The Ghosts (Or Liars) Living Above Me 


WRITTEN BY Andrew Stoyanoff

Art by Coco

There are ghosts in the apartment above mine. Or liars. There are ghosts or liars in the apartment above mine.

Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup

It’s 1:00am, and someone is running — no, stomping — across the 20 square meter room above me. My husband hears it too, though, as a native German speaker, he phonetically interprets sound differently than I do:

 Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup Dup

 It’s 1:30am, and my upstairs neighbor is practicing her Olympic gymnastics vault in the room above me. This, despite my husband’s protestations, is the only logical explanation for what I hear, the scene, as I imagine it, clearer to me than the face of my favorite nephew: my nimble, muscular neighbor is running, running, running, running down the vault runway, 1/1 twisting back handspring on, back pike flip off. Oh, a little hop on the landing there.

 Against my better judgment, and undeterred by my attire (hot pants and a skin-tight graphic t-shirt with a photo of my husband, aged 10, looking like Harry Potter), I grab my keys, open the door and fly up the stairs.

 Knock Knock Knock Knock Knock


 Klopf Klopf Klopf Klopf Klopf

 I’ve been here before. This feeling, this experience isn’t new to me. I’m tired and angry; and exasperated. I’m about to cry. I’m planning out, in German, exactly what I’m going to say. Actually, I’ve been repeating it in my mind for three hours.

 Knock Knock Knock Knock Knock

 Minutes of small voices later (one of which, I swear, whispers, “Quick, hide the balance beam!”), and the door cracks open. Comically, tauntingly, total silence belies the stomping elephants and crashing dishes of mere seconds ago, and it’s just her, my diminutive neighbor, a porcelain doll too decorous to disrupt quiet hour at the library, let alone torment the neighbor below.




She’s not the woman I talked to a month ago when, in a similar state, I bolted from my marital bed, my husband calling after me, “Was machst duuuuuuu?!!” (“What are you doingggggg?!”) as I ran screaming into the night. (Months ago we’d found the Airbnb ad, and peered into the alternate universe that is the exact apartment above ours. Since then, I’d visited often to complain about the noise, each time meeting a different occupant. “I just moved in,” they said in unison, separated by months and experience, their voices echoing together across time and space. “I’m Luisa. I’m Donna. I’m Mariana.”

But I haven’t time to care about any of this now because the woman standing in front of me is always a different woman, and that’s really neither here nor there.

 “Das reicht jetzt!” I shout (“That’s quite enough!”). “Ihr seid so laut, und ich muss so fruh aufstehen, weisst du?!” (“You guys are so loud, and I have to wake up so early tomorrow!”)

Before I can go further (but I have much more to say!), her little hand rises, calmly, and like an interpretive dancer playing a crossing guard, prompts me to “Ok, hold on, wait a minute. I’m sorry, I don’t speak German,” she says, in English.

 I hadn’t considered this. Here I was, proudly and articulately explaining my situation, the prosecutor in German Sleep Court who’s just rested his case knowing that the jury couldn’t possibly side with the defendant, and all the while the court hasn’t understood a thing. The prosecutor, wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt, has just screamed at the defendant for a solid two minutes in a language she doesn’t understand.

 “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German.” My sleep-deprived brain can’t process this information. I answer, inexplicably, “Das ist okay. Wir können Englisch sprechen.” Great, now I’ve told her that we can speak English. In German.

 “Rarr Mahh Blah English, Rarr Mahh Blah blah!”

 She’s in her nightgown, a nightgown so sweet and precious only she or an angel could pull it off. And now, an even smaller, friendlier and more diminutive woman, the next layer of a magnificent human nesting doll, is peeking out from behind the door, her head appearing, slowly and piece by piece, crown to chin, at an impossible and hilarious angle, her body perpendicular to the floor; and both share a look which, without needing the complicating words of language, communicates:

 “Who is this crazy man, and why is he screaming at us?”

 And so I explain, in English this time, about the pounding and the banging. And she gets it, of course she gets it. She’s so understanding! And I’m the ogre who lives under her floor.

 “My roommate was on her bed reading, and I was in the kitchen with a friend,” she says, quietly, delicately. “No one is pounding here. No one is banging.”


She’s using my own words against me now, as if to say, “I use your own words to show you how foolish they — and you — are. These silly words of yours, this ‘pounding’ and ‘banging,’ have no place in my native Italian, and no place in this apartment. In word or sound.”

 “It’s just that, uh, I really can’t sleep, and this is like the 15th (5th) time I’ve been up here, and it’s always someone different, and I, uh, I’m sure you can understand my frustration!?”

The smaller roommate, who, still sideways and in a pose that leads me to believe that she is, in fact, hanging from a trapeze (and do I see pity in her face?!), says, “It’s okay, we understand.”

 “I’m a nice person!” I plead.

 “It’s okay, we understand.”

 But it’s too late — in German Sleep Court, the defense always goes last, and counsel has just introduced new evidence in her closing statement.

 “Objection!” I shout, apropos of nothing.

 It’s useless: the jury has turned against me — there’s nothing left to do now but accept jurisprudence.

 “We are sorry if we were too loud,” she says disingenuously. “We will try to be quieter. Have a good night.”

 “You too,” I say, sheepishly, as I turn toward the stairs and shuffle, defeated, back to my apartment.

Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup Bup

It’s 2:30am, and the floor routine is on. It’s a double-twisting, double back 1/2 flip into a twist, “danced” to the tune of Christina Aguilera’s I’m All Woman.

She sticks the landing; I set my sound machine to “wind-tunnel.”


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