The stairwell door slammed shut, the noise echoed but didn’t drown out Mary’s voice.
“…but then I thought, what kind of secret would Vanessa and Larry have,” Mary said.
“So, Michael, I’ve been thinking of putting some plants in the lobby, what do you think?” Mary asked.
“I think it’s a hazard Mary,” Michael said.
“I think that too many people could be allergic.”
“Well, that’s just ridiculous.”
Michael shrugged his shoulders.
“Do you really think so?”
“Yes, I also don’t care.”
“Well, I think I’ll do it.”
“Great,” Michael said as he opened the door to the lobby.
“Oh, I almost forgot, I have something to tell you, a dream I had last night,” Mary said.
“I don’t listen to other peoples dreams, its weird and boring,” Michael said.
Mary trailed after Michael and bumped into his back when he stopped short. The tall man from before was standing by the window talking to the woman from the laundry room, he couldn’t remember her name, and the man looked like he was on the verge of tears. They never took their eyes off each other and Michael suddenly felt embarrassed as he realized they had stepped into an intimate moment. Mary stood beside him clutching her broom. He knew she must be in heaven. He was disgusted and felt the need to separate himself from her. He wavered before walking to the mailboxes. He couldn’t just stand there watching. He fumbled with his keys and cursed the noise. He heard whispers from behind him and his ears burned with shame. He pretended to sort though his envelopes.
The front doors clanked open and they all turned to see who it was. Gerry from 4A came into view. He had a six-pack of beer in one hand and a piece of jerky in the other. He stood at the entrance with his mouth agape as they all stared at him.
Martha opened her eyes to the darkness. In the silence she could think. She thought about the way the girl sneered at her on the phone, they way the people in the background laughed. She thought about it and she got angry. Martha stood up and pulled the blanket off her shoulders. She walked to the kitchen and flicked the light on, grabbed a black garbage bag and started to tear through her apartment, throwing anything that reminded her of Mark into it. She was frantic and stumbled into her bed where she saw the boom box sitting on the nightstand. She reached over and opened the tape player and pulled the tape out. She hesitated and thought about Mark’s voice, she breathed and threw the tape into the bag. She marched to her front door and slipped her feet into her slippers. She had to throw the bag out before she lost her nerve. She walked to the elevator and pushed the down button fidgeting with the bag while she waited. The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Martha pressed the button for the lobby and leaned against the wall. She avoided her reflection and stared at the reflection of the bag instead.
Mary clutched her broom in tight fingers. The tension in the room, along with the silence, caused her body to become rigid. Ding, the elevator doors opened and Martha came stumbling out. She stood with a bag in one hand and the other shoved in the pocket of her sweat pants. She stopped and looked around the room. Everyone was standing and staring at each other in silence. Mary knew she had to say something, she had to do something, so she cleared her throat. Everyone swivelled around to look at her.
“I, uh, ahem, I had a dream last night,” she started to say.
“Oh, for fucksakes, enough,” Michael yelled. “Enough with your dreams, your gossip, your plants VS garbage nonsense, enough!”
“Don’t talk to her like that,” Martha said, her voice weak.
“Excuse me?” Michael said.
“I said, don’t talk to her like that,” Martha said as she shrank into the still open doorway of the elevator. The door tried to close but it slammed against her body and opened up again.
“Don’t you fucking tell me what to do,”
“Hey now,” Gerry said.
“What? You know more than any of us how annoying Mary is,” Michael said.
“Ah, come on man, just let it go,” Gerry said.
“Now, Michael—” Mary started to say.
“Mary maybe you should go,” Sarah said.
Mary looked around in the silence. Michael was staring at Gabriel, Gerry was clutching his beer and jerky, staring at Sarah and Martha stood in the elevator doorway looking down.
“I had a dream I died last night and that I was all alone,” Mary blurted. “There was darkness and it was so cold. So so so cold. I couldn’t feel anything. I was so scared. I woke up in a sweat and I couldn’t fall back asleep. It was real you know? It was real. I think I’m different now, I am, I’m different and I’m alive. And you’re all alive too. Don’t you see? I had a dream I died…” she said, looking from face to face, “and now I’m alive.”
