The Love Island Watchers in C3
by Sonja Flancher
I was taking out the trash, standing on the landing between apartments C3 and C4, when I heard his voice. I paused—potato peels and cat litter tearing through the polyethylene above my feet—and held my breath as I strained to listen.
Previously on Love Island, hearts were broken, and secrets were shared.
Yes, there it was. Iain Stirling’s Scottish lilt blaring from a television inside C3 and through the thin wall to me and my garbage.
Iain Stirling hosts the British strain of the reality television show, Love Island. His voice is distinct, like that of James Earl Jones or David Attenborough. Jones and Attenborough comfort or educate. Watchers of Stirling subject themselves to fifty minutes of programming where twelve people, riddled with plastic surgery and muscles, travel to a villa in Spain to compete for love. Love Island is the type of show my mother would deem ‘brain-melting’.
I myself have seen three complete seasons, though in no particular order.
I shuffled closer to C3’s door, onto their doormat that said ‘Go Away’ in black block letters and held the garbage at arm’s length. I tried to hear which Love Island season they were watching. I didn’t know who lived in C3. To be frank, I didn’t know anyone who lived in my building. My partner, Grant, my cat Suki, and I recently moved to Brooklyn from Minnesota and had yet to meet any of our neighbors.
Really, we had yet to meet any friends at all.
Our move wasn’t entirely practical. I was supposed to begin a master’s program in the city, but classes went virtual, Grant didn’t have a job, and we’d just adopted a 15-pound tabby cat who maybe had diabetes. We put a deposit on an apartment we’d never seen and moved in September 2020—planning to coexist in 400 square feet of space and survive on our love for each other alone.
One month into this solo-joint-existence, when a fight over Grant’s Xbox habit ended with me hiding on the toilet (the only place with a door), we identified our need for friends. We could not only speak to one another at all times. Conversations were quickly exhausted, or repeated, or cut open with long stretches of silence. Yes, we were figuring out how to live together, yes, we still loved each other, but our ache for friendship was too palpable to ignore. We’d end each day on the couch with Love Island melting our brains. Iain Stirling and the plastic surgery-riddled characters became our stand-in friends.
While making dinner or washing the dishes, it was common for either one of us to burst out in a loud British accent and proclaim we were ‘proper fumin’’, then we’d laugh and laugh, imagining the preposterousness of either one of us in the Love Island villa.
After a minute with my ear to C3’s door, I determined they were watching season five, the same one Grant and I watched every night. I smiled—ecstatic at the thought of neighbors who also enjoyed Love Island.
Though I wanted to meet whoever was inside, I could not bring myself to knock. Imagine the conversation that would’ve ensued:
“Hi, I’m Sonja, your new neighbor. I was just listening with my ear to your door and discovered you’re watching season five of Love Island. Would you like to be friends?”
I continued downstairs with the trash, thinking about how I could let C3, in the least-creepy fashion, know that I existed and that, I too, loved Love Island. It takes a particular kind of person to push through the first ten episodes. Each segment is too long (an hour) and too full of the same conversations to have any sort of deep pull on its audience. What keeps us fans watching is that magic of reality television; unbelievable people doing unbelievable things for fifty hours of screen time. I was certain that to run into a fellow Love Island fan was to stumble into fast friendship.
I chucked the garbage into the November night where it landed on the curb with the other waste-bundles, then took the stairs up to my apartment two at a time. I passed C3, put my ear to the door again to confirm I wasn’t dreaming, then ran to my own.
“Grant,” I said upon opening our door. “Our neighbor is watching Love Island.”
We decided to write a note. I ripped out a page from a spiral-bound notebook, left the fringes on, and folded it in half.
“Are you sure we should do this?” Grant asked me. He was somewhere at the crossroads of nervous and excited and terrified. “You’re sure it was Iain?”
“Of course I’m sure,” I said. “His voice is hard to miss.”
“Are you really doing this?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said and clicked open a pen. “Whoever is in there watches Love Island. We have to contact them.”
He bounced on the balls of his feet and looked from my face to the piece of notebook paper. “You’re really doing this,” he repeated.
I wrote on the folded flap:
To Whoever Lives in Apartment C3!
I added the exclamation point because I couldn’t help myself, because I have a perpetual need for people to think I’m nice, because I was a creep about to set a note outside an adult stranger’s door.
This might be the creepiest thing in the world,
I felt there was no reason not to be honest. Grant affirmed my words with a nod and a quiet “yeah that’s good and funny” over my shoulder.
but I was taking out the trash and heard Iain Stirling’s voice come from your apartment. My partner, Grant, and I just moved here from Minnesota and we’re huge Love Island fans. We’re currently watching season five!
Another exclamation point.
We’d love to get together for a socially distant drink and watch an episode or two if you’re willing. If not, and if this is overstepping every sort of boundary, feel free to throw this letter away and we won’t be offended! Have a wonderful rest of your evening!
Sonja and Grant in C1
I re-creased the fold.
“Are you really going to put that in front of their door?” Grant asked, again.
“Well, now I don’t know,” I said. “You’re making me think I shouldn’t.” I looked at the letter, its three—no, four—exclamation points. I became self-conscious, worried my desperation for new friends in this new city was too pungent in my words and punctuation. “I’ll sleep on it,” I said.
“Good idea,” Grant said.
But, I knew I would ‘mail’ the letter. If it was too creepy, they wouldn’t say anything back, I gave them full permission to ignore us besides. Odds were I’d forget the letter if they didn’t respond anyway.
