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Apartment 12b MAG
Hadley Place is home to 12 apartments, each unit's plan identical. But if on one lazy Sunday when the streets are sparse with life, you should decide to walk down to Hadley Place, you may see otherwise. If you were to press against the rear fire escape door and walk into the main foyer, you would hear the newbie concierge swearing under his breath, in a dialect far from English, as the coffee machine spat boiling water at any unlucky soul who happened to be within a meter radius. You would see old Mrs. Herrmann seated on a plastic chair near the entrance, wearing her best pearls and favorite patent leather shoes, waiting for her son to pick her up for that Sunday lunch she'd been promised, as she did every Sunday, until six when the concierge would gently tell her to go back to her apartment.
You'd be herded upstairs by the drone of blue-bottle flies circling overhead, until you reached the top floor. If you had any sense, you'd pick your way carefully down the corridor, avoiding the chewing gum and cigarette remnants.
But what would make this corridor different from the one below? Well, until you turned the corner and saw the last apartment door, you'd be correct in assuming there truly was nothing different. But then again, that would be before you'd reached the jaunty, gold lettering of apartment 12B.
If you listen at the door of 12B, you'll hear a constant scratching.
It never ends. Go there when the moon glints yellow or the sun shines red. On a rainy day when the only thing grayer than the walls is the sky, or on a humid day when that bulbous ball of fire is bursting at his seams and the universal tune of pastel-colored ice cream vans can be picked up via satellites orbiting our little home. It makes no difference; still the same constant scratching.
If you were one of Mrs. Chalmers' young sons in apartment 12A, with stars in his eyes and more questions than answers, you'd grow curious of the cobwebs dancing on the latch of 12B, and the growing mound of letters that had swallowed up the doormat.
If you waited until Thursday night, when Mrs. Chalmers had left for the Bingo hall in town, you would have seen five-year-old Freddie Chalmers climb out of his window onto the fire escape. You would have seen him break the rusty hinge of the window belonging to apartment 12B and step through, like Alice, into a strange world, though perhaps not Wonderland.
If you could have seen through the eyes of Freddie Chalmers on that Thursday night, you would have indeed been confused. For the room he stepped into was bare; stripped of furniture, wallpaper, and carpets. The walls, although not decorated in the typical sense, were what gave Freddie Chalmers' Spider-Man slippers cause to become stuck to the floorboards. From the corner where the ceiling met the wall, right down to the furthest corner, on all four surrounding walls, were tiny lines. After every fourth, a strike was drawn across. Freddie Chalmers had seen these tallies before on his older brother's math homework.
If you had watched Freddie Chalmers enter the next room, the walls identical to the first, and heard his small, thudding footsteps fall silent, 'til a high-pitched, boyish scream took their place, you would have known something was very wrong.
That evening, the paramedics placed a blanket over the tiny skeletal body Freddie Chalmers had found in apartment 12B.
If you had gone back in time six months, when the doormat of 12B was still visible, you'd have seen a 22-year-old, fresh out of college, with smiling blue eyes, lengthy blonde curls, and big ambitions, humming the “O.C.” theme as the smell of buttered popcorn wafted from the microwave. You'd have heard the phone ring and seen her pause before putting the receiver to her ear. You'd have heard the clatter as the phone hit the wall, swinging freely on its cord.
If you could have recorded every thought processed in that young girl's mind at that moment and replay it on a tape, you would have heard the doctor's diagnosis. You'd have heard his clinical, monotone voice saying, “It's impossible to know how long you have left …,” and you would have felt the numb aching in her bones and her chest.
If you knew the preppy blonde whose name was on the lease of apartment 12B, you would know how she thrived on her determination. She didn't believe in the impossible. Maybe her mind was still locked in a frenzied battle of comprehending the information she had just received. Or maybe for once she wasn't thinking at all.
She grabbed a pencil and ran to the northern most point in the apartment. Rising up on her toes, her shirt riding up, she made her first tiny pencil line on the wall. One line for every minute of life she had left from that day onward.
If you had been a fly on the wall of apartment 12B in those six months that followed, you'd have noted the answering machine pulled from the wall socket and the bare kitchen cupboards with wary regard. You'd have heard the gruff tones of bailiffs every first Monday of the month as they traded furniture for debt payments. You'd have noticed the lack of buttered popcorn scent in the air.
If you had owned a couple more brain cells than the ordinary fly, you would have thought to take note of the slowly deteriorating figure who still occupied 12B. The inhabitant's once honey-blonde locks had faded to ashy tendrils limp with grease. Her cheeks were hollow and supported by angular bones. The ivory layer of skin that clung to her tiny frame had retreated into her skeleton. But her eyes remained constant; more alive than the blood that drew patterns in her veins or the faint palpitations that tickled her chest. They fed off adversity and shined more fiercely than ever.
If you had been Freddie Chalmers on that Thursday evening, you would have seen a fragile body slumped against the wall, holding a pencil.
But if you knew the bigger picture, you would have seen the eerily triumphant face of a girl who knew the impossible.