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Number Fifty Two
Apartment number fifty two, near the National Gallery, some Soho off
street. Not much to it, really. The apartment or the area. Two hundred or so years old, probably. It used to be a house, then some old bloke
died and probably gave it to his son who put doors with gold numbers on them
in front of a few rooms and called it an apartment. So - it was.
But apartment number fifty two, was, for lack of a better adjective,
different. Apartment number fifty two was at some point quite a few years before, a place for the servants to live. The kind of rag tag part
of the fancy whole. The back staging, production part the guests aren't supposed to find. Just like the bus depot at the bottom of the
largest suburban mall in America. The white bred tourists don't even know its there.
Fifty two was exactly like that. On the lowest level -- the door under
the stairs. Instead of cold italic numbers on the front, there was duct tape and some slightly illegible letters reading, fifty too. Incorrect
homophone use and all.
What was interesting was who lived in the apartment under the stairs. For some reason, they call him Eleanor Rigby, which bugs me. I was
never really into the Beatles. It wasn't my idea to call him Eleanor Rigby.
What's that? You say, of course it was? I'm the author? Well, let me tell you.
You're incorrect (though articulate) I'm just the narrator. I just tell you how things are. Its up to the writing gods to
decide what to call things, and if the story has a happy ending.
This, however, is beyond the point...
I was fifteen the first time I met Rigby. I didn't call him that for
long - he struck me as more of a Strider. (Some will disagree and some may
sue me on JRR Tolkien's behalf.) Anyway. Fifteen. I was, obviously, at the peak of manhood. I had everything figured out. I had a girlfriend
whom I was in love with, I had my own apartment (sort of my parents rented two apartments in the same building, and I shared the fourth
floor one with my brother Sam) and, equipped with a CD burner and laptop, I owned my own little lovely world. Grades were always good,
and my parents were buying me a Jetta, come my September birthday.
Anyway, my brother Sam and I have this tradition, a silly thing really.
But regardless - this is what we did every Friday night in April we had to go to a concert.
Now, I'm sure this strikes you as sounding relatively simple, but there were several rules for how we had to go about our concerting. Rule
number one this concert, it couldn't be just any concert, it had to be a concert with a band that
we'd heard of, but didn't particularly like. Rule two - We couldn't just buy tickets, like normal people. We had to
find a different way into the place, spending no money at all. The third rule of April
was - Well. We had to meet the band. (Which is actually a remarkably simple thing if you care nothing about their set and are
entirely willing to devote a few hours to stalking them). And finally, once we met them, we had to get an autograph, a picture, a guitar
pick or something. Something to remember them by.
We also were required to hang out with them for at least a half hour, because
I've always hated people who said hello to a band member and bragged about it endlessly to their friends afterwards. Well, those
were the rules.
My brother and I've done this for four years, since I was eleven and Sam fourteen. Its always worked.
This was the fourth Friday of April. The week before, wed met a group called POD, who are absolutely crap, but nice people. We all got
somewhat seriously stoned following the set, but it was complimentary weed, so, there you are.
Anyway, it was eleven thirty. An early night, for it being an April Friday
night. We'd gone to a band called Semisonic, who aren't absolute crap, but still very nice guys. It
wasn't as fulfilling as I had hoped it to be, though. And getting in had been far too simple. (All we did was walk in entirely
ticket-less. No one gave us any crap at all. What sort of a freaking adventure is that?) Oh well, though.
We'd still done what not nearly enough people have the nerve to do.
Sam had taken the car off to Bristol, even though I'd advised him against it. Sam is strange, and almost never drives in normal hours.
Because he usually is never awake. Anyway. I was in the foyer to the apartment building. I looked in my pockets for my key. First, the coat
pockets, which there are four of, then couldn't find them. Which is weird because I swear I remembered putting them in. I checked my
pants pockets then, my grey cords.
It took me quite a while after I realized I was locked out to actually
accept that I was locked out. Where the hell was my key? I didn't
know. Probably on the kitchen table. Crap. I muttered. I was trapped in the foyer. The door outside only opens when you pop in the code
from either outside or inside. If you get stuck in the foyer without your key,
well... I'll bet the builders never thought of that.
I sigh, and place my hand on the intercom. My parents are going to be pissed if they actually wake up. I punch in the apartment number, and
the phone rings. Every ring, I think, ok, this will be the last one but the
phone just keeps going. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring freaking ding. Until I
hang up, and remember, they were visiting my uncle Philip in Wimbledon. And were probably fast asleep there as well.
Great. Effin great. I say, louder than first expected. And scan the list of numbers for a neighbour I can phone I
can't call the other families on the third floor with my parents because,
that's the problem, they are families. With little ones and stuff. I'd never forgive myself for
waking up the little ones at this hour, and, more importantly, their parents
wouldn't either. So, that ruled out the third floor altogether. And we have the second floor.
The Mcfarlane's were out of town, and even if they were in, they
probably would be too busy working on the computer and talking on their mobiles to help. Ian Hales lived in apartment 22, he was a nice fellow in his early twenties, you felt incredibly cool in his presence, as
well. I dialled his number.
It rang, once twice three times. It rang. It rang. And then it surprised me a lot and rang some more. I let the bottom go. Feeling badly,
because if he was at home, I probably woke up and hung up just in time for him to not answer. Another enemy, just what I need in the
building. If I had a yard, they'd all be tee-peeing me constantly. I run my finger down the
list; at the very bottom, there are the numbers, scrawled on, 52. I didn't
think that anyone even lived there. I didn't even know where it was. So, I sat down on the foyer floor. Cold and
wooden, and wished I had a book.
