I see them in the corridor and on the stairwell outside my flat. They grin at me. They snicker and mutter in their language. I don’t recognize it, but my wife says it’s Greek. She is probably right. Back in Hamilton, her parents have Greek neighbours. These guys look Greek. My neighbours in Hamilton are Italian. I know Italian when I hear it, but not Greek. A lot of Greeks and Italians look a bit the same: that swarthy, manicured, southern European sheen. But what do I know?
They live in the flat above us. They moved in a couple months ago. At first they were quiet, but then the noise started. The building is old, the floors bow and creak. I hear them walk above me. I hear the music they play—awful Eurotrash disco, the worst of the European song-competition dross.
I went up there last night. I knocked on their door. It took a long time for them to answer. When they did, they were both at the door, grinning and snickering at me.
“I live downstairs. Underneath you.”
“The music. Your music. It’s too loud.”
“Iss no too loud.”
“It’s too loud. Believe me. I live downstairs. I can hear it plain as day.”
“Iss no too loud.”
One of them snorted and said something to the other one in Greek.
“It’s too fucking loud and it’s bothering me. Turn it down.”
“Iss no too loud.”
“Look, stop fucking saying that and go in there and turn the music down. Turn it down or I’m calling the estate agent.”
Now they looked worried.
“We turn it down.”
“It’s crap music anyway.”
I looked at them grinning at me.
“You guys are a cliché, listening to that shitty Eurotrash disco.”
They looked confused.
“Whaz this mean, ‘cliché’? It don’t sound nice.”
“Look it up.”
That stopped their grinning. They closed the door and I stood there, waiting. The music went off. I went back downstairs to my flat. I sat in my living room reading a book. I sipped a beer, paused, and listened. There was no music any more, not a sound coming from upstairs. It was dead quiet in the building. My wife was out at the pub. She had called earlier to say she was going out for a drink after work.
I see them all over town—in Tesco, at the chemist, the post office, the Cellar Bar on Tuesday nights. Sometimes they see me, other times they don’t. They are always together. They might be brothers; I don’t know. When they see me, they grin but never speak. That is, unless I talk to them first.
I am downstairs, in the building’s foyer, collecting my mail from the pile the postie pushed through the slot. The mail comes early here, between seven and seven-thirty. It’s one of the highlights of my day: rummaging through the mail, looking for news on my writing, a letter from home, anything. There is one lousy letter today and my B.T. bill. The Greeks appear. I am startled. I am in my pyjamas and slippers. They are fully dressed, on their way out very early. Where were they going? I make eye contact and they stop. They don’t snicker this morning. They look sober and serious. It forces me to pause.
“You looking for your mail? ”
The Greeks stare at me. Do they think I mess with their mail? I’m not sure what’s going on.
“I know that word now.”
I want to go upstairs. I feel vulnerable in my pyjamas, exposed.
“You call us cliché. I talk to people. I look it up. Iss no nice what you say.”
They’re right about that.
“You should apologize to us.”
They stand there, expectantly. I shuffle the two envelopes in my hand. I scratch my left knee through the thin material of my pyjamas. The Greeks want an apology, but I don’t give them one.
“Where you from? ” one of them asks. “You not sound Scottish.”
Now the grins return. One of them exclaims, “Oh! Can-AH-DAH. Now we know. Now we know.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean? ”
They laugh and talk in Greek.
I start getting pissed with them again.
“Hey, I said what the fuck is wrong with that? ”
They stop laughing. They look serious again. One of them says, “You say ‘fuck’ all ah time. Is that cliché? Are you cliché? ”
They start laughing their asses off now.
“Are you a Can-AH-DAH cliché? ”
I feel helpless. I need to get away. I blurt, “Just keep the fucking noise down and there won’t be any problems, got it? ”
They both look at me and grin. I turn away, head up the stairs, back to my flat. I close the door, throw the envelopes down on a table, and look for coffee. My wife is gone. She went for a run or something. The flat is deadly quiet once more.
At four o’clock in the morning I wake up to thumping and banging. I sit up in bed. I’m alone and confused. It’s pitch black in my flat. My wife is not here. She’s in Sheffield or some place for a work conference. More thumping and banging. The walls shake and vibrate from the impact. What the fuck? What the fuck are those Greeks up to now?
I sit up in the centre of my bed. BANG! It sounds like someone is being thrown against the wall. I jump to my feet. There is a loud thud against the floor right above me. I search for my slippers. I’ve had it with these Greeks. This is ridiculous. I’m wide awake. I grab my keys so I won’t lock myself out and storm out the door and up the stairs. I bang on their door with my right fist. I hear more thumping and banging. I hammer on the door when there is a break in the noise. It goes quiet. I pound on the door some more. I knock five or six times. It is quiet and calm but I am enraged. The Greeks don’t come to the door. I press my nose in the door jam and holler, “I know you’re in there! Open the fucking door!”
