Everyone was called Old Joe from downstairs. That was the conclusion Pierre had drawn.
Who, him? That's old Joe from downstairs.
Funny. I was just talking to old Joe downstairs and he didn't mention anything.
You know old Joe. From downstairs? With the eye?
That's just old Joe blowing his trombone. He's downstairs from you, that's probably why it's so loud.
Every possible question was answered by his existence, every possible human trait had been attributed to him. The questions remained: why had Pierre never seen him?
The day of Pierre's moving in had been arduous enough. Not that the process had been at all hard—indeed all he had to do was bring his box of meagre possessions up from the taxi to the lift and then to his front door—but more that it was so empty, so hollow, this upheaval.
Pierre had spent the night stark stock awake in his bed, the last time he would sleep in it. He tried to scrape up all the memories lying in his bedroom was supposed to evoke: intimacy, solitude, reflection: but none of them came. All he could see was a lonely old man, uncomfortable and unsure. Pierre was it. He was all that was left.
The third day here. Pierre sat and let the television take him in. His eyes, they were so dry now, closing them lit a little fire it hurt to correct. Beside him, on the table that wasn't his, was a cooling cup of tea and a biscuit whose flavour was bitter waste. And the noise. They'd knock at his door at all hours now, not just in the afternoon. He'd stopped answering the door the day before. He was sick already of their wretched imploding faces. All these old people. They knocked and they came in and they talked and Pierre was sure their heads had no idea what their arms and mouths were doing.
The one with all the shawls, the one with the bedframe walking cane, the one with the turned out eyes, they all came. With nothing to talk about but stories of Old Joe from downstairs. Words could not express Pierre's despair.
Until that one night, when Old Joe came upstairs and through his window and got him, right where he slept, dead to the world.