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Life With Nano
By M.R. Leenysman
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BAM! BAM! BAM!
The noise woke me, sort of. Or maybe the headache did, and the noise gave just that extra push into unwanted consciousness.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
‘Oh, dammit!’ I thought. ‘Which tenant now?’ I groggily pulled myself out of bed, pulled on shorts and tshirt over my briefs, and staggered into the kitchen to reach my apartment’s door, the source of the damned noise. Sophomore Year was over, and maybe I had a little too much rum and coke the night before in celebrating my last final, and trying to forget what the next day was. I didn’t think so then, but that morning, for sure I was regretting it. The clock in the kitchen read 7:10 AM. Dammit, I had planned on sleeping in. Or sleeping it off. Whatever.
I pulled the door open, just as Sofia Flores, from the apartment above mine, was about to pound on it again, so instead her hand swung into the opening, and she couldn’t pull her hand back in time to avoid a glancing blow to my left arm.
“Oh! Excuse me, Mr. Sparhawk, I didn’t mean to hit you,” she said, looking afraid that I’d get mad. After four months in the building, she still seemed to think I had the authority to evict her, when I was really just a glorified handyman and collector of rent checks for the investment trust that actually owned the small five-unit building and let me stay there rent-free as a part-time “apartment manager”. It was about the only thing I could thank my father for recently, since he had set it up, as a director of the trust. Of course, it benefited him financially in that he now didn’t have to pay rent on an apartment or for a dorm room while I went to college, even though he could easily afford either one. More about my Dad in a little bit.
As for the building, itself, it was what New Englanders call a multi-family dwelling. Really, it was just a big 19th century house that had been subdivided at some point into apartments, in a haphazard way. None of the units had exactly the same layout, but in each there was a kitchen, and two more rooms which could either both be bedrooms or one bedroom and a living room. Then a bathroom would attach to any of those three rooms. Mine attached to the kitchen, near the doorway to the room I used as my bedroom. Except for the bathroom door, there were no interior doors between the rooms.
There were two apartments on the first floor, two on the second, and one down in the basement, along with a utilities room. Mine was the smallest, and the largest was the other first floor apartment, currently vacant because its rent was highest. The oddest part of the whole place was there were some remnants of an old heating vent system, that wasn’t used any more after the installation of electric baseboards, but it remained in place and unfortunately for all of us, it conducted sound really well. Like an intercom system you couldn’t turn off. I had clearly heard the fight that led to Sofia breaking up with her boyfriend a month earlier, for example. And most of their sex in the time before that, too, as I’m sure she heard mine with my girlfriend. Ear-buds and headphones were a necessity, both to block out the noise from the other apartments, and to keep from making too much of my own.
I took a breath, before saying, “De nada, Sofia. And please, call me David. What can I do for you this morning?” I hadn’t learned a lot of Spanish from my mostly Puerto Rican tenants in the time I’d been their apartment manager, but I had learned that little phrase of forgiveness. I knew from earlier conversations that Sofia had been born and raised in Massachusetts, and had no real accent, but she still used the occasional Spanish phrase, and I’d picked some up from her and the other tenants. I’d chosen German as a language in high school, which helped me with Spanish not at all.
“It’s the toilet again, David. It’s been running for an hour. I’ve tried jiggling the handle like you said, but it’s still running. Can you come take a look at it?” After the noise that came through those old vents, the second most common complaint from the tenants was the age of the plumbing and fixtures. But I knew the rent was cheaper than the newer apartment complexes in town, so ‘you get what you pay for’ fit this place to a tee.
“Okay, let me get my shoes, and I’ll meet you upstairs.” I closed the door, and walked from kitchen to bedroom to living room to pull on my sneakers, and grabbed the small toolbox that I’d put together in the past year on this ‘job’, and made my way back through my apartment door and up the narrow flight of stairs that led up to the two upstairs apartments.
Just as I reached the top of the stairs, the door to 2B opened, and one of the Vega sisters, who shared that apartment and just one queen bed, came out onto the landing. I said, “Buenos noches, Maria Angela.” Her fraternal twin sister was Maria Clara, so you couldn’t just call either one Maria by itself. Yet, they didn’t want to just be called by their middle names, either. I thought of them as ‘The Marias’.
She chuckled, and rolled her eyes, then said in her lilting accent, “Gringo, ‘buenas noches’ means ‘good night’. You want to use ‘buenos dias’ in the morning. Heh, I thank you for trying, but I understand English just fine, David. You don’t need to speak Spanish for me or my sister to make us feel welcome, and I doubt Sofia needs it either.”
Sofia said from behind me, at her door, “Maria Angela’s right. I was born and grew up here, and my parents chose to speak only English around the house so my brothers and I would speak it well, although mi abuela, my grandmother, still spoke Spanish to us. I know both languages, but I actually think primarily in English. I would also prefer you just spoke English to me, rather than mangling any more Spanish, okay, hombré?”
