You know that woman they housed in the apartment above yours, a while ago.
You seem to always hear her shower running.
She is not young, and on her own. You thought that was maybe unusual, after you
passed each other by in the staircase. You wondered if she didn’t have children to live
with her. Of course they might be grown- up, but at least one, the youngest, a late
There are more apartments for single people though, they divided the bigger flats during
the boom, but the rent is the same as a 4- bedroom house used to be. Some people in the
building say the ones like her get the rent paid, and it’s not fair. You never really
comment, only smile, uncomfortably.
You don’t think she is working, but you are not sure. Maybe she is not allowed. She is
very quiet, you seldom hear anything up there. You don’t think she has visitors. You had
thought once or twice to invite her for a coffee, but then another week passed so quickly
again, and now you aren’t really thinking about it anymore.
Steps are all you hear, one person’s steps, or the shower. The flush. All the bathrooms
are in the same location of the apartments, as a child you used to imagine how a rat
could climb up all the way straight to the roof.
She sometimes smiles, but other times she seems to forget. You don’t think she is
unfriendly, just absent minded.
She has probably gone through a lot.
She is only in her mid or late forties, you think, but it’s harder to tell the age with people
like her. She thinks of herself as an old woman. That is something new, it has started
since she came here, to this country.
She has no real mirror in the apartment, but there are some mirrored tiles in the
bathroom and from a certain angle, she can see the wrinkled skin of her upper thighs.
She thinks of herself as weak now, when she cleans the apartment her arms and hands
tremble as if her muscles are easily exhausted.
She does not have a scale, but she thinks she has lost weight, she never has much
Maybe she has started to disappear, everyday a little more.
Sometimes she has the strangest feeling, she thinks she might already have disappeared
without noticing, died and gone, and is only still seeing her body.
Maybe she is lying in the shower, the water still running.
All the time going about her day, not knowing.
It is a passing thought, it comes and goes and her heart doesn’t skip a beat.
It has come and gone a number of times.
She spends a lot of time in the bathroom, in the shower.
That’s what you hear every day, steps, and the shower.
She would love a bathtub, to lie in the hot water and slowly immerse her hair, flowing
out from under her head, then the back of her head, the ears, then all of it.
Listen to the quietness, like a sound, like a comforting pressure against the ears.
She thinks of herself as preparing for a journey and not knowing if she will have the
strength for all the preparations before having no strength left at all. She is putting
things in order, she has come accustomed to be always prepared to move, but this, she
thinks, is still different. Everyday she tidies the apartment. She sleeps on the couch and
folds away the cover and cushion in a big plastic bag, you know these chequered ones,
red and blue, they all seem to have those. She places it in the corner of the wardrobe.
Before she does this, she opens the window wide and airs the room and the bedsheets.
She empties the coffee grounds and fruit peel into the brown bin, and takes it down
every day to the bin area.
She washes herself and puts on clean underwear.
She puts a crochet cover over the top of the couch and straightens it.
She never leaves the dishes overnight.
When she puts on her nightgown she thinks of the children, who left her body, long ago,
in another country.
She scales a breast in her hand, uninvolved, it seems to her like an empty vessel,
parched and almost translucent. And her arms fragile and brittle, scrawny like a leafless
She thinks of this place as contaminated, the whole country. She washes her hands all
the time, she knows it’s irrational. She has been in other, dirtier places, here the roads
are paved, there are showers and toilets. Inside the apartment it is better, but not
always. Even though nobody ever comes in there and it is only her touching the surfaces,
she sometimes has the urge to clean it all, and wash all the clothes she has been wearing.
You met her in the yard, when she came out of the basement where the washing
machines are, a basket with wet laundry in her hands. You had been meaning to say
something, like how much nicer the sheets smell when they can be dried in fresh air, and
that spring would hopefully be here soon. But then you didn’t say anything, and watched
her walking across the yard. You thought one of the bushes beside the gravel path
looked as if it was moving, but even without leaves its branches were too many and too
close together to make out details.
It was like a vibrating hive, shifting shape ever so slightly.
And then, when she was close, sparrows flew up and out from the bush, more and still
more, there seemed to be hundreds of them, the bush had consisted of sparrows, they
had filled all the space between the scrawny twigs and left it now deserted and bare.
When you come home from the shops that afternoon, it’s a Saturday, you sit down on
the couch and before you switch on the TV you listen to the sounds from upstairs. Steps.
Steps and running water.
She sits on the toilet.
She has hunkered down on the seat, the bathroom is her riverbank,
The trees in front of the window are her ancient woodlands.
She is naked and weighing her breast in her hand in an uninvolved way.
A liquid issues from the right one.
Fluid, like milk.
She rubs it between her fingers, its viscous and sticks like a cap of wax on her fingertip
She licks it.
She is her own potion.
The shower is her waterfall.
She could grow hair, shiny,strong black hair on her shins and back, her armpits
And her voice reverberates in the small room
Like a long lost sister’s voice, familiar, hers but not quite,
a duet, a canon, encompassing her, carrying her.
She gets up, turns around and walks through the waterfall.
You know that woman they housed in the apartment above yours. You always hear the