Danville Complex

Son of a bitch! Selfish! Drunk! Moron! A door slams shut and the yelling stops. I hear the elevator shaking down the shaft and smell Cuban cigars through the halls. The woman won't sleep tonight.

Silence next door. The grandson must be at the bar around the corner and the backpacking grandparents have gone to bed already. The alarm will go off at six, so the old people can go on their daily trekking. The layabout will stay in, staring at the lights on TV screen.

The smoke of deep-fried fat comes up through the drains and takes over my apartment without sparing a single room. I detect and identify the daily special in no time. Disgusting cow meat. I go through the kitchen, lean over the window sill and throw a rotten banana peel at the laundry room of apartment 103. In this complex, we teach you a lesson with sticks and stones. They should thank me for not using my fists to brake their windows.

A couple, friends of mine, live there. I was the one who told them that the unit was available for rent. That was three or four months ago. They never came to visit me. They invite me once in awhile to come down and eat crab meat with them, just because they know I'm allergic to crabs. We play canasta. With my hands all swollen, they know it's harder for me to beat them.

Lesbians. Two of them. It took me some time to understand the in-and-out dynamics because, despite what it may seem, I'm rather absent-minded. Saturday parties, women only, laughing, pumping up the volume. Their image takes over all the space behind the window frame. I couldn't read or sleep. If I had the Colonel's phone number, I'd call him. The Colonel shows up every Wednesday afternoon at unit 201. One of the residents opens the door. The same resident every time. Then she closes the blinds. One hour later, he leaves with his unruly gray hair. The rent check is on the pillow. The other one comes back later in the evening. Red nails tired from work. Living in Rio is always more expensive than expected.

So, it was her. Weeks ago, I got off the taxi, drunk, and fished some change out of the pocket of my tight pants. In all that commotion, I lost something I never found again. Yesterday, she rang my bell asking me if I had an onion to spare and told me, while tickling the pierce in her tongue, that she loved living in that complex because everybody is nuts around here. Can you believe I've even found a little envelope with cocaine on the front lobby? That was my last onion.

I share this apartment with a friend from college. He's almost never home and he stomps his feet, which rubs me the wrong way. Apart from that, he's good company. He hates playing cards, and so do I. He doesn't bring any fuck buddies home, he doesn't ask to borrow my books, nor does he go through my things. Amateur philosopher, he brings pepperoni pizza to season our talks well into the early morning. My gut tells me he won't stay here for long.

The door knob is spotless. That's how I never mistake our doors. Mother, father, and daughter. Sometimes I smell chicken coop when I put the key in my lock. You never know what goes on behind a door with a spotless door knob.

Elevator talk
I'm reading the Strauss biography.
The waltz composer?
The pants maker?
No, you ass. The structure builder.

This unit is empty. The neighbors moved after the apartment caught on fire and they lost everything. I watched the firemen in action. There wasn't much to be lost there. I found a Hohner harmonica under a burnt small mattress in the maid's room. I learned how to play it in no time. Originally, harmonicas were a form of punishment for those who lost poetry contests. I guess that's fair.

Do you know who you're talking to? I'm Mr. So and So! Mr. So and So! That was what the famous contrabass player screamed before fucking up the woman violently. The police arrived in fifteen minutes to put an end to that jam session. I had never heard of Mr. So and So! Neither had the neighbors or the police. Maybe that's why their fights always started with his introduction and resume to the distinguished audience. He used to play in small pubs that were “in”. I looked him up. The woman would pay up quavers and semiquavers and didn't get the same tender treatment given to the strings. Bebop was the fruit of their marriage.

The teenage son has a pompadour and sings Elvis in the shower. That's his favorite from his Dad's vinyl collection. The mother has a dreadful voice. The halls on the third floor smell like cat piss. They don't have a cat. On a Saturday morning I was awaken by an expletive bell. I see the Dreadful through the peephole. I open the door and the whole family comes pouring into my living room, followed by two burglars. One of them puts a 38 to my head. The Dreadful screams. The burglar yells. Everybody goes into the maid's bathroom, which is tiny. The burglar, gun in hand, listens to Clara Nunes while the other one goes through my apartment. One hour later, I'm still pressed against the Dreadful Family around the toilet bowl. The burglar likes Clara Nunes. That's all he listens to, and I only have one of her records. If the boy starts singing “Love me Tender” I'll kick his ass. Which one of you smells like cat piss? I had to know. The Dreadful lady starts to cry. Shut up over there!, the Nunes guy said between tracks. There's nothing in this motherfucking house, let's get outta here, the other guy says. The door is slammed shut. I wonder whether she's rattling the rattle or if it's the rattle that's rattling her. Someone unlocked the door for us a few minutes later. A neighbor called the cops. My backpacks full of trinkets were returned, untouched. I jut lost a watch and an extra-fine lighter made of fake gold. The Dreadfuls went back to 303 without even fessing up about the cat piss. I'll bring the subject up next condo meeting.

Adult son, single, lives with his mother, divorced. The mother's loneliness remains the same. She got a pug to take care of. The pug goes down the stairs. We don't have a service elevator. A healthy diet is always a basic concern for mothers. Every day, the son eats a raw yolk balanced on a tablespoon. I play with the pug and she calls me in to come and see her son's saxophone. She opens the case with motherly pride and waits for me to wag my tail. That's a fine instrument. Does he play? Oh, yes, but not here. Not for me. This building of ours is very musical, I think to myself, closing the case. The pug stares at me with sad bug eyes.

There's darkness on the fourth floor. Maybe it's because nobody goes up there. If you go, you don't come back. You're swallowed by one of its four mouths. Like the poetess who used to live in the complex before I moved in. Unit 401 has been closed for the past five years. There's nobody inside. The family doesn't sell it, rent it, or lend it to anyone. Nobody saw the suicide's body being taken away. That's why people say that she's still in there. And this urban legend spreads from resident to resident. From one building to another. Like the sewage pipeline.

The old retiree lives by himself. The family has abandoned him, or so the stairs tell me. He has a heart condition. He can't drink, he can't smoke, and must dream of women every night. I can still drink, I can still smoke and, sometimes, I dream that he died in his sleep dreaming of my mother.

Whoever lives in this unit, I've never seen them, but I know they're there. I smell their perfume all the way from my floor. In the elevator, which goes down by itself, empty. I hear a faint cry far away. I won't go knocking on their door, even thought I know they've been waiting for me for a lifetime.

The Manager. I'm not gonna talk about the manager. I'd rather leave it to someone who has enough powers to be the proxy of that kind of people. I don't care if they come to me and enforce the fines provided in the Complex Regulations.

MAIRA PARULA was born in Porto Alegre and was raised in Rio de Janeiro, where she graduated in Languages and Literature at the Federal University.

Before the internet, she used to publish her work in anthologies, newspapers, and self-published literary magazines, collaborating as a content editor as well. 

Since 2002, she has been managing a blog called Prosa Caótica [Chaotic Prose], where she publishes her work and that of well-known and unknown authors alike, in addition to her translations of foreign authors.

She also has a secondary blog, Poemas Cubas e Torneiras [Poems, Big Bowls and Faucets], with a collection of her drafts and texts, and started writing for the online magazine Mallarmargens in 2012. 

Maira contributed to the short stories anthology Blog de Papel [Paper Blog] published in 2005 and, one year later, published her first book Não feche seus olhos esta noite [Don't Close Your Eyes Tonight].

She also works as a proofreader and text editor at publishers in Rio de Janeiro, besides having translated Bret Easton Ellis, Eli Gottlieb, Noam Chomsky, and John Grisham, among others.

Translated by: