The Man Upstairs

Besides the oh-my-God-I’m-so-sorry looks everyone gave me, the memory loss was the worst part.

That and the death, which at the time was speculative and the possibility of which the doctors amused themselves to dance around.

“We’re not there yet,” Dr. Berger said, “but this is the brain we’re talking about, and any sentence containing the words, ‘brain’ and ‘tumor’ must also contain the word, ‘death,’ I’m afraid.”

At least he never said things like, “Cause for concern.” Cause for concern. Doctors employ the same vagueness of verbiage invented by television psychics.

But let us be clear. There is no speculation concerning death. Speculation of death is itself death. But the memory loss, yes, also a drag.

My not-forgotten husband Dean and I were sitting in bed that evening, reading, when I heard the ceiling go bump and my ears perked and I looked at him with a what-the-fuck on my face, only to be hit with one of those Oh-my-God-I’m-so-sorry looks, which meant that yet another cerebral event must have been wrenched from my short-term memory and dispersed into the ether.

“Goddamnit,” I said.

“The landlord? Really? Oh, Honey. He’s lived up there for years…”

“‘Up there…’ Up where?”

“Up there. The second floor? Where the landlord lives?”

“Fuck.”

I collapsed sideways onto the bed and performed a death rattle.

“Honey, it’s normal. It gets better, they say…”

Normal.

“Well, you know. Relatively normal. Remember what Dr. Benning said…”

That I did remember.

Dr. Benning, my psychiatrist, had said that when I experience memory loss I should confront the forgotten thing, whatever it may be, and attempt to create a new memory right away. Benning was a famous brain researcher and had written a book called Forgetfrontation which would be hilarious if it weren’t so cruel. Dean only caught my lapses half the time, when my already characteristic confusion presented in a manner out of the ordinary. In such moments without fail he would lovingly and annoyingly foist Dr. Benning’s accursed “forgetfrontation” upon me.

I begged and pleaded but after various husbandly tortures agreed to knock on the door of my apparently Chinese-American landlord Mr. Tuann to ask for a cup of sugar.

Dressed in slippers and a terrycloth robe, I opened the door to our apartment. The out-of-doors chill hit me like knives. The concrete stairway was still wet from that day’s rain. I avoided the puddles on tiptoes, my hands shoved under my arms, incredulous of the No Soliciting sign hanging over Mr. Tuann’s mailbox.

I knocked and shifted from slipper to slipper on his doorstep. A good half-minute passed and then another. I had already begun to put together a story to appease Dean when the door swung open. A bright-faced, elderly man emerged borne upon a cloud of warm, tea-smelling air.

“Yes? May I help you?” he asked, with an accent.

“I was going to ask you if I could borrow some sugar, but that’s ridiculous. I’m sorry.”

“Amy?” he said. This was my name.

“Yes. I said. From downstairs.”

“Please come inside.”

I suddenly remembered the man’s hospitality, though not the rest of him. I remembered a disembodied voice serving almond biscotti on the day we signed our lease, a phantom bringing soup and cookies after I came home from my first hospital trip. The taste of his tea hovered hazily somewhere in the misfiring electricity of my cerebral cortex.

I was unsure of precedents of neighborly decorum in such moments and had no choice but to accept and be lead into his dimly-lit apartment. We sat on antique carved-wood furniture, then he disappeared to retrieve two cups of tea. I thanked him but would have guzzled if it weren’t scalding.

“Have you enjoyed the brain?” he asked.

“What?”

“Brain. Brain. Have you enjoyed the brain?” He signaled with wiggling, falling fingers.

“Oh, yes. I’ve enjoyed the rain. Thank you.”

We talked until my tea’s temperature was just tolerable. Then I guzzled, excused myself, and flew from the unwanted kindness. I made my husband warm my feet with the pink, quivering flesh of his thighs.

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