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Misanthropy


 By Mark Koff

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Misanthropy


 By Mark Koff

Episode 1

 

IT WAS A NORMAL DAY.

Or maybe, a typical day. 

A day that one could only imagine as the ideal setting
for a twenty-something's walk,
down a street,
while living in the city.

"The city," I thought. What an egotistical thing to say.

There was a man walking in the same direction on the opposite sidewalk. 
A glint of peripheral familiarity caught my attention, so I looked.
It was vague, maybe a blurry representation of some guy.

"It's too sunny out," I thought.

But I knew him.
We somehow maintained a similar cadence while walking,
yet he was preoccupied with his own determination.
He couldn't be that determined, could he?
He looked straight forward.
Headphones on, sunglasses on,
strutting uncomfortably fast in this makeshift sort of gait. 

This city is fucking huge, yet I always run into these people.
"You fucking people!"
I said it aloud while we were both stopped at a crosswalk.

Nervously, I chuckled. Then looked down.
Of course. Of-fucking-course. 
My peripheral vision always knows when I've done something wrong.
And his body was now facing mine,
I knew it, I knew it was. 


"Don't just stand there!" he yelled. 


Then I think I threw up, or I spit up something.
It spurted out, like in a movie. As if I had it in my mouth already.

It was fake. 
A puddle of brown sludge with specks of rice, right there on the cement.
I don't think I've had rice for at least a few months, so this made zero sense.
Unless that wasn't rice. Who knows.

Then I was spinning. Spinning in circles, I wanted to stop, run away.
But this guy knew my intent. He knew, oh, he knew.
Yet I could only move in slow motion, and there was this heavy, anxious force,
like I was plunging down the first roller coaster peak.

 

"What? What do you think? You think I'm crazy?"


The man opposite the sidewalk just stared at me,
but that's when I got a good look at him.
I think it was Jim, or John, or Joe.
One of those guys from high school, remember?
Now they're all here, in "the city." 



"Oh, well, uh–" 
She let out a brutal, commiserative pause.

"I'm – sorry, Mark, I really am.
I-I don't know what to do. I mean, it's  probably just nerves.
Try resting some more, that should help–" 


"I was resting, that's what I was doing! 
Clearly you can get a sense of what I'm going through here at least, right?"


"It's normal, yeah, I'm sure it is.
Look, I'm gonna have to call you back later.
I need to get a bunch of errands done today, and well,
there's just not enough time in the day, you know?"

 

 

||

 

 

"Sure, whatever."

Mark pressed the "End" button on the touchscreen of his iPhone with repeated, awkward force.
The phone seemed to retaliate against this uncalled-for inanimate aggression, rejecting any sort of recognition whatsoever.

These talks with his younger sister never ended well.

Not to mention, he found his left leg asleep as he stretched it out on the bed. It had been in an uncomfortably mangled position underneath him the whole time. Mark sacrificed his own bodily positioning to prevent any dull moment or lapse in the unorthodox recounting of his dream. He never told anyone about his dreams, and consequently, wasn't planning on doing so again. 

There was to be no more pity. Not from his sister, not from anyone. He didn't express such deep emotion for mere pity. Mark wanted affirmation, and it was very hard to come by.

Dramatically, he jumped down off of his highly-risen bed, only to find his completely numb left leg collapsing beneath him. Mark began falling to his left, directly toward a black, shoddily-assembled IKEA desk, where numerous half-empty glasses of variously colored liquids were stacked and tightly squeezed together on its edge. Eventually he was going to bring them into the kitchen to clean them, maybe even put them away, but now that they were about to shatter and spill all over the floor, well, 
at least he wouldn't have to.

With a bit of serendipity, his cellphone, still clasped tightly in his left hand, caught itself in a piece of twisted bedsheet as he fell onto his knees. The spiraled sheet locked around his wrist and propped him up firmly on the bed's edge, preventing him from falling any further. Mark remained in this knelt position on the mahogany wood floor, one arm wrapped inside the twisted sheets looking like a dangling marionette, now dreading the possibility of doing the dishes.

