Crissy Van Meter
It’s a fourplex with a courtyard in the middle. Mr. Monsoon lives in Number Three. Our apartments are mirrors of one another and my living room faces his. I can see in his windows, but most of the time I try not to look. I keep my curtains open though because I pay for the natural light in that apartment. I need that ocean breeze in the afternoon or I’d cry all day. My one bedroom is recently empty.
I water my succulents in the courtyard. I’ve pieced together a potted plant garden with cacti and planters full of aloe. They neatly line the outside of the apartment like traces of seaweed after an ugly high tide.
I planted the aloe for myself, but now I offer it to Mr. Monsoon after his long walks on the beach. His giant bare belly is like leather and his red nose is always peeling from the sun.
I don’t sit in direct sunlight too much anymore; it gives me a rash.
I break a piece of aloe and we watch it ooze. He dabs it on his finger and swipes it on the tip of his bulbous nose.
I can hear them fighting at night. After she’s been painting and he’s been drinking. I can smell his whiskey breath tip toeing into my living room while I watch murder shows in the dark. Sometimes I want to get an air conditioner and close the windows.
But I never do.
She breaks many of their dishes. They seem to have a lot of glassware. I know she’s embarrassed because some mornings when she’s admiring their dead crustacean collection in the courtyard, she tells me that she makes glass mosaics.
I ask to see them.
Mr. Monsoon hates pants. I’ve seen his fat gut and floppy penis many times through the window. He was once in the courtyard with tiny shorts. No shirt. His body is thick and I think of them having sex, because I’ve heard them.
It’s just too hot to close the windows. Maybe it’s too hot for clothes.
I like to look at their wrinkles. They look like they’ve lived it hard and they are old and desperate. They can be naked because they don’t care about shit like that anymore. Sometimes I see them dancing in the kitchen and it makes me feel bad. Like I really fucked up or something. Their blotchy bodies are in unison.
I’m not sure if they are really married; sometimes she wears a skinny gold band on her finger.
I ask him to water the plants while I’m away. He sways slowly in a low hanging hammock and agrees. I ask him to lightly water the Pacific Bleeding-Hearts. He stops rocking.
Wait, what’s wrong with your heart? he asks.
Not much, I say.
I tell him that I’m talking about the big bushy plant, the one with the little purple flowers. He nods.
I can see the creases in the back of his neck have left white marks when he stretches to stand up. I can see those lines of skin don’t get any sun.
He asks me where I’m going.
I don’t tell him I’m going to Hawaii because he’ll probably know why.
She appears covered in paint. She’s quiet with red, frizzy hair spilling from her bun and she looks at me strangely. Like she’s about to say something that could matter. But she doesn’t. She invites me inside. It’s my first time.
She cracks open a can of Bud Light and pours it into a glass that is cold from the freezer. Fills it up slowly and there’s little head. I’m quite impressed with her, the smell of their place and all the freckles that cover her entire body. She’s got overalls on with a tight tank: I can see the outline of the side of her breast and I try to decide her age.
Early fifties. Maybe.
She confronts me about living alone.
I tell her it’s probably temporary.
She scoops fistfuls of peanuts into a mosaic bowl and places it in front of me. They are too salty for my taste but I eat them, small handfuls at a time.
Gypsy rolls around at my feet. She’s been lying in the sun too; her fur is still warm. I say I will miss her while I’m away. She tells me she knows that Gypsy leaves them to sleep with me every night and she politely asks me to stop feeding her. She’s getting fat.
My plants are dead.
Mr. Monsoon isn’t as bad as he appears through the windows. We drink brandy this once and talk crustaceans. He’s tamer when his pants are on, like he’s gentle, not a red-belly pervert clomping around wooden floors. We are usually happier at the end of summer. It’s getting cool now.
What happened to my plants? I ask.
My wife left, he says.
I know, I say.
I heard it. I’m sure Number One and Number Four heard it too. I watched it. I muted the television and stopped crying to pay attention. Gypsy curled up next to me and we shared a felt blanket.
His nose heats up like a little pink pimple and he’s drunk. Touches my leg. I subtly slide away from him on the back porch step and snap for Gypsy. She weaves between my calves.
The sea fog hovers and it’s getting darker earlier. I close the windows halfway and decide it’s best for Gypsy to be with him in a time like this.
I don’t have the heart to tell him that his absent wife comes looking for her cat when he is a drunk pumpkin, smashed on the floor. I always lie and say I haven’t seen her. She knows I’m lying, probably.
He’s always asleep in his hammock when she drops her ring in the mailbox. I see her do it; I hear it tumble to stillness in the basin of the metal box. She fixes her hair as she trots away.
I gently place Gypsy on his chest, she’s purring in his arms, and I accidentally lean close to his face and he wakes.
She can’t handle the heat, he says.
She always leaves by August, he mumbles.
Gypsy nestles her face in his chest hair and settles on his robust belly. He eases his hand on her.
I lightly spray the potted plants with the hose and there’s so much pressure on my thumb.
Crissy Van Meter lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a freelance writer and letterpresser. She is the co-founder of FiveQuarterly.org, an online literary magazine out of Brooklyn, and received an MFA from the New School in 2012. Her fiction has been published in Nib Magazine and Beyond Genre, while her non-fiction and editorial pieces have been featured in numerous online publications including ESPN and The Hairpin.