Everything Is Fine




Juanita Santiago had had it.  She slammed her textbook shut and screeched through her clenched teeth.  How was she supposed to do her homework with all the noise?  Her brothers and sisters were running up and down the hall outside the bedroom, laughing, screaming, and carrying on like wild things.  She’d thought the move out of Suicide Slums would’ve made it more peaceful.  Instead, she’d spent the last two weeks in a familial warzone and no fire-stairs outside her window to escape. 

Gathering her schoolbooks, she stormed out of the bedroom, dodged her annoying siblings, and stuck her head in the kitchen.  Her mother was on the telephone.  “Mama, I’ll be outside in the hall.” 

“Sí, sí.”  Her mother waved her off and went back to yelling in Spanish at whoever was on the other end of the line. 

Juanita looked heavenward and went out the apartment door.  She wished she still had her fire escape to sit and do homework on, but she could make do with the Dunwoody Apartments hallway.  The noise level decreased considerably with the door closed behind her.  She could still hear them shouting, however, and headed for the stairs. 

Dunwoody Apartments consisted of a row of brick buildings containing three apartments per building.  Each apartment took up an entire floor.  The Santiagos had rented the first floor apartment.  Three brass mailboxes were inset into the wall of the small foyer, labeled with names of the building’s residents: Santiago, Kent, and Martins.  Winding stairs curved upwards by the front door, leveling out in a short landing in front of the second floor apartment before continuing up to the third floor. 

Juanita climbed the steps and settled on the second step down from the second floor landing.  She used the landing as a table, leaned against the wall, and stretched her legs across the step.  Cheap, yellowing scone lights attached to the walls lit the stairwell, bright enough for her to see by and not fear someone waiting for her in the shadows.  Dunwoody wasn’t the Slums.  Violence didn’t happen in the suburbs. 

“Lex!  Get in here!” 

Juanita glanced at the wood door with the brass number two tacked to it.  The demand had carried through the door pretty clearly.  She shook her head and opened her textbook.  All she wanted was peace and quiet to do her homework. 

“Didn’t I ask you to pick up the dry-cleaning?” 

“Damn.  I’m sorry, Clark.  I forgot.” 

“You forgot.  One simple request, and you forgot.” 

“I’m sor—” 

The apology cut off abruptly.  Juanita pulled her book closer to her and tried to concentrate on it, not her upstairs neighbors arguing.  She hoped she wouldn’t have to move. 

“I barely ask you to do anything around here, Lex, but when I do, you forget,” Clark sounded irritated.  “You’re the one who wanted to move in with me, giving up your precious servants.  The least you can do is help out sometimes.” 

“I’m sorry.  I’ll go and get the dry-cleaning right now,” Lex said.  It sounded as if they were standing right by the door. 

“You shouldn’t have forgotten to begin with!” 

“Clark, I’m sorry, I didn’t— Clark!” 

“Move your hands, Lex.” 

“I’m sorry!  I won’t forget again.  I promise.” 

Move your hands.” 

Juanita’s head jerked at the loud crack that came from behind the door.  It repeated multiple times, sounding like someone was clapping hard but slowly.  She counted unthinkingly as she tried to figure out what was happening.  Six… seven… eight… nine… ten…eleven… twelve… thirteen… 

The smacks went up to twenty before they stopped.  She held her breath, straining to listen, as Clark spoke more quietly than earlier. 

“Maybe now you’ll remember to do as I ask.” 

She couldn’t hear Lex’s response. 

“Good.  Go pick up the dry-cleaning.  I’ll expect you home before nine.” 

Juanita ducked her head and stared blankly at her book when the door to apartment number two opened.  She saw a shiny pair of dress shoes from the corner of her eye.  The door closed with a snick, and then the shoes came closer. 

“Excuse me.” 

Juanita looked up with only her eyes.  The guy standing on the landing was tall, dressed in a shirt and tie, and was completely bald.  “You’re blocking the steps,” he – Lex, she recognized his voice – told her. 

