Excerpt from a short story, published in Subtropics, no. 8, Winter/Spring 2009
Eva Talmadge, Hunter MFA Fiction 2008
I only knew her name by the name on the letters in the mailbox, but I knew her through the walls for months: Caroline Wilson-Blake, apartment seven, across the hall from me: Jonathan Tracey, apartment eight, known to my few friends as Trace. I knew the sound of her phone playing the Ninth, and the siren of her alarm on Saturday afternoons. I knew her muffled laughter, talking to herself, and the low moan of the pipes between us when she bathed.
We lived at the top of an old brownstone in Jersey City, in parallel apartments near the waterfront in Paulus Hook. Cut off from everyone. The PATH train ran directly below the building. I listened to it every morning, as I waited for my neighbor to come home. The train would surge toward Manhattan through the earth, then wash back like a wave.
I listened to her music, too. The records she would play. I imagined she put them on for me.
I was a structural engineer with Parsons, on contract to the MTA. A job completely separate from my past. Our team was bringing the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central, through new tunnels under the East River, and partly through the unused lower F train tube—known throughout the city as the Eastside Access Project. A $6.3 billion gig.
I wasn’t the lead engineer, but easily the most relied on, because I never made mistakes. But sometime that summer something changed: Caroline moved in. I caught a cold I couldn’t shake, and drafted support beams only to tear them up, then re-drew the entire girding system, only to find fatal errors in my numbers an intern would not have made. How could a girl as young as Caroline know all those bands? She played ancient post-punk: Joy Division, the Buzzcocks, New Order and the Damned. My former tribe. It was a history she could not have known, smothered by the wall between us, from the decade I was in high school. She would have just been born.
I tried to shut that out. I drew tunnels and watched them spin impossibly on CADD, the dark screen taunting me with forecasts of collapse. In ten years I’d never been so careless with my work.
"Caroline" by Eva Talmadge: ©2008 Eva Talmadge.