I’ve never met Mrs. De Groot, I only know her name from the doorbell. Even so, I have a feeling I know her better than anyone else in the world. I’ve heard her radio and her vacuum and the dinnerware, so loud it’s as though someone were washing up in my kitchen. I’ve heard her get up at night and shuffle around, heard her run a bath, flush the toilet, open a window. Sometimes water dripped onto my balcony when she watered her flowers, but when I leaned out and looked up, I couldn’t see anyone there. I don’t think she’s ever left her apartment. I liked the sounds. They gave me the sense of living with a sort of ghost, a benign presence watching over me. Then, a couple of weeks ago, everything went quiet. I heard nothing since. And now the creaking again.
My first thought was: it’s a break-in. While I’m undressing and going to the bathroom, I wonder whether I should call the police or the super. I’m in my nightgown when I decide to go up there myself. I’m surprisingly fearless. But then I’m not really afraid of anything ever. You’ve got to learn that, as a single woman. I pull on my robe and slip into some shoes. It’s eleven o’clock.
I have to ring twice, and then I can see the light come on through the peephole, and a young man, much younger than me, opens the door and says in a very friendly voice: Good evening. I’m thinking it was a mistake to go upstairs, and why do I always have to get involved in other people’s affairs, instead of looking after my own. But then you keep reading about people dying, and their bodies left to rot in their apartments for weeks without anyone noticing. The boy is wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt, with “Iron Maiden” on it, which I think is the name of a rock band. He isn’t wearing any shoes, and his socks are holey.