The Walls Here

by | Sep 17, 2020 | Creative Nonfiction

THE WALLS HERE Creative Nonfiction by Rachel Sudbeck

The walls here are paper thin. You could skip one of these walls across a lake.

The woman in 210 is too old to live here. Her and her cat. Doesn’t she know? These apartments are starter sets, stacks of studios. We wouldn’t be living with these fine line walls if we could afford anything better, if we had anything. She’s sour for her thirties, yells at us about the noise.

The people in 218, 224, and 210 all let their cats out to socialize while they wait behind their closed doors. We arrive home, from work or otherwise, and step over the slim sound of the cats, nudge them away from our own thresholds so they don’t slip past when we close them. The walls here are wafer thin, we can hear even their padded footsteps outside.

There is somebody on this floor who cooks. Spice carries, with walls like these. We imagine this apartment different when someone is cooking.

We can hear a woman crying, but we can’t trace her voice.

We can hear a man shouting. A slam, a thud. We can’t trace that either. We can’t hear anything, and we can always hear something.

We find the woman in 210 when she doesn’t let her cat out, when the other two cry at her door for him.

We all stand in the hall and look at each other. We whisper when we catch eyes in the laundry room. The walls here are thin enough for whispers to carry. We stand in silence as the elevator climbs past the thirteenth floor the building doesn’t have. Say nothing as we step out, walk past the two top floor apartments and up the laced metal staircase that leads to the roof. There, the cold air the only thing between us, we talk about the girls overselling their orgasms and the men yelling at each other and all the other small sounds that populate our walls. We brought beer. None of us knew her, none of us know each other, none of us know what to say.

If the walls here were made of glass. If we could each see through to the life next to us, see through the next wall to the life next to them, see down the lines of living, the layers of people, if we could meet eyes with the sounds of each other. What would we make of our loneliness? Of each other’s loneliness? What would we call it? Dying alone? Dying surrounded?

The walls here are razor thin. If you broke off a piece you could slit your wrist.

The man in 212 plays the guitar as if it were a life worth living. Have you caught us, sir? In the hallway outside, pausing at our doors? The walls here are thin enough to sing, to hum with your voice, with your Spanish guitar. The walls here are strung so thin.

You can play louder, if you want.



Photo used under CC.

About The Author


Rachel Sudbeck lives with her tiny dog in Iowa City, where she’s a current MFA candidate in the University of Iowa’s Creative Nonfiction MFA Program. Her work has been published or is soon to be published in: The Rumpus “Enough” Series, DIAGRAM, and River Teeth. She’s recently begun work on a book-length project dealing with math, mapmaking, and the history of how we’ve conceived of the brain, among other things. Overall, she’s just happy to be here.