Finger In Mouth

A closeup of Schinus molle L. (colloq., California Pepper Tree) with long green leaves and bright red berries against a brilliant blue sky
Philmarin [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Fiction by Miles Klee

The following is an excerpt from The Last Year, a longer work of fiction currently in progress. The previous chapter is available here. 

Our neighbor across the courtyard has died.

Nobody we knew, and not an abnormal death. Someone old, someone who had never (so far as we know) left his apartment in the year we lived almost next door. He lived in an upstairs unit, like ours, but hidden by a bower of bougainvillea, whereas our window projects into the canopy of a splendid pepper tree, one of the few old trees of its kind still alive in West Hollywood. 

Another difference, we learn by catching whispers from other neighbors, is that this former tenant, whose name is never communicated to us, had lived here so long, in a neighborhood fanatical about rent control, that he paid about $200 a month, or lower, depending on the whisperer’s need to exaggerate. M. and I pay around ten times that amount, which torments us but soon gives rise to a bitter joke about staying in our cramped one-bedroom until it becomes a bargain, at which point the stairs will be a tribulation, and then maybe neither of us will leave, either, except to be buried.

Nobody had to tell us the neighbor had died, because one night we heard the ambulance pull up in the street and saw paramedics walking through the courtyard wheeling a stretcher. They found the right apartment sooner than we expected—the numbers are not easy to spot, and many addresses, including our own, have a fraction in them. Delivery people freeze in a panic under the pepper tree, trying to figure out the scattered numbers. When the capable paramedics emerged, they had a person on the stretcher, covered to his throat in a white sheet, a breathing mask obscuring his face. We didn’t know if he was dead then, but at any rate, he never came back.

It’s a paywall, but a small one

Read this post and get our weekdaily newsletter for $3 a month