I'm used to going to sleep at about one thirty, so I figured it was about one
o'clock when I started yawning. Which was a good thing, because it meant I only had about a half hour to go until
I'd be sleeping. So I sat. Yes, still wishing I had a book. If I had a book, I thought.
I'd almost probably be reading it. I sat, and looked at my mobile phone that had fallen out of my pocket. Unfortunate that foyers to apartment
complexes don't allow you to call anyone from a mobile phone. Very unfortunate indeed, but I watched the screen, thinking that maybe if I
watched it long enough, it would find some forgotten service and it would allow me to call whomever the hell I pleased.
Then I heard a noise just outside, in the apartment building.
I watched, cautiously. And then I saw it. A long leg and skinny body wiggled out of the staircase. Not the stair case exactly, but
the area underneath the staircase. A young man, probably in his twenties came
out of the stairway, and, well, stared, directly at me on the inside of the foyer.
Quick as lightening, I got to my feet, and started banging on the door, even though I was well aware of him already seeing me, it seemed like
an appropriate thing to do, bang on the door. And this weird bloke. He looks a bit like a chick, he punches in the code, and lets me in.
Considering me with this kind of parental look, he says,
"Hullo, mate." He looks at me like I had locked myself out on purpose.
"Hi! Look, mate, thanks so much for being up. I thought I was going to
have to spend the night out there." He stares at me, and then back at the
foyer door, and then at me. He seems, somehow, terribly confused.
"Just a moment. Are you the boy they sent?" He slams the foyer door, runs a quick hand thru his greasy blonde hair, and grabs me by the
shoulder. Pulling me towards his still open, apartment door.
"Come on, then. I have the envelope for you," He mutters quickly. He throws me into the apartment under the stairs, and with a quick,
paranoid look around the area, he comes in himself. I hear two locks bolt. There is a painful silence as I grope for the wall behind me, and
he turns on an overhead light. Just before I fall backwards, I realize that the wall is nowhere near me.
I straightened up, adjusting my glasses.
"Look, mate. I don't know what on earth you're playing at," I laugh nervously.
I'm only the guy that got locked out of his house, c'mon, mate. I laugh again, but the man
doesn't seem to be paying me any attention.
We're in the living room of his apartment, which is far less cramped than you would think, and quite a bit more modern and sleek than you
would expect apartments not appearing in Vogue Magazine to be. The couch looks like it costs more than my laptop. The bloke
who's just let me in is tearing around his living room. He jumps over one of the
couches, the black one, and he snatches up a file lying under the glass coffee table, and
holds it tight to his chest.
"Look. We've got to go." He takes a sharp look at me, and runs back to the door. Unbolting the locks, he talks in a low, quick tone.
"Ive had this thing forever, I never thought..." He cracked the final lock and swung upon the door.
"I don't know who you think I am..." I begin to say, frantic to get my words out before he can interrupt.
"Don't screw with me, mate!" Then he shoots me this thoughtful, sympathetic look.
"I'll explain soon," is what he told me, and for some silly reason, I
trusted him. I followed him out.
Where was out exactly? What sort of errand was this bloke taking me
on? I didn't have a clue. But, there we were. Running and twisting down strange streets. Strider was talking to me along the way. There
was barely a moment when he wasn't saying something.
"I didn't ask to end up with this thing, mate. Do you know what they said when they gave it to me? Nothing, effin nothing. I suppose that
was just what these blokes were looking for, just another guy, you know, just another guy, normal one, walking down the street, that
people don't look twice at, you know. Someone trusty looking too, that
wouldn't betray people. You know."
We half ran for a long time, until we came to a mail box.
Just a simple, bloody mailbox. There are mailboxes everywhere. We could have
gone to one of them, but no, we had to run for an hour in the cold to come to this one? I watched Strider, with interest and exasperation,
as he slid the file onto something under the mailbox.
He turned around, took a deep breath -- "That's all, mate.
We're thru now." Slowly, the two of us walked to the street corner, and, just to make the evening more like a bad
cliche, it started to rain. And I think that's when it hit my new friend
Strider; he stared at me, like he had when he first saw me. Or maybe
that's the moment he thought it best to say it.
"You weren't the boy they sent, were you." Strider said, looking me up and down, and I looked at myself, myself. Just another scrawny, black
"Nope," I say, simply, and a thought strikes me as Strider smiles
this great, all the world is wonderful, smile.
"You knew that all along though, didn't you." He rolls on his feet.
"Uh, why'd you..."
"You were in the way of my getting out the door. Besides, you owed me. I let you in."
I started hanging out with Strider a lot more after that night, and it was strange. He was like me, but older. Like my brother, but with
more wisdom. Exactly like my father, but open. He was, one of my better friends.
We'd sit and talk after that crazy rainy night sometimes, and one day he told
me what was really going on the night we met, as long as I didn't tell anyone else. And, as of yet, I
haven't. He told me about what it was all, really, about. He said he had to be someplace then, gave me a grin, and walked off.
The night after he told me about the file, or the envelope, or whatever
it was, he wasn't around anymore. Now that he's gone, (I doubt forever) I understand what he said when he told me what it was all,
really about. He said that the file wasn't really what that night was about. What
was important was what the night was about. And the night was about realizing this: If you think you have it all figured out,
you don't. There will always be someone to screw you up when you think
you've got it figured out. There will always be a something a stranger wants you to take away
with you. And the only way to learn more is just to follow him out.
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