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There’s something highly disconcerting I think (though I won’t go so far as to say disturbing) about entering the home of a close neighbour for the first time.
One night, early on, just after teatime, circumstances required that I visit my neighbour in the flat directly below me. It was the way their front door opened up into a hall the same length and dimensions as mine, which led into a living room that was also identical, in terms of shape and size, that threw me the way it did.
For a couple of mind altering moments, my always skewed ken convinced the rest of me that I was still in the flat that was mine but that I’d wandered into either (a) an alternate dimension where things were different, beginning with the way I’d chosen to do the place up, being that my neighbour below me was a former paramilitary hitman and had decorated the place accordingly, with lots of soldierly looking plaques and imitation firearms, or (b) I’d slipped behind the curtain of time & space and found myself in a far off future, where it transpired that I was fated to be a paramilitary hitman, and that my neighbour was me, an elderly, infirm me, and here I was watching Old Me, like some type of 2001: A Space Odyssey dénouement, wondering, where did it all go wrong, Dicky?
But then the one thing that throws me out and away from this turning of the prism in the seat of my seeing and perceiving is that it sounded much different down there in the old hitman’s flat than it did up above, in mine. The sound of the waterworks a mile away, the generator hum that rumbled and spluttered to life around that hour, the hour circumstances required I go down speak to him, sounded different, hollower and closer, down in the old hitman’s flat.
What those circumstances were was that a mains pipe under my floor had sprung a leak and water was coming down through a light fixture in his ceiling, threatening electrocution or a giving way of my flat into his, a bleeding together of our realities, an image which sent me back along the yellow brick road of my imagination again, like some impromptu and kaleidoscopic DMT trip.
‘What are you gonna do about this, son?’ asked the old hitman, posing a question that hauled me back fully into the here and now, thus making redundant a hasty grounding exercise I’d just begun to embark on, staring as I was at two imitation revolvers hanging above the fireplace trying to figure out if they were actually imitation. Not that it made any odds to me if they were real or not, the wondering about it just being an effort to centre myself again, that’s all.
I replied, ‘I don’t know, sir,’ as I worked my head up a couple of gears while trying to think up a more satisfactory, much less vague response.
‘You gotta do something,’ said the old hitman as I grew paler and paler.
‘Well doing something’s something I gotta work out up here,’ I replied, tapping my temple.
‘Work it out quicker,’ said the old hitman.
‘Maybe we working together to think of a solution will perhaps furnish us with a work through in double the time it would take me to think something up on my lonesome, no?’
‘Maybe,’ nodded the old hitman nearly imperceptibly. I wondered if it was nodding at all or more the daily onset of his delirium tremens.
I stopped talking for a moment, as did the old hitman. I listened to the drip drip drip of the leak dropping into his bucket in the hall.
‘I’ve emptied 2 of em today already,’ said the old hitman. ‘Fuckin Noah and his ark in here,’ he said.
‘All’s you need’s the animals,’ I replied.
‘Ho ho ho,’ chuckled the old hitman.
More moments of quiet passed, punctuated by the dripping, like a relentless and watery Morse Code.
I noticed the drips would increase in speed then slow again and tried to think of an explanation for this. It was dripdripdrip, then drip…drip…drip. It was dripdripdrip, so that it nearly resembled one continuous stream, or drip…drip…drip, so that in between each droplet, me and the old hitman held our breaths, wondering, was that the last drop?…but, no.
And then, as if this uneven dripping were communicating to me an answer in it’s strange and random inconsistency, I chanced upon a very obvious solution, something I felt my thinking had been presented with by a source from outside my own head.
‘Ring the Housing Emergency Line!’ I told the old hitman. ‘They’ll send somebody out immediately!’
The old hitman grunted and grumbled then took me back to c.1989, listing every single grievance he’d had with housing, from c.1989 to the present.
‘… and so that is why, son,’ he said, after telling me he’d waited 3 years to have his shower installed, ‘I’ll not look the road them bastards are on now!’
‘Fair enough,’ I replied.
We rallied back and forth with some ideas for how we’d deal with it ourselves, exchanged the names of plumbers and sparks we knew, landing on a couple we were on mutual terms with. But then the question of finding out exactly where the leak was coming from came up.
‘We’ll have to go up through your ceiling,’ I said. ‘Mine’s all slab flooring up there. You’re not getting through it without a kango.’
‘Nah, nah, nah,’ said the old hitman, ‘you’re not goin up though my fuckin ceiling.’
‘Well you can’t go down through my floor, it’s practically impossible.’
He didn’t say anything and neither did I. We sat in silence and now in stalemate. For some reason I broke the ice by telling him I’d been taking a lot of acid recently, and that this would speed up my working things all out; thinking outside the box for solutions being an attribute granted by LSD.
The old hitman didn’t reply. He sat staring and staring at me. I wondered if he had understood what I’d said at all. Then, in drawing no conclusion on that, I began to think about my indiscretion in telling him about my fondness for acid – not even having exchanged 2 words with him up till half an hour before – and self-examined myself as to whether I was right in the head.
I noticed the drip drip drip had synched up with the ticking of his clock. I allowed my imagination to transport me once more, and pictured the old hitman standing down on his terrace, staring up at my living room window. I’m standing peeking out from behind the blinds like Malcolm X in that famous snap where he’s waiting for the Nation of Islam to come bump him off, only in this scenario I’m without the M1 Carbine he’s holding in that picture. It’s the old hitman, down on his terrace, looking up, that’s holding the M1 Carbine.
I stared off into the middle distance, straining my creative nous in trying to think up a way for this imagined stand off to end. A car pulled up outside and honked its horn. I waited for the old hitman to ask me to leave.