The Lady Upstairs
They called her a wild woman. They called her a cackler. She used to thump above us with the bass of the music rattling the little, silver balls against our ceiling lights. The strings lassoed around the balls used to dance too. We didn’t see much of her, but we imagined her made up, her eyes covered in purple when they closed.
Sailors used to visit her. They called her port and home and siren. They spoke of her kindnesses, her many soothing ways. They snorted and spit in the streets, they puffed their chests. But when they reached our stoop they hung their heads low, they took off their hats and bowed to all us littles. When she called to them they nearly knocked us over to get up to the lady upstairs, their change shuffling in their pockets.
They left rosy-cheeked and dreamy-eyed. Above us, little clouds of smoke stretched out into the night sky, white and thick until they were just air. We’d look until her hand dangled out the window, her thin arm covered in bracelets, tapping the ash off the tip of a cigarette. She rarely showed herself in the street. Anytime she passed us she asked why we weren’t listening to music. We asked her why and she said, you’re young, you ought to be dancing.
The day the ceiling shook in an angry way and her monkey yelps turned to screams mother climbed the lady’s stairs. Yells and bellows muted through the ceiling into warbles and thuds to us below. Then our mom walked into our apartment, carrying the lady from upstairs. She said, off the sofa. The lady was naked, bleeding from the nose. Mom said blanket, and the bleeding lady from upstairs shook her bracelets in protest. Let them see me, she said. My mom nodded her head just once, and placed a palm up at us to stop.
When the police came they ushered out the visiting sailor from upstairs. His face looked badly beaten. His head hung low as he passed us, our door open, my mom leaning against the jam with her proud arms crossed.
Mom never closed our curtains in the night. She said let them see her. Let them see all of us. Let them make their own stories. We are the ones having all the fun now. My mom turned the radio on, though she didn’t dance she watched us jump and wiggle. We watched the lady from upstairs roam our apartment from room to room, dancing, sometimes crying all the while. My mom called her free and alive and perfect. Mom called us all perfect. She said it all the time, she said it with plaster and insulation and bones.