The people carrier sat on the kerb outside. The two men moved shining refuse sacks, reusable carrier bags and boxes inside, but for the oversized guitar case, the taller of the two insisted on taking it inside. His head gleamed with perspiration as he kept an even pace of removal until he invited his friend inside. I had watched them whilst the washing machine ran through a rinse cycle. The apartments here were pauses not new beginnings.
I thought about the man on the commute, making up stories why and how he came to be here.
The twilight beat me home. I poured a glass of wine, switched on the oven and wandered into the living room, slipping my shoes off with a sigh of relief.
His windows were open. I saw the magnolia walls, their expanse broken by the monochrome poster he had put up. He sat on a stool, guitar on his knee with black headphones over his ears, a lead trailing off to a speaker about the size of a mini refrigerator; I opened the window and sipped my wine.
He turned the pegs with his left hand whilst strumming the strings, nodding and adjusting them until he gave a short nod. He curled his fingers around the neck of the guitar slow and cautious as he plucked with his right hand. He had tan skin, a shaved head and lean, strong arms. He wore a white shirt, with the sleeves rolled to the elbows and his forearms were vascular from the effort of playing. He lifted his head, smiling to show his white teeth, caramel eyes gleaming with delight. I liked the dimple in his chin when he smiled and how his eyelids had fallen, heavy with some quiet brand of ecstasy as he played. His feet were bare as he tapped them against the floor, keeping time to some internal rhythm.
His lips were parted and he tilted his head back as his thick, long fingers gained boldness. My heart was pounding in my chest, frustrated to not hear anything but enthralled by the fierce, boyish purpose he took to as he played.
I stopped watching only when the smoke alarm went off. By the time I came back, he had finished. I sighed and fought a twist of disappointment which stuck in my chest, hurting with each breath.
He practiced each day. I would get home from work, grab a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and watch him play. He played like he were taking flight, an act of purposeful liberation which became the quiet highlight of my day.
I had needed milk, gone to the shop across the road and had a carton in my hand when he walked in, slipping behind me in the queue and saying hello with a gruff, low voice vibrating with warmth.
‘Hi. You’ve just moved in around here, haven’t you?’ I said.
He nodded, gave a quick, pained smile and looked at me with amused interest.
‘You play guitar.’ I said.
My voice sounded tight as he raised an eyebrow.
‘Bass. I use headphones though.’ he said.
I shook my head.
‘I’ve seen you play. I mean, I see you. I live opposite you.’ I said.
His smile softened. I paid for my milk and left, wishing I had idled in the shop. He called as I left and I turned, steeling myself for a confrontation or a laugh at my expense.
He gazed into my eyes, asked if I wanted to come over.
‘You’d enjoy it more if you could listen.’ he said.
His smile made it an agreeable decision.
‘If I could hear you over watching you.’ I said.
I had work to do for the office, half a bottle of wine and something for dinner. An ordered, comfortable existence but here was a stranger, prone to flights of pleasure when alone, and I wondered if it would be as sweet to listen as it was to watch him.
‘Yes, I think I will.’ I said.
He said his name was Mark.
Later that night, feet bare and with my hands cupped over the headphones, enraptured by the womb-dark sea of sound and vibration as he played as I was by his expression. I felt myself soften, and when he touched my shoulder, I put my hand over it, enjoying the warm strength of his fingers on my skin.
I carried the bass vibration along with the touch of his hand, let it move me towards him and took flight in my own way.