Though Doris and I spoke in the hallway every so often we had never so much as shared a pot of tea, and yet, when she died she left everything in her apartment to me.
One morning Charles D. Sullivan; Esquire, rang my doorbell. It had been years since anyone had rung the bell and it was as though a fire alarm had gone off. Mr. Sullivan wore a dark-blue pin-striped suit, bow tie, and shiny black shoes. In contrast, I was wearing the same bathrobe I’ve worn most everyday since retiring ten years ago.
He said; “Are you Andrew Copperfield?” I said I was and invited him in. Not knowing my relationship with Doris, he cautiously explained that Doris had killed herself. When I showed only a moderate interest, he picked up the pace and notified me that she had left the entire contents of her apartment to me. “Me?” I said, “Why would she leave me anything. We were just acquaintances, just hallway friends.”
He handed me her key and said; “Just take what you want. I’ll be back next Monday to retrieve the key and whatever is left, I’ll donate to the Salvation Army.”
Though it was none of my business, I asked him why Doris had killed herself. He said with a shrug of his shoulders, “She probably just got lonely, I see it all the time.”
Her apartment looked a lot like mine, and there wasn’t much that I wanted. I exchanged a bedside table and lamp for the one I already owned, a couple of nice pots and dishes, and an almost new toaster-oven. What really caught my attention though were two very tall stacks of black and white composition books leaning dangerously against one another in the corner of her living room.
I carefully took one from the top and, though it was clearly a journal, there were no dates entered, and it was written in a style and voice that implied someone other than herself would one day be reading it.
I sat in her living room and read it cover to cover, all the while feeling as though I were peeking through a half-close blind. Before the week was up, I had brought the journals to my apartment. I read them with a passion only a voyeur would appreciate.
One snowy afternoon, half-way into maybe my tenth journal I came upon a line that read: Andrew and I met at the library today. Hidden between the book aisles we kissed like teenagers, kissed as though we had been kissing for months and months instead of just a peck goodnight like the other night. It was my intention not to kiss him again, to put him off, at least until we got to know one another better.….
I felt ill. Dizzy. “Again”? What was she saying? Several pages later she wrote; Andrew would understand why my soufflé fell flat, wouldn’t you?... “Wouldn’t you?” Was that a typo? Was she writing to me? Were all these journals written for me to read? I raced through the journal looking for my name but my name never came up again. Quickly I picked up the next journal but it was obviously out of sequence to the one before. Carefully, I undid both the stacks, hoping to get to the final journal but there was no order to how they were stacked. It dawned on me she did this on purpose, she wanted me to finish every word. So, I stopped hurrying, I slowed down, way down, I surrendered to her and let her take me in.
Her writing was lovely. At times she seemed to care so much for me and it was clear that I loved her, too. Page after page we would fall in love all over again. She had me say things, teasing things. In her control I was at my best. I was witty, clever, and such a confident lover. The randomness of the journals was her way to ensure that I would never leave her. Well, I always did like strong women.
Eventually, after I had read every word, she stayed in my mind for days, for weeks, idle, quiet, and lonely. I missed her. My health began to take a turn for the worse. Then one day, while picking up my prescriptions, I bought a black and white composition book. And I began to write. I wrote about the dinner Doris and I ate that night. I listed all the ingredients, along with my trip to the store to buy them. We went to bed after dinner, promising one another never to leave again.
Eventually I soon had my own towering stack of journals but at some point the need for novelty began to creep into my writing. Harriet down the hall seemed so lonely. After our affair began, Doris had a fatal heart attack. Now it’s just Harriet and I. We sometimes speak to one another when getting our mail. And yes, I’m putting words into her mouth. I think she likes me. I can’t wait for her to read this.