Johnny America


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?”


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

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


“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.


“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.

Filed under Fiction on September 2nd, 2010

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