By Kelley Vick

“What.  Is.  That.  Noise?”  Rachel stared at the ceiling of Rodney’s apartment – her new home – and pursed her lips.  A sound she could only liken to a herd of cattle stampeding across the roof, then back again, then back again, had been pulsing through the room for what seemed like hours.

“What noise?”  Rodney glanced at her over the top of his computer, then parked his eyes back on the screen before Rachel had time to respond.

“What the hell do you mean, ‘What noise?’  How could you possibly miss it?  The fucking herd of cattle stampeding across your ceiling.  That noise.”

Our ceiling, babe.”

“Okay, fine, our ceiling.”  Rachel threw her palms toward the ceiling in question.  “What, for the love of god, is that noise?”

“I think it’s the kid upstairs.”

“The kid?  As in singular – one kid?”  Rachel’s eyes widened.  “It sounds like about fifty grown men chasing bowling balls down the hall.”

“Yeah, one kid.  I think he’s three.  I dunno.”  Rodney still didn’t look up from his computer.  “Little.  Walking obviously.  I mean, his parents live there, too, of course, but I don’t think they’re the ones making the noise.”  He squinted, bit his lip, and leaned closer to his screen.  “Aw, Jason’s on location in Thailand again.  Bastard!  He gets all the awesome jobs.”

“So this happens often?”  Rachel put the worn copy of Jane Eyre she’d been trying to reread on the arm of her chair, paced across the room to the window and looked down at the little herb garden she’d planted on the sill a few days ago.  No sprouts yet, just pretty pots of dirt.

“Yeah, he was just in Bali a couple of weeks ago,” Rodney said.  “Remember I showed you that awesome photo he posted of the shrine on the lake?  The one where you can’t really tell which half is real and which is the reflection?”  He shook his head.  “Jason said this local guy told him about the place.  He always finds the awesome secret spots.”

Rachel rolled her eyes and tried to stop thinking about how many times Rodney said “awesome” in the last sixty seconds.  “That shrine’s a huge tourist attraction,” she said.  “I’ve seen that photo about a million times.  Everyone takes it.  I think it’s on the cover of my sister’s freaking guidebook.”
  She paced back to her chair, collapsed onto the edge and crossed her legs.  “Anyway, I was talking about the noise upstairs, not Jason’s jobs.  Do you deal with this insanity all the time?”

She tilted her head and glared in Rodney’s direction, taking in the scene.  Rodney on the couch is his coffee-stained jeans and old t-shirt, one leg stretched across the brown leather, the other dangling to the floor.  His laptop slumped on his lap and he was kind of halfway hunched over it and halfway leaned back into the sofa, his shoulder disappearing into the crack between two of the misshaped cushions. 

“Oh, I dunno.”  He shrugged.  “Sometimes.  I mean, it’s a kid.  Kids run around, right?”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Not particularly.  Like I said, it’s a kid.  I kinda like it, actually.  Pitter patter of little feet and all.”
  Rodney glanced up again and smiled.

“You like it?  Ugh.  How could you possibly like it?  It’s driving me out of my fucking mind, Rodney.  How could you not know this would drive me out of my mind?”

“I’m supposed to read your mind now?”

“You wouldn’t have to be a mind reader to know this would drive me crazy, Rodney.”  Rachel jumped up and grabbed a scribble-covered notepad off the dining table, which doubled as a work desk, holding the wire-bound paper in the air as if it were exhibit A.  “I work from home, for god’s sake.  I’m trying to start a business.  And you know I need quiet to think.”

Rachel let the hand holding the notepad fall back to the table and raised her other hand to her temple.  She always felt like she was on the verge of a headache these days.  This year had been hard, realizing after nearly twenty years of early mornings and late nights that Wall Street wasn’t going to save her.  No matter how hard she worked, how many more hours she put in, how much more money she made, the panic didn’t go away.  Most nights she woke up around 4am, heart pounding, gasping for air. 

In early April, she’d taken a rare evening off to treat herself to a manicure.  When the manicurist, a kind-eyed woman named Lucy, took Rachel’s hand in hers and began to gently file the ragged nails, Rachel was nearly overcome with longing.  Tears burned the corners of her eyes as she realized this was the only physical contact she’d had all week.  Rachel glanced at the ceiling to keep the tears from spilling down her cheeks, mumbled something to Lucy about her allergies acting up, and silently vowed to find a new job.     
But what to do?  She’d handled accounts for a few guys who made money running digital marketing companies.  As she perused their income stats, she’d always thought, “These guys are making this much money for posting stuff online?  I could do that.” 

And so, since digital marketing was the only idea she had, she decided that was, in fact, what she would do.  It had proven to be tougher than she’d expected, but after a lot of research and trial and error, she’d developed a pretty good system and had taken on several clients she acquired through word-of-mouth, the very first being her sister’s husband, who ran a small hotel in Miami.

