The Lives of Neighbors

Some nights
I hear laughing
loud through the walls.
A mean kind of glee,
a man’s loss of control. 

Toni lives next door
with her husband
or boyfriend
or brother –
Sam,
or Kevin
or Kurt.
Kurt looks out 
of foggy eyes
that look like
they’ve once been kind,
slurs “Hey girlie”
when I
or my roommate
get home. 

Toni speaks in love tones
scraped raw by her hourly cigs.
When I leave in a dress
She always says
“Hey honey, you look cute today.”
I tell her
she looks cute too
and mean it.
In her worn bathrobe
I can tell
she doesn’t believe me.

One day she’s wearing
a bright blue and pink
floral dress.
I tell her
she looks beautiful
and mean it.
She laughs,
a warm rasping sound
like a large-toothed file
grating against cherry wood.
I can’t tell
if she believes me. 

Toni feeds the stray cats
and names one of them Blondie.
She does art projects
with the apartment complex brats.
Elaborate projects with glitter and glue
I carefully step over as I pass by. 

Kurt spends his days
precarious on the balcony.
Beer in hand
or balanced on the railing.
Cigarette in hand
or balanced on his lip.
One foot props open the screen door
so he can see
the always audible TV.
His mood is sometimes cheery
rivaling the giddiness
of kids playing with Toni,
sometimes snarling
rivaling the dejection
of Blondie
and her gang. 

One day
Kurt’s yelling:
“She's got problems!”
to the ears
of our grey apartments. 

Soon after,
Toni tells me
she's leaving.
I hug her for the first time.
She says,
“If you see other girls here
don’t worry about me.”
I want to say
“What girl
would spend time
with bleary-eyed Sam?”
But instead
I tell her that I’ll miss her
and mean it.
File grating against cherry wood.

She’s gone the next day.
I peer through the eyelet
of my always locked door,
see Kurt
same as before.
Beer.
Cigarette.
Door ajar.
Laughing.

I hope wherever Toni is,
she’s wearing 
her blue and pink floral dress.
I hope she's feeling
beautiful.