ceiling. She imagined he was talking to someone in New York City or Los Angeles. She couldn’t understand what he said, but she imagined he was whispering in her ear, and that night she had dreams about him, embarrassing dreams she would never tell anyone, not even her friend Dilek.
She heard his footsteps creaking across the ceiling, the squeaking of his window opening, and she knew he was waiting for her. She had been cleaning all day, though, and she smelled of disinfectant. Her face was smeared with flour and she didn’t want him to see her like this.
A cloud of smoke blew across her windowpane, followed by a tapping on the outside wall of the apartment.
She was wearing rags, her blouse was frayed at the cuffs, and her head scarf was the worst thing you could imagine—green-and-orange-paisley swirls with bleach spots in places. She only wore it inside, when no one but her family would see her. She pressed her nose to her armpits and was embarrassed by her own smell.
Another cloud of smoke blew across the windowpane, followed by a cluster of bubbles floating in the air like orbs of oil-swirled color.
She laughed, forgot her appearance, and scrambled across her bed toward the window.
“What are you doing?” she whispered, sticking her head out the window.
A stream of bubbles splattered in her face, stinging her eyes.
“Stop,” she said. “Allah, Allah.” She ducked back inside to rub the soap out of her eyes and remembered that she was unpresentable. She leaned against the windowsill but wouldn’t put her head outside again. “I’ve been cleaning all day. I look terrible.”
“I won’t look,” he said. “Here.”
His hand suddenly appeared at the top of the window frame, a cigarette burning between his long fingers.
When she leaned out the window to grab the cigarette, his chest hung over the ledge but his head was turned away. She laughed, took the cigarette from his fingers, and admired the tattoos etched over the veins of his forearms. She put the cigarette to her lips and tasted the wetness on the filter. She didn’t inhale—she didn’t really like to smoke, even after a month of these window-to-window visits—but she simply held it there, her tongue picking up the flavor of nicotine and boy.
More bubbles floated down, lazy, breeze-blown.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m bored,” he said. “There’s nothing to do out here. Shit, how can you stand it?”
She cringed at the curse word, but he was American, and it wasn’t as rude for them as it was for a Turk.
I can’t stand it, she wanted to say, but instead she held the cigarette to her mouth and inhaled this time.
She sometimes passed him in the stairwell or watched him walking on the street, his legs moving to the beat of a song on his headphones, but in those places she had to ignore him. There were too many neighbors watching, eyes looking through peepholes, faces behind lacy curtains.
stanbul,” he said. “Beyo
lu, especially. The action’s there.”
She listened to him and tried to imagine Beyo
lu. She had seen it on television—the three-story clubs, the women dressed in tank tops with their bra straps showing, the men with their black hair slicked back and shining. It was only three hours by ferry to
stanbul, but it seemed as far away as America. “I miss my friends from school,” he said.
She stared at his hand and forearm, but the rest of him was cut off from her vision by the metal window frame and the cinder-block walls. She stared at the ceiling and imagined his feet, his legs, his whole body just on the other side of that cement and wood.
“Hey,” he said. “Don’t get greedy.” His hand dangled outside the window again.
She took one last drag, leaned out to hand it to him, and was startled when she found him staring down at her.
“Gotcha,” he said.
She dove back through the window, embarrassed and shocked, but she could never get really mad at him.
“You don’t look so bad,” he said.
“No, no,” he said. “I mean it.” He laughed. “I’m sorry. It’s kind of nice seeing you, like, normal, you know? When I see you outside it’s like you’re not you.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s like you’re too formal or something, too perfect and proper. Right now you seem like—you seem like
” She heard him blow out a breath. “I don’t know,” he said. “Forget it. You just look nice is what I’m trying to say.”
She stuck her head out the window and tried to watch him without being seen. His hand disappeared, followed by a puff of smoke, and then it returned. There were long blue veins running up his forearms and they made the muscles look strong.
“I saw your brother this afternoon,” he said.
She looked away, up toward the square of blue sky between apartment rooftops. A flock of birds, a large gray cloud of them, flew out toward the hills.
“He gets treated like a sultan,” she said, biting her thumbnail now and looking at the floor. “Money, clothes, this dinner.”
“Guy deserves a few gifts if they’re going to do
” he said. “That’s gotta hurt.”
She felt her face go red. She had thought about that part of a man’s body before, but it was never talked about, and her excitement suddenly mixed with a strange distaste.
“Aren’t they supposed to do that in a hospital now?” he said.
“Man, you can put metal rods through my ears, stab bamboo shoots under my nails, but don’t mess around with—wait.” He flicked the cigarette butt into the air and disappeared.
She jumped back from the window and sat down on her bed, her heart thumping against her ribs. She heard his footsteps above mix with other footsteps, heard a quiet voice and his louder reply. It was silent then for a few moments, and she waited, holding her breath as long as she could before becoming dizzy.
The ceiling creaked softly.
rem,” he whispered down.
She sat still and listened to the hallway outside her own door, suddenly aware that her parents, too, could walk in and discover them.
rem,” he said, louder this time.