I don’t know your name and you likely don’t know mine. But every morning we share private rituals, performed in the sanctum of our bathrooms, separated by a wall that is too thin. At least the wall shields us from the visuals that accompany the sounds you must hear as clearly as I do – so clearly that I feel I’m violating your privacy. It would be hard not to hear you clear your nasal passages in the mornings, though: the bursts are like an air horn at a construction site, alerting everyone to clear the area. Sometimes the honks choke into a squeak and I imagine something in your head’s been dislodged and caught in a nostril, and I expect to hear a thud against the wall as some matter, grey or green, projectiles out of your nose and smears down onto your bathroom floor.
I know you and your wife are retired and wonder why you’re up as early as I am. Maybe, like me, it takes you time to prepare for the day: I curl my eye lashes, you clear mucus. We’re alone behind closed doors, together but separate, our spouses nestled in the warm spots we’ve left in bed. Does your wife sleep through the noise, your shared decades having numbed her to the aural assault? Maybe she sleeps with ear plugs? Close as we are, you and I never acknowledge each other, never knock on the wall in greeting or to confirm, “Hey, you okay in there? It’s been kind of quiet.” Maybe that we know each other too well explains why we’ve never introduced ourselves in the hallway or elevator. How weird would it be to say to my husband, “Poor Harry next door sounded exceptionally congested this morning…” It would cross the line of propriety, sound too affectionate.
It feels illicit to know as much as I do about you. I’m almost embarrassed when I see your wife in the building. That’s part of the reason I seem shy with you in public, too. It’s also because you can hear me as well as I do you. I mean, besides the mundane noises of the shower water (“Ah, that woman next door takes such long showers”) and the electric toothbrush (“She’s so anal about oral hygiene”), there’s those other noises. You know, the eruption of toots before the toilet flushes. I used to sit tensely on the bowl, startled not by my flatulence but by the thought that you’d heard me pass gas. I’d try to release it slowly but that didn’t always guarantee silence. Then I tried to toot in time with your honks. But that’s a lot of discipline and effort to hold a fart, especially in the privacy of my own bathroom. So now I just let it rip and hope you think it’s my husband – I mean, really, it’s hard to imagine noises that big coming from someone as petite as me.
Thank God for walls: they make good neighbors and allow us to keep up appearances – though we both know each other pretty well. Don’t we?
Till the morning.
Yours truly, the woman next door.