She’d met Rodney online.  It seemed to be the way everyone was meeting these days.  At 39, she’d never even been in a serious relationship that lasted more than six months.  Fears of turning into a spinster were creeping into her brain more and more frequently, scenes of her sitting grey-haired in her rocking chair surrounded by fifteen cats played on repeat while she lay awake at night. 

They’d hit it off on their first date – at a little Italian spot she liked near her place downtown.  He was cute and kind and supportive of her decision to jump ship on corporate life and venture out on her own.  “Fuck the man!” he’d said, as they toasted their first beer, and she’d liked the warm, free feeling in her chest as she’d clinked her glass to his and repeated “Fuck the man!” a little too loudly, causing the parents of two young kids seated in the corner to turn and give her a dirty look. 
“I work from home a lot, too, ya know.”  Rodney still didn’t look up from his screen.

“No.  Being at home a lot isn’t the same as working from home, Rodney.  You’re a filmmaker.”  She lingered a little too long on the word “filmmaker,” and instantly regretted the sarcastic tone she’d let slip through her teeth.  “You don’t do your work at home,” she said, relaxing her shoulders and trying to sound softer.  “You just spend all that down time here between shoots.”

“All that down time?”  Rodney jerked his eyebrows toward his hairline.

“Well, yeah.  You obviously have a lot of down time.  When’s your next shoot, like two months from now?”  Her purple fingernail tapped the table.  “It’s not like you’re trying to run a business out of here – make client calls, create budgets, set up a website, create a communication plan.  There’s a lot that goes into this, Rodney.”  She picked up the notepad again and banged it back down onto the table for emphasis.

“Okay.  I guess I just don’t understand how a kid running upstairs stops you from creating a budget.”  He pushed his laptop shut and tossed it onto the couch, then walked a few steps around her into the kitchen and pulled a beer out of the refrigerator.  “Besides, it’s Sunday,” he said, prying open the bottle, “who makes client calls and creates budgets on Sunday?”

“I do!  I work on Sunday!  I work almost every day.  Have we met?  Hi, I’m Rachel.  Your girlfriend.  Remember?  We’ve been dating for a while now.  We decided to move in together.  You talked me into moving to your shithole apartment to save money.  I work on Sundays.”

“Oh, come on, Rachel.  This is hardly a shithole.”  Rodney spread his arms wide, his fingers nearly touching opposite walls of the kitchen, bottle of beer still poised in his left hand.  “It may not be that overpriced concrete tomb in the Financial District you liked to call home, surrounded by all those corporate douchebags.  He raised the pitch of his voice and batted his eyelashes, “It’s four thousand a month for a concrete box and my neighbors are soulless idiots, but, hey, it’s quiet!” 

“At least my neighbors respected me,” She said, the words sliding out almost underneath her breath.
“It’s a kid, Rachel.”  Rodney sighed.  “Kids run around.  It doesn’t bother me.  I told you.  I like it.”

“Well, I don’t.  I don’t like it.”  Rachel’s voice was getting louder now, and maybe a little squeakier than she would’ve liked.  “And, if I’m honest, I don’t think you really like it either.  You’re just saying you do so you don’t have to go up there and do anything about it.”

Rodney steeled his expression and looked Rachel in the eye.  “I like it.”

“Well, your girlfriend doesn’t.”  Rachel met his gaze.  “So, what happens now?”

“What do you mean, ‘what happens now?'”

“What are you planning to do to make this a livable situation for me?”

“I’m not following.”

“Do I have to spell everything out for you, Rodney?  Go up there and tell them to be quiet.  This is ridiculous.  The floors in this building are so freaking thin.  You can’t just let your kid run wild and throw things all day and expect your neighbors to just deal with it.  They’re the ones who chose to have a kid.  We certainly didn’t.”

“Well, not yet.”  A smile began working its way back across Rodney’s face.
“What do you mean, not yet?”
“Now who’s the one who needs things spelled out?”

“We can’t have a kid, Rodney.”  She was definitely too squeaky now.  “You’re barely working, and even when you do work, it’s not like you’re making enough to support a child.  And I certainly don’t have time to have a kid.  I’ve got a business to run.  If you think I’m one of those women who’ll just drop everything to have their man’s baby the second he decides he might want one, you’re very sadly mistaken.”
“Well, let’s be honest, Rachel, it’s not like we have all the time in the world to make the decision to do this.  I mean, you’re nearly 40.”
I’m nearly 40!  You’re over 40!”
“Don’t blame basic biology on me.”  He shrugged.
“So it’s biology, then, that causes a middle-aged man to be completely irresponsible and in no way capable of supporting or caring for a child?  That’s biology, right?”
“I’m not completely irresponsible, Rachel.”
“Well, you sure are shirking the responsibility of taking care of this noise upstairs.”
“If I text them, will that make you happy?  Text them and say, I dunno, ‘can you calm your kid down?’ I mean, what do you want me to do here?”
“Texting is a start if you don’t have the balls to go up there.”
“Fine,” he said, reaching for his phone. “I’ll text them right now.”  Rodney punched his thumbs at the screen for a few seconds then slammed the phone back down on the counter.  “There.  There you go.  I texted.  Happy?”
“I guess.”
“You guess?”
“Sure.  I’m happy.”

