The Vultures of The Westridge Apartments by Joshua Swainston

On Thursday morning, Mr. Mitrovic’s body was found hanging in the stairwell. He secured one end of the blue half-inch polypropylene rope to an eighth floor banister post, and the other end around his neck. I’m not going to tell you he was a good man, because I don’t know if that was true. And I am not going to tell you I am sorry that he’s gone either. I never really liked him when he was alive, so why should I feel any different now. We lived across the hall from each other for six years, I in apartment 8A, and Mr. Mitrovic in apartment 8B. He made the entire floor smell like boiled cabbage, and he listened to the Art Bell radio show at full volume.

The police came a few hours after the body was found. I stood in my doorway to watch. I had never seen anything like it before, but it was what I imagined a failed trapeze act to go like. The police officers, dressed in their black uniforms, stretched a big net across the middle of stairwell on the sixth floor, just below where the body dangled. Then one officer took a serrated knife and cut the rope from above, leaving the part of the rope that was tied around the banister. When the body hit, the net enveloped the weight, forming a cocoon. Police officers lowered the mass down to the ground floor.

The people living in my apartment building are not a chatty bunch. I thought the death would have created some small talk. A cathartic moment for us to bond over. Like maybe, I would be bringing in groceries and one of the other tenets might hold the door for me and ask, “Wasn’t that weird to see your neighbor hanging in the stairwell?” But it never happened. Most of the tenets saw the body hanging. I thought about it a lot. Less about the body. More about death in general.

When I came home from work the following Monday, the door to Mr. Mitrovic’s apartment was open. Not wide open, but ajar. The sound of shuffling feet moving quickly across hardwood emanated into the stairwell. As I passed, I looked through the crack to see if I could make out what caused the noise. A hunched elderly woman leaned into a set of open desk drawers. It was Mrs. Singer from the fifth floor. I stood and watched as she picked up items and examined them. If an item passed her personal criteria she deposited it into her housecoat pocket. I’m not one to judge, and I didn’t know the full story, so I won’t call Mrs. Singer a thief. She could have had some pervious arrangement with Mr. Mitrovic. Maybe the deceased owed her money? Maybe they were romantically involved? She never saw that I was watching. After a few minutes, I retired to my own apartment.

On Tuesday, when I came home from work, Mr. Mitrovic’s door stood wide open. This time I didn’t need to secretly peek to see what was amiss. Mr. and Mrs. Elkridge from the third floor now joined Mrs. Singer. The Elkridge’s wore matching plaid homemade button-down shirts. They were the type of people who posted invitations to their church on the bulletin board next to the apartment mailboxes. Mrs. Elkridge and Mrs. Singer sat on the floor sorting through an old ash chest, like something you might have seen Norm Abram build on The New Yankee Workshop. They created four piles: clothes folded neatly, scraps of paper, old toys, and a smaller pile of metal objects that, from the distance, looked like necklaces. Mr. Elkridge pulled cables from behind the twenty-seven-inch flat screen television.

I returned home early on Wednesday because I had an appointment later that afternoon. Again the door was open to the abandoned apartment. The Elkridge’s and Mrs. Singer were absent. Replacing them was the high school crowd: Oscar from the third floor, Penny from six, John Moore and his kid sister Tiffany from two. They darted around the apartment moving from bedroom to kitchen to den. “Check this out,” Oscar said from the bathroom and the other three rushed to him.

This time, instead of just watching from the hallway, I entered the apartment. It was the first time I had ever been in any other unit other then my own. In the living room, a matching brown leather couch and recliner faced where the television had been. All the drawers to the writing desk hung open. The ash chest, that acted as a coffee table, stood open and empty. The kitchen, from what I could see remained untouched.  As I stood there, I couldn’t help but think that I needed new glassware. A shelf fell in my kitchen a month ago and all the glasses shattered. The dead did not need glasses anymore, right?

As I justified my impending theft, John, one of the high school kids asked, “Hey, mister, what are you after?” I looked at John silently, and then went back to my own place.

That night I kept thinking about all the household goods I needed: extra silverware, a cutting board, pillows for when my brother comes in from out of town.  What size shirts did Mr. Mitrovic wear? What size shoes? I was running out of shampoo. It seemed a waste if in the empty apartment next to mine waited a perfectly fine bottle of shampoo that may never be used.

The next day was Thursday, one week after the body was found in the stairwell. I was leaving for work. The door to the abandoned apartment hung wide open. I walked by and made it three steps down the stairs before I heard the clank of metal on metal, what sounded like pots and pans clinking together. I needed a new sauce pan. I stood on the third step for a solid minute. I knew I wasn’t going to be going to work.

I entered the apartment to find Mrs. Elkridge in the kitchen collecting items in a cardboard box. Mr. Bridges, from four, and Mr. Gray, from two, where lifting the ash chest in unison moving it to one of their respective units. In the bedroom, Mrs. Dunn, the apartment manager, picked through the deceased’s nightstand.

Mrs. Elkridge pulled a six-cup red Oster brand rice cooker from a lower shelf in the kitchen. I had been meaning to get a rice cooker. I hip checked Mrs. Elkridge and grabbed the Oster out of her hands. She glared at me from behind wire framed spectacles. What was she going to say? That’s mine? No it’s not. It belongs to a dead guy who kept me up at night. Did he keep you up at night from five floors away? I earned this rice cooker.

I didn’t say any of that. Instead I grunted. She took her cardboard box from the counter and went to the bedroom to continue her scavenge. I started with the silverware and other kitchen accessories: garlic press, pizza cutter, a set of measuring spoons, small items that could fit into the rice cooker. When it was full, I rushed it over to my apartment then returned for more. Hand towels. Unopened bars soap. Garbage bags, who doesn’t need garbage bags? The Shawshank Redemption on DVD. Nail clippers. Five Bic mechanical pencils. The Chicago Manual of Style. Dryer sheets.

More of the tenets came and went: some with purpose and some just to look around. Everyone left with something.  The couch went with Mr. Stripper on seven. The recliner to Mrs. Singer, she paid John and Oscar to carried down to her apartment. After three hours I went home. I needed a shower.

Friday, on my way to work, the door to the abandoned apartment remained opened. I went in to take another look around, maybe I forgot something. I didn’t see who got the bed. Even the shower curtain was missing. The entire apartment was empty. It even looked as if someone was nice enough to sweep. Whatever was left of Mr. Mitrovic had been recycled into other peoples lives. I was a bit upset. I could have used a new desk.

When I left the building, a sandwich board sign was placed on the sidewalk. “One bedroom apartment. 600 sq. ft. 1000$ month.”