That’s a lie.
If I put the letter on their ‘Go Away’ doormat and didn’t hear anything from them in a few days, I would be offended. I would feel twenty-two, which I am, and like I didn’t know how to make adult friends, which I don’t. What I didn’t tell Grant or our mystery neighbors in C3, was, from my perspective as a two-month New York resident, my success in the city, in the world really, hinged on C3’s response.
If they didn’t write back, I’d failed. I’d have never gotten to know my neighbors in my first New York City apartment. I would never be like Joey and Chandler and Monica and Rachel with spare keys to my friends’ space, access to their la-z boy armchairs. I wouldn’t be able to call upon anyone for an extra cup of sugar (more likely gluten free coconut sugar? This is Brooklyn after all) or a match to light a candle in a blackout. It would just be me and Grant for the rest of our lives until we couldn’t stand it anymore and decided New York was a horrible place filled with lonely, anti-social people and we’d move back to Minnesota where we’d put our three kids on the same school bus where we met in the eighth grade and then we’d join the PTA, volunteering at bake sales until we died.
A lack of response was really a Midwestern death sentence.
I abandoned the letter on our kitchen table and moved into the bathroom. Standing in front of the medicine cabinet, uncapping the squeezed-out toothpaste, I imagined who lived in C3: young, mid-thirties or less, artistic in some way, I thought. There’s a bike outside their door, so they probably have good calves and quads. Grant bikes, there’s something in common. And I run—that could be good to talk about if we ever meet.
I had to put the letter on their doormat first.
The next morning, on my way out after Grant went to work, I placed the letter on C3’s doormat. First, I put it in the center, on the space between “Go” and “Away”. Then I moved it to the upper left corner, then the right. Then I just decided to hold out my arm and drop the thing. I fussed with the paper to make it look as natural as possible, like an afterthought from someone cool and casual who wrote it off the cuff in the heat of the moment, not someone who agonized about the number of exclamation points.
I stared at it, apprehensive but eager, then left.
That evening, before Grant and I started episode 22, I opened my door to a piece of lined paper addressed to: Sonja and Grant in C1!, complete with an exclamation point.
“Grant,” I said. “C3 responded.” I bent to retrieve the letter and admired the loopy print on its front.
“No way,” Grant said. He extracted himself from the couch. “Read it out loud.”
I closed the door and sat at the table, legs straddling the bar stool and toeing the gaps in the tile, and began to read.
First off, welcome to Brooklyn!
An exclamation point!
We’re delighted to have you both as neighbors and your note isn’t creepy at all. We literally finished season 5 of Love Island yesterday, so that definitely was Iain Stirling’s voice you heard coming from our apartment.
Their names were Raven and Felipe. They had lived in our building for three years. They wanted to watch season six with us. They wanted to have drinks. They left their phone numbers at the bottom.
“Raven and Felipe,” I said again. Grant grinned.
“Hell yeah,” he said.
I stuck their note on the fridge, behind the one magnet holding up postcards from friends and family in Minnesota. Next to reminders of our mothers and fathers and cousins and hometown friends was now Raven and Felipe—real people in real Brooklyn with real names and real numbers. Our first maybe city friends. Our first point of contact, now forever our reminder of human existence.
I sent Raven a text a few days after her letter. We exchanged messages about planning some sort of Love Island watch party when Grant and I finished season 5. At the rate we were consuming it, I suspected we would be done within a few weeks.
Weeks passed, then months. Soon it was May and the Magnolia trees had finished blooming. Evidence of summer crept into our apartment: we left the windows open for all hours of day and night, stuffed our winter coats in storage under our bed, and watched birds land on our fire escape for moments of pause in the afternoon heat.
I trudged up the stairs on one of these warm spring afternoons to find a pile of cardboard boxes outside Raven and Felipe’s apartment. Each one was taped tight and labeled: bedroom books!, living room books!, kitchenware!
Raven and Felipe were moving.
Our plan to watch Love Island together never came to fruition. We’d yet to speak again after our phone number swap in November. It was no one’s fault—neither of us initiated contact after the notes were passed and those tentative plans discussed. My ache for human connection had also dissipated slightly after I started making friends through school. I no longer felt as much like the young spying neighbor who pinned all of her hopes on the strangers in C3.
But, looking at those boxes, I felt a tug of loss. What could we have been had we sat together, the four of us with glasses of wine, and watched Iain Stirling narrate life in the Love Island villa? Would we have been the kind of neighbors who started block parties and created a community in our own little corner of the world? What had we missed by remaining content in our solitude down the hall from one another? Now I would never know.
Grant and I had also quit watching Love Island in the evenings. Instead, we were consuming Marvel content at a rapid pace and filling in our desire for non-superhero screen time with random episodes of our previous favorite shows. Love Island had become too time consuming and tedious to keep up with, much like the bud of friendship with our neighbors two doors down.
But maybe that’s okay. Maybe what mattered was that note—that act of jumping all in with the confidence New York requires.
I retreated to my apartment and sat on my couch, wondering where Raven and Felipe were off to.
Maybe I would write them a note and ask.
Sonja Flancher is a Brooklyn-based writer pursuing her MFA in creative nonfiction at The New School in New York. She’s previously published essays, reviews, and poetry in the Blue Marble Review, The Rumpus Magazine, and Polaris Literary Magazine.