Haunted by a moment of excruciating embarrassment

I have an issue with my buzzer.  Everyone rings it.  The postwoman who can’t get in.  A delivery guy for someone else.  Students at 3am who forgot their keys and are off their faces so just ring all the buzzers until someone lets them in.

It’s the last one that pisses me off the most.  My buzzer is loud enough to wake the dead.  And yes, it does have a “privacy” button but that only lasts for five hours, not long enough to get you through the night.  Who would invent such an idiotic privacy button?  The council, of course:  everything has to be as cheap as shit and work just as badly.  So you might, hopefully, have some sympathy for me when I say that my buzzer drives me nuts.  Or the people ringing it do.  And they ring it often.  For some reason, my number is most attractive.  It’s on the outside edge of the panel so it’s the quickest to reach.  Or maybe the number is nice.  Who knows.

There are a lot of students in my building.  It’s a tiny building with ten flats, two on each floor (there are three entrances in a long building, each entrance has a maximum number of 10 flats).  They were once housing for the servant class of the Victorian era which would give you an idea how old they are.  There were no amenities which explains all the hideous piping on the outside of the walls, not inside like a “normal” building.  The pipes for heating and water in my flat run along the skirting board in such a way that I can’t clean them.  I’ve tried everything and nothing gets in there.  So there’s more than half a century of dirt in there.  The flats are also weirdly built.  It’s obvious that the current arrangement of rooms is not original, which means there are a lot of hastily added cardboard thin walls.  These are bad flats!  It’s no wonder the flats ended up as council flats – who else would want them except those desperate for housing!  Which is how I ended up here.

But then people starting buying their flats.  And living in them?  Hell, no!  They rent them out to students!  There are several universities around here (UCL, LSE, Kings) and in recent years the student population has increased exponentially.  This blog is about the students – the ones who ring my buzzer in the middle of the night and drive me insane.  Of the ten flats in my building, only three are still council flats.  And out of the ten, only four are occupied by people who are NOT students.  The flat opposite mine was bought by the council tenant who then promptly rented it out to an endless series of students.  Then it was sold to a city-type couple who made the most unbelievable racket for over a year trying to improve this rotten little apartment they’d just purchase.  And I mean rotten – the walls are literally crumbling as you look at them.  After driving us crazy with all the banging and drilling (they also tore down one wall), they then only lived in it for a year before jetting off to New York.  The flat went back to student rents.  Then, just before the first lockdown, it was back on the market for sale.  And because of the pandemic, it didn’t get sold.  BLISS!  No neighbour!  No banging door!  My daughter actually able to sleep in her room because she didn’t have to listen to people talking through a cardboard wall!  Not having a neighbour was reason number 1001 on the list called “How I learned to love the pandemic.”

Then someone bought the flat.  I had no idea who.  I just know the door started to bang again, anything up to 20 times a day.  Some people close doors.  Other people make sure they give the biggest fucking slam they possibly can.  Perhaps they feel an urge to wake the dead.  Perhaps they want all their neighbours to be on edge all day as WHAM their brains get turned to mush by the deep, heavy, mind-numbing slam – it’s like a gunshot to the back of your head, the kind that makes your eyeballs bulge before you die.  It actually hurts.  It hurts my brain.  There is something about the sound of that door – which I can hear from the far end of my flat so there is NO escaping it – that induces panic because I know I’m never going to get any peace ever again. 

So you know about the door, the students, and the buzzer.  Now I need to introduce you to my new neighbour.  I was myself introduced to him at 6.30am on a Bank Holiday Monday when he took out his drill and drilled the fuck out of a wall.  It was so loud that it woke the dead in the next galaxy.  Who the fuck drills at 6.30 in the morning?  Do people give a flying fuck about anyone else!  Wow, stupid question, of course they don’t!  No one exists in their universe except themselves!  Anyway, for the sake of my sanity (and everyone else’s in the building), I knocked on his door (between drills) and said, seriously, 6.30 on a Bank Holiday Monday?  Oh, is it a bit loud, said the new neighbour, who turned out to be a beardy millennial.  Not that I’ve got anything against beardy millennials.  I just don’t know how else to describe him. 

