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The Fates on the Fifth Floor

I call the three old women who live on the fifth floor, directly below the rooftop of my building, the three Fates. They occupy the three suites of the floor, right, center and left, and the three live alone. Their men have departed or never arrived. They have died or simply left without further ado, and no other men have come to share these women's lives. The have been left up there, alone, shriveling up in the hot summers and dry-cold winters. Although they are not sisters, I call them the Fates because there are three of them, like the Parcae. From up there, they can watch and hear any movement in our building. The steel cables of the elevator serve them as cobwebs that enables them to feel the vibrations of anything that moves in their building. Furthermore, the elevator does not have to function for them to know who enters, who leaves, who comes in early or late, or who doesn't return at all. They can feel down to the vibrations of the subway line that runs under our homes like an underground river. Because they never sleep, they also sense when the last underground train leaves at night, or the first one in the morning, on Sundays and holidays.

To access the rooftop terrace of our building to view the city, sunbathe, or hang up the clothes to dry is to enter the most intimate part of their domain because one must pass through the fifth floor to reach the terrace. As soon as you reach the landing between the fourth and fifth floor, they have already gone to the peepholes of their respective doors, disturbed and curious. There is no way to hide from their peepholes, not even if one crawls on all fours. Sometimes a creak of the desiccated doors or irrepressible coughing betrays their silent presence behind the door. When you finally arrive on the terrace, you can almost feel them trace your footsteps on the ceiling of their units. If they could, they would be on their knees on the ceiling, pasting their ears to the surface between the light fixtures.

Occasionally they descend from their vantage point to pick up their letters from the mailboxes or take out the garbage. During these ups and downs, they gather all the remaining bits of information about the life in the building they were missing. On Sundays they take turns going to mass, to avoid leaving the building without surveillance. They almost never go on vacations and, if they do, they rigorously take turns so that we, their neighbours, are never left unattended.

The courtyard is another source of information for them. It is a small and dirty inner court in which all the noises and smells from the kitchens and bathrooms rise. In this inner court, The Fates' windows are always open, with the blinds down, and they never look out the window. And they do it to hear and see without being seen or heard, while sitting in the darkness spying on other people's lives. Only when we decide to remodel the hallway or repair the roof or the inner court, do they leave their suites. The three come out at the same time, nervous and upset because unknown workers are moving around, disturbing their domains and changing the location of everything, making noises the women can't decipher. During these days, they are deranged,as if an enormous bumblebee accidentally caught in the cobweb were tearing it apart with its spasmodic movements.

Sometimes I feel like passing a giant broom over the upper part of the building to clean up these spider webs. Often I wish I could fumigate them or raise the roof of the building and expose their dens to the sunlight and then watch them run to hide under their beds and tables. Also, I often consider putting them under siege and then compel them to come out by cutting off their power and water supply. I am sure it would be a long siege given that they can survive on a few bits of dry bread for months. Besides, I'm sure they’ll unite to share their rancid food reserve. But this is only daydreaming. In reality, all I do is walk without making noise and carefully holdi the lobby door while so that it doesn’t shuts loudly. In any case, I am aware that all my precautions are useless because I know the Three Fates can hear everything. I am afraid that on some hot summer night, while I am sleeping with the windows open they will crawl down the walls to inject me with their venom and embalm me in a shroud of ashes. I am afraid that, in due time, they will do it.

Enrique Fern´ndez, Canada, Spain 2015

Click here to see this story in Spanish [AQUI]

Translation by Ulrike Hellmuth, Canada 2016

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