Lie Back and Listen Nikita Mirzani 2

The music grew in volume as Zack’s ego raved and ranted, taunting him with visions of the sleep-deprived misery he’d have to face the next day, so that by the time he arrived at the downstairs flat’s door, he was ready to curl up his fist and pummel his future into submission.

What would he do? Could he overcome his habitual kindness and tendency to gracious politesse and make some pithy, outraged statement? He might swear at her. Yes, he might. Zack knocked, hard.

Four minutes later, he knocked again. After a quarter of an hour freezing his feet outside a blank, unresponsive door, Zack climbed the stairs with the Moaning Young Men chasing after, mocking his hunched back.

There were dark stars in his eyes now, the marks of growing rage of a man who, since he’d left the womb, had spent his life trying to recreate that sense of perfect, balanced stasis.

Back in his flat, he wanted to tear the place apart. But he lacked furniture to deconstruct. He looked at the window and thought about smashing it. Throwing the unwatched TV through it and watching it shatter over the rusting old fire escape.

A thought appeared in his mind, simple and frighteningly tempting. It sent a shiver down his spine and made his mouth twitch. Before he could change his mind, he had crossed to the window and pulled it open, wide enough to clamber out onto the steel mesh platform.

The air was a wonderful shock, gripping him in a dark, oily embrace that somehow, instead of sobering him up, spurred him on.

He climbed gingerly down the staircase, flinching at the cold metal teeth digging into the soles of his bare feet, and came to a halt outside her window.

There. She was sitting at the table, her chin on her hand, face turned toward him, eyes closed as she nodded along with the music. Zack lifted his hand to knock. For a split-second, he paused, looking at the little detail he could see in the dim light of the interior.

Half a dozen candles burned on a plate at her elbow, their gold flames casting soft little shadows on her face. She wore a loose kimono-type garment, something that shone a little and fell from her shoulders. She looked like a painting, he thought.

He shook his head. Waited for the pause in the song, the one he knew cut in after the middle eight. But instead of rapping on the glass, he found himself slamming it with his open hand, hard.

Nikita Mirzani jerked fully awake. The dark shape at the window flung itself onto her consciousness like a slap in the face. Instinctively, she reached for the empty plate beside her, scrabbling through dry crumbs before her fingers closed over the handle of the fork.

She raised it in front of herself like an undersized trident. Where was her phone? She had to get up and find it, but her eyes were fixed on the figure that hovered outside—a black shadow against the nearly black sky. He knocked on the window.

Nikita Mirzani frowned. If he wanted to break in and rape, rob and kill her, why was he knocking? She peered into the gloom. Was he wearing pajamas? The figure shifted as she looked at him, and she saw him wave a kind of salute.

Her neighbor? Yes, as she moved closer to the window, letting the hand holding the fork drop to her side, she thought there was something familiar about the shape of the man out there.

The hair, normally brushed soft and falling over his face, stuck up wildly in all directions. But the broad, slightly stooped shoulders were his. And yes, as the candlelight fell on his scowling face, she recognized that resentful expression.

She took the last few steps confidently and pulled up the sash as though she often received visitors via the window.

“Either you’re recreating Breakfast at Tiffany’s or you locked yourself out,” she said, her voice warm with relief. He could be a psychopathic weirdo, but he’d always seemed an almost ludicrously polite man, one of those monochromatic shadows that skirt around the edge of life.

If she passed him on the stairs, he’d flatten himself against the wall and murmur a greeting she could hardly hear.

“Tiffany’s?” he said, screwing his eyes up. He shook his head. “Your music.”

Nikita Mirzani glanced at the stereo, still warbling away. “Oh, the music,” she said, turning to give Mr. Pajamas a broad smile. “Siren song, huh? Come on in!”

“I…” Zack hesitated, and then he nodded and followed the sweep of her arm. He felt somehow compelled. He folded his tall frame and slipped through the gap into Nikita Mirzani’s bedroom and stood on her Afghan rug holding his hands out as though feeling for invisible obstacles.

He was tall, Nikita Mirzani noticed. Maybe that was why he stooped. And he was blushing too—god, how long had it been since she saw a man blush! It lit up his face under the silvery stubble.

“Have a seat,” she said, waving at the futon in the center of the room. “Want a drink?”

Before Zack could answer, she was sweeping over to the sideboard and picking up the gin. She poured a generous tumblerful.

“I’m really not here to drink,” he said.

“Oh, you’ll need a locksmith, won’t you? I’ll get the Yellow Pages,” she said and hustled to the bookshelves in the kitchen. She swiped an extra glass while she was there—at least now she didn’t feel like such a lush.