 

||

 

The cellar-like, heavy bedroom door creaked open, spewing an ugly yellow light onto Mark's unkempt presence. His long brown hair scraggly, his puffy cheeks unshaven, all exemplifying his apparent destitution. He crept out of his bedroom barefoot, wearing a baggy, wrinkled navy blue t-shirt and a pair of faded maroon soccer shorts that he's had since high school. The door slammed incredibly loud as it closed behind him and he jumped, leering back at it accusingly.

This was the building's first-floor communal hallway.

Peering in both directions, he looked for any sign of life. To his right, the building's entrance vestibule where, quite visibly, the bottom half of the front door was partially kicked-in, a bent piece of its rectangular metal plate jutting out toward him. This created a small opening, a crevice to the outside world, partially allowing a stream of sunlight to project onto one of the building's mailboxes embedded into the neighboring wall. The sight reminded Mark of an incident a few nights prior when someone decided to kick the door down.

But the scene in front of him remained somewhat illusory.

 

She wasn't doing herself any favors.
Throwing a fit at two in the morning – 
shrieking, yelling, crying, at times coughing and choking, her voice hoarse and crackly.
She was trying to get anyone's attention in the building, knocking with her fists, 
ringing every apartment doorbell incessantly.
Mark had experienced the tumult from his first-floor bedroom. 
He had a front-row, wide-eyed seat on the edge of his bed.
It struck him that there was a distinct possibility it could've been
the middle-aged foreign woman that lived above him. 
She did have coughing fits throughout the night,
which he often wearily deplored.

But how was he to be absolutely sure that was her?  

It was a risk Mark wasn't willing to take.
Even the slightest of glimpses, perhaps by peaking out of his bedroom door
or behind his window's curtain, would have implicated his direct involvement,
eventually leading to her knocking on his window that faced the street.
She'd shift aside her own negligence and failing health to place the blame on him.

The futility of her situation didn't come from
a place of cooperation and good-naturedness, that was apparent.
Nothing positive would result from dealing with her.  
And Mark was no hero, no savior.
He absolutely did not want to die for the sake of congeniality.
That in itself would be a testament to stupidity. 
So it was undoubtedly better she not know of his existence.

The yells soon turned to horrendous, repeated thumps.
That's when Mark decided to feign sleep,
or fabricate his unconsciousness insomuch
that his body would actually believe it.

Although, it didn't. 
It rarely did.

 

Strangely, the bottom half of the door wasn't fully kicked-in. Certainly not enough for one to reach inside and grab the handle. If it were the woman who lived upstairs, how did she even end up getting home? It struck Mark that, quite possibly, she never returned. He slowly bit a piece of skin off his lip, then sucked on the opening where blood began to seep out. 

Could Mark have caused her eventual demise? Maybe she's still roaming the streets, unable to convince others of her sanity. That she once had a home, a home to seclude her and her coughing fits from the rest of the world. Maybe her illness got the best of her, and all of that night's cacophony was the last bit of strain her body could endure. She died with one final, momentous cough, probably symbolizing some harsh injustice she was going through. 

"It's stupid to think about hypotheticals like that though," Mark thought, sifting the bittersweet remorse out of his mind.

He looked to his left. Only the desolate hallway. There was an overwhelming smell of diapers, or baby powder. What's the difference? Mark recalled walking past a woman in the subway who had perfume on with a similarly putrid scent, that of freshly diapered newborn babies. Perhaps it was a scent for aspiring mothers. Or just the indelible smell of actual ones.

Mark breathed in deep with the intentions of letting out a disgruntled sigh, but choked on the diaper miasma and coughed through his exhale. Footsteps clamored above him, probably three or four floors up. To mask himself, his presence, he brought his cough down to a soft sputter. Now, even more enraged due to his hindered breathy release, he pulled in air slowly, more meticulously, only to let out an emphatic sigh, which out of pure fervor, turned itself into a moan with unintentional sexual undertones. It left him silent, uncomfortable. The footsteps upstairs stuttered, hesitated, then a door creaked open only to click itself closed soon after. Alone again, he walked to the left toward the rest of his apartment.

There was something inherently off about this hallway, something he had overlooked the previous days, even the previous year he'd lived here. But he couldn't place a finger on what it was. For now, it would just remain as the bane of Mark's existence. The single light fixture hanging centrally above, with its impossibly low-wattage bulb that occasionally flickered. The wall's gray tones matching the horrendous sponge-like rubber floors below, those one may find in a locker room. There was no design element to this building. Everything was just thrown together, somehow melding itself into a residential structure.

