“Look,” Jeremy said. “I know how high rents normally are. I’m letting the room below market value. I have just one condition.”
“What?” I asked.
“Can I trust you?” he asked.
“Good. My only condition is that you never step into the third bedroom.”
“I guess that’s okay.”
“I’m serious. The door is locked anyway, so don’t even try. But no matter what you hear or smell or see, no matter what happens, even if the door is unlocked – you can never open the door. And especially you can never step inside.”
The third room. For nearly six months I lived next to it, for nearly six months I walked past it every day. For nearly six month I heard every night how Jeremy walked out of his bedroom shortly before midnight, unlocked the door to the third room and sneaked inside.
I admit that I was curious. When I moved in I thought he might just be growing marijuana or something of that sort – and honestly I didn’t care. The rent was low enough as that I would have accepted much worse conditions.
Without a doubt Jeremy was the best roommate I ever had. Clean, tidy, quiet, friendly and always relaxed no matter what I did wrong. Twice a week Jeremy and I shared a beer or two on the balcony. As if to prove my suspicion he occasionally pulled a joint from his pocket. Still, whatever people might say about drugs, he was a good person. On his bedside table were always a small cross, a calendar with motivational quotes and a picture of his mother.
I never saw Jeremy leave the third room. He entered late at night, often just dressed in his nightgown, and stayed in the room long enough that I went to bed before he left. But in the mornings he always came out of his normal bedroom with a yawn, messy hair and a craving for coffee.
It was the end of my second month when I heard Jeremy’s moaning for the first time. I was just on my way back from the bathroom to my room and passed by the third room. His voice was muffled as if he was trying hard to hold his pleasure in.
In the morning I grinned at him. The machine brewed an overly strong coffee and Jeremy rubbed his eyes.
“Had fun last night?” I asked.
“No need to hide it,” I said. “I don’t mind. But it’s nice that you keep it down.”
Jeremy stared at me. For several seconds the only thing I heard were the buzzing and trickling sounds of the coffee machine.
“Okay,” he said. “Sure.”
Then he pulled his half-filled coffee cup out of the machine and walked briskly back to his room.
The rest of Jeremy’s coffee ran straight into the drip tray.
For a few days he kept it quiet. Then I heard him again. It was nearly 2am. His moan was clearly audible.
“Porno addict.” I’m not sure if I just thought the word or if I whispered it to myself. I thought about opening the door to shock and surprise him, but the moment my hand fell on the cold and smooth door handle I remembered his warning – his one condition.
And I thought that maybe I myself wouldn’t like to be seen while watching porn.
For weeks I ignored it. I ignored when it got louder. I ignored when it started earlier.
The smell was only faint but clearly there. A fusion of the scents of sweat and moist rot squeezed constantly through the narrow gap under the door and left a sickeningly sweet taste on my mouth whenever I passed the room. I imagined heaps of ‘used’ tissues rotting in a corner.
I managed to ignore the moans and the smell. Then Jeremy began whispering.
One early morningI heard him through the door. I couldn’t make out the words but it sounded as if he was pleading with someone. Then his moans began again.
I’m not one to judge easily. I’m sure I talked to my porn before. But every night? And with such an obedient, slave-like tone?
The scent grew into a nauseating odor that slowly lodged itself into the furniture of the corridor and living room, finally even of that in my room. No matter how much I aired the apartment – the stench was everywhere, even in my clothes. People on the bus seemed to avoid sitting next to me.
I had lived in the apartment for more than five months and Jeremy had become a good friend. Despite his erratic behavior regarding his porn cave I thought he would understand if I asked him to act on the smell.
Instead he got angry. He was always calm, but when I told him that the smell bothered me he began to scream at me. His face turned red and his nostrils flared while he made it clear that “once and for all, the room is taboo.”
When he stopped screaming I retreated to my room. Jeremy stayed in the living room with a somewhat dazzled but still angry expression on his face.
I thought it was the wrong time to tell him that he looked somewhat sick. He was paler than usual, his skin had nearly taken a greenish tone. I blamed his tantrum on that disease.
Later that evening, after he had already locked the door of the third room behind him, I noticed that Jeremy had taken the bucket from the bathroom.
The next morning the smell was still there, but it was weaker. Instead a draft seemed to suck air through the small gap below the door into the third room.
I only noticed the problem at night, when I came home after work. The corridor smelled better and so did my room – but the window didn’t bring relief anymore. Instead the open window seemed to make the smell worse.
I kept my window open, hoping for the best.
I was already in bed when his pleading began. The words that reached me through the window weren’t as muffled as they had been through the door. Between each sentence was a short break as if Jeremy was waiting for an answer. There was no answer.
“I don’t want to.”
“Please don’t make me.”
“I can’t anymore.”
Then he sobbed.
Then his moans began.
For the first time I realized that his moans weren’t moans of pleasure.
I lasted for nine days. I just couldn’t close my heart enough to close the window.
I lasted for nine days.
Nine days of the increasingly suffocating smell.
Nine days of pleading whispers and moans of pain.
Nine days and every day Jeremy seemed to look worse.
The tenth day, that was last Sunday.
I saw Jeremy in the kitchen, drinking nearly a liter of milk in one go. Several freshly opened eggshells were on the work surface – without any sign of a pan.
Jeremy was shaking while he walked. His face was so thin as if he was starving. His face and hands had a green skin tone.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” he said while stumbling out of the kitchen and against the doorframe.
To say that it was accidental would be a lie. I wanted to go to the bathroom anyway but when I heard Jeremy’s room door open I quickly jumped out of my chair. On the way to the bathroom I nearly ran against Jeremy.
He swayed to the side. I passed him.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Just a couple more days.”
I tried to glance into the room while he opened the door, but Jeremy got nervous. He turned around and saw me standing in the bathroom doorway. He stared at me until I left.
I heard the door to the third bedroom open. Then there was an odd clicking noise.
Coming back from the bathroom I saw it straight away.
The door was slightly ajar.
I stood and stared at the door.
Jeremy’s whispers began again.
“I can’t even walk anymore”
“Please not today.”
A labored breath.
Jeremy moaned loudly.
“Not so hard,” he said.
My hand closed around the doorknob.
Jeremy moaned as if from strong pain.
I pulled the door open.
The room was dark except for the sparse light that came through the open window. There was no furniture, only a large mattress on the floor.
On the mattress was Jeremy.
On Jeremy kneeled a frail figure. The figure’s head with its long black hair was pressed onto Jeremy’s shoulder.
Jeremy saw me first.
“No!” he screamed.
The figure raised its head.
Her eyes were completely white.
Still I recognized her straight away.
Blood was on her chin.
I had seen her face many times on Jeremy’s bedside table.
Jeremy tried to hold her, but she hissed and pushed his arm aside.
Her fingernails dug into the floor.
His mother crawled towards me.