The same old same old at The Meadows Apartments changed up a bit when Layla, I’ll call her, moved in across the breezeway from me and my boyfriend. The Meadowless, as I’d dubbed the complex, was far from bucolic. All the upper middle class white folks had long since migrated north ahead of the spilling-over melting pot and they’d taken the green grass and high class with them. And all of us that’d been left here were part of a creamy-colored soup that was rich with the tired, the poor, the hoodlums, the wretched refuse of college kids on financial aid and greenhorns like me, teetering lowly on the corporate ladder. All of us seemed so far from the lamp beside the golden door.
Layla didn’t fit this place. She looked like a throw-off from the upper middle class set, and I wondered why and under what circumstances she got tossed back into our melting pot. She was pushing up toward fifty, looked like, but she still had her beauty, still had a nice figure. She wore her blonde hair up like a siren, all piled high and purposely unruly, spilling out and around a pearl and amethyst chignon pin. She wore jeans and slacks with feminine tops, always with lace or bead accents or something that made them look sexy. Even her button-downs seemed seductive somehow, and she moved about purposefully, gracefully, with a secretive smile.
I felt like her opposite—awkward, unsure, disquieted by my ideas of how things should be versus how things seemed to be, always frantically working for money, to scramble onto the next step up in the world. My youth seemed the only thing I had over her and that wasn’t enough leverage for my taste, so I distanced myself from her as if I wasn’t interested in her. But I watched her on the sly like a nosey, frustrated Gladys Kravitz trying to convince my boyfriend that something strange was going on. She’d moved in on a weekday, so I missed the opportunity to scrutinize her furnishings, to get a better read on her that way, but I kept tabs on whatever I could during the hours I was home.
I watched her balcony project progress in the first mornings after she’d moved in, watched as new things were added each day until it was complete: a little glass-topped French café table with precious, twisted iron legs and two matching chairs with puffy seats; hanging pots and flower boxes spilling over with moss roses, marigolds, phlox, love-lies-bleeding, and Mexican sunflowers; and a delicate symphony of colored glass and metal wind chimes, tinkling and resonant, melodious. I watched her window treatment project and her front door decorating project and I craned my neck at every opportunity to get an eyeful of her having iced coffee at her café table or going down to get her mail.
She didn’t seem to have a job and that’s what drove me the maddest. In three months I’d witnessed her leaving her apartment with car keys in hand only six times. And she always returned a relatively short time later with a bag to explain her trip, like Brookshire’s grocery or Walmart bags or her own clear plastic bag with flowers on it containing a few books, like from the library. She had to have money to live and my imagination ran wild as to how she earned it. She had nice things. Too nice to be on a governmental assistance program, I thought, yet she lived in the shithole Meadowless, yet she was beautiful and self-possessed. I finally came down to fancying her as having left her corporate career to begin writing romance novels, or adult movie scripts, or erotica for “Playboy” or “Hustler” or the like. This both burned me up with envy and fascinated me.
Imagine my surprise when I came home one night after work and my boyfriend told me that just that morning he’d left for work a little later than usual and had stepped into the breezeway at the same time Layla was leaving her apartment. She’d said a cheery, “Hi,” and he’d said, “Hello,” and they struck up a conversation. He’d found out her real name and what she was all about. He knew how nuts the whole thing was driving me so he thought he’d have a little fun with it. He grinned, asked me “What’ll you give me if I tell you everything about our neighbor?”
I sat down on the couch, stunned. My reaction wasn’t as expected. I thought I’d be dying to know, but I wasn’t. I’d built a fairytale around Layla and I was living next to her like reading a novel, only I was the one “writing” it. I was all excited to finish it and yet not wanting to finish it. So many endings of so many stories I’ve read have been so bad or confusing or ambiguous that I’ve come to dread reading conclusions in general. But Layla was my story and I hadn’t even thought of ending it. I realized I could make it any way I wanted and never end it if I didn’t want to, so I told my boyfriend, “You know, Love, I really, truly don’t want to know.” He looked at me crazy-like and I told him to come sit next to me and we’d start working on a story of a young couple making good in the world.
Thank you, Quin. It ain’t much, but it’s something, and that’s huge, considering.
Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton, “Layla” Live
Eric Clapton “Layla” Live, Extended
For grins I used a promo photo of Richland Oaks Apartments, now The Dunes, where I first lived in Texas
A link for those who don’t know the infamous Gladys Kravitz
This tale was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#177 – Adult” Click here for more on prompt #177 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.
This was brilliant, leaving us all writing our own Layla story with a little young couple story thrown in for good measure. I was grinning the whole time I was reading this and I haven’t even had my coffee yet! Now I have something to think on today while I’m being interrupted every five minutes by a teacher who wants me to stop whatever I am doing and deal with their issue. You may have saved countless lives with this….
