Lie Back and Listen Nikita Mirzani 1

Of course it’s not possible to stuff an entire duck-down pillow into the small shell-shaped hole of one’s ear, but Zack was trying nonetheless. Not that cotton and duck feathers would be enough of a muffler. He doubted that pouring cement in his ears, wrapping his head in deep pile carpet, and lead-lining the walls would be enough.

The thump of the bass was the worst—he could feel it vibrate in the marrow of his bones—that regular, predictable bludgeoning kick. Pounding through the floor, rattling the glass in the window frames, making his whole body throb with a surround-sound headache. And then that jarring, jangling noise. Just after the out-of-tune wailing of the third chorus.

He didn’t know the title, but he knew the song by heart—every riff, lick, and drum roll. She played it over and over. Usually at night. Always too loud. Zack ground his teeth so hard his jaw hurt. He glared at the glowing numbers on his bedside alarm clock. 3:10. Late enough to make him weep. He pressed his face into the mattress and moaned.

Tears brimmed in Nikita Mirzani’s eyes as she sang along to the crackling LP. God, this song made her feel inside out.

She played it loud with the window open, and the night air streamed into her studio flat, the dark breeze catching papers and spilling the unopened letters over the table, ruffling the edges of fabric, lifting the hem of the dresses hanging from the clothes rail, making the candles flicker and splutter with black, sooty flames.

She screwed up the volume another notch and walked to the open window.

“God, can you hear that?” she said, into the night. “Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t it make you want to fucking cry?”

Zack’s suit hung over the back of his bedroom door. It wasn’t pressed, but as a well-cut suit it would pass if he left it undisturbed until morning to let gravity pull out the creases.

It was not worth putting it on to go and visit his fiendish neighbor. It was not a good time for visiting. Nor, he thought bleakly, was it a good time for her to dig out her Mexican rock-and-roll LPs. Which she was in the process of doing, by the sound of it. He listened to her clunk and clatter. He sighed.

There was little else in his room apart from his bed, the suit, and the alarm clock. Zack preferred to live with as few possessions, as few distractions as possible. He’d spent a great deal of time stripping back and reducing and simplifying.

His life should be—would be—empty of clutter and open to the fabulous array of small, quotidian noises that he so loved, were it not for the amplified car crash below him.

His nights were stuffed full, ripped apart and crammed with overbearing noise. Not just the music, either.

The histrionics in between disturbed him greatly. She shook things loose in his head—distracting things like anger and resentment and a dumbstruck, confounded desire to saw his own ears off. These unpleasant emotional stirrings kicked around in his head like the hated bass beat.

Four hours, he thought. If he could make it through another four hours, he could get up and snort coffee and escape to the peaceful cell of his office.

Only now he was angry.

The monstrous hormone-riddled hysteric downstairs was howling, with her throaty, rough-honey voice, and bombs were going off inside Zack’s head. He imagined drilling holes in the floor, shooting a fire extinguisher through her letterbox, tying her up and forcing her to listen to Brahms at 100 decibels.

He could call the police. They rarely showed up in this neck of the woods and would hardly bother for a minor neighborly row, not unless there were firearms involved—and Zack didn’t have any on hand. Probably a good thing, overall.

Downstairs, the music paused. Zack took a deep breath. Silence crept into his ears like an old friend.

And then it was the Moaning Young Men, as Zack referred to them in his head. The song was called “Last Night Love.”

Or if you looked at it another way, the very last fucking straw, and the thing that was enough to make a usually calm and placid man roll out of bed and land on the floor with a resounding thud that would have alarmed an average human being but made no difference whatsoever to the noise freak below him.

Insouciant, juvenile guitar riffs accompanied Zack as he pulled up his loose-fit pajama bottoms and made for the door.

Outside, the sound echoed tinnily in the stairwell, and Zack, shrinking under the fluorescent tube lights, cursed the fact he’d so far failed to make it out of the ghetto and anywhere near the hillside monastic retreat wreathed in majestic clouds that he so often dreamed of. Or the suburbs, even.

The concrete steps were cold underfoot, but he hardly noticed. He was trying not to listen to the voice in his head that had started its familiar old chant—the litany of injustices and everyday atrocities that had appalled him from his earliest awareness, through an offhand adolescence and his silent, thoroughly desperate early adulthood.