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The Lady Upstairs

The Lady Upstairs

Sailors used to visit her. The ceiling would thump above us. They called her siren and port and home. They spoke of her kindnesses, her many soothing ways. They snorted and spit in the streets, puffed their chests like birds walking invisible wires as they waited, their pipes poking the air in front of them. Yet, once they reached our stoop they hung their heads low, they took off their hats humbly, they bowed to us littles. But, once she summoned them they nearly knocked us over to get to the lady upstairs, her change shuffling in their pockets.

They left rosy-cheeked, calmed. After the ruckus, little rings of smoke stretched out into the night sky above us, white and thick until they were just air. We’d look until her hand dangled out the window, her thin arm covered in jangling bracelets, tapping the ash off the tip of the cigarette. We didn’t see much of her, but when we imagined her she was made up, rouged, beauty-marked, her eyes covered in dense purple when they closed.

Once she passed us and boomed, “Why aren’t you littles listening to music?” We looked up from our marbles puzzled. “You’re young, you oughta be dancing!”

The day the ceiling shook like angry thunder the lady’s yelps turned to screams. Our mother rushed up the stairs. Yells and bellows, muted through the ceiling, turned to stomps and thuds. Then mom walked into our apartment, carrying the lady from upstairs. She said, “off the sofa.” The lady was naked, bleeding from the nose. “Blanket!” mom demanded. But the lady from upstairs shook her bracelets in protest.

“Let ‘em see me,” she said. My mom nodded her head just once and placed a palm towards us to halt. When the police came they carried out the lady’s visitor slung between two of them. His face looked badly beaten. His head hung low as he passed us, our open door, my mom leaning against the jam with her arms crossed, still.

Mom never closed our curtains that night. She said, “Let ‘em see her, let ‘em see all of us. They like to tell their tales.” Mom turned the radio on. She watched us jump and wiggle. We watched the lady from upstairs roam our apartment from room to room, sauntering, shimmying, sometimes crying all the while. She only wore socks. The floorboards bent and sunk beneath her. When she closed her eyes her lids were caked white like the rest of her face. Black fireworks stained her cheeks from the thick half circles of liner beneath her eyes. The upstairs was silent. My mom leaned against the plaster, her arms still folded. Beneath her skin was bones and blood and insulation. She held the whole place up. The lady called her foundation.

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