The phone buzzed, and Rodney grabbed and flipped it over to see the screen in one fluid motion.  “They’re putting the kid to bed in 15 minutes,” he said, “I’m going out to get some groceries.”  He slid the phone into his back packet as he scraped past Rachel and out of the kitchen.  He let the door slam behind him when he left.  

When Rodney returned a few hours later, he was carrying a huge bouquet of flowers, an obnoxious horde.  Lilies, roses, sunflowers, mismatched blooms and buds of every size and color smashed together, straining stems submerged in an enormous green vase.  He looked proud.

“I’m sorry, babe,” he said as he shoved the monstrosity into Rachel’s arms, “I should be more supportive.  I’m sorry.”
Rachel wasn’t sure what to say.
“Um, thanks.  This is, well, this is really sweet.  Thanks.”  She twisted her face.  “But, um, Rod, I can’t keep these in the apartment.”
“What?  Why not?”
“I’m allergic to sunflowers, remember?”  Rachel searched his expression, looking for some hint of recognition.
“Sunflower seeds,” he said, pointing an index finger toward the sky to punctuate his cognitive victory.  “You’re allergic to sunflower seeds.  I’m not asking you to eat it, babe.  It’s just for decoration.”  He smiled and laughed a little at his own joke.  Then he turned and started clearing space on their tiny coffee table.  As he moved a stack of papers and magazines, a small plastic rectangle crashed to the floor, spinning on the hardwood like a top.
“Crap.  Can you grab that for me?”  Rodney asked, looking helpless with two hands full of papers.
“What is it? “
“It’s a walkie talkie.  I use them on set sometimes.”
“It looks like a toy.”  Rachel glared at the tiny spinning speaker with the same disgust she might have reserved for a mouse or a dirty tissue.
“Yeah, well, it is.”  Rodney smiled.  “We were in a jam on this one shoot, and we were really in the middle of nowhere – no equipment shops around.  Only thing we could find was an old convenience store, and they had a bunch of kids toys and these walkie talkies were there, so I just grabbed ’em.”  He shrugged.  “They’ve actually got pretty decent range.  Well, they did, anyway.  I had them down in Florida a while back and it was so hot and humid the batteries kinda corroded.  The connection doesn’t seem to work now.  I was trying to fix them.”  He shrugged again, still balancing stacks of papers in each hand. 
“Rodney, I’m allergic to the pollen in the sunflowers, not the seeds.”
“The pollen.  It’s the pollen that gets me.  Not the stupid seeds.  If we keep these in the apartment, I’ll be a mess.”
“Fine.”  Rodney let the papers in his hands drop to the floor, pages from the new script he’d been working on fluttering to the edges of the room.

Blank faced, he walked to Rachel and pulled the bouquet from her hands.  Curling his left arm around the huge green vase, he pulled the door open with his right and walked out into the hallway.  After a few seconds of clanking, he reappeared in the living room, closing the door behind him.
“What’d you do with them?”  Rachel folded her arms across her chest, quickly let them fall to her sides, then crossed them again.

“I put them outside.”
“Like, out on the street?”
“No.  Out in the hallway.  On the bench by the door.  I moved a few shoes.”
“This way you can see them when you come and go,” Rodney feigned a smile.  “And you’ll remember how much I love you.”
“Oh,” Rachel smiled back.  “That’s nice.  Thank you.”

Rachel slipped into the living room early the next morning.  Rodney wouldn’t be up for another couple of hours.  The apartment was still dim, with a faint glow of rising sun showing just around the outside edges of the drawn curtains.  Flipping on a light, she strolled over to the table, grabbed her laptop and slid it into the backpack she kept by the door.  Carefully and quietly, she gathered her papers from the table, separating her spreadsheets from Rodney’s scripts, and slid her most important paperwork into the bag beside her computer. 

This would have to do for now.  She could come back for the rest later.  She had some old clothes to get by on at her sister’s place.  They sell toothbrushes and contact lens solution at the airport.
She kept the note simple:

Gone to visit my sister in Miami for a while.  Call you when I get there.
Love, R   

She didn’t know what else she wanted to say. 

Taking one more sweeping look around the apartment, she pulled the door open and backed out, closing it tightly behind her.  In the hallway, her grandiose bouquet perched on the bench, surrounded by old shoes and umbrellas.  A few of the tiny, tightly packed buds on the stems were just starting to open. 

Rachel sneezed.

About the Author:

A writer and journalist, Kelley Vick has published reported pieces in a wide range of magazines and newspapers.  Her short fiction and essays appear in recent issues of Rumble Fish Quarterly and Mothers Always Write.  Kelley holds an MSJ in Journalism from Northwestern University and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and 4-year-old son.