Joanna Penn Cooper

Dear Upstairs Neighbor,

There seems to be someone with a heavy tread who walks back and forth with shoes on, purposefully, in the mornings and in the evenings.  Unfortunately, given our thin floors, we can hear this.  It sounds very loud to us.  We wish it weren’t so. 

When this building was first erected, it was envisioned as an uptown utopia where middle class New Yorkers could live amidst a resort like atmosphere. In fact, a 1924 advertisement published in the New York Times promised a doctor, dentist, valet, barber, beauty salon and taxi stand all on premises.  There was to be a bus to drive residents up the hill from the subway stop.  The courtyard must have been lovely then, the fountain in working order, the plot of dirt around it planted with roses and vines.  Now, as we know, the walkways are crumbling and certain areas have recently been marked off with yellow caution tape.  Men from the former Yugoslavia call out to each other in the mornings as they fill in the courtyard cracks with cement.  When I go down to do laundry in the afternoon, they are all taking a break on the stoop, not eating, not smoking, just lounging on the stairs and talking, and they give me a half-smirking, half-friendly smile and don’t quite meet my eyes when I say hello.  

(I don’t know about you, but living in the city sometimes makes me feel like a clown, sort of like Giulietta Masina in Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, but less scrappy, bobby-socked Roman hooker, and more tired-out, underemployed humanities Ph.D.  I imagine, though, that, as happened to Cabiria, the more pious, the more jaded, and the more wealthy city dwellers are looking at me and wondering about my funny walk, my ineffectual defenses, my strange combination of pertness and defeat, the vulnerability I can’t hide from anyone.)

Do you think the floors of this building were always so thin?  Did you hear the fight I had with my boyfriend last week about how offended I was that he hid the Newman-O cookies from me because I tend to eat most of them before he gets to them?  Have you ever seen a ghost in here? The other night, I woke up at around 3 a.m. to a sickly toxic smell of radiator paint—it was the first night the radiators had come on this fall—and for a moment, I thought a young woman with straight dark brown hair was sitting cross-legged by my bed.  (Do people still say “Indian-style”?) Then my eyes adjusted, and it was nothing, just a large mirror I have propped against the wall.  It isn’t that I saw myself in the mirror, just that suddenly the woman was gone, and the mirror was in her place.  She was more of a girl really, but I tend to use the word “woman” for anyone above the age of 17, mostly due to my distaste for the way the word girl has been misapplied to women for so long.  Was she a ghost girl or a dream or a trick of the eyes?  I don’t expect you to know, dear neighbor.  But please ask your friend wearing soccer cleats to take them off and to find a new location in which to train miniature llamas to jump through hoops.  Feel free to play your violin anytime, though.  Perhaps the girl will like that.  

Sincerely yours,

Joanna Penn Cooper’s poems and micro-fictions have appeared in elimae, Opium, Pindeldyboz, and Supermachine, and a chapbook of poems and prose pieces, Mesmer, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2010. Her piece "Andy" appeared on the Wigleaf 2011 Longlist of best pieces of very short fiction from the previous year.

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