Please. Please. Please. Please fight. Please scream. Do something. Bang on the walls or throw a chair. Beth had four paintings. She needed nine in two days, excluding the blank trio on her floor. For the last months, that wasn’t a problem. The howling and the crashing of tables always eventually rewarded her with art. Now, she had a deadline. For the one time since they moved upstairs, Bethany Keeler’s neighbours were quiet.
Two days. The blank trio of canvases glared across their whitespace. ‘By Sunday,’ they said. The clock ticked! Her clock didn’t actually tick, but it would have, and it would again. This could not be the night they discovered healthy communication. Please.
Lesson learned, she told herself: don’t bet on blind luck when she’d already kicked its limit weeks ago. How about blind promises instead? This was the last show for Rage Against the Room, for RAR – even though its passion was immense and she could taste the fury wafting from the series’ acrylics – so if only the universe could align and simply squeeze out the rest, Beth could meet her ridiculous quota. Terry’s gallery counted on it. She was counting on it.
Everything she had went into this. Beth even staged her living space around it. Her mother’s floral couch huddled under a pink blanket and against the wall, safer from errant splatters. She’d cleared her table away to lend her canvases the room. Hanging above them, hooked to the ceiling, dangled a system of tubes dripping stuttered lines of colour. It was impressive, if she said so herself. She built it with a fish tank pump and lots of tape.
When her neighbours flipped out, the machine would rattle and draw jagged streaks of flair. RAR’s intensity changed as quickly as the pointless crap they clashed over. Allusions of Crime, for instance, spread lazily due to the breaks they had taken, allowing her liquid hues to stretch across the fibres, but mostly plop at the centre in fat tears. Clearly, those two had less of a problem losing wallets than a sweatshirt. Torn Sleeves bore almost no drops on its belly since the tubes shook so constantly. It must’ve been a nice shirt! But probably not. They lived here; how expensive could something they owned be?
Still, nothing bared teeth as vicious as her Feed the Need collection. For ages, ‘coffee’ sounded to Beth like crack’s newest slang. No, one neighbour just seriously enjoyed Pequods. A hundred fights peppered the story through her depictions and reeked of agony, usually down the vein of the first neighbour screaming at the other to not destroy things, followed by things being destroyed. These creations’ paint ran to her floor in raw excess, devoid of drops anywhere but their brutal edges. Feed the Need exploded, unleashed, and rebelled, and notwithstanding oh God, please don’t let her be in a dark alley with them, the coffee fights were her neighbours’ most vivid inspirations. They won Beth her biggest award to date. Soon-to-be awards, plural, if they frigging returned to it.
Her machine coughed. The already slightly dry paint she’d scraped from a cluster of empty tins was going stale. She clicked off everything. There would be no choosing between supplies and sleeping on the street today. Besides, if the bills crammed under her table’s leg could gossip, the big problem wasn’t the rent but her phone. The forty dollars she saved stretching her paint barely covered her international texts.
Jessica never had those problems. Jessica painted for fun, and she leased a condo with a doorman and a foyer. Her building’s exercise room was a fitness centre, offering more than a broken treadmill and shady weights missing half of every pair. In fact, were Jessica to have muses that went quiet at the foot of her looming deadline, she wouldn’t need to tell Terry sorry, bad news, the neighbours weren’t feeling productively bananas, but instead skip on up there and knock on their door, and that – sounded…
Beth had two options left: a) abandon the designs painstakingly conceived for this exhibition, or b) sprint to a messy, open-and-shut, tag-team murder from above. Option A could work! Doing nothing welcomed every excuse she thought of to not go to their floor, which included selling Terry on the unfinished pieces if she retitled them: The Meek Forgiveness or Interrupted Wounds – crap like that to explain the whitespace. It could resonate! Well, it would bring the total to seven.
Dammit, Bethany… She’d laughed and promised to deliver these early. Now she was stuck for two, exactly as Jessica, with that whole year of experience, had cautioned her.
Between both those pains in Beth’s ass, at least the ones upstairs contributed sometimes. Jessica’s sole talent was shovelling fuel for Pity Petty Rival Parties. Last week, it was over furniture: Beth’s came castoff from family. Jessica ‘discovered’ stuff through feng shui hunts. Normal folk called it antiquing, and if Beth said that, maybe everyone would’ve marvelled as she too surrounded herself with rosy carpets, rosy curtains, and rosy doilies atop a faux-rosewood desk. Instead Beth earned eyes of sympathy, not applause, since rather than renting in a famous city where cheap furnishings begged stylish irony, she lived at a building that let Screamy and Coffee have a key.
She didn’t understand why they stayed. Why share a room? Her neighbours weren’t friends; she knew nothing about them except for that, and she was counting all the time spent capturing their emotions. Were they brothers, possibly? Special needs? She’d only heard the one guy talk. Beth absently paced as she weighed the notion. Yeah. Okay. Special needs. It turned her mind’s eye farther to the side of doubt. The duo probably did what they could to keep the noise down.
Of course, that let a few new implications parade in: neglect, battery, full-on abuse – no. Stop. Don’t. She’d agreed to cross this bridge when she started RAR, and today wasn’t any more the day she started morally crashing. To note, even less proof existed that they weren’t transatlantic crime lords. Whatever their deal, they’d obviously it survived this long. Except…
Oh shit. What if they had died? Oh shit! What if the cops thought she drove them to it? She had the perfect motive to push them! Shit – what if they took her series as evidence? She’d be hysterical! Her art was her life!
Don’t panic! Jam those fears in a corner, Beth! Beyond silence, nothing pointed to foul play. But she had to knock. She didn’t dare still kid herself when the stakes were this high. Fortunately, she didn’t forget to test the waters first. Beth swept the scene, listening and inching her head towards the ceiling. When this failed to provide results, she got a boost from climbing on her couch and doing the ear version of a squint.
Her broom rested on the pantry by the kitchen. She shuffled back with it, and – bracing herself – gave a committed whack to the stucco.
Freeze! Every muscle in her body seized. Oh God. She listened again. Damn, nothing. Never mind. It was probably for the best, anyway. Her first impression shouldn’t be an angry shit she knocked again why?
… Anything? No? Damn.
She moved to part two: room service. Guessing their nightly trigger seemed impossible, and since friendly-coloured clothes might not wash over well, she wanted a neutral palate. Check it off the list: she wore a white shirt and faded overalls, both stiff from paint. Her hair was in a brown ponytail. She couldn’t be more harmless if she tried, so the spattering of freckles on her untanned, easily burned face fit more like a sad bonus than a clever detail.
There. Good luck finding a reason to stab her now. So long as she spoke softly, didn’t make fast movements, left her hands in plain sight, and covered her tracks with an extra lap before home, she should theoretically survive. Unless she became a witness. ‘Loose end’, ‘narc’, ‘rat’, ‘snitch’… God, she hoped ‘coffee’ didn’t secretly mean that.
Two minutes later, she found herself a storey higher and on their free Welcome mat. No one else was around, which she didn’t blame them for. It simply meant she should’ve really left a letter. Too late; pushing forward. The near featureless, Amazon green door was watching her.
Okay. Do it.