“There might be some noise.”
That’s what she had said. A phrase that did not even begin to describe what we heard every night. Those agonized screams; nothing a human should ever make.
We had just signed the contract and wanted to go from house to house to introduce ourselves to the neighbors. Hers was the door to our right, the first door we knocked on. “J&K” was written on the doorbell in fancy letters.
She must have been around sixty but her pale skin and the large dark rings around her eyes made her look at least a decade older.
“I’m Kristina,” she said. “And I want to apologize in advance. My husband is not really well and sometimes there might be some noise.”
“No problem,” I said.
“Really,” she said. “Jonathan is not very well. But please don’t call the police on us.”
“Of course, we understand.”
“He is on his bed. I can show him to you.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “We will drop by another time.”
We turned to leave. She stopped us.
“Really, please believe me. He really is just sick. He is not dangerous.”
Claire and I exchanged glances.
“That’s okay,” Claire said. “Don’t worry about us.”
“Sure?” Kristine asked.
“Sure,” I said.
We felt her stare on our backs while we walked down the small path back towards the street.
The moving van came a week later. Our life was thrown into the center of the empty living room.
The day was soaking our shirts with sweat, but we were happy. A new place. The perfect place!
We had pizza and beer and walked in celebration around the house. Singing and dancing we enjoyed our new home.
That’s when we saw him the first time, in Kristine’s house. Ground floor, the window just opposite my new office.
He was wrapped into a blanket up to a chest. Blue pajamas. Wrinkled eyelids deeply shut. A white table with bandages and medicine stood to his side.
Jonathan. Hair and skin so gray that I wondered whether he had been alive when they built the pyramids.
The door in his room opened. We quickly walked on.
It was at precisely 11:45 pm. We were just getting ready for bed; Claire in the bathroom and I already on the bed and waiting for her.
Those screams. The word agony does not even begin to describe them.
There were no words; just guttural sounds, roaring and moaning, like an animal hoping for death.
His screams stopped exactly at midnight.
“Did it stop?”
“I hope so.”
“My god,” Claire said. “What’s wrong with him?”
I shook my head.
“I hope it’s not every night like that.”
“I’m sure it won’t.”
I was wrong.
I used my office the next day. Only for a short while, but long enough to stare at the open window opposite my own and long enough to feel a nervous cold run up my spine.
Jonathan lay there all day. His eyes closed and his hands on top of the blanket. No sound. No move.
Still like a statue during the day. Screams of agony at night.
More and more I found myself in that office at night. I pretended to work but in truth I was watching.
At around 11pm Kristine would always enter the room. She held a bowl and then closed the windows and curtains. Fifteen minutes before midnight we would hear his screams again. From midnight on – silence.
We learned to listen to loud music. Drums and choir vocals worked well to cover the screams.
It was a Sunday, just two weeks after we had moved in. Claire had seen Kristine leave early in the morning. Kristine came back just before noon. I was outside when her car pulled into the driveway with boxes stuffed into the back of her car.
I took a few steps up her driveway.
“Do you need help?”
“No,” Kristine said. “I never need help.”
She walked around the car and stood in front of the back window.
“It’s okay,” I said.
“Jonathan is fine. You hear me? He is fine.”
“We don’t need your help.”
I turned to walk back to our house.
“And,” Kristine said. “As said, I’m sorry for the noise.”
That night I had the lights off and waited for her to come.
Kristine entered the room but her sleeve caught on the door handle. The bowl fell from her hands. That’s why she must have forgotten about the curtain.
She cursed and quickly left the room.
When she was back she had another bowl and set it down on the white table.
She pulled the blanket aside.
She placed a large strap over his chest.
She chained his arms and legs to the bed.
She placed another strap over his forehead and pulled it tight.
Kristine froze half-way while turning back towards the table. Quickly she ran towards the window. She glanced outside, first to the right and left, and then towards my window. Her eyes seemed to scan the darkness inside the room. Then she pulled the curtains shut.
It was another week later. Claire saw Kristine sitting on her own doorstep. Kristine was holding her side. The left side of her face seemed limp.
“Are you okay?”
“Sure,” Kristine said. “I’m always okay. Just a bit dizzy.”
Claire walked up the driveway.
“Do you need help?”
Kristine jumped to her feet but quickly felt for the wall.
“No!” she screamed. “We never need help!”
The door slammed shut behind her.
Claire was upset and angry. And still she was worried too.
I wanted to get our minds of those things. We watched TV rather than the window.
We only noticed half an hour after midnight that we hadn’t heard any screams.
I checked the window. He was there, on his bed, soundly asleep.
The room was dark. I guess that’s why I only noticed it in the morning:
Red stains all over his clothes.
The police said that half their basement was filled with empty baby food glasses.
They found Kristine’s upper half on the living room floor. A stroke, that’s what they said.
They found Kristine’s lower half on the bedroom floor, right next to him.
His body, they said, was long cold. Still they couldn’t find a cause of death.
Their burial was a week later. Urns buried in deep holes.
There were not many people at the burial. No friends, no family, just neighbors. It was one of the other neighbors that told me about it. He said he heard it from a friend.
He heard that the cremation was done faster than is customary. Normally they take two or three days.
But for Kristine and Jonathan, he said, it was done the next day.
“They didn’t even wait with the cremation until morning,” he said. “They did it just after midnight.”