In the last few years Nelson’s apartment building had, in his words, rotted from within. His own apartment, a shrine of memorabilia, sagged with age. Baseball photos and faded pennants, world’s fair trinkets, souvenirs from all the colorless places he’d traveled selling everything from insurance to Texas grapefruit—all of it covered in a film of decay. He couldn’t see it. Ensconced in a Lazy-boy, TV tray to the side holding a box of cigars that were never smoked—only chewed, he’d scan the room smiling at the memories.
With the kitchen window opened to draw in the cool morning air, he jammed up his toast, no butter—like the smoking, butter had been stricken by the doctors—and sat at the yellowed, paisley kitchen table reading about the damn liberal mayor and his coddling of the homeless.
The last bite, perfectly nibbled to deliver a crustless, sweet crunch, was on its way to his mouth when a wind-born odor slipped into his nostrils—curry, heavy on the onions.
“Shit!” He crammed the bite in, but the moment had been lost. “Goddamned immigrants.” He dumped his half-full coffee into the sink. “Curry for goddamned breakfast. Who the hell…”
Last night it had been allspice and oregano from the Jamaican family, wafting in when he tried to catch the evening breeze. Lunch was the worst, an onslaught of garlic and peppers, smells from cooked meats, “that sure as hell ain’t beef.” And the ever present miasma of discordant music that filled the commons.
He slammed the window shut, its single pane rattling discomfort, and, not for the first time, marched in his slippers out the door and down the hall. “This is the last goddamn time,” he told himself. He stood outside his neighbor’s door, a purple and gold tile hung above the peephole depicting a Hindu word beyond Nelson’s understanding.
Gladys, from the end of the hall, opened her door. “What’s the matter, Mr. Hammond? You alright?”
Nelson looked down at his housecoat and slippers, fingered his beard and turned toward her. “Mind your own business, Gladys. I’ll handle it.”
The woman slunk back inside and softly closed the door.
As Nelson raised his hand to pound his complaint, he heard the chain-lock slide open. Before he could move to pretend he’d only been walking by, the Prakesh family’s door swung wide. Nadja Prakesh stood holding a trey loaded with opaque plastic containers bearing lids of green and blue.
“Namaste, Mr. Hammond, sir. I was just coming to offer you a meal for you to have for your lunch or dinner, perhaps. I know you prefer chicken, and are watching the quantity of, umm, calories you are eating, so we, my daughters and I, we cooked this with low-fat yogurt and with only a little bit of ghee. The naan is also made with you in mind. I hope you do not take offense of us thinking of you and your, umm, diet. But we admit that the wonderful smells that come from our apartment must make you hungry at times and so, well, namaste, Mr. Hammond.”