One afternoon I went to the supermarket, forgot my notepad and went back to get it. There I discovered the building manager in our apartment, going through the drawers of the dresser. Despite her initially startled expression, she snapped at me when she explained that it was a routine apartment inspection. That night, as I furiously described the incident to Neal, he rested his elbow on the kitchen table, rested his palm under his chin, and nodded.
Lonely, isolated, and aimless, I craved companionship, but our dinner conversations soon became my monologues.
“Sorry sweetie, but I talk all day,” Neal said, half-heartedly pushing his favorite roasted chicken across the plate. An oven-tanned bird was the only productive thing I’d done that day, and I told him his lack of appetite was sadistic.
The building manager suggested that I should feel honored that our new neighbor was the head of the Cossacks. I had so many questions but assumed the uniforms had been updated. I gave Neal regular updates. I described how often the neighbor was home, the plume of pungent smoke his cigarette left in our common hall, and the way he went in and out of his apartment like a ghost. As weeks passed and I only saw him through the peephole, I told Neal that our neighbor was avoiding me.
‘You’re alone too much. Too much,” he said in the same soothing tone I’d once heard him use to lure our panicked cat, Emmitt, back inside after escaping the shackles of the inner life.
“Let’s go home,” I said.
Instead, he suggested that I work with him, mainly on staffing tasks. The work kept me busy, but there was a palpable fear from the employees, and I didn’t need a translator to understand why.