Dorothy and Elizabeth were enjoying a beer in an ageing Melbourne pub when the quiet was disturbed by a loud exclamation from Elizabeth. “You could end up in a psychiatric hospital,” she spluttered, causing one or two sports enthusiasts to turn briefly with frowns and raised eyebrows, from an Australian Rules game on TV.
Dorothy gazed at Elizabeth’s earnest face, fascinated as always by the myriad deep lines etched there by years of continual smoking. They looked like daggers, darting back and forward on her parchment skin as she spoke.
“Do you think so?” she asked timorously, bringing her mind back to the present.
“Of course,” Elizabeth sniffed, shaking her carefully styled hair and straightening her linen jacket. “Psychiatric hospitals are full of people driven mad by other people. You need to do something about this.”
Dorothy sipped her beer and looked thoughtfully across the lounge bar at the tired ferns that struggled to grow in the corner. She knew how they felt. But today was Friday, the day she met up with her old friend for a drink and a chat. They had met at an exercise class years ago, before getting trim was abandoned in favour of growing old gently. Old age had brought a sense of isolation to her life, so that Friday was now her favourite day of the week.
“I think you need to stand up for yourself. If it was another woman instead of a man who was giving you strife, you’d soon tell her.” Elizabeth always talked with great authority.
Dorothy doubted that gender had any place in her dilemma, but nodded anyway; her friend was being bossy as usual.
“That’s just it. I’m afraid of what he might do if I stand up to him.” She plucked at the sleeve of her pink angora jumper, and shivered as she recalled memories of schoolyard bullies and a menacing stepfather. It was just that those other threats in her life had been physical. This was something very different. The rasp of her neighbour’s saxophone seemed to shred her nervous system. She almost tore at her ears during those wailing sessions.
In her imagination, the sounds took the form of a purple banshee that had the power to seep through her walls, crawl along the landing and through her keyhole, to insinuate itself in the sanctuary of her little flat. There was no knowing what effect it could have on her mental health. She was suddenly shaken from her reverie by the sound of Elizabeth’s insistent voice.
“I suggest you contact the rental agents and tell them what’s happening.”
“I already did,” Dorothy asserted. “The property manageress came out and spoke to him, and he assured her that the noise he was making was not loud enough to come through the wall. He also told her he never played his saxophone after midnight. Mind, you she was in there for quite a while.”
“And she believed him?” Elizabeth sounded incredulous.
“Oh yes. In fact, I saw them in here over a week ago, having a drink together. I’d popped in to buy a small bottle of gin thinking it might send me to sleep. A waste of time. Nothing seems able to block out the sound of that awful saxophone.”
Elizabeth looked at her with a new understanding. This turn of events made things more complicated. Dorothy was on the wrong side of 70 and could well be in a risky situation with such a narcissistic youth at close proximity. The papers were full of stories about young people who kept odd hours and indulged in drug-taking. If the current situation wasn’t satisfactorily resolved, Dorothy may be driven mad and her flat burgled of any valuable possessions. My God, her flat could be converted into a drug den.
She noticed she was beginning to shake, and told herself to keep it all together. Turning hastily to Dorothy she said: “Well, it’s not normal. Playing music all night and sleeping half the day. He shouldn’t be living in a block of units with that kind of lifestyle.” Elizabeth folded her arms. “I think we’d better have another drink while we resolve this.”
She nodded to the barmaid, who quickly brought fresh drinks to the chipped Formica-topped table. The two friends sat in silence, immersed in Dorothy’s problem.
“I know what to do. Report him to the police.”
Dorothy played with the little pearl in her left ear. “I already did,” she admitted, blushing.
“Well, what did they do?”
“They came around and measured with a decibel-counting thing.”
“And?” demanded Elizabeth.
“They said it wasn’t loud enough to break any laws. They did speak to him, but I heard them laughing when they left.”
“I really don’t know what else you can do, dear.” Elizabeth thought Dorothy was far too soft and fluffy for her own good.
The barmaid strode over, carrying a tarnished tin tray for the empty glasses. “You ladies are very quiet today. Is everything all right?” Cheryl liked the two old dears who came in regularly. It must be at least five years, and they were definitely getting on now. She called them her ‘lambs’ to the other staff, who smiled indulgently at her kindness to regular customers. She swiftly gathered the empty glasses on to the tray and turned towards the bar, but Elizabeth decided to keep the barmaid’s attention, and held on to her arm.
“Cheryl,” Elizabeth declared recklessly. “Dorothy’s got a problem with a neighbour who likes to play his saxophone most of the night, so she can’t get to sleep. She’s reported him to the police and to the property managers to no avail.” Dorothy squirmed, feeling like a silly little girl who couldn’t get things right.
“Oh, yeah? I know the sort. Well, you don’t have to put up with that, dear. If I were you, I’d go to the chemist and get myself a set of earplugs – like the ones people use on planes when they want to doze off. Won’t even cost much either.” Cheryl patted Dorothy’s shoulder and swept away to the bar, her rubber soled shoes squeaking on the ancient lino.