“My apologies to you both,” I said sheepishly. “I guess I didn’t think that through. Have a good day, Maria Angela.” She continued down the stairs, and I turned back towards Sofia. “Let’s see that toilet,” I said, as she backed into her apartment and let me get by her. Her layout was different than mine, with the kitchen in basically the same place for reasons of plumbing and gas lines, but a little smaller, so the entry to her bathroom was off of her bedroom instead, so we had to walk into her bedroom to get to it. Her bathroom was bigger than mine, with a tub rather than just a shower stall.
I noticed but didn’t comment on the pink rabbit vibrator sitting on her nightstand. So, that was the source of the buzzing I’d heard several times over the past weeks. She had somehow kept herself quiet, but not the vibe.
The toilet turned out to be an easy fix, as the stopper flap had gotten rotated about 30 degrees, so wouldn’t drop into place, and jiggling the handle had not corrected it. I showed Sofia what I was doing, so she’d hopefully be able to diagnose this problem herself if it happened again. She stood close to watch, but not too close. Given the sound qualities of the apartments, I was sure she’d heard me making love to my girlfriend Sheila more than once, and was avoiding any flirting since I was taken.
At least, that’s what I was thinking. I was notoriously bad at picking up signals, so who knew how many I missed? Sofia was certainly a pretty young woman, and I remembered she was 23 from her rental application. She was 5’6”, the same height as Sheila, but otherwise they were pretty much opposites. Where Sheila was blond, blue-eyed and would have been stick thin if not for working out, Sofia was brunette, brown eyes, and as curvy as a mountain road. Not quite to the point of being fat, but I thought she would be at risk of that as she got older. I shook the thoughts of comparing them out of my head, and finished getting the stopper back in position.
After the tank had refilled, I put the tank lid back in place and washed my hands in her sink. She said, “Gracias, David, that was pretty simple. I’ll remember to check for that next time. Sorry to have woken you, but I wanted to be sure I got this taken care of before your classes. I can’t afford a big water bill this month.”
“Actually, my last final was yesterday, and I don’t start my summer job for another week. I’ll be around this week, okay?” I said, as I exited her apartment and headed back to mine to make some breakfast. I grabbed my mail from the box right outside the building entrance before entering my apartment, and started leafing through it. Several bills told me that I needed to go see my Dad about money again.
Sure, I lived there rent-free, but that was the extent of my compensation, and it didn’t leave me time for a part-time job during the school year, so I was dependent on my Dad for money, at least until my summer job at the movie theater started paying.
I knew I had a small trust coming to me when I turned 25, an inheritance from my Dad’s parents, but I couldn’t touch it until then. Even that would be a pittance compared to Dad’s money.
Dad was, simply put, rolling in it. My Dad is Dr. Anthony Sparhawk, a fairly renowned scientist in biotech circles, and he’d founded Dynatech Industries when I was a kid, and built it into one of the top biotech companies in the country, and a major employer in our part of Massachusetts. His net worth was supposedly close to a billion dollars, although he never talked about it. I only learned about that figure from the local newspaper, and even that was a few years ago. Who knows what it was now, but the stock had gone up 50%. It wasn’t enough to get him on the Forbes 400 list, but still plenty of money. He just seemed miserly towards me. I knew why, even if he would never admit to it.
Unfortunately for me, science and I were like oil and water. My sister Carla got the science brains, and because of it had always been Dad’s favorite. When she and Mom died, Dad blamed me, without saying so out loud. Because I’d just gotten my driver’s license when I was 16, I had been getting more practice behind the wheel of Mom’s car in the accident that killed them, on our way to meet Dad for a birthday dinner on Carla’s 21st birthday. Today would have been her 25th, and was the fourth anniversary of the accident. She’d have gotten her share of the trust, too, instead of it becoming mine. My 21st birthday is in another week. That was the other reason for my drinking the night before, and I would probably drink myself blotto again that night. I still missed them both.
Blame had been squarely placed on the drunk truck driver who ran the red light and t-boned us, crushing the right side of the car, and with Mom and Carla both sitting on that side of the car, I was told they were killed instantly. I was pretty banged up, but survived with nothing worse than a hip injury that produced a slight limp in my right leg which really only acted up if I’d done too much on it, or was climbing stairs, and a blank spot in my memory about the crash. I was almost glad for the last. I didn’t want to remember it. At least I would do my drinking at home, because no way in hell was I ever going to be a drunk driver.
Despite the truck driver being at fault, my relationship with my Dad died that day, too. He not only blamed me for killing his wife and daughter, but his heir as well. He was constantly on me about taking over Dynatech one day, but that had been Carla’s dream, not mine. His resentment tinged our every interaction. Which made depending on him financially even harder, and the inevitable lecture I got about throwing my life away on cyber art all the more galling, since that was just his excuse for kicking me out of the house once I started college and giving me only enough money to scrape by on, when he could have given me millions and not even noticed they were gone.
Except today was going to be different. Lives would start changing today. I just didn’t know it yet.