I hear the guy next door snoring through my wall every night. Tonight it drives me out of my apartment. His wife, leaning on the flimsy metal railing of their balcony unit, a cigarette tucked between her slender fingers, tells me he has apnea and she can’t get her husband to wear the continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, mask at night. She’s out because her husband won’t wear a rubber cup over his nose. I’m out for the same reason, having a beer.
She blows a pillow of smoke the wind pushes back over her pretty face. I think about how thirty years of smoking is going to soften those beautiful features into a mask of crags and wrinkles. Right now, she is nothing but cute in an extra long tee-shirt and bed hair she has to keep pulling back from her face.
“He says it ruins our love life,” she says. She laughs. “Believe me, it was ruined before that.”
I smile, pull a drink off the bottle. “How long you been married?”
“Year. You got another one of those?”
I pull one out of the cooler next to me, stand up to hand it over. Her fingers brush my hand. It isn’t an accident.
“Thanks,” she says. “Maybe if I drink enough I’ll pass out and won’t hear him.”
“Doesn’t work,” I say. She laughs. We clink the necks of our bottles against one another. When she drinks, she turns her head and shows me how her lips fit over the opening. She watches me watch her.
“I’m Shelly,” she says. She holds her hand out over her balcony. I shake it.
We drink a bit more in the cool evening. The stars are out. A fat opossum from the field behind our units waddles down to the manmade pond and drinks from it. Shelly grimaces.
“I wouldn’t drink that water,” she says.
“I see guys catching and releasing from it all the time.”
“All those chemicals.” She shudders.
From inside her apartment I hear a panicked gulping, cry. It’s followed by a sudden storm of gagging coughs. It ends with a whistle. Shelly turns and slides the door to her patio closed.
“Your husband okay?” I ask.
“He does it all the time. He’s been told he stops breathing something like a hundred or so times a night. It’s why he has the mask. It pushes air into his nose to remind him to breath. But he won’t use it.”
“Could he die without it?”
She finishes her beer. “That was good. You think I could bum another?”
“You caught my last one.”
Shelly studies me. She smiles. “Hold on.” She slides open her door. “We’ve got some. I’m coming around.”
“No, that’s okay,” I say.
“I insist. Tom isn’t supposed to drink anymore. Alcohol and apnea apparently don’t mix.” She shoos her hand at me. I finish my beer and go inside. I don’t really want to go inside. The walls of the apartment are too antiseptic for me. I feel like I’m in a vacuum when I’m inside.
I unlock my door and it opens. Shelly stands there with a six of Sam. Summer Wheat. I’m good with that. She holds it up and removes one. I take the six, putting it in my fridge, and take one for myself. We once again clink the necks of our bottles.
“You single?” she asks looking around my place.
“Can’t you tell?”
I have NASCAR posters in plastic frames. There’s a cushy plaid couch heavy in red. I’ve got a couple of uncomfortable green chairs that I always feel like I’m slouching in when I sit in them. Everything faces the flat screen on the wall I don’t share with Shelly’s place.
Shelly smiles around the bottle as she drinks. She walks past me and sits down on the couch. In the center of the couch. It leaves me four options: one of the two chairs, or either side of her. I sit next to her. We make very small talk. It’s difficult to keep a conversation going because I can clearly see she’s not wearing anything under the long tee-shirt.
“So is Tom really that loud?” she asks.
“You should know.”
“I mean when you try to sleep. Our bedrooms share a wall, too. Like this one.” She raps her knuckles on the plaster. I put my hand on hers. “Relax, we won’t wake him. Nothing wakes him. I mean, sometimes I’m laying in bed wide awake because he’s snoring or your over here screwing someone and I’m caught in between.”
I spit up a little beer. She laughs. “Here.” She lifts up on the hem of her tee-shirt and now I know how naked she is she is under it. She wipes the beer dribble from my chin. Our eyes meet and then we’re embracing. We fall back onto the couch and start kissing, exploring with hands.
“I hear you,” she says. “I hear you over his snoring. I hear how happy those women feel and it makes me realize how miserable I am. It makes me think how I want to feel like them again, feel wild and out of control. It makes me want to be in that bed with you.”
We can hear her husband snoring even as we make love in my bedroom. Shelly is a screamer. Straddling me, she seems to direct her ecstasy at the bedroom wall. She shudders and explodes and falls down on top of me. We lie there, breathing heavily. It slows. The room grows quiet. The world grows quiet.
Even from the other side of the bedroom wall it is quiet.
Shelly rolls her eyes up at the wall behind us.
“Shouldn’t you go check on him?” I ask.
Shelly rolls onto her stomach. She reaches out to the wall and gently touches it. The blankets slide down off her naked back.
“Sleep tight,” she whispers.
Jack Bates was born and raised north of Detroit. Always a writer, he’s written for stage, TV, screen, and now turns his eye on the world of crime. He runs Bloody Knuckles, a news letter of short interviews and flash fiction written by writers like you.