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Allison shook her head, picked up a magazine she’d brought over, rolled it up and shoved it into her purse. “You know, there are a few things I’ve been upset over lately. Taken individually, they don’t seem important, but they keep adding up and, well, I’m thinking maybe this whole thing just isn’t working out.” She headed to the coat rack.
Marcus waved his arms, something he did when upset. “You mean you’re breaking everything off just because I don’t want to kiss birds? And because big dogs scare me? What about you? You’re afraid of spiders, which I think is ridiculous. Teensy things like that can’t hurt you while big dogs can!”
He was astonished to see the fury in her face. “Spiders have killed loads of people,” she yelled. “Probably thousands over the centuries! Black Widows, Brown Recluses, the Australian Funnel Web!”
She had her arms full now — he hadn’t been aware how much of her junk had been in his apartment. Her hair swirled wildly in different directions. She did have beautiful hair.
“We’re done,” said Allison firmly.
He shrugged. “Whatever.”
Over the next couple of weeks, Marcus went to and from work in a semi-zombie state. He was a network systems administrator for the local school district. At home, he wasn’t sleeping. This happened each time he got dumped, which now amounted to five times. After Emily Goldsmith broke up with him in the middle of Ex Machina at the mall cinema, he hadn’t scored more than three hours a night for two weeks and as a result he made a pretty bad mistake at work.
So now, staring at the ceiling at 1:00 a.m., he did not appreciate the godawful racket emanating from the apartment above. What on earth were they doing up there, dropping bowling balls?
In the mood to murder, he pulled on some pants, stormed out the door and up the stairs. The building, an old Queen Anne, had been made into apartments in the 1990s. His apartment was on the first floor back, number 1C. He’d been upstairs only twice and wasn’t even sure who lived up there. He climbed the steps to locate 2C and pounded on the door so hard he thought he heard splintering.
The door opened. A haggard-looking woman stood there. “Yes?” she said. The hideous racket continued to emanate from the back of the apartment, a very angry child bellowing and banging things. “I suppose you’re here about the noise.”
“Well, yeah,” said Marcus. “I do, like, have a job and I have to sleep so I can actually work, if you know what I mean.” His desire for sarcasm was fast dying at the sight of the woman’s exhausted face.
She sighed. “Do you mind stepping in?”
He stepped in. She closed the door.
“It’s my daughter. She’s ten years old and autistic. Once in a while she acts up like this. My husband used to calm her down, basically by hugging her tightly and sort of rocking her back and forth, but he left us a month ago.”
Behind her appeared a cat, black and white with green eyes. Weirdly, the cat and Marcus exchanged a look and it was as if some kind of understanding passed between them. This happened fast and was quite uncanny. The cat then disappeared somewhere.