With a soft click her door shut behind her. She almost fell against it as she leaned back and breathed a silent sigh of relief. Weekend nights at the diner were a killer- always tiring, even Sunday nights.
In darkness she removed her coat, walked to the window, closed the curtains, then back to the door to switch on the light.
She preferred nightshift. No official visits. She was anonymous. Just a face and a pair of hands. She stayed under the radar. Better that way. No friends, no questions. Just money to pay her rent and buy her food.
"Breakfast Timmy," Tracey says, and Timmy comes straight away. "Good boy."
Rick drips from bathroom to bedroom and rushes to get dressed. If he gets out soonish he'll be on time.
He's ready now.
"No thanks," and he kisses Tim's head, kisses Tracey, pushes a tie into his jacket pocket, grabs keys from the breakfast bar, squeezes Tracey's breast and kisses her briefly again, all in one swift, well practiced movement. Then says "Byebye, gang, love you."
Tim's too busy spooning cereal up off his arm to reply. Tracey replies "Love you!" but the door has already closed.
Tracey and Rick haven't long moved in, and half their belongings and most of little Timmy's toys are still in boxes. He doesn't mind: the boxes are his castle and he shoots invisible arrows at his mother as she emerges from the bathroom.
"Let me get some clothes on before you kill me," Tracey laughs, "I want to die decent."
Timmy's not listening. He's heard a tiny sound coming from one of the boxes and he's trying to work out which one.
Tracey's in the bedroom by now, waking Rick, who groans.
"Rise'n'shine, Ricky. It's Monday."
His only reply, "Noooo."
The curtain rises, a man walks on. There are four grey cubes, footstool size, all identical, placed strategically on the stage. The man stops when he is between all of them. He could be a centre, they could be the four points of a compass. But that's a lie, their position is mere chance.
You see, the idea of being placed strategically was also a lie.
There are only four cubes.
Another lie. He pulls another two from the wings.
A third and final lie: the man is a woman. She arranges them together, builds something like an apartment block.
There's constant whispering here when Enoch DeStiy is at home. It's there all the time. Only the telly papers over it.
Sometimes he wonders if it is spirits. His dead wife? Maybe his kids had died, who knew? The ghosts of previous residents? Something supernatural in amongst the magazines? He discounted that last one. If it was, it was- but it obviously meant no harm or it would have killed him years ago.
And all this time his lips move and small words hiss and spin around this confining space, hiss and spin and fall like bitterness and neglected memories.
There's a narrow walkway between the towering piles of magazines that leads to an armchair and, on an adjacent stool, a small tv.
These magazines began to wallpaper this room more than twenty years ago and, like the sheddings of old Enoch DeStiy's flaking skin, they have accumulated ever since. Like deviant tree rings, the piles of magazines have encroached inward, spread like the mould that now furs the oldest of them and cut off access to everything other than door, armchair or tv.
But old Enoch DeStiy doesn't need much room. Just enough to eat and sit and be.
Tisha lies in bed. She's composing her autobiography, an idea she's been playing with for months.
You'd think it'd be easy to get to sleep after a night of passion. But it never is. Nah, not passion, work. Yes, work.
So I lie down listening to the noises of the other residents and watching my curtains pale and lighten. There's a radio coming from upstairs. Cars passing, though it's too early for the street to be noisy with traffic just yet. The main door opening and closing. Footsteps. Nameless people. People with histories.
She buries her head underneath her pillow.
The curtains are usually closed. Not because anyone died, but because, being one of three apartments on the ground floor, Tisha Lopez doesn't want anyone peering in. There's some nosy beggars around here, even that nice Mr Ryland, and they'd all too soon cast the first stone if they really knew what goes on here. Bad enough as it is, the looks and the whispers I get, just because men like my company and I have a living to make.
Tisha folds herself into her bed, her visitor having left. It's been a long night, but worth it for £140.
He turns and stares out of the window. The neat lawn, frosted and paralysed, fronting the apartment pleases him. What doesn't please him are two overgrown hedges separating this property from its neighbour. He'd spoken to them. But they were layabout students. Transients, scum, the- no, he wouldn't swear, not like they had at him.
Then suddenly he stands to attention. Decision made. In his mind he salutes his decision, as if receiving an order. He'd carry it out smartly, to the best of his considerable ability.
