The little house had been built sometime in the mid 1940’s and sat on a tiny lot on the shady side of Silver Street. The neighborhood had changed over the years, the homes once belonging to single families were bought up and divided into apartments usually rented by students and semi-ambitious twenty-somethings who wanted a relatively safe taste of city life.
He had been there about a year, days spent work for minimum wage and nights spent picking out melodies on the old upright piano in the living room. The apartment was small and a little shabby, but it had an amazing picture window that opened out onto the struggling excuse for a front yard. The piano was set up against the wall so he could stare out the window as he played, and on warm days, music would drift out as the occasional winged insect would drift in. He was always considerate of the middleaged couple who shared the cramped one bedroom above him, never playing too loud or past 9pm. He knew they could hear him, because he could hear every footstep on the floorboards above.
One day he returned home to find a “for rent” sign stuck in the dust of the front yard and a few days later, a moving truck appeared to spirit away his neighbors and their possessions. The upstairs apartment sat vacant for almost two months, but he continued his routine of quiet practice until 9, though it was quite unnecessary. The weeks passed until he came home to see the now familiar “for rent” sign gone and a smaller moving van parked in front of the house. Thinking nothing of it, he unlocked his door and proceeded to make dinner. A knock on the door caused him to jerk upright from his plate of spaghetti, and he approached the door warily, as if some assailant lurked on the other side, weapon poised and ready. Dismissing the notion, he opened the door slowly.
A young woman peered around the opening door at him. She was short, with coppery hair that was pulled back in a neat ponytail. She was slight, but he guessed that was more from frequent exercise than anything else.
“Hi. My name is…” Her name was lost as he stared at her, overcome. She was not particularly beautiful, but somehow he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He managed to mumble his name and a handful of pleasantries, and she smiled, revealing a tiny gap between her two front teeth. She said something about unpacking and headed up the stairs to her apartment.
He closed the door, attempting to kickstart his dumbstruck brain. He made his way back to the piano bench and sat staring out the window for some time. Her footsteps were soft on the floorboards above, much quieter and more rhythmic than the drudging thuds of his previous neighbors.
Each night he sat at the piano, composing songs to the tattoo of her feet on the floorboards above, weaving his notes in time with her steps. Though all that ever passed between them was little more than cordial nods, he knew he loved her just the same. So afflicted was his poor romantic soul that he pounded out his longing on the battered old Steinway in hopes that she would realize how he felt.
A year passed in this way, and times had become a bit rough for him. Work wasn’t as easy to find and he was getting behind in his rent. The landlord, a kindly old soul named Henry, informed him that it might be best to find some place that was a little more affordable. A few weeks later, he was gone. No music drifted out from the picture window onto Silver Street.
Henry was preparing to clean the place when she happened to be leaving one day for rehearsal. Ever the friendly one, she popped her head around the door to the downstairs apartment to wish Henry good luck with the cleaning. What she saw wiped her original intent from her mind. The old man was standing in the middle of the now empty living room, amid a riot of sheet music. She stared for a minute before entering the apartment. She stepped carefully, not wanting to tread on any of the paper. She bent in one fluid, graceful motion, picking up one piece alternately titled “ Tuesday, 7pm” and “Quiet Excitement”. She studied it, trying to imagine the way the piece would sound based on what she could dredge up from her study of music in college. She asked Henry if she could take the sheet with her and the old man merely shrugged assent.
Following rehearsal she gave the piece to the dance company’s accompanist and asked her to play it. The song was oddly captivating and she found herself picking out some steps to a dance as she listened. As the song progressed, she felt more and more compelled to dance, and gave herself over to it. When the piano went silent, the accompanist looked at her.
“Who wrote this? Whoever it was seems to have a deep understanding of your sense of rhythm.”
“My downstairs neighbor…well my old downstairs neighbor wrote it. I found it this morning after he moved out. “
The accompanist thought for a moment.
“Is there more?”
“Well, yes,” she replied, distracted. “…there was a lot more…but Henr- I mean my landlord, threw them out. “
The accompanist sighed, shaking her head.
“How well did you know this neighbor? Were you seeing each other?”
