Dik lived on the fourth floor. There was one floor above him and three fours below, which equaled five floors of noise. Dik heard everything and everything bothered Dik. He knew, in one part of his brain, that it was just life and life being lived, but Dik couldn’t help himself: Dik got angry. He cursed his ears and life and leaned out his window and imagined the fall.
One day, during Ramadan (though Dik didn’t know it was Ramadan and didn’t know anything about Ramadan), Dik gathered his courage and climbed the stairs and stood in the alien hallway. He pinpointed the source and knocked on a stranger’s door. What Dik had heard, all day long, was a heavy, blow-like sound. Ceaseless and infuriating.
A woman opened the door.
“Yes?” she asked.
“What are you doing in there?” Dik said.
“What’s that noise?”
“Meat. Are you deaf?”
What an absurd question! “It’s too much,” Dik said.
“I can’t take this.”
“This is my home,” the woman said, “and I’ll do what I want in my home.” The woman slammed the door and Dik went back to his apartment. After a while, his heart calmed.
That night, a man with the same color skin as the meat woman knocked on Dik’s door. He carried a butcher’s knife in his hand. The knife was wet with blood.
“You were bothering my wife today?”
“I’m sorry,” Dik said, “but the noise was intolerable.”
“A man can’t think. He can’t live.”
“You will never bother my wife again. Do you hear me?”
Dik stared at the large and bloody knife.
“I asked you a question,” the man said.
“I hear you,” Dik said.
“We pay the rent,” the man said, “just like you do. And we will live in our home, in peace, like you. We are doing no wrong.”
Dik’s brain formulated objections and arguments, linguistic and metaphysical rejoinders, societal and existential buts he could never voice.
“These are holy days,” the man said, “and you will leave us alone. Do you understand me?”
“I hear you,” Dik said.
The next day, Dik packed his things and left the apartment building. But he left without hope because there is only one place for a man like Dik to find what he’s looking for, and even if the knife had been inviting him there, as the window often had, Dik was a coward.
One morning, on my way to the little Turkish bakery on Strada Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino, I noticed that all the dogs were dead. The seven who lived and barked in my courtyard. Dead. The five across the street who barked in the vacant lot for sale next to the Rompetrol gas station. Dead. The eight skinny ones in the alley who more squealed and squeaked than barked until a man I never saw threatened them with violence I never witnessed. Dead. And many random, grangy-looking others, scattered on the sidewalks, lying on their sides, all shot in the head. Dead.
The silence, as I walked, was wonderful, made me think of the first windless day I felt in Minnesota, weeks after having moved there. A gift. Would my Romanian neighbors think the same? I thought. I had no idea. I couldn’t understand my Romanian neighbors, like I couldn’t understand those wild and semi-wild dogs, but I understood that killer completely. I wanted to thank him. I wanted to buy him a dozen fursecuri cu stafide and ask him if he’d be around when it all started again.
Loother didn’t want to die, but he feared getting old. He was sixty-six. He meant Old. Proper old. Old old.
He feared becoming one of the sad and senile old men photographed on stage at some lame function with the president of Who Cares and his fellow “guests of honor” next to him; of being humored and patronized in his own home, of vanishing there and experiencing the invisibility men not white and women of all colors experience; of needing foreign hands to wipe his buttcrack, foreign forks to feed him his peas; of having everyone waiting for him to die but no one having the balls to say so; or worse, of being unpraised and imprisoned in some closed community, rotting in some retirement home living room huddled around a television with a wheelchair and walker obstacle course behind him and a platoon of impersonal personnel around him, they too waiting for him to die and treating him like another burger (however deluxe) to flip in the meantime.
He feared this getting old. He knew he shouldn’t. He knew it was selfish and vain and acting like an ingrate, a spoiled child, a schmuck who refuses to leave the party when the party is over, but he couldn’t help himself.
So he kept a gun in a drawer, but he feared waiting too long to use it, feared waking one morning and having crossed the lucidity line, the moment-of-truth mark. He feared slipping into the second paragraph’s hell, unawares, tricked. He knew he would never be able to know, so he sold the gun to a neighbor for thirty bucks and a six-pack of beer.
And he aged, bullet-less, but he refused to dress like the old, to frequent the old, to give up his independence to old and age. When the house became too much for him, he bought a condominium. When the condominium became too much, he bought a one-bedroom apartment. When the leg and knee and joint trouble attacked in earnest, he moved to a studio on the ground floor and bought a cane, a dashing one.
But age kept coming for him, as he knew it would, and he was growing tired, but not tired enough, so he cursed age and got rid of his stuff, everything but one last suitcase (he liked the idea of this one last suitcase), and he told his family he was going to fly to Paris, then take a train to Vladivostok. It was February and he was eighty-one years old. He hoped the trip would kill him.
When it didn’t, and when he saw how beautiful that Russian city was, he decided to board a ferry for Japan, for a country where they respect the old, for a life and land that might teach him how to die without fear.
Kevin Tosca‘s stories have appeared in Fleeting, Litro, Bartleby Snopes and elsewhere. He lives in Paris. You can find him and his work at www.kevintosca.com and on Facebook.