Sunday, June 24, 2018

The apartment with a nailed down bedroom

As soon as Nicole found out that the apartment with a nailed down bedroom went on sale, she decided to buy it.  

“First offer is always overpriced,” real state agents tried to dissuade her, but she remained deaf to their appeals.  
“Money isn’t a problem,” she responded in a subvocal tone and gazed into the emptiness with petrified attention. “This apartment has to be mine. I have already waited far too long.” 
Nicole moved in the same night the apartment went on sale. 
“You’re the first client I’ve ever closed the deal with so quickly,” the real estate agent said with a beaming smile. He rubbed his hands and foisted her a poorly designed business card. “If you ever decide to purchase anything else…” 
Nicole nodded at him absently. She had long forgotten about his presence and it annoyed her greatly to discover he was still there.  
“If you allow me,” he insisted ingratiatingly, “there’s another apartment, adjacent to this one. It’s been recently renovated. Furnished… Great price! I’ll give you a good discount,” the agent hurried to add, afraid of missing on a rare opportunity, “We can have a look at it now, if you wish to.”  
“That won’t be necessary,” Nicole scolded him with her poised icy look, trying hard not to spill the overflowing annoyance.  
“Of course. I understand,” the agent said sheepishly and backed out. 
Nicole was left alone in the apartment with a nailed down bedroom. That night all the walls of the house buzzed feverishly with tireless talk. Nicole’s new neighbours felt uneasy about this whole shady story. They found it difficult to grasp why a young woman, who, judging by her looks, was no more than twenty-eight, would be interested in this apartment. But what they managed with greater difficulty was not talking about it. And everyday they failed to. Even when attending to their daily errands they still expressed their indiscreet curiosity, bombarding her with unwelcome questions.  
“You’re not going to live here alone, all by yourself, are you?” 
“I bet your husband will be joining you soon?” they asked, pointing at the rock on her finger.  
Nervously, she’d hide her hands behind her back, trying to keep her reserve. 
Other neighbours, however, made it look like they barely if ever noticed her presence, pretending they were disinterested in the new owner of the apartment with a nailed-down bedroom.  
The talks began to subside after a month, when Nicole began receiving post – a real proof that she actually resided in the apartment with a nailed-down bedroom. Neighbours were still closely scanning her unremarkable life with the same dismay as before, while she occasionally endowed them with the distant smile of a moon fairy, before disappearing behind the cream-coloured door of her apartment.  
“It’s your business, of course, but the entire building is talking behind your back,” the postman told her once. His voice rang unpleasantly in Nicole’s head.  
“Did you know the man who lived here before me?” she asked, lifting her eyes from the letters. She appeared distracted by her own thoughts, as if all this cheap gossip had absolutely nothing to do with her.  
The postman knitted his brows together, but failed to remember anything at all. 
“Well? Tell me!” she ordered him bossily.  
“I’m sorry, miss, but I’ve only worked here for a month,” he said, backing out selfconsciously, fearing an accusation of something he hadn’t done. 
From that day on, the gaunt postman made sure not to engage in potentially-long têteà-têtes with Nicole. He limited the small talk to a polite, “Good day, miss. Nice weather, isn’t it?”
Months passed, but the question“Why did this girl purchase the apartment with a nailed down bedroom?” remained an unsolved mystery to all Nicole’s neighbours. Everyone knew that the former owner was a paralysed seventyyear-old man who had hardly ever left the place.  
No one could say with any degree of certainty how he came to live in this village, or how long it had been since he was injured, or why the bedroom window was nailed down from the inside. All because the old man had resided here longer than anyone else. Those who knew him as a young man had either moved away or departed to the better world. Reason why, after all these years, it was particularly difficult to put up with the thought that he was essentiallydying all alone,in the apartment with a nailed down bedroom.  
But why would such a young and pretty woman as Nicole chase this mummified rest of the past? And why such hurry? There were no other buyers.  
“What if she’s a spy hiding from the government?” one of the neighbours suggested. 