"Like an island formed from a volcanic eruption," Mark thought, then smirked proudly as if his internal dialogue made him more intelligent. His mantra of "if only you knew" presided everywhere he went. Even if he were the only one who knew.

Mark continued down the long hallway toward the other areas of his apartment, those accessible through an alternate entrance. These other areas consisted of the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, and two other bedrooms, all modestly furnished behind the peeling metal slab of a door that Mark was now approaching. All of the doors in the building were heavy slabs of metal. A design that was crafted after a prison, surely.

"Or a public high school that itself was crafted after a prison." Mark's thought seemed all too accurate, and knowingly angsty.
But then again, who didn't lament over their horrific high school experience these days. "You weren't cool if you didn't," Mark mouthed, internally chastising himself for having thought of such a trite sentiment.

There was darkness for a brief second when the light above flickered, stopping Mark in his tracks. 

The broken light has remained a nuisance for the past year that Mark has lived here. Both the super and landlord from the building's elusive management company, Carefree Management, were nonexistent. The only company representative Mark had ever interacted with was a Hasidic teenage boy, no more than 16 years old. Mark signed the lease to his apartment on the building's front sidewalk. After he gathered all of the signed paperwork, the taciturn boy shakily handed over the keys then ran off, his peyos fluttering in the wind. He jumped into a black minivan parked nearby with the sliding door already opened as if he were kidnapping himself, then the car skidded off.

The erratic light flickered again. "What if I had epilepsy?" Mark proposed mentally. Rash, vindictive thoughts filled his head. Finally, a chance to sue the management company. Or the very least, have the light fixed.  Maybe Mark would ask some of the mysterious neighbors if they were bothered by it too. But then again, that'd probably be too intrusive. He hadn't actually spoken to any of the building's other residents before, let alone seen them. Since he was on the first floor, it was an easy evasion. But it wasn't his responsibility to stir up a protest regarding this light. It should have been taken care of by the people who were supposed to take care of it. Mark would just have to file an anonymous complaint via 311, per usual. Their loss.

Barefoot, he tiptoed along. The floor was disgusting. A squashed grape, a glob of spit. Mark looked up through the narrow rectangular opening that the rising staircase had created. That was where the chubby boy was committing his mischief.  One time not too long ago, Mark watched an empty chip bag flutter down through the opening. He looked up only to find a pair of chubby cheeks facing back at him with pursed lips, a bubbling spout of saliva, essentially. Mark ran away as quickly as he could. 

He leaped over the loogie with perfect form, landing softly. 

This whole situation was too much. But what could he do?  Moving would be out of the question.
And he couldn't bear any more quotidian hardships. The bullshit job that everyone at his company communally hated. It's like a fucking fraternity, everyone taking pride in "hating" it, even competitively so. Mark's employer had probably already formed a completely fictitious idea on what he were actually up to, why he had taken off for eight days straight, so the whole situation was beyond his control at this point anyway. He might as well never go back. Mark forced himself to at least pretend he was proud of this notion. Even if he were the only one who knew.

The only guiding light for Mark at this point was a newly found vengeance. A way out. He could have a chance to rebuild some sort of purpose, maybe even start documenting again.

Five days ago Mark had received another tenant's letter in the mail by mistake and, without hesitation, opened it. Mark opens all of the mail put into his mailbox, no matter the address or name. "Blame the mailman," he'd think, while exuberantly sliding his finger across the opening of an envelope. But the content of this letter had deflated his usual sense of excitement. It wasn't any awkward familial catch-up or birthday card, nor was it a new credit card that he'd keep stashed in a drawer just in case. No, this was a blow to his frugality, one of Mark's most prideful traits. 

He was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and to his knowledge, paying below average rent that itself was excruciatingly high, as many neighborhood blogs liked to belabor. Mark had then discovered a rent renewal letter addressed to apartment 2L with "Current Resident" in place of the name, although he knew that the occupant was the foreign woman with the raucous cough above him. To his disbelief, she was paying an astounding $525 a month, probably about a fifth, no, a sixth of what Mark pays per month. His heart had palpitated, practically audibly so. How could this be? This was the city after all. Of course. Of-fucking-course. On the reverse side of the piece of paper was ostensibly hebrew lettering written shakily in black ink. No matter what it read, Carefree Management was fucking him over.

