My Neighbour, the Cougher

It sounds like he’s trying to gargle with cats.

I roll over and wrap my pillow around my head, trying to smother my ears. My neighbour has been coughing for three days and I’m starting to wonder if he’s literally dying. This can’t be healthy.

Sliding my hand under my pillow, I grab my phone and draw it out, sending a quick tweet:

@LOLSmileyFace: At what point in the cold/flu cycle is a mercy killing considered acceptable?

The man next door – I know he’s a man, his coughs have a distinct Adam’s apple tone – hacks again. This awful, thin-walled apartment is so small that his coughs seem to echo around me, knocking off of the mirrors I’ve hung to make the room seem bigger. My bed is pushed up hard against the wall I share with The Cougher, and across from me is a kitchenette with listless silver faucets and half a bag of tortilla chips open on the counter. There’s a bathroom too, if you can call it that. On the bedside table beside my head, illuminated by a sliver of moonlight sliding through the window, is a bottle of Benadryl with the receipt scrunched up next to it.

Just knock on the door and hand it to him, I tell myself. Then I reply to myself: Fuck off.

My therapist says I should do something every day that scares me. I got at least three days’ worth of anxiety just going to the shop and buying the Benadryl – I’m not ready to make the trip next door. I can’t do it. I can’t –

The Cougher sounds like he’s taking a chainsaw to his own throat.

Last night, I tried to block out the coughing by listening to music, but it didn’t work. He started coughing off the beat and ruined the song.

My Twitter dings. There’s a reply from @ApplesInMyCheeks: R U gonns give him the meds?

They know I bought the medicine. It was the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in months, so naturally I live-tweeted it. It felt good to have their voices in my back pocket, egging me on as I’d walked towards the pharmacy, feeling my heart beat so hard that my skin was humming, clutching my purse to my chest as I passed dozens of people – tall people, short people, threatening people, baby people. So many new faces that I could never have remembered them all. One man spoke to me. I don’t remember what he looked like. I got the medicine and practically ran home, my spoons for the day well and truly gone, but I did it. I did it. I did it. I even tweeted a picture of the medicine as proof.

I take a photo of the bottle still on my bedside table and type:

@LOLSmileyFace: Re: @ApplesInMyCheeks Not yet. I’m still working up the nerve. L

It takes a couple of minutes for more replies to come through.

@h8rs_gonna_h8: (ノ^ヮ^)ノ*:・゚✧ sending good vibes!

@ladystoneheartismybae: just take a deep breath. we believe in you!

@Crumpets1928: its ok if you need to wait til tomorrow

That last tweet makes me curl my legs up to my chest. I stare at the screen. The backlighting is down to the lowest brightness setting but it’s still almost blinding. I scrunch my eyes closed.

Throwing the blankets off my legs and tossing my pillow into the corner of the room, I grab the Benedryl from the bedside table. Taking a deep breath, I force myself to stand. I hover in that moment, lingering next to my bed.

You’re going to take a step, I tell myself. Then two. Then you’re going to knock on The Cougher’s door, put this in his hands, and then you’re going to come back and hide under your blankets until you die. I reply to myself: You’re going to fucking die.

The Cougher makes a noise like a racoon going through a wood chipper. I take two agonizing steps towards the door. My hand passes through a stream of moonlight and I glare at my own chipped nail polish. I can’t leave the apartment with chipped nails… maybe I should fix them first? What if he sees my nails and thinks that I’m some unwashed miscreant? What if he thinks I poisoned the Benadryl?

My fingers wrap around the doorknob and I can hardly feel them. The bottle in my other hand is cold. Too cold. Not cold enough. Maybe I should have refrigerated it. Is it not good now?

Then I’m outside. I’m standing outside of my apartment, in the dim light of the hallway. The door next to mine is ominously closed. My blood is vibrating in my chest as I turn on my heels and knock on the door before my brain can catch up to my body and tell me to get the fuck out of there.

Knock, knock, knock, like my knees clapping together.

I hear shuffling.


I put the Benadryl on the ground and run back into my own apartment, slamming the door behind me and diving under the blankets. My hands are still trembling, but I did it. I fucking did it.

Out in the hall, I hear my neighbour’s door open. I burrow under the blankets as I hear a soft, hoarse, “Hello?”

I hear light footsteps as he walks over to my door and knocks, and it takes everything I have not to scream at him to just take the medicine and leave me alone.

There’s a pause. I hear a quiet sigh.

“Thank you,” he says.

Then The Cougher’s door opens and closes as he returns to his apartment. It isn’t until ten minutes later, when my heartrate is back to normal and my hands have stopped shaking, that I can form a coherent thought.

Jesus Christ, I hope he drinks it so I can get some sleep.


Author’s note: I actually wrote this a while ago but I never found a home for it. I have lived in apartments where I knew so many intimate facets of my neighbours’ lives, but I didn’t know their names?? Once, I heard a woman complaining about the wifi and it took everything in me not to knock on the wall and tall her to reboot that shit.


PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee? 🙂

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