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.