THE NEIGHBOR • by George Nevgodovskyy

I’ve been afraid of elevators my entire life.

It’s not as uncommon as you’d think. People avoid elevators for different reasons.

Claustrophobia. The possibility of stalling. Of plummeting.

For me it’s the interaction with strangers. Being stuck inside a cage, forced to stretch the corners of my mouth, make eye contact and banal conversation.

This was a problem when I first moved into The Flair.

I had just landed a promotion at my company and could finally afford to live in a building like The Flair. I’d expected the promotion. I had no friends at my job — an advantage most coworkers didn’t possess. What I hadn’t expected was the culture of conversation pervasive in The Flair. By the mailbox, in the hallways, the lobby, and of course, the elevator.

For me, the concept of loving your neighbor had always felt overrated. These days, you can customize your life to the most precise degree. You watch whatever you want. You order food from any part of town. Groceries delivered. Garbage down a chute. Internet down, call a help line. No reason to ever engage with anyone you don’t want to engage with.

Somewhere along the way, neighbors stopped serving any purpose in our modern lives.

There were, however, several residents of The Flair who did not share my perspective. The old turtle-faced queen from floor seventeen, who was always going for a smoke in baggy basketball shorts. The hotshot office bro from six, whose face always looked shiny and moist. And sometimes the fashionista mom, the jaunty dad, and the little girl from twenty-two — the floor below mine — who I’d see some mornings on my way to work.

“Push the button, sweetheart,” the mother would say, and very intently, like it was her job, the little girl would push P2 for their parkade.

My strategy was simple: dispense minimal acknowledgement until they got the hint. I got some dirty looks at first, but eventually the residents clued in.

Everyone but the girl. Children would fight endlessly for your attention until you acknowledged their tiny existence.

“Lacey, stop staring,” her mother told her on one such occasion, smiling at me apologetically, to which I gave nothing more than a somber nod.

Over time we all came to a mutual understanding. I didn’t pay them any mind, and they returned the favour. I basked in the silence of our elevator rides, our encounters at the mailbox.

And everyday existence at The Flair became a little easier.

***

When I found out about my diagnosis I retreated into myself completely. I switched to working from home and barely left my apartment. Like those obese people on reality shows.

Eventually, I even stopped returning the doctor’s calls.

Doctors, in my opinion, have become as vestigial as neighbors. Patients have already diagnosed themselves before even entering their offices. They’re aware of the pros and cons of each option for treatment and have already made up their minds. A doctor’s visit is just formality.

That’s why, without having spoken to her, I knew my doctor’s next steps would involve a procedure. Invasive and uncomfortable, with the possibility of making matters worse.

But the truth was I didn’t mind dying.

It helped knowing there was nothing for me to live for. And I’d go just as I’ve always wanted to — softly, quietly in the night — without any rage or resistance.

My death would be peaceful. It would be perfect.

Dylan Thomas had no idea what he was talking about.

***

It’s a cold Monday in February when my office calls, asking me to drop by and pick up a file that’s too sensitive for email.

Reluctantly I fish my boots out of the closet and see they’ve gathered dust.

Just getting on the elevator feels alien. I push my button and it immediately begins to descend. But it comes to a halt just as quickly, stopping one floor below. My mouth emits an involuntary sigh of annoyance before the door opens, and the parents from twenty-two get on without their daughter.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of The Flair’s regulars — or anybody for that matter. And they seem different now. The dad isn’t his usual cheery self. The skin on his face looks dry and unkempt, while the mother who’s always impeccably dressed sports an oversized hoodie and pyjama bottoms.

When they enter the parents don’t register me. In fact, they don’t even seem to register each other. They stand there vacantly as the door closes behind them and the elevator continues its descent. They don’t move to push the button for their floor.

21. 20. 19. They remind me of ghosts. Like they’re haunting this building. Like they’re not even really there. Except they are.

18. 17. 16. I look at them. Stare like their little girl stared at me. And where was that girl, anyway?

15. 14. 12. I see the mother’s hair is all disheveled. The father has mismatched socks.

What happened to these two?

11. 10. 9.

Finally, without thinking, I reach forward and push P2 before they miss their floor.

The mother looks at me with red eyes while the father continues to stare vacuously at the steel door.

“Oh,” she says. “Thank you.”

“Welcome,” I say, the sounds slurring into an indecipherable mess from lack of practice.

They get off on P2 and I exit on the next floor.

As I walk to my car my footsteps echo through the concrete parkade. I open my car door, sit behind the wheel, and leave the key in the ignition. Then I put my face into my hands and cry.

***

The next week I call my doctor back and confirm a follow-up appointment.

Some weeks later, on my way to the café next door, I notice the parents loading their stuff onto a moving truck beneath the early Spring sun. When she sees me, the mother surrenders the smallest sliver of a smile.

I smile back. 


George Nevgodovskyy was born in Kiev, Ukraine, but has lived in Vancouver, Canada for most of his life. He has previously been published in East of the Web, Rejection Letters, Idle Ink, trampset, and others. He does his best writing after everyone has gone to sleep.


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Every Day Fiction