He'd rent a chainsaw. And ear protectors. Noise upset him. Definitely: ear protectors.
Daniel Ryland, upright, staunch, fastidious, observes with satisfaction his meticulously tidy apartment. Before he tidied away his solitary glass, single cup and one book he'd experienced an uneasy self-loathing creep under his clothes and rub up against him. But he disowned it, tidied everything away, dusted, hoovered, and for good measure wiped the windows over. Now his place is perfect. He smiles as he stands sentry over his own apartment: this is how it should be.
Nothing unnecessary here. No ornaments. No pictures. Flat surfaces throughout. Clean lines. Function beating fuss. Nothing out of place, nothing. Perfect. Meticulously perfect.
Not once in the past eight years has Maya Reimnitz missed writing to her husband. Every Wednesday she sits at her table, clicks on the lamp and begins. She always starts "I know you will laugh at me, but yet again last night I prepared for this morning by putting my paper and my pen ready" and then she goes on to write about the events of the week or the dripping tap, perhaps even the bargain she found in town. She writes of her love of books, but she fears for her eyes for she's noticed a slight blurring...
Maya Reimnitz has been awake a long time sitting in the dark, a small desk lamp lighting the letter she's writing to her husband. She's repulsed by how old her hands look this morning. They are fifty years older than the age she feels inside, but she knows what she feels inside is a lie because she's had arthritis in her fingers for ten years. It's difficult to hold a pen now, but she wants to write to him because years ago he told her how much he loves receiving her letters.
Outside it's still dark. She begins to write.
All their lives they'd struggled, her and Neil. Pennypinched, economised, did without, while he toiled for peanuts and she polished the desks of billion-dollar profit-making multinationals. But, after twenty years, resilience and hard work paid off and last summer they'd even managed a cheap holiday.
But life sapped them, and though their future had appeared less terrifying, the past had drained all their energy.
And now this: weeks of police investigation and Neil lying in a freezer drawer somewhere.
Joan, sleepless, blank eyed, unable to grieve. This wasn't how it should be. This wasn't Christian. It wasn't fair.
When the scream came, it didn't come from Joan's throat but from somewhere deeper, blacker, somewhere primeval: a comfortless, mournful depth which all humanity shares and all humanity fears, a place of raw and exposed emotion.
Her scream carried into every apartment - but its anguish carried further, disturbing the dreams of sleepers far distant and the hearts of lovers far, far away.
Standing at the foot of the stairs, Joan shook, her trembling appearing exaggerated. Sprawled over the top five steps, her husband's body. And there, at her feet, looking up at her with pleading eyes, his head.
Joan walked towards the apartment block, a short bulky figure, dependable and undemonstrative, composed of headscarf, mac, doggedness and wrinkles. She was slower this morning: the cold stabbed arthritic joints, and at her age she couldn't afford to slip in the snow.
Joan cleaned nearby offices and a bank. In between these main jobs she hobbled, cleaning the apartment's stairs and passageways. As she entered the building (at 7.55am, five minutes behind schedule) the thought of a hot cuppa and a chat later with her husband Neil in their warm and cosy apartment bought an unexpected glow to her face.
Mostly, things happen to us that we expect. Night surrenders to day; the slow illumination of dawn begins; the gradual crescendo to the noise of a bustling day. We've known it all before.
Night's surrender infects each of us: distorts, depending on our mood, transforms, depending on our experience.
Our nights always surrender to this budding of day.
Hahahaa! The budding of day? How very simplistic! How pathetically naive!
Nights don't surrender to the flowering of the light! They step back, perhaps, but never -ever - do nights surrender.
Night becomes invisible.
It becomes an empty stage. Noiseless. Ghost-ridden. Expectant.
It was still dark when the main door of the apartment block opened and a geometry of yellow light buttered the thin layer of fresh snow.
A figure emerged and walked away, quickly disappearing from view. The door closed, the snow lost colour.
Silence, as if the sound of the day's distant traffic waited to begin. As if the stage was set and tension gripped the wings.
And as dawn's curtain imperceptibly rose on the black silhouette of the apartment building, its windows lit up or switched off, depending on need, in a chequerboard lightshow that presaged a new day.