“Earplugs – why didn’t I think of that?” Elizabeth admonished herself.
And why didn’t I think of it, Dorothy thought.
She looked at Elizabeth, stood up, thanked her for listening and trying to help, and, gathering her handbag to her fluffy bosom, hurried off in the direction of the little shopping centre, adjacent to the pub.
Eric awoke and scratched his jaw. Ten o’clock – might as well get some tucker before starting to practise. He took a meat pie and a can of beer from the ancient fridge and consumed them at the folding table and deck chair that furnished his meagre kitchen.
Having appeased his inner-man, he wandered into the lounge room of the tiny flat and lifted the gleaming, golden-coloured instrument from its case with loving, grubby fingers. His eyes glinted as he placed the cord around his neck, and turned towards the wall that adjoined the flat next door. Standing with feet slightly apart, Eric bowed, then gestured with an upward motion with the saxophone, before placing his lips on the mouthpiece.
He played softly at first, then louder, as he lost himself in the music. He could picture the notes as swathes of colour, interspersed with stars, swirling around the room.
Closing his eyes, he could believe he was in his very own Nirvana, high on an illuminated stage, gazed at by a multitude of adoring fans, all weeping in the ecstasy of his music.
It was midnight when he decided to take a break. His mouth felt dry. Opening the fridge door, he reached for the last can of beer, fumbling for the metal ring. It wasn’t there. It had been broken off. He swore, knowing he had no can opener, and started anxiously groping around in the cutlery drawer for something that might do the job. Relieved, he spotted a saw-edged, slightly rusted breadknife with two little curved teeth at the end and carried it to the table where he’d left the can.
At this point Eric’s thoughts wandered to the old lady next door; old bag – no sense of humour, nor appreciation of his talent. Should be in an old folks’ home at her age anyway. Could get a young sheila in there instead. Imagine calling the cops on him. She should be grateful that she had a musician living next door to her. It was only a matter of time before his talent made him a worldwide success.God, it was hard to open this thing. Losing his patience he attacked the can savagely, and the knife skidded off the silvery surface, embedding itself in the pale, soft flesh of his inner wrist. He watched as blood created a long scarlet line.
Panicking, he dropped the knife and the can, howling as bright red blood spurted across the dingy kitchen, splattering the walls and ceiling. He grabbed his wrist with his right hand, trying to stem the flow then staggered into the bathroom to clutch a towel.
He knew he had to put pressure on the wound, but it was hard to do this and put the towel on at the same time. Pity the phone had been cut off; he might have been able to phone for an ambulance – not that he could afford to pay for that either. The last of his savings from working as a temporary bartender had all gone on the purchase of his golden saxophone.
Eric was beginning to feel a bit weak. He needed help. Nothing for it but to go next door and try to waken the old lady. Grimacing, he opened his door and staggered along the landing, falling against Dorothy’s door. He banged it with his head. Not knowing her name, he simply called for help.
“Help me. Help me, Mrs. Open the door. Help me.”
How could she not hear him? He had been making enough noise. The irony of this thought was lost on Eric, and as he didn’t believe in God, a possible intervention from on high was not an option. What was he to do? In desperation, he decided to go along to the other two doors on this floor and try to awaken someone else.
Again, he lay on the tiled landing, banging his head on the third, and then the fourth doors, calling out as loudly as he could: “Help me. Anybody? I’m bleeding to death here. Wake up for God’s sake!”
There was no response from either of the flats, and Eric’s voice was no more than a croak now, and might well be falling on deaf ears. He bumped and kicked against the doors to no avail, and stared at the pools of blood that lay across the floor; the streaks and smears on the doors. It looked like a massacre had taken place. He began to shiver. Bugger. He suddenly remembered that it was a holiday weekend and the other tenants must have gone away. The offices downstairs were all closed up, and no-one would be there to open them up before eight o’clock on Tuesday morning. Such bad luck, and it wasn’t even his fault that he had picked the faulty beer can. None of this was his fault.
Weak and dizzy now, he somehow crawled his way down the concrete stairs before rolling out onto the deserted street, plaintively crying out for help under a disinterested moon. He looked up at a lonely owl, smugly hunched on a tree branch on the street verge, stupefied that this was the last living thing he would ever see.
Upstairs in her bedroom Dorothy lay fast asleep, silver curls encased in a lilac-coloured hair net. Her lips were pursed in a little smile, as though she knew that, even as she slept, her life was going to change for the better.
Author: Anne Blair
Anne is a retired psychologist who enjoyed working in the field of forensics. She also studied English Literature, and has been an avid reader of the classics and the great poets. She loves stories about crime as well as those of human dilemmas, and has developed an interest in stories with a ‘twist in the tail’. She finds this a challenging genre, based on the interactions between people of all ages. Interacting with her great-grandchildren fills her with the greatest joy. She has been a member of the (very supportive) Karrinyup Writers’ Club for eight years.