“Yes, she does look suspicious to me,” echoed the voices of other blasé female residents of the creamy-yellow house, framed by white pillars and adorned by cappuccino-brown Italian balconies.  
But none of this was serious talk.  
How could one seriously consider that the house that struck one as an example of elegance, was inhibited by a spy with a shady past? 
“And you? Did you know the former owner of the apartment?” they asked each other with annoying insistence. They whispered and pouched their lips with an air of artificial indifference.  
“I know nothing about it,” they’d say.  
And so it was until one day when something unexpected occurred in the apartment with a nailed down bedroom.  
“You’re never going to believe it,” a neighbour living under Nicole said, breathing heavily into her expensive large dress. 

“I noticed that the window that used to be nailed down is now…open! And I saw his shadow,” she smiled smugly, delighted at having managed to attract everyone’s attention so eloquently. 
Barren horror, spiced up by a certain romantic interest for the new neighbour, enthralled all the residents of the building. With an insatiable appetite familiar to discoverers of new continents, they began to swarm in their guesses, voicing the most incredible and scary versions. In an instant their hands were up in the air, along with their loud voices.  
“The window was wide open. And somewhere at the back of the room I saw his silhouette,” the woman blabbed, short of air.  
“Oh, God! Did the old man hang himself in there?” someone gasped with horror. 
The room shivered.  
“No. It was much worse than that,” the woman said with a self-indulgent feeling of superiority.  
“So? What was it then?” others begged her impatiently.  
“The old man was walking!” she whispered and stared at the listening public with a possessed expression.  
“And his shadow was dragging after him on the ceiling,” she added a moment later. 
“Nonsense. Utter nonsense,” said a spectacled neighbour in a gray suit. He had the appearance of a professor who would have people listen to him.   

He slapped the empty space before him.  
“The old man drew his last breath inside that apartment and was cremated afterwards.”  
“You don’t believe me?” the woman stared at him in amazement and shook her head.  
“Do you really think anyone is going to believe in these tales about life after death?” he added snidely, and ranging eyes around, he abandoned the meeting, leaving a veil of doubt and scepticism behind himself. Little by little everyone came back to their senses.  
Suddenly ashamed, they had nothing else to do but go back to their own uneventful, mediocre lives, so characteristic of the upper middle class.  
That night, the walls of the house filled up with blessed silence. Darkness fell upon the city with its heavy blanket of burning stars. At intervals someone would interrupt this silent ballad of the night with either deep throat snores or indistinct murmuring under their noses. And yet there was perceivable intimacy in that multi-vocal chorus of sleep. The whole neighbourhood fell in the abyss of quiet loneliness.  
The cream door of the apartment with a nailed down bedroom was partly open. Through a narrow opening a delicate aura of exposed young flesh was oozing. It was enhanced by the blooming sunny narcissus and delicate white lilies. With the step of a graceful gazelle she reached the bathroom and sank herself in the tub. She poured a glass of cooled Veuve Clicquot, and closed her eyes, letting bubbles tease her mouth. 
“Here’s looking at you, kid!” she said with a bitter smile and toasted to the invisible someone across from her, “You promised we’d be celebrating it together.” 
Rebellious tears escaped her eyes, flooding the tub. She set the glass beside her and with a dazed look inspected the bathroom.  
His white bathrobe was still hanging on the door. His shaving foam and perfume were still standing on the marble table beside the basin.  
Dripping, covered in foam she approached the basin and stared into the mirror, regarding her statuesque body.  
She loosened the belt around the bathrobe and slipped into it. Gasp. Tingles cruised along her moistened skin, flowing rhythmically from her bosom to her head. This is how it would feel to have his arms enfold her. She pressed the soft fabric tightly against her chest and drew in the subtle aroma emanating from it. A smile settled on her full lips. Nicole wiped the tears with a towel and sprayed his perfume on her slender wrists.  