They all stood in stillness. Mary held her breath. Maybe they had heard her. Really heard her. Mary looked from face to face again, everyone avoided looking at her, instead gazing inwards at themselves. She felt a flicker of hope and of meaning but when she went to take a step forward, to clear her throat, to offer more words, the stillness evaporated and was again replaced with anger and confusion. Mary shrank back, until her knees hit the chair in the corner of the room. She felt behind her and sunk into the felted cushion holding her broom to her chest. They hadn’t heard anything. They weren’t different.
“I think—” Martha said.
“No one, I mean no one, cares what you fucking think,” Michael said.
Martha took a deep breath and stepped back into the elevator. The doors slid shut.
Sarah cleared her throat. Gabriel reached out to her but she flinched away. He looked down, defeated. Gerry walked past them and kept his eyes on the elevator. He pushed the button and waited. He looked back around and saw Sarah wiping a tear from her eye before walking to stand beside Gerry, her laundry bag slung over her shoulder. Gerry had his jerky clutched in his fist and as the elevator doors opened he waved the girl in. She looked up at him and smiled before stepping in.
The jerky in Gerry’s fist was making the elevator smell and he hated it. He wanted to drop it and put a hand on Sarah’s shoulder as she brushed tears away but he didn’t want to get jerky grease on her beautiful hair. Gerry hated himself in that moment. She dropped her laundry on the floor and opened the top, rooting around until she found a tea towel. She pulled it out and wiped her face. A pink scarf came out too and drifted to the floor. Sarah didn’t notice it and Gerry didn’t say anything. When the elevator got to her floor she hauled the laundry bag back up and stepped off the elevator. She didn’t turn around before the doors closed but that was okay because before she got on the elevator, she had smiled at him.
Gerry stooped over and picked up the scarf, he held it to his face and breathed in. Sarah. He stood up and smiled. Pushed the letter A and watched the lights flash until he reached his floor, his fingers twisting the scarf between them.
Michael watched Sarah and Gerry disappear. He turned towards Gabriel. He was shaking his head and wiping a tear away. Michael wanted to say something to lighten the mood, to make Gabriel feel better but everything he thought of seemed dumb and trivial. Finally Gabriel turned around and walked out of the building.
Michael looked over at Mary who was still sitting on the chair in the corner. Her eyes were focused on the garbage and stacks of clutter in the opposite corner of the lobby but at least she wasn’t talking. He walked to the large window facing the parking lot and watched Gabriel as he shuffled through the gloom, the lights from the small parking lot giving him enough light to see by. When he got to his car he opened the backdoor and stood staring into the back seat. He reached in and pulled out a garbage bag. He hurled it over his shoulder into the empty spot next to his car. The bag opened and spilled clothing all over the pavement. He closed the back door and opened the front one, climbing into the drivers seat. He started up the engine and roared out of the parking lot.
Michael focused on his own reflection in the glass. His eyes were doubled, his face looked longer and older. He faked a smile, the reflection looked like a monster. He sighed before turning around. Mary was still in the chair. He walked to the elevator and pushed the down button. He still had laundry in the basement and a wife upstairs.
Martha pressed play and the song that Mark had recorded for her filled the apartment. She curled up on the bathroom floor tightening her comforter around her. She closed her eyes. Just breathe, Martha, just breathe.
Sarah stood in the middle of her empty apartment, except it wasn’t empty anymore; it was filled with Gabriel. She walked to the kitchen counter and picked up the ring she had placed there earlier. She held it between two fingers before walking to the patio door and opening it. She stepped into the night, felt the cool breeze in her hair. She held the ring in her palm and thought about what Mary had said. She turned from the darkness and walked back into her apartment, slipping the ring into her jeans pocket.
Michael leaned against the dryer in the damp laundry room, his fingers were playing Tetris but his mind was telling his wife he wanted a divorce — a dark wool coat.
Gerry sat down on the sofa in his dark apartment. He put Sarah’s scarf to his nose and breathed deep. Tomorrow, tomorrow he would go up to her apartment and he would return her scarf, he would look into her eyes and he would talk to her. He would ask her questions. He would get to know her. Tomorrow.
Mary was alone. She stood up on creaking knees and hobbled to the elevator. She held her broom in her left hand and pushed the up arrow with the other. The elevator door opened and she stepped in. She turned to look at her reflection in the glass of the closed elevator doors, her eyes, they stared back at her, they looked into her. She closed them and saw the image of a fern, green and uncurling, alive.