by Sophie Kearing
Grating laughter drills up through the floorboards and into our living room.
“She legit sounds like a witch,” I mutter, turning up the volume on our T.V.
“What?” my boyfriend Keagan says, ever tolerant of the antagonistic racket produced by our downstairs neighbors.
“That crazy cackling? Her huge, crooked nose? The black rat’s nest on her head? Slap some green face paint on her and she’d be a dead ringer for the Wicked Witch of the West.”
Keagan tries to cheer me up with a Harry Potter reference. “Should we buy her a broom and make her fly away? Maybe a Nimbus 2000?”
“And waste, like, a thousand galleons on her?”
“You’re right,” he says. “I’d much rather spend all our galleons on butterbeer.”
The next evening, we opt for board games in our kitchen, as it’s usually quieter in there. We’re not playing for five minutes before we hear the bass-filled bray of the witch’s husband.
“Wow,” I say. “He literally sounds like a hungry donkey.”
“Maybe we should feed him,” Keagan says, blowing on the dice superstitiously.
“What do donkeys even eat?”
In the name of research, my boyfriend pulls out his phone. “Looks like… grass… berries… and bark.”
“Well, we don’t have any of that. Too bad they don’t eat ramen or chocolate pudding.”
Later, Keagan and I stand in our bathroom, brushing our teeth and thanking our lucky stars that the only sound beneath our feet is the roar of the neighbors’ shower. But then it starts: the revolting grunts and wails of sex that’s desperate to be heard.
“Oh my god—EW!” I practically throw my toothbrush into its holder and flee into our room.
My boyfriend joins me in bed. “My god,” he laughs. “It seriously sounds like a witch and a donkey mating!”
We pull the covers over our heads and watch YouTube videos on my tablet until we both fall asleep.
Around two a.m., we’re both jolted awake by the cries of the baby downstairs. Angry, we smash our pillows into our heads.
At three a.m., the baby is screeching. My anger has dissolved into a brand of concern that only women know. “Why don’t they just feed him? I legit have milk coming in just listening to him!”
“Ooh, that sounds delicious,” Keagan jokes, slipping his hand under my t-shirt.
I swat him away. “I’m serious. I’m worried.”
By 4 a.m., the baby is issuing horse, ragged shrieks every few minutes.
Tears in my eyes, I whisper, “This is awful.”
Keagan mumbles unintelligibly and rolls over. How on earth can he sleep through this?
My heart aches for the neglected soul downstairs. “He’s confused and scared down there,” I say wetly, perhaps overly fraught due to lack of sleep. Why I haven’t heard the baby’s parents stir or speak once is beyond me. Lord only knows they have no qualms about making their presence known any other time of day.
Three hours later, the alarm on my phone rips me from a dead sleep. I drive to work and move through my blessedly short shift in a bleary-eyed haze. During my commute home, I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to nap a few hours before Keagan, who has showings until six today, returns.
The donkey and the witch will be at work, I reason. The baby will be at daycare.
I pull into my building’s parking lot. I am absolutely crestfallen to see the witch’s car, complete with tacky leopard print seat covers and hot pink dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Who the fuck uses neon dice to decorate their car? Are we in a sleazy drug movie from the 90’s? Does this cauldron-stirring hellion run coke at night instead of comforting her screaming child?
Once I’m inside, it becomes obvious that the witch is determined to prove that no, actually, she’s a doting mother. She’s shouting “Peek-a-boo!” so loudly you’d be able to hear it from space. Her exaggerated volume elicits her infant son’s laughter, but it’s the kind that has a hysterical lilt to it. Sure enough, his confused, overtired giggling transitions into sobbing.
So much for the siesta I had planned.
I yank open our broom closet. It’s time to exact some revenge by having a little afternoon vacuuming sesh with the huge, outdated Hoover Keagan’s mom gave us. I take my sweet time, even lifting furniture to get at the carpet beneath it. When I finish, I’m satisfied to find that a quiet stillness has descended upon the building. I lay on the couch and fall asleep almost immediately. Too bad I’m jarred awake a mere ten minutes later by the howling of the pit bull downstairs. Apparently, the donkey has returned home and is howling as well, egging his canine on.
Does no one work nine to five anymore?
I feel crabbier and more tired than I did before I laid down. I stomp into my bedroom and put on my headphones in hopes that I’ll fall back asleep. But all I do is fidget under the sheets, fling off the comforter then pull it back on, prop myself up on pillows then push them to the floor. When Keagan gets home, he lays next to me with his suit still on.
He threads my anger-tossed hair behind my ear. “Rough day?”
“I have something that might cheer you up.”
Lifelessly, I ask, “What?”
“See for yourself. It’s in my pocket.”
I sigh loudly and throw my forearm over my eyes. “Can’t you see that I’m too tired to play with your boner?”
My boyfriend issues a loud bark of laughter. “Well, I didn’t have a boner before, but all this talk about my boner is giving me a boner.”
I turn away from him.
Keagan gets up, circles the bed, and sits next to me. “Come on. See what’s in my pocket. By the way, perve, I meant my jacket pocket, not my pants pocket.”
I jam my hand into his suit jacket and extract keys. “What are these? Did you buy a new car?”
“They aren’t car keys,” he says, locking eyes with me.
“Oh my god.” I jerk upright. “Are they…?”
“The keys to our new home? Yep.”
“Keagan!” I stand. “Keagan, can we afford a house?”
He chuckles affably. “Of course we can. My commissions have been off the chain and my galleons are piled high. Plus it was a short sale. I practically stole the place, and even better: it’s unoccupied.”
“But… Will I like it?”
“Only if you like walk-in closets, quartz countertops, wood burning fireplaces, and a whole lotta peace and quiet.”
“Oh my god!” I hop excitedly. “OH MY GOD!”
Keagan jumps alongside me. “OH MY GOD, I’M THE BEST!”
We continue pounding around our room and calling out as if in the throes of passion.
Suddenly, there’s a banging below our feet.
“Um, are they taking a broom to their own ceiling?” Keagan asks.
“Thank god we never bought her a Nimbus 2000. That crazy witch clearly already has one.” I climb onto our bed, launch myself off the mattress, and come to a thunderous landing on the hardwood. “YES, KEAGAN! YEEEEEESSS!”
My boyfriend joins in my nonsensical mockery of the witch and the donkey by opening and slamming our dresser drawers while emitting one loud, final moan. When we’re done with our wild celebration, the building is steeped in stunned silence.
“They know there’s no way they can win,” Keagan whispers and pulls me to him. “What do you say we go take a look at the new house, maybe christen it with a few bottles of butterbeer?”
I bring his face to mine for a lingering kiss. “Keagan, I like the way you think.”
A few months later we learn that after we’d left, the police had knocked on our door because of a noise complaint made by the donkey himself. To this day, we have no idea how they were able to decipher the meaning of his pathetic brays over the phone lines.
Sophie Kearing loves drinking coffee, interacting on Twitter, and writing short stories. Her work has been featured by Spelk Fiction, Horror Tree, Ellipsis Zine, Left Hand Publishers, and Moonchild Magazine. She has pieces upcoming in Mojave Heart Review and Jolly Horror Press. Find her on Twitter @SophieKearing.