I bang some more. “Open it, you fuckers. You Greek fuckers!”
It’s futile. They are not coming to the door. I kick their door and then return to my flat. I can’t sleep. I make coffee and sit in the bay window, looking out on the street. There is no more noise from upstairs, not even the sound of feet walking across the ceiling. The Greeks have shut it down completely.
I see them late the next day, on my way back from the post office. I stop them on the concrete stairs of our building. I’m enraged again.
“What was all that noise in the middle of the night? ”
I didn’t get enough sleep. I’m overtired and grumpy.
“What the fuck were you guys doing? ”
They look at me meekly.
“You didn’t answer your door. You must have fucking heard me banging on it.”
One of the Greeks says, “We were worried. We didn’t want to open the door. You sounded very angry.”
“I was fucking angry. You woke me up and I never got back to sleep. It sounded like you were throwing each other around up there. What the fuck was that all about? ”
The grins come back.
“You say ‘fuck’ too much. You should try and stop. Iss cliché.”
I look at the swarthy Greek fucker who said it.
“Fuck that,” I say.
It makes him laugh and he relaxes a little.
“We were wrestling. That is all.”
“Wrestling? What the fuck? At four in the morning? What kind of a fucked-up thing is that to do? ”
“Yess. We just wrestle.”
“Another fucking cliché,” I fire back. “Keep it the fuck down or I’m calling the estate agent.”
I push past them into the building.
Early the next morning, I sit at the table by the bay window, drinking coffee. Our flat is on the second floor. There are no buildings here over four storeys. I look out on the town, like a nosey old woman scouring the street. It’s quiet in the flat, in the entire building. My wife has gone to Dundee for the day. I didn’t see her before she left. She took the bus early this morning with a woman from France who she works with. They’re going shopping. I go too sometimes, but not today. I like the Virgin Megastore, but nothing else about Dundee. It reminds me too much of Hamilton and Windsor. It’s the teenaged pregnancy capital of Scotland, possibly all of Europe. The pimply faced moms and dads pushing prams depress me. If you’re still using Clearasil at night, you’re too young to be a parent. The moms all look bitchy and tough. The dads tougher still, dressed in dark blue Umbro shell suits, trainers untied, sideways caps, sucking on fags, chewing on toothpicks or guzzling tins of lager. They skulk and trawl the high street, faces greasy from the chemical ooze of the drugs they gobble. And the entire city stinks—from the oil refineries, puke, piss, and dog shit. I can live without Dundee today.
Here they come. The Greeks. Back from an early trip to Tesco. I’d assumed they were sleeping still, that that’s why it is quiet upstairs. But, no, they are up early. Their hands are loaded with shopping bags. They grin and yammer to each other as they walk down the pavement toward our building. It is a bright, sunny morning. The Greeks each wear black toques and black ski jackets, though it is not really that cold. Another cliché: overdressed continental Europeans who think the east coast of Scotland is the coldest place on earth. It’s likely plus four or five degrees, which is not cold, not by Canadian standards. I want to tell the Greeks that they don’t know cold; that they should come to Canada and they will experience real cold. But now I’m thinking in clichés. I huff at the sight of the Greeks. I should have gone to Dundee with my wife. It feels like I haven’t seen her in weeks. For a moment, as the sun reflects up off a puddle on the street into my face, my mind fogs and I can’t picture my wife’s face. What does she look like? Where is she?
“Fucking Greeks,” I mutter, as I sip my now lukewarm coffee.
The thumping and banging starts again. I jerk up in bed and immediately feel dizzy. My wife is not in bed. She must be watching TV or in the washroom. bang! It sounds like someone just dropped an anvil on the floor above me. Then the lower thumping noises start again. Then bang! Another anvil. Or the impact of demolition. Is that what’s going on? Are those fucking Greeks demolishing the flat above me? That’s not wrestling. There’s more going on up there.
I put on shoes and stomp up the stairs to the Greeks’ flat. This time my pounding is answered right away. Their door flies open. The two Greeks stand in front of me, almost naked, sweaty; their bodies strangely hairless. They wear only loincloths. No joke: loincloths. The fucking Greeks wear loincloths. I step back and shake my head. They sneer at me and then grin.
“What the fuck? ”
The Greeks stand there, breathing hard, sweating.
“What the fuck is going on? I mean, really, what the fuck is going on? What are you wearing? ”
“Iss no your business what we do, what we wear.”
One of the Greeks steps toward me. They are uncharacteristically aggressive.
“What you want? ”
“The noise! The fucking banging! What the fuck are you doing in there? More wrestling? ” I crane my neck to look past them into their flat.
“Iss no your business.”
“Fucking right it is. It’s my fucking business when I’m right below you trying to sleep.”