After this discovery, everything began to make sense. The lack of upkeep, the mysterious, overly-salivating neighbors whom he never actually saw before. They were ensconced in their own apartments and only paying pocket-change to live there. They probably had enough money to never leave. "Those fuckers," Mark thought with an exorbitant amount of envy.

With further research, a rent history report, and some back-and-forth emails with a terribly rude advocacy group, Mark discovered his apartment to be the only one that was "destabilized" in the building, which was formerly stabilized as a whole until his. According to the advocacy group, there had to be some sort of money put into the apartment to justify such a vast increase, and his hadn't been touched for decades. There was absolutely no renovation to the literally crumbling structure, and it was devoid of upkeep, so the destabilization was certainly illegal. The advocacy group had the nerve to write in their reply email, "I'm sorry," when Mark had told them there was no renovation. He hadn't asked for their sympathy.

Before this whole situation, Mark thought it commonplace to live in a barely standing structure in the city and shell out most of his paycheck. And as if to rub it in his face, the destabilization was done in a flagrantly indiscernible, suspicious manner. The rent history report was last listed with a monthly rent of $525 in 2010 by a woman named Julie Herzog. Each consecutive year thereafter listed an infuriating "N/A".

How was this possible? Mark was paying a heinous $3000 per month. He fumed over Carefree's Management's ability to fool him. Apparently this was a matter bigger than 311, and it was very unsettling. He thought it best to let the anger boil over in his mind so that it may eventually force himself to commit to a resolution.

"Another fucking cockroach!" Mark shouted internally. The large insect lugged itself across the floor as if it were lazing around at home. Mark squashed it with his bare heel, crunching its guts out. He wiped his foot on the spongey floor, kicked the still quivering cockroach into a corner, then traipsed along, avoiding the squashed grape and an empty bag of Utz potato chips.

These walks through the long hallway were unfortunate necessities. Mark thought that the contrived normalcy of this walk, the walk from his bedroom into the flickering building hallway then into the main area of his own apartment seemed absurd, for he was actually the sole renter of this apartment and the only one on the lease. And to top it off, there was a long hallway inside the railroad-style apartment designed to walk through that connected all three of the bedrooms, two of them where his unbearable subletters were situated. Why should he of both these replaceable buffoons have to step outside the apartment? "Well," he said, looking upward ponderously, but then his mind went blank. He, however, knew that these hallway walks must be rational, dutiful even, considering he had the best room in the apartment, and he would spare the others the nuisance of him crossing through their rooms inside. 

Mark's bedroom was at the end of the apartment closest to the street. There was a door in his room that connected to the middle bedroom, then a door in the middle bedroom that connected to the first bedroom, and a final door from the first bedroom that opened into the living room and kitchen. When all of the doors were opened, the stretch of rooms comprised of a long hallway. The two other subletters, both women in their mid-twenties, had an "open door policy." Mark was disgusted by how comfortable they were with such an arrangement, walking through each other's bedrooms, forced to stir up conversation, change in front of each other. They even seemed to enjoy it. The whole thing was quite ghastly. Mark, more sensibly, had barricaded his door with an old armoire he found on the street. In order to be a successful apartment sublet host, Mark ascertained that he must be the least bit involved with the subtenants' lives.

Mark had the best room in the apartment, surely. So he was right in his avoidance. He wouldn't want to make the others jealous. If they even saw a glimpse of his room, it could be disastrous. And no matter what emotions they portrayed, the subletters couldn't be happy with their arrangement. It was way too impertinent. Sometimes, Mark would move personal items around between the women's rooms, placing jewelry, makeup, and clothing in a different subletter's bedroom to make a point that the situation wasn't ideal. It made him feel a bit better.

Mark, who was used to previously documenting his life with edgy comic relief, opened himself up to some levity with his current living situation. "Having the best room in a railroad style apartment is like living inside the railroad station," he spoke softly with a smirk. "You still get the noise, but at least you're not – on the tracks?" He liked to speak some of his jokes and insightful ideas aloud when not recording himself to be fully prepared for when the time did come to unveil them in his documentations.