It was an early morning hour when soft light crawled up the banister, creeping behind someone entering the apartment with a nailed down bedroom. Slowly, lumbering footsteps approached the bathroom door. 
Breathing heavily into the humid air around her, Nicole opened the door, part of her still hoping to find him standing there.  
“You must be Nicole.” It was that spectacled man in a gray suit, who, judging by the serious look on his face, must have been a professor.  
“Yes, it’s me,” she replied and looked down at her bare feet in disillusionment. 
She didn’t appear bothered by this sudden intrusion.  
“You knew him,” she remarked sourly, inviting him to sit down.  
Still wet in her bathrobe, Nicole got cosy on the sofa, with chin resting on her knees. 
“You must be Michael,” she said. 
The professor nodded and sat down on a chair beside her.  
“Yes, it’s me. We spoke on the phone, when…”  
He looked away, fazed.  
“He talked a lot about you,” Nicole said after a minute’s pause, and noticed how a visibly unyielding man was gradually letting go of his armour.  
“I see you have found the ring,” he said, eyeing the princess-cut diamond on her left hand. “I tried to dissuade him, you know. I didn’t believe he could grow so fond of someone he never even met… Then he showed me your photographs. All of them, actually. And I thought to myself: she is too damn pretty. Of course, how could he not fall in love with her? But you know, one is always sceptical about such things. A love story of a seventy year-old man and a young beautiful woman. Wouldn’t you be concerned if it was, say, your father or your friend? But then I found out that you received that award… I’m sorry for mentioning it. I hope you don’t consider it an intrusion – all the papers wrote about it at the time. I read all your interviews. I know you dedicated your award to him…” he said, transfixed by her radiant face, “I didn’t believe you existed. By the description he had given me, you sounded too ephemeral, too good to believe. And then I saw you receiving that award. You looked so out of place… A crowd of impeccably dressed people, all baring their unnaturally white teeth…and you, so effortlessly beautiful with your eyes sparkling…and completely alone.” 
“I am all alone now. He was the best friend I could ever wish for…,”Nicole whispered, “He saved me in all possible ways.”  
“I wish I was there when he needed me,” he said, suppressing the overwhelming tears.
Nicole turned, gazing into the dark corridor that led to the nailed down bedroom. One by one she stretched her long graceful limbs and let her golden curls fall down on her shoulders. In that moment something arabesque transpired in her aspect. There was in her an exquisite delineation of African fallow deers and ghepards and magnetic fluidity in her countenance, most likely inherited from her blue-blooded ancestors. He imagined her smeared all over the room. Warm waves of her delicate femininity were washing all over him, taking his thoughts away. Nicole turned her head.   
With a soft smile she approached the professor and took his hand. “I want you to see what he left for me in the nailed-down bedroom.” 
Unsure whether he wanted to, the professor followed her with a quickened breath. He could distinctly feel Romain’s scent on her. Mingled with the delicate fragrance of white lilies, the heavy wood base of Romain’s perfume created an electric cloud of temptation. Subtle eroticism was following Nicole wherever she went. 
“No wonder he fell so madly in love with her,” the professor thought, watching Nicole turn the key in the lock.  
He considered telling her how much pleasure it would give him to stay overnight. Simply in the same room with her, sensing the aura of peaceful happiness that was emanating from her.  
Suddenly he knew Romain never intended to have this girl as his lover. No, no. It would never come down to just sex. He would be unable to be with her the same way he would be with any other woman.  
Naked or not, in the moment of pleasurable death, Nicole would need a lot more than simply his seed. She would need an ultimate confirmation of his love, his total dedication. His soul. And the professor didn’t doubt it now – Romain would give his soul willingly.  
Nicole flung the door open, expecting the professor to follow her.  
“Here we are,” she said gazing at him from the darkness. 
Slowly, as he progressed inside, the contours of the mysterious nailed-down bedroom began to come forth.  
“I cannot believe this,” the professor gasped. His cemented eyes reflected one of the greatest scenes he had ever seen in his life.  A beautifully arched Japanese bridge was flung over an artificial pond full of waterlilies, mirrored in the still water surface. 