Now both Greeks are really close to me. I can smell the garlic in their sweat.
“You faggot? ” one Greek asks quickly.
“What? What the fuck? ”
“You faggot? Iss simple question. Iss that why you bang on our door? ”
The Greek who asked snickers to the other one. He says, “Pousti.” They both laugh.
I want to grab the fucker, yank him out into the corridor and beat the shit out of him. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time. But where do I grab him? They’re both wearing loincloths and are slick with sweat.
I stab a finger at the Greeks one at a time, at both their bald chests.
“I’m not a faggot, get it? And so what if I was? You fucking Greeks should know there’s nothing wrong with that. And besides, you’re the fuckers who are pretty much naked, sweaty, making a fuck-load of noise like you’ve been fucking each other up the ass for the past hour. You’re the ones who look like faggots!”
“We no faggots. We brothers. We just wrestle.”
My head spins.
“What? What the fuck? What’s with this wrestling shit? I don’t believe it. At four in the morning? You wrestle in the middle of the night? ”
The Greeks shrug their sweaty shoulders.
“How old are you two? ”
“I twenty-two. He twenty-three. We brothers. We wrestle. You no wrestle with your brother? ”
I look at the Greek who answered.
“You’ve got to be kidding. Yeah, I wrestled with my brother. When I was a fucking kid! Not now. Not as an adult. There’s a big difference.”
Again the Greeks shrug their shoulders.
“And you’re keeping me and my wife awake!”
Now the Greeks raise their eyebrows rather than shrug their shoulders.
Now what the fuck, I wonder.
“Your wife? Where your wife? We no see your wife? Where is she? ”
They grin and snicker.
“She’s downstairs,” I answer feebly.
“Yess? We no see her. We see only you. We only ever see you. You follow us around—to the Tesco. To the post office. To the Cellar Bar. You look at us. You sit in window and watch us. You come upstairs in the night to see us. You must be faggot. And we no see your wife.”
I’ve had it. I reel back and throw a haymaker at the Greek who called me a faggot. I miss his head. My punch hits his sweaty shoulder and deflects off into the plaster, where my fist gets stuck for a second. The Greeks are quick. The other Greek grabs me by the arm and wrenches it behind my head half-nelson style. It hurts like fuck. I go to elbow him in the ribs with my one free arm but the other Greek stops me. They both hold me. They bring me down. I grunt and resist, kicking and scratching, but the Greeks are too much for me. They are wrestlers, after all. The one Greek sits on my chest, his knees pinning my arms back like we used to do on the playground. His stinking, loinclothed Greek crotch is right in my face.
“Get the fuck off me!”
I bang my heels on the floor.
“You say ‘fuck’ too much,” the Greeks say in unison. They laugh at me.
I shake my head back and forth, close my eyes and bear down, trying to summon the strength to shake two nearly naked Greeks off me.
Then I feel them relax their hold on me. I open my eyes and there’s my wife standing there, wearing only an old T-shirt. Lying on the floor, I can see up her T-shirt easily. She is wearing white panties. Where did she come from?
“What the fuck? ” she says.
The Greeks snicker. One of them says, “Yess. Ah yess. Your wife. She from Can-AH-DAH too? She say ‘fuck’ all ah time, too? We hear her say it before.”
The Greeks stand in their doorway.
“Fuck you, Greeks,” I manage.
“Go back downstairs,” my wife says. “You’re making an ass of yourself. You’ve lost it this time.”
“I’m calling the estate agent on those two.”
I point up at the Greeks from where I lie on the floor.
“Who cares? ” one Greek says. “Fuck the estate agent. Iss our flat. We pay rent. We just wrestle.”
My wife looks pissed. But she helps me up off the floor. I stand there, wiping crumbs and crap off my pyjamas. The Greeks stand defiant in their loincloths.
“Fucking Greeks,” I say low, as my wife leads me down the stairs to our flat.
I look at her closely.
“Where have you been? I feel like I haven’t seen you in weeks.”
She peers at me.
“What? What the fuck are you talking about? Are you accusing me of something? Seriously—what the fuck are you saying? You’ve been obsessing over things too much.”
“Like the Greeks.”
“Yeah, like the Greeks. They have names, you know: Peter and Paul. They’re brothers. Did you know that? They’re decent people. They like to have fun. I know them.”
I look at my wife. Fun? What is she talking about, fun? Did I hear her correctly? Am I imagining things? I haven’t had fun in weeks. Maybe months or years. Maybe my entire fucking life.
I look closely at my wife but she seems blurry again, her face, her features, her body—all of it seems unfamiliar. I go to speak, but stop. I don’t know who I am talking to any more. Is she really here? Where has she been? With the Greeks? I’m not even sure my wife is here with me now. I grab the banister that leads downstairs to our flat and hold it as tightly as I can with both hands.