He approached the front door with momentary pride after a realization struck him. This apartment, his apartment, was a real living quarters that he provided in the city. He was an aid to the burgeoning youth, of which he could be considered to be a part of. Therefore, could he have been an aid to himself? At the cushy age of 27, Mark had his own entrance and exit, his own room, the biggest room in fact, with a window, and no one walked through it. He housed others, kept them safe from the elements. Even though the subletters were a temporary arrangement because, of course, they had to fucking go, it was a proud moment in Mark's life. He only resorted to subletting these idiots when he had used up all of his paid time off because "it was necessary he resort to supplementary income in order to survive," or so the conversation went with his sister and mother.

Mark reached out at the smudged, golden door handle and watched as a bolt of static electricity struck him on his palm.

 

||

 

The front door slammed incredibly loud behind him as he entered. "If it's that loud in here–" Mark thought. He was right to think that the neighbors may dislike the noise as well. The slamming of the cellar-like door literally echoed throughout the entire building. But Mark didn't care, at least outwardly. He hadn't seen another soul in this building. Why should he be worried about what they think? They were the ones paying next to nothing to live here. Plus, it should never matter what others think, he forced himself to believe. Especially since they're all in the wrong.

He was proud of his apartment, and proud of his feigned nonchalance. Everyone else could go fuck themselves, as his college roommate Quinn used to say. Mark claims to have adopted the phrase, "go fuck yourself," as he believed he could make better use of it. The phrase was commonly used in his episodic documentation of "Mark's Street Life." And just like that that, the neighboring opinions were useless, gone even. 

The apartment that Mark was now standing in front of looked like an IKEA showroom. It was neutral. Wonderfully neutral. Not vibrant. Not pretentious. He hated gaudiness. And to make sure nothing was gaudy, everything had to be neutral. A muted palate. Grays, beiges, simple pastels. And to his bemusement, everyone who stepped foot in his apartment, mostly his subletters and their friends, loved it too. Yet, of course, each and every one of them was undeniably more idiotic and pathetic than the rest, so nothing they said mattered anyway. 

He had full private use of the backyard, all to himself. Granted, his subletters would occasionally want to use it, and he'd signal a bit of contrived indifference with a heavy shrug. But they knew that the backyard wasn't really theirs to use. It was his. Then again, sure, he'd let them revel in his rare amenity because, well, he's considerate.

Luckily, his subletters weren't in the main apartment areas when Mark walked in. The living room that segues into the tiny kitchen leading to an enclave bathroom next to the steps up to the asylum-like backyard doors – nothing, no one – it was empty. Even still, Mark was highly alert in this instance. He could never be too sure if anyone was really around. But his wandering thoughts got the best of him. He saw the desolate furniture, the kitchen sink's mountain of dirty dishes piled next to the dish rack's mountain of clean dishes. The gray IKEA futon was neatly placed, just sitting there, forging a divide between the kitchen and the living room, itself mocking any sort of complex furniture construction and design. Mark tripped over a single shoe, but caught himself. Where is the other shoe? Whose shoe is this? It was, in fact, Mark's shoe. Regardless, the apartment was an unmitigatedly sordid, putrid, yet also kind of clean version of hell. He reminded himself of how awful and feebleminded the others living in his apartment were. "If they just left already, then I'd, I'd–" he mentally screeched. Then he'd be free. But free to do what? Well, only he would know, and surely it was something great. They were his roadblock to happiness. Or was it Carefree Management? It didn't matter. He knew all about who they really were, what they were trying to do to him, and it infuriated him.

To make himself feel more just and decent as the caretaker he was, Mark recalled that he had initially tried to befriend his subletters. He really did want to build friendships. That's even partially why he agreed to let them reside here in the first place. Mark wasn't stupid. He knew that having a great friendship with roommates in New York City would amplify his twenty-something-city-living-aesthetics rating by tenfold. He'd have a reason to update his Facebook again, post pictures, create albums.

"Can you even create albums anymore?"

Mark wondered a deep, painful wonder while standing in the living room. He lifted his Macbook up, which was balancing on a New Yorker magazine on the generic coffee table. Mark threw the magazine on the floor. "What is this shit?" he yelled. Then he picked the magazine up and placed it back on the coffee table.

Standing, he held his open computer awkwardly on one forearm, almost dropping it, then looked up his first and only Facebook photo album, aptly titled "last day of summer 2007." He saw that his album did in fact still exist, so he assumed he could most certainly make new ones. Then he quickly closed the page without focusing on any of the photos.

