The Cougher in the Cortile

This bitch–no, this cougher, she’s not even multi-dimensional enough to be called a bitch–keeps hacking in the cortile. Cortile (cor-tee-leh, in case you’re Anglo-Saxon and need pronunciation help) is Italian for courtyard, and I simply like the way it sounds better than the English translation. It’s not like we’re in Italy as I write this–for she’s not multi-dimensional enough to be Italian either–and she’s across the way sending the soundwaves of her cough through the cortile. No, instead we’re in Los Feliz. In one of those apartment complexes with a fountain at the entrance to lure in new tenants and make them believe that the building is “luxurious” enough to warrant the price tag for monthly rent. I saw the back of her basic blonde-haired head the day she moved in. She was carrying boxes as though it was the most terrible thing in the world. Like she was being put upon for having to do it herself. As though someone else should have been there to do it for her. Maybe this was her first time truly living on her own. Maybe her parents had finally cut her off, decided paying for her life for a few years after college was doing her more harm than good. 

However she had arrived, here she was. And it was going to end up driving me absolutely insane. Without even The Tell-Tale Heart benefit of having at least relished the crime of killing her. It was she, instead, who killed me. My spirit, my will to create. Amid that coughing, day in and day out. At first, I wondered if she had the ‘rona the way paranoid people of the 80s wondered if any man with a “fey” look had the HIV. But it didn’t seem so. She struck me as the type who would haul her ass to the hospital if it was that bad. This “malady” seemed to be merely a “character quirk.” No one else in the building was as close to her bedroom window as I was. Maybe that’s why they never complained. Or maybe I was being “too sensitive.” But the thing we always secretly hope is that someone else will be annoyed enough to complain so that we don’t have to. It would take off some of the burden and responsibility, while making one come across as the more “laid-back,” que sera sera type (what the hell did Doris Day know anyway?), and the “complainer” the evil stick in the mud, or, by 2020 witch hunt standards, the “Karen.” Live and let live, and all that bullshit. Well, I really wanted The Cougher in the Cortile to die. All she was capable of was making the sounds of infirmity.

Every day, her cough was more bombastic and phlegmy than the last. She couldn’t be serving any kind of purpose laid up there like that. And the fact that my nickname for her placed her as being “in the cortile” only because it sounded like she was serenading me as Romeo might have from that vantage point was a testament to how stereophonic her hacking was. What was worse, I was the sort who worked from home in the day. And I had been able to sell an array of microbudget screenplays that finally bought me the time to work on the one that would win my Oscar. That is, if I could fucking concentrate. It was more than a little pointed that the universe had decided to bring The Cougher in the Cortile the very day I decided I was ready to start working on the idea that had been germinating in my mind for the past year. It was as though God or whoever was trying to tell me: You’ll never write anything award-worthy. You’re going to remain just another one of countless middling screenwriters in this town. And The Cougher in the Cortile was the guardian of my mediocrity. For by preventing me from ever being able to concentrate with her incessant fucking barking (like a goddamn seal), I would never be able to write. Going to a Coffee Bean or Starbucks simply wasn’t an option, for the pandemic had rendered the public space anathema. Even if these establishments were open for “roosting,” you couldn’t pay me to sit inside of one. Like so many others, my apartment was the only sanctuary I had now. And it was being infected. 

After roughly a month and a half of this unceasing nightmare, this auditory rape, I decided that something had to be done. If, to her, sickness was health and she wasn’t going to do anything about it, then I would just have to be the one to “help” her along with an excess of “get well” materials. Namely, kombucha. Having researched what “healthy” thing I might be able to Trojan horse her with in terms of passing it off as “good for her” with the intent of it being her ultimate downfall, kombucha felt like the best bet. The most surefire method. Especially with my “homemade blend,” featuring my very own starter culture (filled with plenty of mold and fungi). It was filled with the bacteria that was sure to send her to the hospital. What else could I do to get a respite from that damned cilia-spurred noise? So it was that I deigned to knock on her door and present her with my “housewarming gift.” 

I told her point blank, “I couldn’t help but overhear you have a bit of a cough, so I brought you some kombucha. It’s just super great for promoting better health and I thought you might like it.” 

Taking the bait, she returned, “Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry you’ve been hearing me. To be honest, I think it’s just because I love weed so much. I’m trying to quit, but it’s hard. And I mean, you know, California. It’s so easy and accepted here.”

Despite her “pleasant air,” I had no remorse for what I was giving her to ingest. She had to go, and soon. She appeared to not want the drink at all, but knew it would be impolite to refuse my gesture of neighborliness. Thus, she drank the whole thing in front of me. And I could hardly contain my Grinch-like grin as I watched, knowing that peace and quiet would imminently be mine. 

Did I regret it? No. That week-long hospitalization she endured gave me the head start I needed on the screenplay. Plus, it’s not as though she could accuse me of any real crime. Unless “caring” was a crime. It could’ve been an accident. An innocent botched attempt at “home brewing.” When she returned, she saw me staring out at her from the window, smiling ominously as I waved at her. It didn’t take long for her to move out. Yet the curse didn’t go away. About three weeks later, an elderly woman moved in. Her cough was just as pronounced.

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