Mellifluous larks sat on the branches of blossoming orange trees planted in heavy buckets of Italian soil.  
Nicole approached one of the trees and sniffed the blossoms, instantly possessed by their pheromones. 
The professor was frozen in utter amazement, unable to utter a word. Anything he could say was simply unfit to express his admiration for the magnificence before him. 
It was Giverny. The exact replica of Claude Monet’s enchanted garden, his hermitage and source of endless inspiration. It was the place where Monet found his shelter to hide from the horrors of war. And while the rest of the world was sinking deep in blood, he refuged himself on this little isle of infinite peace and heavenly beauty.  
“Romain and I dreamt of this. We often talked about sojourning in Paris and going to Giverny for the weekends,” she said as her eyes flecked with happy sparkles. 
“And so he built this for you,” the professor said, sitting down demurely with a glazed look, “He knew he wouldn’t live long enough to travel there with you… so he brought Giverny here.” 
“I close myself in this room everytime I need to escape from the world,” she said, lifting the blinds.  
Pale morning sunlight sliced between heavy autumn clouds, braiding her wheatcoloured hair with its golden strings.  
“Most people won’t get it, Michael. Our relationship was undefinable.We were more than friends or lovers. We certainly weren’t married because even that would confine us to something regulated and bureaucratic. Romain and I were a little bit of everything. Surely, there was a significant difference in age, but there was no difference of minds and hearts. I don’t believe souls can be governed by the cold power of numbers and social rules,” Nicole said, locking her gaze on him.  
“I think my father was a very lucky man,” he said, looking out at the rising sun, that was gradually setting the room on fire. “He had long believed his life was a wreck, and then you came and gave it a meaning. It was with you that her was most alive.”  
“Are you going to stay here?” he asked after a pause. 
Nicole turned to him. She seemed plucked out of some parallel reality. “I am safe here,” she said looking around herself, “No one can hurt me within these walls.” 
“I am sorry he won’t be here to live this with you. I am sorry he wasn’t healthy enough…young enough to endure,” Michael said, struggling with suffocating fits of tears.  
“It was an impossible dream Michael,” Nicole said with a half-smile, “Do not be sorry. Because I am not sorry. I have spent the happiest months of my life with a man I never met.”  
She knelt before an open cabinet, took out a stalk of bound letters and handed them to him. 
“Here,” she said drying her tears with a sleeve of her bathrobe. “Please take them.”  
“But they are all addressed to you,” Michael said incredulously.  
“In all of these letters he wrote about you,” she replied. 
They exchanged a locked gaze.  
Trembling with passion, he leaned to kiss her but Nicole stopped him instantly. 
“You should be going now,” she said and looked away.  
“Forgive me for my intrusion Nicole,” he said, swallowing his humiliation, his fingers impatient to open to the letters.  
Hesitantly, he reached the door and forced himself to smile. Long silence separated them before he gained control of himself again and withdrew. 
Nicole exhaled a sigh of relief and turned to watch the glazing sun crawl up her windows. At long last, her privacy was restored.  
“Did he leave?” – she heard a deep male voice coming from the corridor.  
“Yes,” was all she could say. 
“It’s just us then” – the voice was getting closer. 
“Just like you wanted,” she said, turning her head to where the voice was coming from, “I missed you.”  
“I missed you too, Peaches,” the approaching voice chuckled, “Did he believe you?” 
 Nicole felt his warm breath nuzzling under her ear.  
“Yes,” she turned and smiled, “Now they all believe you’re dead.”  
“Good. That will stop all the gossip,” he said, admiring her passionate eyes, “I’ll make you coffee, darling, and you better get back to your novel,” he smiled at her cheekily, more alive now than ever before. “I’ll make sure, no one is going to disturb you anymore. Remember, nobody puts Baby in the corner.”

Copyright © 2018 by Anna Novikova
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