"OK, good – good." Mark pronounced the second "good" slowly to prove to himself of his own contentment.

His Facebook had remained stagnant for 7 months, but Mark's mantra regarding social media was that it was better to be less present on it because it would leave for an incredible amount of ambiguity.

"People could think I'm having the time of my fucking life here," he once told his former friend Joe, or Jim. "But they wouldn't actually know the truth. It leaves it up to interpretation. So when I update it once in awhile, I pick and choose appropriate posts, probably a photo from the most crazy, out of control party where I'm sitting on a roof or something. Maybe I wasn't invited, maybe I even staged the photo. I'm certainly not Facebook friends with any others in it. So no one knows the real truth."

Mark's former friend, Joe, or Jim, was amazed at this idea. He himself had taken his Facebook offline completely to avoid interpretation of existence altogether. So this was an eye-opener.

But it wouldn't happen. That "roomie bond," that friendship he's read about repeatedly on the blogs that dictate what life is truly about. Nope. Not with these subletters. Mark smirked while he opened the refrigerator door, the inside shelves lined with a skyline of cartons and beer bottles. These subletters were unfortunate frauds, just like all the rest who were ruining his life. Come the day he finds true friends again, he'll be a little more optimistic. But all of these frail, complacent, mouth-breathers with new identities every week. They weren't people. Mark had once figuratively hypothesized that with the overexposure of life through the Internet and cellphones, people would easily be able to shape out their own unique identities and personas. But no one had harnessed this notion to the extent that Mark had anticipated, so he was astounded when it didn't occur. He saw right through everyone's lies. The persistent pack-mentality was omnipresent. "Why? We're not fucking animals," Mark mentally growled. To Mark, it was translucent behavior. He could see into their souls from the get-go, past the Instagram feed, past the Snapchats. The worst part was that he believed they all knew he could, but didn't care. He closed the fridge without grabbing anything and walked over to the window facing his backyard.

Mark always pondered over why the majority of people he talked to took things literally. He has and always will be a figurative person, but no one could understand him. He would envision that these people, these literal people, would come to the city reaching for the stars. And then they'd eventually grab hold of one, only to be obliterated off the face of the Earth. "Because they're so hot," he muttered aloud. "Stars are really hot." He then posited that to be without Facebook nowadays is to be either touching a star, or an actual star, for if you're an actual star you don't need to prove that you're still alive.  He thought about saying, "get it?", but appropriately deemed that to actually be crazy. He said it aloud anyway. 

Mark had lost faith in humanity, and was slowly losing faith in himself. Why couldn't he just do something about all of this? Perhaps start some sort of social reformation. Or maybe he should just go ahead and see a therapist, per his primary care doctor's recommendation. His little sister was probably right, he must be doing something wrong. Why else does he see things this way?  He walked up the wooden steps and opened the heavy backyard door with an "ack!", then stumblingly walked outside. 

It was empty, barren, sparsely littered with scraps, garbage, and some dilapidated furniture. A rickety wooden chair here, a rusty table there. Potato chip bags and beer bottles thrown from the hovering fire escapes. Sometimes Mark would even find a half-eaten sandwich. The garbage was from the tenants who fortunately had no access to the yard, but lived above him, all looking below at the lavish backyard space through their fire escapes and windows. Mark was almost certain they hated him, but absolutely certain he hated them. He left the garbage on the dirt and patches of weeds as a retaliation of sorts. "No, I won't pick up after you, you fucking brutes."  The yard was a mess, and Mark knew it. But it was his, and he could do whatever he wanted with it at any time. And no matter what it looked like at the moment, the yard was very big for New York, so he always had that going for him.

"For New York, heh," Mark chuckled.

Every time he heard a New York trope, even in his own thoughts, he couldn't help but laugh over it. 

Mark maintained a degree of credibility  because the backyard held a "lounging area", which he had called it on occasion. It was adopted from when he spontaneously mentioned it while giving a showing for the subletting of his apartment.

 

"It's got a neat, uh, lounging area here – and look, the yard's huge!" 
Mark exclaimed with arms spread while giving the showing.
The two future subletters had agreed with him, one of the women retorting back, 
"Yeah, for New York – this is humongous. We could really deck this out." 
And Mark had enough of it.

