#fridayflash: good neighbours

I want to post this just in case. I don't mean to accuse anyone of anything, and I don't wish anyone ill.

I like living in this building. It's quiet. The first time I ever said more than a "Hello, how are you?" to any of my neighbours is when I had a dinner party two years after moving in. I decided to make chicken in a sherry garlic sauce. The party was a bit of a bust anyhow (that was the night Sara and Jeremy broke up), and the next evening Mrs. Renaldi knocked on my door and said the cooking smell had bothered her and her husband.

Don't get me wrong — she was so sweet about it and so apologetic about even mentioning. She explained that both of them had grown up on traditional garlicky Italian foods, but they just couldn't digest them anymore, and the smell made them queasy. She gave me a recipe for chicken in red wine and herbs to make instead. I've made it; it's good.

I work from home during the day, three days a week. Somehow the members of the condo board found out — I guess I mentioned it to Mrs. Renaldi — and they asked if I could let in repair people. It's a small condo building, and it seems like I'm the only one around during the day, so I said I would.

I only have to handle a repair call once every other month or so. I let them into the unit with the master key, wait for them while they do their work, sign off on the invoice, and then lock up again. No big deal.

My neighbours' apartments always make me self-conscious about my housekeeping. Those kitchens look like they've never been cooked in. Sometimes an old book will be left on the coffee table, but that's the only sign anyone even lives there.

The board meetings are held every March. I never went, because it's been my experience in other buildings that newer owners never get listened to, but Mrs. Renaldi met me in the hall one night and asked me especially to attend this year.

It turns out all the other owners bought me a gift card at this really nice Spanish restaurant as a thank-you for dealing with the repair people. I felt like a total idiot, because I was just in a sweater and slacks and everyone else was dressed up. Mrs. Renaldi apologised and said it was her fault for not telling me it was semi-formal attire. The other owners were very friendly, asked how I liked living in the building, asked about my work. After the meeting glasses of wine were handed out. Mr. Dentscu, the condo board president, handed me my glass with a little old-fashioned flourish. Drinking wine always makes me flush, and Mr. Redbaum said, "Miss Apple, it's very tempting to take a bite out of those rosy cheeks."

Mrs. Renaldi gasped, and Mr. Dentscu reprimanded him for being inappropriate. I said I knew he was only joking, but they took it very seriously and wouldn't let him near me the rest of the evening. Mr. Dentscu even walked me back to my unit. I saw through the peep-hole that he stayed outside until he heard the door lock.

The following week, I went out to the Spanish restaurant with a friend from work, and we went and saw a movie after. On the way home I cut through the back alley. Normally I wouldn't at night, but I guess the drinks from dinner made me reckless.

A man was lying on the ground, and another man was kneeling over him. I was stupid. I ran forward and asked if I could help, and the kneeling man turned his head and hissed at me, like a cat. A giant, angry, interrupted cat.

It was Mr. Redbaum, and I could see his... fangs.

Someone grabbed me from behind and pulled me into the shadows. I tried to scream, but they'd pressed one hand very tightly over my mouth.

"It's all right dear, it's only me," said Mrs. Renaldi's voice, and I realised she was the one holding me. I would never have guessed she was that strong. "Why don't we go sit in the lobby together, yes? I'm sure the sight of this is upsetting to you."

Somehow I made my body relax, and Mrs. Renaldi led me to the back door and our lobby.

"I'm going to have to report him," she said. "It's against the rules to hunt so close by. He'll get evicted, I'm sure, but it's got to be on the security cameras so there's no point hiding it." She patted my hand. "You poor thing. You must be terrified."

"Are you... I mean, you must be..."

"Oh yes, you're completely right, we are." She smiled at me with her just her eyes, I guess to hide her teeth. "Everyone in the building is except for you."

"I have to get out of here," I choked out.

"Do you want me to help you get upstairs?" said Mrs. Renaldi.

"But then I'll be trapped," I said, and I guess saying something that stupid made the shock wear off a bit, because I stood up and headed for the front exit doors. Mrs. Renaldi was standing in front of the door, blocking my way. The stories are true — they can move really fast.

"Miss Apple," she said, "no owner will ever attack you so long as you live here. Mr. Dentscu has strictly forbidden it."

"He has?"

Mrs. Renaldi reached out and patted me on the hand again. "Oh my dear," she said. "We really do appreciate all the help you give us during the daytime. It's so difficult for us to be available during regular working hours."

"Appreciate?"

"Oh yes. You're such a good neighbour."