Publish Novella 12 November 2023
EPISODE 2 – MOVE ON
Sally feels she’s handled situations well and looks forward to finishing touches on her new apartment, if disturbing sounds abate in this thrilling conclusion.
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The next day the need for grocery shopping becomes urgent. With so much work to complete decorating the apartment, Sally opts for frozen meals that she can warm up in the oven. She limits the number of items to that which can fit within three grocery bags so there’s only one trip up the stairs from her car.
efore she can make it home, Sally receives a phone call from the district manager, asking her to stop by the office to sign some paperwork. With perishables, she indicates that she can only do so briefly. When she steps into the large facility, the absence of any women strikes her as odd.
Without a designated parking space, she ends up on the street two blocks away. This adds to her cardio workout for the day. Finally back in her apartment, she puts a frozen pizza in the oven and begins masking the next room for painting.
By the time she’s admiring her creative abilities while chewing the last pizza slice and sipping a beer, Sally hears the thumping again. A woman’s cries for help is distinct. “Somebody help me, please! Call the police!”
There are footsteps in the hallway. Then someone begins banging on doors, including hers, with the flat of her hands before being dragged back into the apartment next door. At least, that’s how it sounds.
Again, Sally phones emergency services. The dispatch operator recalls her from the night before and this time requires a name and callback number. She swallows her prescription medication to calm her nerves. It has side effects, which can include hallucinations and muscle weakness.
When police arrive, there’s indistinguishable mumbling outside her door, but she remains inside for anonymity. Then Sally hears an authoritative knock. “It’s the police, ma’am. Could you please step out into the hallway?”
After confirming the uniform and badge through the peephole, Sally complies. But she immediately feels unsafe when she sees her neighbor’s door is open. The officer instructs, “Tell this man what you heard.”
When she steps nearer, she recoils from his musk, but admits while quivering, “I heard what sounded like punches and a woman screaming for help, less than thirty minutes ago.”
“Sir, this gives us probable cause to search your premises. Ma’am, you can go back inside your apartment. Thank you.”
Sally rushes into her unit and latches all the door locks without knowing how the matter resolves. She hears sirens, possibly from an ambulance, leaving from the front of the apartment building. With enough excitement for the day, she cleans her paint brushes and rollers—pausing to estimate the scope of the task she has undertaken.
Forgive or Forget
After placing a frozen entree in the oven, she hops into the shower, hoping that the tepid water will relax her nerves. The treatment comes to an end when the trickles run cold. So she towels herself dry, slips on some clean underpants, and steps toward the bedroom for her robe.
Before getting there, the backlight illuminates a large periwinkle footprint on the wooden floor beyond the bathroom. This colorful symbol of a bright future now evokes memories of childhood family violence.
The musk scented palm of a hand silences her screams and drags her into the bedroom. Scratching, biting, and kicking intensifies the assailant’s forcefulness. When he wraps duct tape around her mouth and head, leaving her hands and ankles free, she realizes that she’s in a battle for her life.
More than a foot shorter than her opponent, she becomes the object for reminiscent thumping against the walls while trying to ward off blows. The medication she took earlier is relaxing her muscles, which slows her reflexes.
Succumbing to exhaustion within the acrid cloud emanating from the burning oven entree mixed with musk, she becomes a thud on the blood-stained bed. Now she’s fearful that a bad situation will get worse.
The silent neighbor escapes through the same open balcony window into which he came. After regaining her breath, Sally latches all the windows and carefully removes the tape from her head.
The next day, like everyone else on the floor, she ignores more of the familiar thumping sounds. Her furniture arrives. Everything gets set up just perfectly. But standing in the bathroom mirror, looking at her swollen lip and bruises, she realizes that her apartment is far from perfect.
Sally becomes another, in a long line of women, to quit before beginning her first day on the job. On her way back north, she files a police report devoid of any criminal description detail at the station. It does, however, allow them photograph her injuries.
The company that hired her, again advertises an open position, and the apartment landlord paints over the bright colors with foreboding dingy grays. The district manager climbs the same steps she previously ascended, entering the next-door apartment and sitting down to play an action video game.
Sally returns to the comfort of a roommate in the town where she grew up. Within an emotional embrace, the dear friend feeds her comforting Chinese food from the tips of chopsticks. Not far from a father that still brings chills, she resumes therapy to package all her vivid traumas.