By Doug Van Hooser
Did this qualify him as a Peeping Tom? He had to leave the building to smoke. He didn’t make the laws. Could she see the glow of his cigarette? No, she never looked out the window. Never stood and stared into the dark. There were no blinds or curtains that she shut in the kitchen. The bedroom had sheer, white drapes that were translucent enough to know someone was in the room, a moving shadow, if the light was on. Of course, it was when the lights went off that his mind kicked into imaginative gear.
What was a guy called who stared into dark windows from across the street? A Wishing Tom? What was he wishing for? A woman who came home late every night? Who scurried around the kitchen chopping lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, making a salad, and microwaving some pre-packaged item. Eating and tapping like a woodpecker at her phone. Trying to end her day so she could take a shower and get into bed with a book. Was she as lonely as she looked? Did the routine keep her going? Her life was a train schedule. Did that make her different from him? Ten o’clock, here he was.
Tonight, when he got off, he would go find a bar. Stop and see who’s in a bar at two o’clock on a Tuesday night. Break the habit of his lonely routine. They were alike, two stones in a creek bed, smoothed by years of running water.
How could he meet her? Go ring her bell? At ten o’clock? On a Tuesday? If he could figure out which apartment number was hers. “Hi. I’ve been watching you every night for a month from across the street. I couldn’t help but notice your loneliness. I thought perhaps you would like to join me for a late night jaunt to some hole in the wall bar where they play country western songs about defeated men and wronged women.”
That seemed like a long shot, though there was probably a woman who would do it. But not this one. She was entrenched. Repetition dries into concrete. Provides a stable foundation. She never looked out the window.
He reached into his pocket. A nickel, two dimes, three pennies, and a quarter. He threw his cigarette on the sidewalk and rubbed it out with his foot. He crossed the street, keeping his eye on her kitchen window. Her salad complete, a fork in one hand, the other tapping the phone lying on the table.
A penny for your thoughts? He took a step back and tossed the penny at the window. It tinged against the glass. She glanced at the window but didn’t look down. The fork came up to her mouth. Might as well get my nickel’s worth? It clanked against the glass. She peered out the window but didn’t stand. This time she hesitated but her attention returned to her phone. Should he up the ante to a dime or a quarter? He rubbed the dime between his thumb and forefinger in his left hand and the quarter in his right. The dime would be more subtle, the quarter demanding. He stepped back into the street and fast-balled the quarter at the window. It startled her. She picked up the phone and stabbed at it repeatedly. She brought the phone to her ear and talked. Then she stood and looked down. He waved gently. She waved timidly. A question crossed her face. He waved again then turned his hand and motioned for her to come. The question returned and lingered until a half smile sprouted. She held up a finger, a minute please.
He stepped back onto the sidewalk as she turned into the room. It had actually worked. He was going to meet her. Now he just had to figure out what to say. Tell the truth? Every night he came out for a cigarette and noticed her. That he wasn’t spying on her, but saw her life was dull and rigid just like his. And thought perhaps they should meet and figure a way out of their daily maze?
A red light flashed off the glass on the far corner of the building’s façade, catching his eye. In front of him, a light came on in the building’s foyer. A police car rounded the corner. She appeared in the foyer. He raised a hand in greeting. She returned the gesture. The police car stopped behind him just as she reached the door.