Le Gardien d’Immeuble

He was, in his mind, very important. The most important. After all, how could the building run smoothly or at all without his constant monitoring? His unshakeable presence that stalked residents at every corner. Well, some residents more specifically than others. Like Édith, who he seemed to have a strange and, on her end, unwanted radar for her comings and goings. Like when she would brave the dark recesses of the basement–often alive with the tittering sound of rats–to throw out her trash.

The elevator that would descend to this nefarious floor never failed to leave her in the midst of her quickly throwing the trash into some arbitrary receptacle without actually bothering to sort it. The fucking scandal, she seethed sarcastically. As if waste management people didn’t get paid a shitload to deal with it. And, for fuck’s sake, it’s trash. Why does everyone need to be so goddamn passionate about it? Does it help them to believe they’re serving a purpose in the world or some such falsity? Whatever the case, The Cochon, as she referred to le gardien, had it in for her. Something that couldn’t be fathomed by her husband, Philippe, who was often too busy working a grueling and soul-killing job in the La Défense district to be troubled with very many interactions with this pig of a human being.

And it wasn’t just in aesthetic that he bore the emblem of piggishness, but also in his inherent chauvinism. The kind that cannot be stamped out of any Frenchman over the age of forty. Which he most assuredly was. Maybe fifty-five, she reckoned. He certainly had the lumbering gait of an old man anyway. One that seemed to scuttle with more rapidity when he intuited she was in the basement, honing in on her right as the elevator closed–and betrayed her in so doing–to appraise whatever trash she had just thrown away. Today, he decided she needed a scolding for not breaking down the box she had left next to the bin, condescending, “Mais c’est bien marqué,” and that she had no excuse other than the fact that it was pitch black down there and no one who wasn’t of a Dahmer-esque mindset was going to relish sticking around in the dark to examine what any fucking sign was “bien marqué” with. Instead of countering with this, she fell under the hypnotic spell of his pig-like face as he annoyingly patronized her with the “compliment,” “Bravo, bravo” while she obediently stamped on the box.

She practically ran out of the building once the elevator finally ejected her back to the ground level. As if her trash interactions with The Cochon weren’t bad enough, she also bore the brunt of his judgments and assessments when it came to the barrage of packages she tended to receive all at once. Sometimes from her online shopping benders, other times from friends and relatives who would lavish her with books or records she might be interested in. It wasn’t her fault she had more people who cared about her than The Cochon ever would. She had to believe that, on some level, he was jealous of all that she received, and that was the true reason for his hostility toward her about having to waddle literally three steps over every time La Poste or Colissimo came to deliver something and he needed to accept it. What he wouldn’t “accept” evidently, is carrying out the implicit job description of being “le gardien d’immeuble” and receiving packages without the expectation of a tip.

At least, this is what he felt emboldened to tell Philippe one evening when he came home and picked up a few packages that had arrived for Édith in the last couple of hours. Simpering with those fat, sausage casing-looking lips of his, he had the gall to announce, “You know, most people who get as many packages as you do feel inclined to leave me a tip.”

Philippe, having no strength to argue or be outraged, nodded complacently, reached into his pocket and pulled out five euros to slip into his plump, sweaty palm. With his point made to the “man of the house” so that he might pass it along to “the missus,”  daft as she was in her role as a woman about such things as tipping people, The Cochon pulled the items off of the shelf they were tucked away on and placed them in Philippe’s arms. “Bonne soirée, monsieur,” he concluded with that leering smirk of his. The one made all the more grotesque by those accursed fleshy lips that look like they might start oozing yellow-white pus out of them at any moment.

When Philippe walked into the apartment bearing the load of assorted bounty, Édith glanced up from her vigilant simmering of mushrooms in a saucepan to say, “Thank Jesus you got those from The Cochon. I don’t think I could have taken one more interaction with him today.”

Philippe rolled his eyes. “You give him way too much power. He’s just a fat man with no life, don’t be so intimidated.”

“A fat man who thinks he has a life and I don’t. That his ‘attentiveness’ to the building is serving anyone other than his own fragile ego. And honestly, this building is so shitty, I don’t even understand how we have a ghetto version of a doorman.”

Philippe sighed heavily as he placed her cardboard and paper mound at the foot of their bed, which was crammed practically in the same space as the kitchen. She wasn’t totally wrong about a certain ghettoness, he had to silently admit but would of course never say out loud to her for fear that she might endlessly nag him about moving again when they had only just settled in. Their last place was slightly closer to La Défense, but bore the issue, for Édith of being too remote from mainland Paris, where she might walk among streets that didn’t feel as though they were like the infinite and desolate avenues of L.A., offering only occasional retail spaces as an indication of civilization.

So Philippe had moved them here, where he was alerted to a subletting opportunity from an acquaintance who would be away on business in Tokyo for the next year. It only took roughly a month for Édith to start growing weary of this abode as well, suddenly rueing that she had ever expressed a wish to depart from their La Défense residence. At least it had been quiet (whereas here, the constant roof work taking place atop the building across from them made the sound of hammering an expected part of daily life). And even better, there had been no gardien d’immeuble to make Édith feel like some sort of criminal in her own home. A little ninny undoing all of The Cochon’s precious non-work just by deigning to venture outside of the confines of their apartment.

Well, she had had it, she told Philippe that night after he informed them of their dialogue about the matter of the tip. “That’s the last straw. I won’t be painted as a villain in the only place where a person is actually supposed to feel comfortable in this world.”

“What are you going to do? We can’t move again,” he reminded with a slight hint of vexation in his voice.

“Never you mind, Philippe. Never you mind.”

***

The following week, when Édith had found the courage to go into the basement to take the trash out again, she was pleasantly relieved to find that there was no sign of The Cochon anywhere near her. Which, she had to surmise, meant that her plan to give him a coronary had worked. For she had deliberately ordered thirty packages from various internet outposts to be delivered on the same day. Either he had been buried in the mound, or the burden of the responsibility had given his frail heart a slew of rapid and debilitating chest pains.

When she exited the building and passed by his pathetic “station,” she found it had been a combination of the two. For he was lying dead underneath the mountain of cardboard boxes. She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and tsk tsk tsked. “How poétique,” she said as she mirthfully continued walking toward the street. “The Cochon dies in shit.”

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