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TENEMENT, BY STUART SNELSON

[1] In the event of fire, he would be first out.

[2] Each nearing ninety they hibernated, content in each other’s company.

[3] Permanently pyjamaed, slipshod to the shops she slopped. Needs must.

[4] Blind, his neighbour cooked his meals. She took no money.

[5] Receiving visitors at all hours, he questioned his neighbour’s virtue.

[6] For a reasonable fee she taught English to recent immigrants.

[7] Unaware that he was against regulations, her dog yapped incriminatingly.

[8] Television, her faithful companion, what would she do without it?

[9] Humane attempts to catch mice had failed. Torture would prevail.

[10] Concealing bruises she prepared to face the world. He lounged.

[11] Deaf she was spared her neighbour’s bloodcurdling arguments. Small mercy.

[12] Would tomorrow’s trudge to the bookies for once be rewarding?

[13] Hearing rumours she had warned her children. They told friends.

[14] Sensing the neighbourhood had gone downhill, she yearned to relocate.

[15] Uninvited men often called demanding payments; they were violently persuasive.

[16] Her husband now lived in sin on the seventh floor.

[17] When exactly would he alert others to his missing snake?

[18] She passed her days completing jigsaws. Evenings were less exhausting.

[19] Having fled genocide, her mornings were spent opening indecipherable post.

[20] Yesterday he saw loan sharks knocking on his neighbour’s door.

[21] Cowering silently, he ignored callers. He heard they broke fingers.

[22] Wet pain, the sign had said. Puzzled, he eventually twigged.

[23] She knitted gifts for her family; they hid the results.

[24] The inviting smells emanating from her flat proved unreplicated recipes.

[25] Since the lift broke, she had struggled with the stairs.

[26] Her daughter made enquiries. Had anybody seen her pet hamster?

[27] Coiled around a u-bend, an exotic intruder awaited its discoverer.

[28] Having missed the misspelt sign, he had ruined his jacket.

[29] She knew this much: he would not touch her children.

[30] In lieu of a garden, he maintained a window box.

[31] Inadvisably lycraed she jogged locally. Children pointed, weight dropped off.

[32] Since next door’s new arrival, he hadn’t slept a wink.

[33] They left the pram outside; space did not allow it.

[34] Her daughter’s birthday presents would vie with food for priority.

[35] We buy gold, said the leaflet. Good luck, he thought.

[36] Room enough for three, seven people lived in irritable intimacy.

[37] She regularly babysat neighbour’s children, wished they were her own.

[38] Single motherhood had annihilated her. Elsewhere the father slept soundly.

[39] Struggling to spell paedophile, he opted to spray nonce instead.

[40] She was unaware that her son had broken the lift.

[41] Doors were not closed but slammed, arguments became communal affairs.

[42] He hated neighbours who left bagged rubbish outside their door.

[43] Having bought his son a drum-kit, he awaited the repercussions.

[44] Cleaning houses for a living, she relaxed by living squalidly.

[45] Curious residents speculated whether she had always been a woman.

[46] Lovesick, he cared little whether she was born that way.

[47] Extortionate phone bills emphasised her distance from home, her isolation.

[48] Sat dead three days, decomposition would eventually alert the neighbours.

[49] Squatting, they were not altogether popular. They kept low profiles.

[50] Nervously storing stolen goods, he fortified his flat against burglars.

[51] Passing time he wrote poetry, sought rhymes for fetid stench.

[52] Never exactly welcome, the police visited frequently. They never forgot.

[53] At night he fantasised about crippling the little drummer boy.

[54] Parties could last until dawn. Neighbours were invited, though unwelcome.

[55] He prayed for new neighbours. His god proved otherwise engaged.

[56] Of the block’s seventeen different languages, hers was the rarest.

[57] He had urinated against the nonce’s front door. Others followed.

[58] He had heard the rumours, thought he looked the type.

[59] Soon, thank god, she would move into her own place.

[60] Same bed, third wife: how would he fuck this up?

[61] Third generation, neighbours still called him foreign. Grandchildren might assimilate.

[62] At his wife’s insistence, he smoked outside their front door.

[63] Impatiently awaiting her son’s return from war, she slept badly.

[64] From nappies to fatigues, she watched her neighbour’s son mature.

[65] Misunderstanding graffitied arabesques, he blamed the wall’s scrawls on immigrants.

[66] They had exchanged flats with friends. Their friends had won.

[67] A lottery win would solve all his problems. Fingers crossed.

[68] Their union jack doormat was desecrated nightly by work boots.

[69] Hangings too good for ‘em. He contemplated more barbaric options.

[70] Should he return to his wife? There were fewer stairs.

[71] Training his telescope on the heavens, he forgot the world.

[72] Cultivating aromatic plants by artificial light, he had many visitors.

[73] For purely medicinal reasons, he was often found next door.

[74] Born in this flat she would likely die in it.

[75] Were the rumours true? He had always harboured sneaking suspicions.

[76] He had watched his neighbour scrub nonce from his door.

[77] Through her peephole she had watched them pissing. Little animals.

[78] Recently he had physically assaulted his neighbour. Charges were dropped.

[79] Fearing vigilantes, he climbed onto his window-ledge, prepared to jump.

[80] If he moved would he miss the sound of sirens?

[81] Not entirely convinced, but dutiful, he sided with his son.

[82] Training his telescope on the adjacent block, he bloated tissues.

[83] Through thin walls she listened, alone, to endless orgiastic encounters.

[84] Nocturnal gymnastics had taken their toll, a new bed beckoned.

[85] Mobility reduced he relied on his daughter. She injected recreationally.

[86] Was their flat haunted? Things seemed to disappear: money, jewellery.

[87] How did mice get up here? Not in the lift.

[88] She enjoyed parading naked. From neighbouring blocks men watched aghast.

[89] Binoculared men told him what she did. He joined them.

[90] Outside, his car rusted whilst he saw out his ban.

[91] Tablets ensured sleep. The rest of her problems went unresolved.

[92] Eventually someone would buy his novel. Meanwhile, he ate cheaply.

[93] She volunteered for the Samaritans. Disembodied voices haunted her dreams.

[94] Nine flights up, anticipating breathless recrimination, he awaited his take-away.

[95] Uncertain what to believe he went with instinct: crucify him.

[96] Instigator of rumours, had he gone too far this time?

[97] His flat was a birdwatcher’s paradise. Alas, he hated birds.

[98] Slowly the stairs were killing him. He needed new knees.

[99] Broadcasting illegally through rooftop aerials, they rode the airwaves piratically.

[100] Empty it would soon be filled. A waiting list groaned.


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