She shook her head.
“We never really talked, other than the day I moved in. He was real quiet, just kept to himself. I knew he played the piano…I would hear it sometimes…but I got so used to it I just tuned it out after a while.”
“Well,” the accompanist said, “if I were you I would go get the rest of that music out of the trash. I haven’t seen you dance that well, that in the moment since you’ve been here. This neighbor seems to know something we don’t.”
She nodded, only half listening. She was trying to remember what his name had been. He told her on the day they met, the day she moved in. But somehow, she couldn’t remember. Thanking the accompanist, she grabbed the sheet music and headed for her car. Once there, she dug out her cellphone and called Henry.
“Um…Henry? This is Evelyn, from 710B on Silver Street? I have a weird question for you. Did you throw away all that sheet music that was in the downstairs apartment? Oh. You did? Well, no worries. No, no it’s not a problem. Um…what was the name of the downstairs tenant? Oh. You can’t tell me? No, I understand…Thanks Henry. Wait…Henry? Did he leave a way to reach him? A phone number or forwarding address or something?”
* * *
Evelyn stood outside the tiny restaurant that was jammed into an old storefront on Maple and 6th. By law, Henry couldn’t give her any information about the downstairs tenant. But he mentioned that he may have seen him once or twice at a certain restaurant down on Maple. She had thanked Henry, carefully placed the sheet music back in her purse and headed downtown. She saw him through the plate glass window and hesitated at door. He would think she was crazy. Something told her to go in, so she did.
She found an open table and waited for him. He came to take her order about five minutes later, and he did a poor job of hiding his shocked recognition.
“Um…hello…” he managed.
She pulled “Tuesday, 7pm” out of her purse. At the sight of the sheet music, his eyes widened.
“Did you write this?”
He nodded slowly.
“Did you write it for me?”
Again the nod, slower this time.
“How did you do it? How could you know how to write something like this? It’s beautiful.”
His mumbled reply hung in the air like Wil E. Coyote, but it dropped into oblivion before it reached her ears.
“What? I didn’t hear you.”
“I heard you dance. “
She looked at him.
“How? I never practice at home.”
He swallowed again.
“I mean I could hear your footsteps. Something about their sound on the floorboards sounded like dancing to me. The people who lived up there before you never sounded like that, ever.”
She looked at him for a long moment and he flinched, uncomfortable, suddenly his name sprang into her mind.
“Eric.” His eyes met hers and he couldn’t keep the smile from his face as the music of her voice speaking his name threatened to carry him away on a rushing wave of long sought after, long dreamt of love. “Eric, we’ve only ever talked once, but somehow you know me. You know me better than anyone I have ever met…” she trailed off and her smile bloomed before him, revealing the little gap between her teeth like the imperfectly beautiful heart of some rainforest flower.
“They’re just songs…” he started and then shook his head a little bit.
“Eric,” He thought if she said his name again he would have to sit down. “This is not just a song. This is me. You barely know anything about me, but somehow you captured who I am, who I was at that moment with your music. I…I know it seems strange and crazy but, I can’t let you just disappear out of my life. You…I just can’t let you go.”
He sat down. His mind whirled, searching for words.
“Can I tell you something?”
“I don’t even know your name. I know you told me the day you moved in…but…I was sort of…lost in your smile. I barely remember telling you my name…”
She looked at him, eyes searching his face. He began to flinch and his mind whirled even faster, damage control beginning as the sinking feeling in his stomach heralded the breaking of his heart. And then she laughed. It was a good laugh. It lit her whole face, revealing little freckles he had not seen before. Eric breathed a long sigh of relief. His internal emergency sirens quieted, and he began to laugh too. They sat there, reveling in the absurdity of the situation and the unconscious giddiness of new romance until finally their laughter subsided. She smiled at him again, and this made her giggle.
“Make sure you’re paying attention this time. I’ll try not to dazzle you with my smile.” She offered her hand across the battered tabletop.
Eric’s face split into a smile as he took her hand in his, Evelyn watched it unfold on his face like a long kept secret, and soon she found herself lost in its warmth.