Juanita pulled back her feet.  “Sorry.” 

Lex passed her by without another word, descending stiffly down the steps and going out the front door. 

Juanita could have sworn she saw a red handprint on the back of his head. 


Juanita had picked a good place to study.  The stairwell was quiet and she never saw anyone coming or going between the hours of eight and ten at night.  For a solid week and a half, she’d been able to get her homework done without being interrupted. 

She was midway through her history essay when she heard Clark’s raised voice coming through the door of apartment number two.  She couldn’t understand what he said, though, and ignored the noise as best she could.  The Confederate troops at Cumberland Gap— 

The loud crash behind the closed door startled her and her pen jerked across the notebook page.  She cursed and tried to rub the mark off with her finger.  It only smeared the ink.  “Damn it.” 

The door opened and closed, and Juanita raised her head.  Lex had come into the hall.  He stood facing the door, forehead resting against the brass number two, the doorknob gripped tightly in his hand.  His shoulders heaved and his heavy breaths echoed in the small landing. 

She must have made a noise, because Lex turned suddenly.  Juanita gasped.  The right side of his face was swelling before her eyes, blackening bruises spreading under his pale skin.  Deep red lines made a spiderweb over his cheekbone.  A thin gash sliced from above his eyebrow to his temple, beaded with blood. 

“What are you doing here?” Lex said sharply. 

“Homework,” Juanita said. 

“Don’t you have a home to do it in?” 

“It’s too loud, so I come up here.”  Juanita gathered her courage and asked, “Are you okay?  Your face…” 

Lex’s hand rose to touch his cheek.  He winced and dropped it.  “I’m fine.” 

“I heard a crash—” 

“I tripped and fell,” Lex said curtly.  “Everything is fine.  You should pack up and go home.  It’s late.”  He opened the door and returned inside the apartment.  She heard the lock click. 

Juanita gathered her stuff and went back downstairs. 

*~*

“Why?  I didn’t do anything!” 

“You know exactly what you did!” 

“But—” 

“Don’t give me any excuses!”  Juanita heard a cry from behind the closed door of number two and she clutched her textbook to her chest.  Clark had been screaming at Lex for the past ten minutes, but none of what he said made sense.  She couldn’t figure out why Clark was mad with Lex.  And now— 

“Clark, please—” 

“Shut up!  Just shut up!  I’m sick of your lies.  I don’t want to hear another word come out of that mouth!” 

Lex cried out again, loudly, and Juanita covered her mouth with her hand.  She heard thuds and cracks coming from the apartment.  She was paralyzed on the steps, her throat tight with horror.  Clark kept yelling at Lex even as he shrieked in pain. 

“You promised me you wouldn’t pull crap like this!  There’s no reason for me to have to come to your rescue.  You’re an adult.  You know how to behave yourself.  So- why- won’t- you- learn?!” 

Clark’s words were punctuated by heavy thumps that scared Juanita.  She closed her eyes tightly against the sounds. 

“Stop being stupid, Lex,” Clark said disgustedly, finally, and she listened to him stalk away. 

In the silence that followed, she heard Lex crying behind the closed door. 


Juanita looked at her watch and at the front door again.  She’d been sitting on the steps leading to the second floor since school ended, waiting.  A stack of pamphlets rested in her lap.  She shifted, glanced over her shoulder up the stairs, and wiped her hands on the nap of her jeans.  

At half-past six, Lex walked through the door into the building.  He carried a briefcase in his hand and his suit coat draped over his arm.  He stopped when he saw her and Juanita forced herself not to wince when she saw his black eye. 

“Are you stalking me?” Lex said, lips curving on one side. 

“No.  I told you, I live right there.”  Juanita pointed towards apartment number one and then grabbed the pamphlets in her lap.  “What happened to your eye?” 

