The Conways lived in the flat above around the start of the decade. In those days their screaming regularly wound down the stairwell, a surreal wake up call in the early morning, a fearsome and mournful roaring that punctured the quiet of the evening. Daytime was generally free of their cries with both of them out at work. Those moments, when the flat above was silent, were ones to savour, make much of, and, of course, be thankful for.
The sounds would vary day to day in volume, pitch, intensity and intent. Voluminous rage would burst through walls and echo down the stairs to the floors below one day, the next raucous passionate love calls would trickle slowly at first from within the confines of the flat, eeking under doors and through brickwork, building with pulse of sound into a caterwaul of deep throated moans and roof scraping shrieks. It seemed their every emotion was to be shared as an outburst with the neighbouring flats.
To look at they were mostly unremarkable. He was tall but walked with a stoop, brought on, it seemed, through his relationship with her. His wife, you see, was a good deal shorter so he walked as if trying correct the disparity. She marched down the street, maximizing her stride, while he baby stepped his way beside her , attempting to ameliorate her irritation at his inconsiderate proportions. In this way they left the flat in the morning, in this way they returned, always the same time, always together.
I would often pass them on my way up the stairwell in the morning. I had taken a night job not long after they moved in, thus ensuring myself a real chance at sleep while they were out at work. I would squeeze past as they made their way down side by side, their shouting continuing unashamedly. The complaints of the residential committee had failed to silence them and my presence on the stairwell always faired just as well.
Which explains my surprise when one morning, while on my way up the stairs I found them separate on the stairwell, he at the top of a flight, standing close to the door of their flat, she a few steps down. Their shouts had reached the unintelligible pitch of animals, like the shrieks of territorial chimpanzees or raucous bluster of a swan. I made my way to my door, shaking slightly under the barrage of sound belting back and forth a few feet from me.
I focused my attention on sliding my key into the ancient Yale of my flat’s front door. The noise seemed about to extend itself out of the bounds of human hearing. I turned my key and almost made it through the door. Curiousity it seemed had a greater hold than I realized however and I turned my head toward the pair before stepping through.
Just as the sound reached escape velocity, the noise building to a sonic boom before breaking for frequencies far beyond by my human limitations, she stepped up one step toward him, then flung herself backwards down the stairs. Her head smacked hard on at least three of the concrete steps as she rolled painfully into a heap at my feet.
All sound had ceased. He stood above us, mouth open, sucking air furiously, readying himself, it seemed, for round two. She stared at me then spoke. Her normal speaking voice had an impossible musical quality at odds with every other sound I ever heard her utter.
‘You saw that didn’t you, he pushed me,’ she said.
I looked from her to him.
‘You saw he pushed me,’ she tried again.
‘I did no such thing.’ His speaking voice was a thick blanket of a baritone.
Both looked to me to settle this latest of disagreements.
‘I was nowhere near her,’ he said.
I did what I always did and pretended not to hear them. Stepping into my flat, with their voices beginning to dial up once more, I wondered whether finding and moving to a new flat would be cheaper and easier than soundproofing this one.