The Man in the Basement
He lived all alone in the room below me, though you wouldn’t have known it unless you had seen him. In fact, I didn’t even know the building had basement apartments until last summer when Sophie, my youngest daughter, ran down a steep stair well tucked away in a dark corner of the floor. At the bottom I found her stomping and singing outside of the apartment door that paralleled mine vertically. When, picking up my daughter, the door carefully opened and out stepped the man, middle aged, with a bald head and a shaggy white goat’s beard which offset the neat black suit he wore. He stepped out of his room staring at the floor and continued to do so as he locked the door, then stopped and put his eyes on Sophie and kept them there much longer than I was comfortable with, then sauntered away. I was horrified! What kind of man eyes someone else’s child like that? He must have been a pedophile or some kind of pervert to behave in such a way. I waited for the man to fully ascend the stairs before doing so myself, and grasping my Sophie tighter I vowed as a mother to guard my children with an even keener diligence than I had used before. For their safety, from what potential danger might lurk below their feet.
I mentioned the matter to some of the other women in the building—just the ones who happened to live on the same floor with me. The women above us usually kept to the laundry room and other facilities reserved for them on their own floor. But back to the matter, I told them how the man molested my Sophie with his groping eyes, and how it could have been any one of their own children. They all took great interest in the story and immediately pressed me for any and all details—for the safety of their children—so I shared with them everything I knew about the mysterious man in the basement . Through the space of his open door I had seen a plain room with a small bed against the wall draped across with a neat white comforter. So neat and white in-fact, that I did not but once think that I had witnessed the scene of some awful act hours after a careful hand had effaced all evidence of anything at all—no evidence that is but the pedantic neatness. Next to the bed stood a complementary white night stand with a single drawer and a framed picture of a smiling old woman with tubes stringing out of her nose. I saw nothing else through the closing door, though I doubt there was anything more to see in his lair.
The other women and I agreed that we should have more information—for the safety of our children. So I myself went to the manager of the building and demanded of him what he knew about the man in the basement; but all he could tell me was that he had only ever exchanged a single word and solitary grunt with the man since he had boarded there. The woman behind the front desk of the building had never even seen him before. But she did tell me that he was the only resident that had the front desk listed as their emergency contact. It was a sort of joke between the buildings staff. She told me giggling how they liked to laugh about how ridiculous it was. I didn’t think there was anything funny about it. I knew that it must be some sort of covert ploy to hide something.
I could not find out anything else about the villain, so I fought back by watching my children even closer than I had before and not for one instant allowing them to be alone in the building without me to accompany them. I never did see the man though, only the silhouette of his bald head and devilish beard peeping manically out of the dark corner of the floor. All the other women saw it too, so every morning we all stood out in the lobby clutching our children to our sides and looking at nothing but the tops of their heads until they were safely on their bus to school. It was awful, that man, the anxiety he put me through.
It’s been a week now since he died. It was last Saturday. I was the one to find him, dressed in a neat black suit and blue in the face lying on his back in his single bed with the framed photo I had seen nearly a year ago clasped at his breast. The stench of rotten eggs had drifted up through our floorboards; so I left the children to the watch of my sleeping husband, and ventured down the stairs for the second time to find the door of the parallel apartment unlocked and a terrible hissing on the other side as the stove spewed gas out of a kitchen I had not seen before. I turned off the stove and ran out of the apartment to catch my breath outside of the cloud of deadly gas; though not before seeing a large portrait of the old woman with tubes in her nose and the man smiling underneath a banner that read, “Mother’s Day 2010”. I notified the man’s emergency contact of what I had found and then with the ordeal passed on, I evacuated my children across town to my mother’s house while the gas and body were dealt with; though I couldn’t rouse my husband out of bed to come.
The funeral was held the day after, but no one showed up so they just ended up cremating the body and keeping it in a jar. The mortician had a policy about not keeping remains so the jar now sits on a shelf behind the front desk of the buliding. I asked the woman at the desk if she had to keep it there and told her how dreadful it was to look at, but she said she didn’t know who to give it to and didn’t want to disrespect the dead.
The devilish shadow is still there too. It’s such an awful thing for my children to have to look at, the outline of the devil and a dead man in a jar.