Lex’s expression smoothed, but his eyes dared her to contradict him.  “I walked into the door.” 

“I don’t believe you.”  Juanita took the dare.  “I think Clark hit you.” 

Lex’s jaw tightened and he swept past her up the stairs.  “Go home.  Everything is fine.  I don’t have time to deal with schoolgirl nonsense.” 

Juanita scrambled to her feet and followed him up the steps.  “I heard him beat you the other night.” 

Lex stopped suddenly on the landing and turned around.  Juanita nearly crashed into him.  She leaned back as he loomed over her, his eyes and voice hard.  “Eavesdroppers may wake one day to find that their ears had been cut off.  Mind your own business.” 

“Here.”  Juanita thrust the pamphlets at him, pressing them against his chest.  He grabbed them reflexively.  “You don’t deserve to be hurt.” 

She turned and ran down the steps, leaving him holding the handouts she’d gathered on spousal abuse. 


Juanita heard shaky inhales of breath and soft hiccoughs as she climbed the steps, her schoolbooks under her arm.  She reached the landing and found Lex sitting on the steps going up to the third floor.   His arms were crossed and resting on his bent knees.  He lifted his head suddenly, having heard her approach, and wiped his face quickly with his hand.  It did little to hide the fact that he’d been crying. 

“Are you okay?” she asked worriedly. 

Lex laughed hollowly.  “Just… don’t ask me that.  All right?” 

Juanita nodded and stepped tentatively closer.  She couldn’t see any bruises on his face or head.  Maybe Clark had stopped hitting him.  “Why are you sitting out here?” 

“Do you have a monopoly on the steps?” Lex said with humor. 

“No.  It’s a free country,” Juanita said.  Lex snorted, but she didn’t know why. 

“What are you studying?” Lex asked, gesturing at her books. 

“Calculus.”  Juanita made a face.  “I have a test tomorrow.” 

“Around 450 BC, Zeno of Elea was one of the first to argue the method of exhaustion, which later Eudoxus, who is falsely credited with originating the method in your book, put into provable, scientific terms.” 

Juanita nodded slowly.  “O-kay.  I’ll remember that.” 

Lex grinned lopsidedly at her.  “Never mind.  It’s useless old-people knowledge that—” 

The door to number two opened and Clark stuck his head outside.  “Lex, did you—oh, hi.”  He saw Juanita and opened the door further.  “Can we help you?” 

“She just had a homework question, Clark,” Lex said, rising.  He gave her a faint smile.  “You’d better head back downstairs.  Everything is fine.” 

“Sure.”  Juanita clutched her books, watching as Lex skirted past Clark into the apartment.  She wanted to tell Lex not to go inside. 

“Um, bye,” Clark said, half waving at her, before stepping back and closing the door. 

Juanita turned and headed down the steps.  She paused when she reached the bottom, glanced upstairs, and bit her lower lip.  She crept back up again and pressed her ear to the door of number two. 

“—invite her in, instead of lurking in the halls like some pervert,” Clark was saying. 

“She may be more comfortable out there.” 

“Fine.  Whatever.  Do what you want.  You always do, anyway.” 

Lex hesitated before asking, “What does that mean?” 

“Let’s see: I specifically asked you to remove your briefcase from the living room after I tripped on it and you didn’t.  Guess who tripped over it again?” 

“I was doing the dishes first.” 

“In the hall?” Clark scoffed.  “Don’t lie to me, Lex.” 

“I’m not lying.”  

“If you were doing the dishes, why isn’t the dishwasher on?” 

Lex was beginning to sound distressed.  “There are only five dishes in it.” 

“You didn’t wipe the counter or kitchen table off; the food is still sitting out and not in the refrigerator; and you were out in the hallway.” 

“I—” 

“I deal with crap all day, saving stupid humans’ asses and listening to Lois’s never-ending whinging.  I’m up half the night protecting this world from its own self.  So, I’d really like it if my home was the way I want it to be and you did what I asked you.  Is it that hard to comply?” 

