The room smelled of cigarette smoke and a musky animal. It was small and dingy, though tidy. Its only three windows looked upon an airwell. The Honeymooner's brick wall that was the view looked about ready to sprout arms or teeth, then make a monstrous lunge for the apartment's sole tenant, an old man with no television.
This old man liked to listen. It was one of his favorite things to do. Behind him, above the twin bed he occupied, were two canvasses: one painted with nine mouths; its partner in the diptych consisted of nine eyes.
Sometimes the old man heard people in the airwell. They talked to him or about him. Some seemed hostile. Then there were the people who talked through the walls. Some were his friends. Still others professed hatred and a desire to kill him.
They wanted to kill him in the most amazing way: they were going to shoot him and trick him into thinking he hadn't been shot. It was very novel. They would try to pick fights with him as they (almost supernaturally) managed what and who he might see or hear. Who was real? Who was not? It seemed like a hunt.
But he understood there was disagreement among them about what to do with him -- somewhere beyond him. This world felt so full of love and support (he certainly was a kind old man and a good friend to others.) Where did these threatening people come from? He'd never really quite met them. Whoever among them whom he might be able to see kept their distance.
He seemed somehow tragically wedded to their desire to kill him. He felt drawn to them as they encircled him. Sometimes they claimed to be authorities, such as cops or government people. Or they were doctors and nurses with a grudge. It made no sense to him. It was like someone else's nightmare, to which he was addicted.
When they were cruel, he barked back, or laid down in bed and let the hatred just wash over him.
The old man got the sense of constantly being rescued as a stranger's voice (sometimes a man, sometimes a woman) seductively and sadistically entreated him to "feel pain for once in his life." They liked bullets a lot, delighting to tell him they could wait to shoot him through the wall as he lay in his bed.
It had gone on for years. So many times he thought for sure he was going to be killed. Dead certain.
He took hope as much as possible. But death was such a reality for him. He knew his own was inevitable.
And the voices saddled him with obligation, or tried to, implying often that he was responsible for some vague offense necessitating his execution.
He remembered his childhood nightmares. One, he recalled, was about a great cyclone come down from the sky to devour him. In another, a man dragged him headfirst through a car window; the car then collapsed on his head.
The voices threatened his family, or said they had killed them. He laughed -- what family had he left? He was very old, and alone in the world.
Sometimes he laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. They seemed so stupid. They never stopped threatening and just did what they said they would. They seemed to have so much patience, yet so little: one day soon he would die anyway. Couldn't they just leave be?
He got by, and still liked to chat with some of them. One girl flirted with him. Someone else said the bad guys were all done for and everything was fine. Good news was nice.
He supposed, one day, towards the end, that he should stick to expressing gratitude. Overall, there seemed a shadow of regard and respect for him among them. At least people care enough to do even what seemed like the wrong thing! It have him hope not only for his own hide, but even for his professed enemies, who surely if attacking him was their pastime led very self-destructive lives. But at least they took interest in him, someone other than themselves. That's a redeeming quality. He finally grew to view them with compassion, and to feel some love for them (though they informed him in no uncertain terms they had nothing but hatred for him -- perhaps they didn't love anybody.)
He found them in the end honest, at least. He thanked them.
He continued to wait. Some say for years.