I cleared my throat and frowned, shifting on the mattress and adjusting the pillow I’d propped behind my back before returning to the book. I just needed to tune it out, needed to focus. It was time to unwind, to destress. Getting riled up over something so trivial was counterproductive, and I’d much rather learn about how spiteful Michelangelo really was when he’d been commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Perhaps that was why I liked to read about him so much. He was a master of his craft, similar to how I was the master of my own, who still worked hard and demonstrated talent with every brush despite what the world threw at him. Michelangelo made his art his own, did what he wanted while teetering on a line of expectations.
I turned the page, listening to the paper slide against the pad of my index finger. Just as I started to scan the next paragraph, which was located just above an undeniably gorgeous photograph of the Sistine Chapel’s entire ceiling, the next-door neighbor turned up their volume. I quickly lost track after that. There was a terrible pressure behind my eyes and a dryness in my throat. When the words on the page no longer made any sense, I threw my head back and sighed. All I wanted to do was relax. But how was I supposed to do that with all this racket?
The neighbor was listening to a medley of pop tunes, the bass turned up way too high for my liking. I could feel the vibration of their music pulse through the walls, clashing with the sweet melody of the jazz playing over my own speakers. I realized quickly that I’d started grinding my teeth together, too annoyed by the ruckus –and generally just peeved to have such inconsiderate neighbors– that I closed the book quickly and threw my legs over the edge of the bed. Was it really that difficult to ask for a little peace and quiet after a long day’s work?
I jumped out of bed, snatched a plain white shirt from off the top of my laundry hamper in the corner of the room, and pulled it on. I momentarily contemplated calling the landlord. They’d be able to handle a noise complaint no problem. But the edge of irritation had settled onto my shoulders, left the muscles in my neck tense. My landlord wasn’t the speediest of people. It’d probably take a good hour before he came upstairs to do anything, and I didn’t think I had enough self-control to last that long. There was no way I was going to be able to fall asleep with this racket playing in the background. I needed to get up first thing and attend several complicated surgeries, so this wasn’t going to do.
No, this wasn’t going to do at all. What kind of a delinquent neighbor did I have the misfortune of living next to?
I was supposed to be unpacking. The stack of cardboard boxes piled four high, spread about chaotically in the empty living room stared down at me, the contents demanding to be sorted and put in their proper place. But procrastination was a part of my DNA, built right into my very bones and every muscle fiber in my body.
The arches of my feet were still terribly sore from the move, and the constant up and down from the moving truck to my new apartment on the third floor left my legs aching. I was physically too exhausted to move, but mentally still wide awake, so I settled for working on my next art project in lieu of doing the responsible adult thing of moving in and settling down.
I sat cross-legged on the floor, propped up against a bare wall with my sketchbook on my lap. My charcoals were buried away somewhere, probably lost in the box labeled art supplies on the other side of the room, but I couldn’t be bothered to fish them out. With the nearest labelling marker, I got to work, capturing both movement and lightness with a confident sweep of the arm.
In all of the mess, I’d managed to find my Bluetooth speaker and paired it to my phone, and was now listening to my personally curated Spotify playlist. I liked music with a good bass line, something I could feel in my chest. I liked the type of music that spoke to me, moved me in an almost incomprehensible way. I’d carefully curated my playlist so that I could easily slip into the zone and just focus on doing what I did best: creating works of art.
I quickly tied my long red hair up into a messy bun, though loose strands fell wildly down in front of my face. I really needed a haircut. After a few moments, the sketch starts to come alive. My fingers are delightfully warm and tingling, my mind in a state of calm as I fall into a deep trance. I knew from experience that my sketches would start small, but grow and develop as ink filled the paper. I wasn’t too concerned with shading or minute details. This exercise was just a map, a plotline to a story I hadn’t yet told. The image was of a man –faceless for the moment– holding an anatomically correct heart in his hands. I could already see where I was going to use color, bright reds to contrast dark blues. This wasn’t intended to be a gory image, not in the slightest. This man was literally holding someone’s life in his palms. Was it his own? Was this heart symbolistic of his hopes and dreams? He cradled it, treated it gingerly like one would a newborn child.