“No.  No, it’s not.” 

“It seems to me that it is.  You can’t even put away a simple briefcase.” 

“I was going to— no!  Clark!” 

“What did I tell you about making excuses?” 

“I’m not making—ah!” 

Juanita backed away after she heard the first crack of a hand on skin.  She rubbed the tears from her eyes and ran downstairs to the Santiago apartment.  

Throwing her books on the kitchen table, she grabbed the phone from her mother.  “She’ll call you back,” Juanita said into the phone and disconnected the call. 

“Juanita!”  Mama squawked. 

“It’s an emergency.”  Juanita dialed, scrubbed her hand over her face again, and waited for the line to pick up. 

“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”

“My upstairs neighbor is being beaten by his spouse-boyfriend person,” Juanita said, sniffing loudly.  “You’ve got to help him.” 

“I’ve routed a squad car to your location.  Can you give me more information?” 

Mama put her arm around Juanita’s shoulder and Juanita leaned into her.  “His name is Lex.  The boyfriend’s name is Clark Kent.  He’s been beating Lex for more than a month, at least.  I heard it through the door and I’ve seen the bruises and stuff.  Please, hurry.” 


Juanita stood in the building foyer, holding onto her mother, as the two uniformed police officers went upstairs.  Mama stroked Juanita’s hair comfortingly.  Juanita gnawed on her lower lip.  She hoped Lex was okay. 

“Mr. Kent?”  One of the officers banged on the door to number two.  “This is the Metropolis PD.  Open the door, please.” 

Juanita heard the door open and Clark’s voice drifted downstairs.  “Uh, hi.  Can I help you, Officers?” 

“We received a possible domestic violence call about those residing in apartment number two of this building.  May I ask, is your partner home, Mr. Kent?” 

“I’m right here, Officer… Marlowe, is it?” 

Juanita was relieved to hear Lex’s voice.  She gripped her mother’s hand. 

“Yes, sir,” Officer Marlowe said.  “As I said, we received a call about there being the possibility of domestic violence at this residence.  Are you all right, sir?” 

“Do I not look all right to you?” Lex said. 

“It appears so,” Officer Marlowe said.  “However, if you don’t mind stepping downstairs with my fellow officer so we might clear this up?” 

“Of course.” 

“Mr. Kent, why don’t you and I wait right here?” Officer Marlow said. 

The second officer came downstairs, with Lex preceding him stiffly.  Juanita hurried over to him.  “Are you okay?  I heard him hitting you again.” 

Lex held up his hand, warding her off.  “I’m fine.  You must have heard the television.” 

“We both know that’s not true.  Just tell them,” Juanita beseeched.  “Then, he won’t be able to hurt you anymore.” 

“Juanita,” Lex said, brushing away one of her tears, “Clark loves me.  He’s not doing anything wrong.” 

Juanita stared at him like he’d lost his mind.  Then, she remembered what it had said in those pamphlets and her heart ached fiercely for him.  He believed he deserved being hit, that it was his fault for some transgression, or maybe Clark had promised that he’d never do it again.  “Lex…” 

“Officer, I’m glad Miss Santiago called the police, even though it was a false alarm,” Lex said, addressing the police officer.  “If only more people would care about their neighbors.” 

“If you’re sure, sir?” the officer said. 

Lex looked at Juanita again, gave her a melancholy smile, and nodded.  “I’m sure.  Everything is fine.” 

 

End

 

 

My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble. Some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was


I think it’s because I’m clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe it’s because I’m crazy
I try not to act too proud
They only hit until you cry
And after that you don’t ask why
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore
You just don’t argue anymore

Yes I think I’m okay
I walked into the door again
Well, if you ask that’s what I’ll say
And it’s not your business anyway
I guess I’d like to be alone
With nothing broken, nothing thrown
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am
Just don’t ask me how I am