"No way in hell can they talk to me about my apartment, my backyard," Mark thought.
If I wanted to deck it out, I would have fucking built a deck–".
But at that moment, Mark started feeling the fluttering sniffles,
the asthmatic wheezing, the raspy, sneezy, itchy throat.
If his panic attacks were to recur, it definitely wouldn't have happened then, right? 
As his vision started to turn blurry, he remembered an article he read on WebMD
that advised to focus on one's surroundings when preventing a panic attack.

The trees,
the whooshing of the wind,
the vibrant sun's warmth.
The backyard was gorgeous.
And all his. 
Right.
Surely enough, it fizzled away.

"I'm in the process of fixing it up," Mark gaspingly stated,
though the others may not have heard.

 

The only two potential subletters who arranged to show up to look at Mark's apartment had found the posting through an article titled "Check Out This Ridiculous Normcore Sublet Ad for a Williamsburg Post-Gentrified-Fixer-Upper 3-bedroom Railroad" referenced on a blog called Gothamist. Unbeknownst to Mark, they did not find out about his sublet through the single ad posted on Craigslist. Mark would eventually allow these two viewers to live with him for a finite period of three months with the possibility for extension, upon signing a contract he downloaded on the Internet. "The Internet has everything I need!" Mark GChatted back to his sister who wondered whether he'd be able to handle subletting his apartment on his own. Mark had loved the Internet just like he loved the world. He did actually love the world. But he griped with it too.

The thought of diminishing his rent by taking in subletters was too good to be true, but also a necessity with him being out of work. Mark grew up with parents who could never afford to pay the rent, so he was quite familiar with the consequences, and has a lot of blacked-out childhood memories to prove it. He found it strange why he was antagonized by his parents for following in their footsteps. "It's your fault," he thought.

Mark, now seated in the backyard lounge, the rickety wooden chair to be precise, whistled. He whistled with the birds. The birds were quite loud, and all seemed to be performing the same pattern. There were trees everywhere, and brush, and rocks, and what was that, grass? Mark could not believe he hadn't sat amongst this nature in his backyard more often. It did in fact help alleviate the panic attack at his apartment showing.

Well, now he would. Mark kicked a crushed beer can by his foot into the corner. 

This was his mystical, therapeutic backyard after all. 

"You bro-party-man-cave-ironic-hipster-gentrifying-millennials who live above with only the the view of this yard will see all of the fun, all of my nature-loving behavior in the yard below, while you sit there on your fire escapes and eat empty beer cans," Mark thought. 

"Who's laughing now? You fuckers."

Mark felt a raindrop on his arm. But it wasn't a raindrop, it was bird shit, cold as ice.
 

||

 

The coughing was back.
It was kind of settling to hear.
To know that she was OK.
But it was a bit different.
Deeper and much more hoarse. 
I was in bed staring at the ceiling.
Pretending to sleep again.

I walked into the other areas of the apartment.
Then into the backyard. 
It was pristine, perfectly clean. 
There was even a newly built deck with couches, a hammock.
It was a dignified "lounging area."
But the foreign woman's window that faced the yard above mine was open,
and her coughing was getting louder.
I could see that her light was off, and it was very dark out,

but even with all of that, there was this shadowy figure that loomed.
It was a darker shade than everything else.

Scary as fucking hell. 

Then a piece of crumpled paper flew out of the window.
It landed right in front of me on the spotless wooden deck.
I reached down to pick it up and suddenly, 
I was in a sea of garbage.
Waist deep in waste.

Still holding it, I opened the crumpled paper and saw that t
here was Hebrew lettering written in black ink,
similar to what I read on the back of Apartment 2L's rent renewal form.
Then the ink liquefied off of the paper, and spread all over my hands.
It was the most cliche, horror movie dream I ever had.

"So I feel like I need to get that letter translated or something."

"Mark, come on. You need to get over this. People aren't always out to get you."

"But I just feel like they're up to something–"

"This is not happening, Mark. You have too many things to worry about – like your job? You haven't even told me how that's been going for weeks, and I know you were having issues. Should I have mom call you?"

"No, no. It's fine. Everything's fine. I wasn't really going to pursue this anyway. I was pretty much joking. 
But the job's good. Same old stuff, you know?"