Like I Wasn’t There

by Adam Gilmour


It’s 4 a.m.

Thud thud thud.

It’s around my head, reverberating off the bed frame: the heavy bass thump, beating away.  The rhythm comes in slow, inconsistent blows, making me guess.  Each beat thuds and then lingers, like methodical punches, delivered with relish.  With satisfaction.

It’s 4 a.m.

I have to be awake in four hours.

At 4:15 a.m., I shall go and complain.

The shelf above the bed, a thick wooden plank, fixed to the wall of this apartment which I cannot afford, only accentuates the vibrations.  I sit up to listen: the thudding is still there, but it is quieter.  I fall back against my pillow and I am being beaten up again.  I try lying the other way, with my feet towards the bed head.  This means re-placing pillows, and turning around the duvet.  Once I am rearranged, I am even more awake.

I lie here in this alien position, trying to get comfortable.  My alarm clock is on the bedside table, next to where my feet now are.  The room looks different from here.  I know that when I open my eyes in the morning, I won’t recognise this new scenery and, even if only momentarily, I will panic:

Where am I?

Here I am.

I must somehow try to sleep while knowing this.

I lie still.  I listen.  The music’s still there.  Just quiet enough to ignore if I was asleep already.  Just loud enough to be irritating now that I’m awake.

It’s 4:05 a.m.  In ten minutes I shall go and complain.

I try to think what Chloe might have meant earlier on in the night when she said, as she knocked back yet another fluorescent shot, that I needed to get out more.  I get out enough.  Just because I had left them all to it when they decided to move from the Black Dog to Lloyd’s doesn’t mean I’m socially challenged does it?  I don’t go in for all that Hard House, all that dancing they have in Lloyd’s.  I get enough of that when I go to bed at night.

A comfortable position seems just out of reach because I know that lying this way is unnatural and malodorous: my face is where my feet normally are, and five inches away from my head is the laundry basket.  Why should I have to lie like this?  Every bed I have slept in, I have always slept with my head towards the wall.  Nobody sleeps like this.

I have to sit up to see the clock.

4:07 a.m.

I wonder when they work.  To be able to do this, five, six nights a week.  How do they pay their rent?  I think it’s a couple.  It sounds like a couple.  I saw the guy once.  He had a number two cut and a gym bag.  He was strolling down the corridor to his door, phone trapped between a craned head and hunched shoulder.  I was on my way out.  I locked my door, tried pushing it to be sure, once, twice, like I always do.  I looked up and made to nod at him as he went past, but he just carried on and let himself in, like I wasn’t there, swearing at someone down his phone in calm disbelief.

No.  No you fucking didn’t.  Never.

I think I can see the first tinges of dull daylight coming in through the open blinds.  Outside, black is changing to dark blue.

It’s no good.  I can’t position myself.  I re-rearrange the bed, putting everything back the way it was.  I can’t deal with the thought of that momentary morning shock.  Back to the Thud…  Thud…

4:09 a.m.  Six minutes.  They might stop in that time.

No!  No you fucking never!

How would I phrase it?  He wouldn’t be above telling me to where to go if I got it wrong.  I’d have to be careful, not too aggressive, not too meek.  Don’t stutter.  Don’t shake.  Deep voice.  I can feel myself hyperventilating already.

Chloe should be home by now.  I feel like I should message her and see if she got back okay, but then that might seem like I’m caving in.  Her friends had probably spent the last five hours saying things about me because of the way I left.  I had every right to be abrupt.  The way she and Craig were sidling up to each other in the pub.  Why stick around?  I guess that must be allowed when you start something with someone and agree not to tell your friends right away.  Craig doesn’t know that I have a right to be pissed off at him.

Hi, you alright.  Sorry to bother you, but I was just wondering if you could turn your music down a bit?  ‘Sorry to bother you?’  That won’t wash.  I’m not sorry to bother them.  I’m fucking sorry they’ve bothered me, and they should be sorry too.

4:13 a.m.  Two minutes.

Alright, mate.  Do you reckon you could turn it down a bit?

I’ll have to say it loud.  I can’t let him say ‘what?’ and make me repeat it.  I’ll stumble if I have to repeat it.  Say it once, say it loud.  Say it sharp.

4:14 a.m.

I will text Chloe.  She might feel bad about tonight.  Then, that’ll give her an opening to text back.

You get back okay?

That’s it.  Keep it simple.  I want to know that she’s back safe, but I’m still pissed off.


4:15 a.m.

I hope she replies.  I’ll only worry more if she doesn’t.

I knock.  I am even more awake now that I am semi-dressed in hoody and cargo trousers.  No answer.  I knock again.  I’m trembling but I try to stifle it, breathe normally.  No matter how I stand in the corridor, my limbs feel awkward and heavy.  I put my ear to the door.  Waves of bass strike against it, rattling it in its frame.  They can’t hear me over the music.  I knock again, louder.  I wait.

4:21 a.m.

Chloe hasn’t replied.

The heavy beat still thumps away, vibrating off the bed frame.

At 4:30 a.m., I’ll try knocking again.

Nine minutes.

They might stop in that time.

ADAM GILMOUR, 27, lives in Manchester, England. He is currently studying for an MA Creative Writing at Manchester University. He tries to have a varied taste in literature and reading, but generally leans towards John Wyndham, J.G. Ballard and Chuck Palahniuk as favourites. When not writing or studying or reading, he spends most nights working behind the bar of a Japanese restaurant. You can find him at

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