Syvie lived with her man, Philip, upstairs in a back-of-the-main house duplex, not quite a mile from downtown Arcata, and the university. They had been together six months, having hooked up at the very beginning of the year. They were both coming off of long periods of adjustment, from the breakup of their respective first marriages, and they reveled in their togetherness.
Sylvie was not a wild woman, when it came to the social scene, but she had a warm and inviting personality, on a smaller stage. She had a very behind-the-scenes presence, working tirelessly when it came to her projects, her work or her family. She liked the natural approach to life, both in the food she enjoyed preparing, and in her physical appearance, eschewing the makeup and fancy hair styles, for a more simple exterior.
Philip was something of a wild man in his appearance, having effected the contemporary look of the student, complete with relocated hair on his head, and a distribution of same, thickly over his face. He was the prototypical hippie from an an exterior perspective. He was also a professional student, having attended college after high school for a decade, with a couple years off for his military career.
Philip was attending Humboldt State, working on a masters in psychology, and Sylvie was working as a legal secretary in a small law firm, based in Eureka. They were enjoying their time together, and things were progressing nicely. Philip had one year to go to get his MA, which included a summer program, down in the City, the summer after they hooked up, and they both knew the time was rapidly approaching.
They felt that their relationship was well-established, and that even though there would be some hard times while apart, they would be able to get together on weekends, despite having to make the commute. They spent the month of May getting ready for the inevitable separation, and felt that the ten weeks Phil would be gone, would go quickly enough.
All went according to plan and they made the necessary adjustments, actually being able to get together more weekends than not. Of the seven weekends, that they managed to be together that summer, six took place where Philip was studying, and the other back up in Arcata. A complication arose, early on that summer, that led Sylvie to expend quite a bit of energy, trying to assess an awkward and potentially frightening situation.
It involved Micky, the guy who lived in the flat downstairs from Sylvie and Philip. He was of average height, but was of stocky build. He habitually wore blue jeans and blue work shirts, so at quick glance, he always had the appearance of a service employee, ready to check the meter, or take care of a logistical problem. He was conservative in appearance, wearing his hair short, and with no facial hair, and he worked some sort of night shift, because he was always around during the day, coming and going unobtrusively. And he smoked cigarettes.
He was not an extroverted fellow, he did not blast his stereo, and if he had a car, he parked it on the street, because Sylvie’s old Chevy, and Philip’s VW bus, coexisted in the back part of the driveway, without interference of a third vehicle. It seemed that Mickey worked within either walking distance, or that maybe he used public transportation, because they would see him leaving occasionally after nine at night, carrying his lunch pail, with a thermos. Though he never made any noise, his presence constantly raised a ruckus with Max, a skittish purebred Boxer, who lived next door, on the opposite side of the house, from the lilacs. He barked whenever Micky walked along the fence, and would occasionally launch himself at the gate, in a futile attempt to break free.
If Mickey spoke at all, it was by way of greeting, with his eyes either downcast, or looking off into the distance. He was not comfortable interacting, but that did not seem to bother him, so much as it seemed a part of his personality. He just seemed to be around, not bugging anyone, not really all that visible. He was sort of a nonentity, not someone to notice, not someone to worry about, at least not until I went away for the summer.
Then things changed, almost imperceptibly at first, but in a more pronounced manner, as the first two weeks crept past on the calendar. It was hard for Sylvie to come home to an empty set of rooms late each afternoon, without feeling a little out of sorts. After the first week of being by herself, Sylvie began to notice a pattern emerging. More and more Micky seemed to be around as she came and went, again, not being obtrusive or even noticeable, except that he had not maintained such a presence before Philip left. Why now? When she mentioned it to Philip, she seemed to take a very guarded approach, so he did likewise.
“So Micky seems to be ‘around’ a lot more, huh? What’s he doing? He didn’t get a car, did he?” Philip tried to keep it light and breezy.
“No, he still leaves after nine at night; I know because it’s still light out, and I often sit out on the balcony.” Phil remembered well the smell of the lilacs from next door, and sitting out in the warm Arcata night air. “But now it seems he’s always ‘around’ when I get home from work too. He has started making small talk, like asking how work went, and asking where you are, and stuff.” Sylvie looked at over at Philip, and their eyes met. “It’s just that with you gone, it magnifies these little things.”
“Does it creep you out, or is it just that it’s happening?” Philip wasn’t sure if she would be straight with him or not.
“It doesn’t creep me out or anything, it’s just that with you gone, I feel uneasy. I hate to bother you with this, because I know you worry.” Sylvie sighed.
Phil suggested hopefully, “He probably has a sister or someone else you remind him of. I have an idea. Maybe your brother can start coming over and hanging out, sort of be a presence around here, just kind of keep you company.” Sylvie had a brother who was going to school at Humboldt at the time, and he wasn’t working, so he could come over and do schoolwork at her place and chill. In fact Philip went so far as to put a dead-bolt lock on the front door, so that it would provide additional security, both physically and mentally, for Sylvie.
Things went along like this for another two weeks, before something occurred to bring it all to a head. Sylvie told Philip that she had arrived home at mid-afternoon, as usual one day, and Micky was out front as usual, and started with the friendly chatter. Then he said he had something for her, if she’d like to come into his apartment downstairs and see it.
This was exactly what Sylvie was afraid of, and it must have registered in her face, because his smile faded, and he took a step backwards, realizing that he had done something wrong. But before she could actually articulate what she was thinking one way or the other, Max the dog had finally managed to time one of his patented lunges against the gate, for a time when his owner had left it improperly latched. The result was Max charging directly at Sylvie, who stepped back, stumbled, and almost lost her balance.
Simultaneously, Micky had stepped forward and launched his foot at the dog’s head, explosively making contact, and diverting its surge to one side, while Sylvie scrambled up the steps to her door, and waited to see that Micky was OK. Apparently everything was, because he was there, waving and acting as though all were well.
And that was the end of the threat of Micky, who seemed to make some sort of connection between his invitation to Sylvie to enter his apartment, and the fact that Sylvie was attached to Philip, because there simply was never a sign of him again. When Phil asker her later what she thought it was that Micky had wanted to show her, she got a funny look in her eyes, and told him that she had seen a bouquet of flowers through the open door, that she later saw dumped in the big bin on the side of the house. Flowers, Philip thought to himself. "Sorry, Micky, I saw her first."