Later that morning, at ten, just as I was trying to settle down to do some writing (Bank Holiday weekends being ideal for that sort of thing), he knocked on my door to apologise.  He wanted to buy me cupcakes in apology.  (Cupcakes??)  He was very friendly, very well-spoken, obviously educated and could be regarded as quite good-looking, wearing an open shirt, well-ironed, and suit pants and shoes (on a Bank Holiday Monday).  When I inadvertently mentioned that I was a writer, he said he never read fiction.  This is exactly the number one thing you never ever tell a writer.  You lie.  You say, gosh, that’s interesting, and leave it at that.  He worked in, um, accounting, I think he said, and was going for another degree (how many did he already have?) in, um, biological financial hive modelling.  (I should get a gold star if I actually managed to remember that correctly.)  We also swopped names and that was that.

Some weeks later, I was in the bath on a Saturday night, my nerves shredded having listened to that door slam all day long, and my soul shattered because I was about to be made redundant and frankly, the world was not a good place for me at all.  I was borderline clinically depressed and the future looked bleak.  So when my buzzer went TWICE while I was in the bath (so someone was really insistent), I gave them the benefit of the doubt, thinking it must really be urgent.  “Hi Joanne,”  said a voice,  “I’ve forgotten my keys, will you let me in.”  So this was (a) a student and (b) a stupid student and (c) they hadn’t realised they’d rung the wrong buzzer. 

I’m really hoping that everything I’ve written so far will help to explain my reaction.  I lost it.  I mean, I really lost it.  I hardly ever lose my temper.  The last time was about fifteen years ago.  I took a breath and SCREAMED down the phone.  And no, I don’t know what I said, but I know it was horrible and involved some swear words.  Then I hit the privacy button, got back in my (cooling) bath and found myself shaking from head to foot, my heart hammering so hard I thought I was going to have a heart attack.  Why WHY WHY did I not hit the privacy button BEFORE I said anything?  Why did I get out the bath?  While still in the bath, I heard some thundering footsteps up the stairs (everyone thunders up them except me as I’ve learned the fine art of whisper silence) and realised that it had been my neighbour (cupcake guy) who’d rung my buzzer.

If it had been a student from downstairs, I wouldn’t have given this much more thought.  I mean, yes, I would have felt somewhat chagrined for losing my temper but because it was someone whom I’d actually met (I try to avoid my neighbours at all costs), it made it a thousand times worse.  And oh god I’m sorry, but I lied, and I lied because I am so fucking embarrassed by this whole thing:  I DO know what I said.  The words are burned into my brain forever:  Don’t you ever ring my buzzer again.  I don’t know who the fuck you are and you don’t know who the fuck I am.

Well.  You can see that would work on someone I didn’t know.  But Cupcake Guy, having heard this, is now thinking that I DID know who it was and that my words were directed at HIM.  And if you’re smart, you can spot the reason why I didn’t know it was him:  he called me Joanne.  This is not my name.  And you can’t say he just forgot it and or got it a bit wrong:  I gave him my business card because he said he’d look at my website and I thought, I couldn’t be bothered spelling out my name, I’ll just give him a card.  Anyway, I remember his name, why would he get mine wrong? 

This upset me more than you can imagine.  The fact that I’d lost my temper in the first place, that I’d torn my relatively nice new neighbour to shreds, that I was now being perceived as a totally horrible person to be avoided at all costs.  I couldn’t sleep that night.  I spend days after that cringing with horror at what I’d done.  And yes, I know, it’s not the crime of the century, but when you are suffering from horrific depression and live in shivering paranoia every second of your life, it really does seem like an awful thing.  I don’t like creating upsets.  I don’t like upsetting other people.  I’ve had many instances in my life where people have misunderstood my actions or words and thought the worst of me.  My paranoia dictates that I fret over those people DECADES after I’ve last seen them.

So now I dread running into this guy every time I go out.  What do I say if I do run into him?  Sorry, I didn’t know it was you?  The ideal conversation would be HIM saying something about the buzzer incident, and ME saying, oh, it was YOU?  I had NO idea.  You must think I’m HORRIBLE.  And then we can laugh about it and I can, at last, forget about it.  But that’s not going to happen.  I could have had a nice neighbour.  Well, except for the drilling.  And the door slamming.  And getting my fucking name wrong.  But aside from that, I have wrecked relations forever.

It’s been weeks now and I still feel stupid.  My skin still crawls with embarrassment.  I still cringe when I think about it.  I even thought of finding a priest – or someone! – anyone! – to confess to.  But I haven’t.  I’ve told no one, not even my daughter, and I usually tell her everything.  That’s how bad I feel.

This is my confession to you.  I’m sorry.  Will someone please find me a deity who will forgive me so that I can get on with my life.

And could someone make him stop slamming the door.

About Susannah J. Bell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
This entry was posted in 2022: A Fresh Start, General, Life in Bloomsbury and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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