One afternoon I left for the grocery store, forgot my notepad, and doubled back to get it. There I discovered the building manager in our apartment, going through the dresser drawers. Despite her initial startled expression, she snapped at me as she explained it was a routine apartment inspection. As I furiously described the incident to Neal that evening, he put his elbow on the kitchen table, rested his palm under his chin and nodded off.
Lonely, isolated and aimless, I craved companionship, but our dinner conversations quickly became my monologues.
“Sorry, love, but I talk all day,” Neal said while halfheartedly pushing his favorite roasted chicken around the plate. An oven-browned bird was the only productive thing I had done that day, and I told him his lack of appetite was sadistic.
The building manager suggested I should feel honored because our new next-door neighbor was head of the Cossacks. I had so many questions, but assumed the uniforms had been updated. I gave Neal regular updates. I described how often the neighbor was home, the plume of pungent smoke his cigarette left in our shared foyer and the way he moved in and out of his apartment like a ghost. When weeks passed and I hadn’t seen him except through the peephole, I told Neal our neighbor was avoiding me.
“You’re alone too much. Too, too much,” he said in the same soothing tone I’d once heard him use to coax our panicked cat, Emmitt, back inside after he escaped the bonds of indoor living.
“Let’s go home,” I said.
Instead, he suggested I work with him, handling human resource tasks, mostly. The job kept me busy, but there was palpable anxiety radiating from the employees, and I didn’t need a translator to understand why.