I love, love, love writing my own stories to the people I view. Especailly at airports or the mall. There’s a richness to it and no, I don’t want to know teh truth. Ever.
This was well worth the wait… I read it, smiling first in delight you’d posted, then in delight over the tale itself.
I like the assumptions, the story, of Layla…the descriptions of her and her clothes and the presumption of her fall from the upper middle class. The narrator’s comaprison of herself and the envy and fascination she feels blends well with her not wanting to know, in the end, the true story. Interesting and enjoyable!
Lotsa goodies here, Muchness, not to mention tunes for the old folks, after the sunny realtors. One of the many things I love is how – at least in my head – you are wrapped up in both Layla and “Gladys.” As I’ve said before, you do envy and jealousy proud: my lurking serpents just love to graft on when your narrators cut loose down those green alleys. Lovely to see / imagine how you “wrote” your stories before you committed to the sanctuary of your pages. The “scening route,” my favorite channeler used to say: you and I both walked it, collecting, before we ever cut loose.
I always enjoy these character studies of yours, and the lovely Layla makes for an irresistible mystery. Interesting that your protagonist chooses at the end to hold onto the mystery, to live with uncertainty and imperfect understanding; seems very grown up, yet at the same time, this allows her to live with her fantasies and illusions. Hmmm… There you go again: making me think, helping me enjoy the process. This was fun!
I love the way you lived inside the story and thus brought it to life. Very, very good.
I know about the cheesecake and whipped cream and blueberries and liqueur. But I still want to know how computer and morning and coffee were not synonymous words that morning! Oh and if countless lives were indeed saved ;-)
Oh yeah, airports are a particular favorite of mine. Rich raw material there for sure!
Merci, Q! Momtone works wonders :-D
Thanks, P. This was a fun one, once it got going. It was based on a neighbor I had once in TX. Of course I took a ton of liberties, but as Paschal points out, that’s how it’s done before the blossoming off the scening route happens : )
Well, you know, I try to mix it up a little, anyway, keep the rotten tomato-lobbing down to a bare minimum : ) I like the Layla and Gladys observation. I do a better Gladys than Layla in real life…hence the kickass jealousy performances, I suppose. Again, like I think of your intelligence steering you clear of emotional faux pas, I think of your lurking serpent quarters having been so long abandoned that they’ve been busted down to make more room for the garden ;-)
Anno! Good to see you back here : ) You hit it with the protagonist’s desire to keep her glorified story unspoiled. I mean, what if she’d found out that Layla had been laid off from her job, had to downgrade accommodations, and was living on unemployment, going out a few hours every day trying to find a job? Perish the thought!
Thank you for saying, b! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this tale as much as you did : )
Oh I so, so loved this one! It actually resonates with me because sometimes I imagine things about my neighbours too, I just wonder about them. Does that make me too snoopy?
There’s one woman in particular that I usually only see from a distance and I like to imagine that she’s Janis Joplin. Well, not *really* her, but somewhat like Janis. If I could avoid meeting her from a closer distance I would, because I’d like to keep believing it’s my neighbour Janis. haha
LOL! Snoopy? Naw, I’d chalk wondering up to inherent human curiosity. Anyway, you’re the psychology major ; ) I just love that you have Janis Joplin as your neighbor. I hope she doesn’t keep you up at night with loud, raspy singing and raucous parties! Certainly Hugh Grant made a splendid waiter to my mom and me the other day. He’d lost his British accent and therefore part of his charm, but he was so very nice to look at, regardless ;-)
hahah that’s so cute! Me and my Mum usually spot those similarities too. One of us asks: doesn’t that person look like X or Y? And the other one goes: Yeah! And from then on the person is baptised as X or Y.
I think I got the quiet Janis Joplin twin.
That is so much fun, isn’t it?! Everyone does it. And Marlin Perkins thought sea otters were playful! It’s fun the other way around, too—well, most times—when others come up to you and tell you who they think you look like. Someone once told me I looked like Reba McEntire. That was flattering. Another once said I looked like Tracey Ullman. That I don’t get…
Well, in any case, it’s good to hear Janis seems to have kicked the drug habit and settled down ; )
hahaha Yes, it’s a very homely Janis, she’s healthy and calm. ;)
Oh yes, I’ve had some confessions like those but my favourite was when my grandmother told me I looked like Our Lady of Fatima. LOL
Our Lady of Fatima, well alright! I like it :-D
I admire your talent for turning a sighting into magical poetic prose. Another much envied post!
Well, I admire your talent for writing life into poetry ; )
I guess it’s all relative…
In a whisper: thank you : )