The door is locked. Good. Means Woodrow’s not tried to get in as he did last week. He said he’d be back and this time he’d beat you more than black and blue. You unlock the door with the key and push it open a little just in case. You pause and listen. No sound. You stand on the landing three floors up waiting like some schoolchild outside the headmistress’s office for her to call you in. Miss Fort. Yes, that was her name. Mean looking woman with dark eyes behind large lenses. Headmistress of your last school. She could lay a hard smack; sometimes she’d lay a ruler across your palms six times. You peer through the gap of the door and frame. You call out timidly, Woodrow, you there? No answer. You squeeze the key in your right hand until the knuckles whiten. You push the door open a little more and look along the passage. No sign of him. Mrs Crenshaw comes down the stairs from the landing above and stands and looks at you. Your husband was here earlier, she says. Where’s he now? You ask, moving back from the door. Don’t know, she replies. She walks by you, along the landing, and down the next flight of stairs. You hear her mutter to herself until she’s gone. Lot of help she was. You put your right hand on the door and push it open further until it touches the wall behind. The lounge door is open letting light come into the passage from the window. You can hear jazz from along the passage. That’s that Abbot man, always playing his jazz record loud. Woodrow went and complained one night and for a few nights the jazz stopped, but since Woodrow’s been gone, the jazz is back and loud. Some nights he has small parties; women and men come and there’s a lot of laughter and talking and of course the jazz. You enter the passage, but leave the door open for a quick escape if needed. The door to the kitchen is closed. The door to the toilet is also closed. You get to the doorway of the lounge and peer in cautiously. He’s not in there. Seems as you left it. Neat and tidy. You look back along the passage in case he’s come in behind you. No,the passage is clear. You enter into the lounge and look around the room. The door to the spare bedroom is closed. Then you see the door to your bedroom is open slightly. You walk backward down the passage until you are out on the landing again. You are sure you closed all the doors. You breathe hard. He’s in there waiting, standing behind the door. Call the cops, an inner voice says, go down stairs and ring them. You stand, uncertain what to do. You fiddle with your fingers, the key going from hand to hand. He said he’d change your looks for the worse. Last time he broke one of your teeth, split your lips, and blackened your eyes. You bite your lower lip and stare along the passage. Is he back? A voice says behind you. You turn around quickly and it’s Mr Rowland standing there with that James Cagney looking face, a cigarette hanging from his lips. I don’t know, you mutter. He was here earlier on, Mr Rowland says, I saw him hanging around the landing pacing up and down. Where’d he go after? You ask, studying the Cagney looking features. Don’t know, I had to go off uptown and when I came back he’d gone, Mr Rowland replies. He gazes at you for a few moments. Your hair look nice like that Doris, he says, his eyes on your hair, the cigarette moving as he speaks. Does it? You say. Yeah, real nice, he says. If you ever want someone to talk to anytime feel free to come up to my door and knock and we can talk and share a coffee and listen to some Chopin. Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind, Mr Rowland, you mutter. He nods and walks off down the stairs and is soon gone. You can imagine what else he has in mind apart from the coffee and Chopin and talking. A trumpet hits a high note from a jazz record along the landing; it hangs in the air like a bad smell. You can’t stand out here all day, the inner voice says. You walk back along the passage slowly until you reach the lounge doorway. You look across to the bedroom door. It is still slightly open. Maybe you left it open yourself, the inner voice says. You try to think. You imagine Woodrow standing behind the door waiting, his big fists ready to beat. But there is no sound, nothing to indicate he’s there. You move across the lounge floor on tiptoe until you come to the bedroom door. You in there Woodrow? No reply. Woodrow if you frighten me I’ll scream the darn apartment block down. You feel as if you’re about to pee yourself. Your hand pushes the door open more, but it feels heavy as if someone is behind it. You move away from the door and stand in the lounge. Woodrow I know you’re in there, now come out and stop this playing around. No reply. Go in, the inner voice says, see if he’s there. You go back to the door and push it harder. The door opens slowly. You enter in timidly and look around the door with your eyes half closed expecting Woodrow to thump you. But he doesn’t, he just hangs there behind the door, his eyes bulging, staring at you, his mouth open, the tongue poking out the side, his feet dangling puppet like a few inches from the floor. You go to scream, but nothing comes, just a choking sound, a tightness around the throat, a tightness in the breast. You jump back from the door and fall onto the bed behind. You lay there staring at Woodrow’s eyes, sensing urine easing from you, dampening the bed and you and through the wall a saxophone plays loud and clear, an arpeggio of sexy sounds, high and low and high again like a hot summer and an unexpected rain.
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I'm certainly glad you reposted this because it's a really good read with a strong momentum. The random thoughts passing through the protagonist's mind are a clever foil for what's really troubling her. That feels very natural to me, as if I'd behave like that myself under those circumstances.
There's also a sense that this is a 50s period piece (even before you got to 'Woodrow' or 'jazz' or before I saw the photo) which is a nice subtext. I was thinking of film noir as I read. For that reason I don't think the photo is necessary as your writing tells the story. I particularly relish the way you make the jazz initially strident and grating as a theme for her jangled nerves yet develop it into the sound of freedom in the final sentence. That's very good writing indeed. That last sentence from 'through the wall' is utterly perfect in mood.
I'd make one or two minor edits here and there, such as 'A trumpet hits a high note from a jazz record along the landing' becoming 'from the jazz along the landing' but you could polish things perfectly well yourself. A good piece.
This is the first prose piece of yours that I have read Terry, as it is my first venture into the prose section of the website. I enjoyed it very much, and despite distractions around me as people made ready to bed and bid mope goodnight, I was absorbed in the story and wondering how would unfold. A good read.