It was one of those increasingly common evenings, the ones where he would stand alone in his apartment, staring out the window as the street changed its colors from the full chromatics of day to the orange wash of sunset, on to the Gothic violets of dusk before settling in to that long stretch of night, black and grainy. He didn’t think of anything in particular while he stared: not of his middling career, the one that had promised to hold his attention for a lifetime but was now little more than a collection of habits, Tourettic tics that possessed him from 9 until 5; not of his friends, those genial apparitions who seemed to leave and reappear with the unpredictability of quantum particles; not of his empty bed; not even of the listless pop song presently leaking out of his stereo, a song he didn’t really care for but preferred to the terrifying New York silence of taxis and distant laughter that would invade his sixth floor duplex if he turned it off.
Across the street people kicked around like animatronic dioramas in a natural history museum. They looked serene and plastic in their lighted window boxes. He saw a child bouncing on a sofa on the second floor. On five, a middle-aged man leaned back in his chair, lecturing some unseen puppet. Scanning up to the seventh floor, he watched a woman carrying a large wooden spoon pace back and forth across the length of two windows, vanishing momentarily from one, like an optical illusion, before emerging in the other. The sixth floor directly opposite him was dark in both directions as far as he could see. He was alone on this plane of existence, caught between worlds. Life was ubiquitous above and below, but not here, not on six.
Then he looked up and saw her. She was on eight, maybe nine, and nearly at the edge of his visual field; he had to press his cheek against the glass to focus on her. A woman, tall but possibly not so tall, brownish hair, it was hard to make out the specifics, but he was drawn to her because she was also standing alone by her window, staring out. With the low fidelity afforded by distance and darkness he filled in all the gaps. She was beautiful, he decided, but just a little unkempt, slightly broken, her hair dried out from over-washing, her clothes unfashionable, and too baggy. Any moment now she would turn her gaze to see him, smooshed against the glass, and she would be flattered and a little embarrassed, and in the far dark she would fill in his gaps, as well, and in that way they would both hold equally distorted views of the other that were somehow more accurate than if they had met up close, in person, with all that fine detail. He imagined counting out her floor and apartment number and rushing out of his building, to the befuddlement of his doorman who had never known him to leave again after returning home from work, and he would fly across the street and into the opposite building, where the second, unfamiliar doorman would somehow know his purpose, perhaps would even call out, “She’s expecting you,” as he blows past the elevator, taking the stairs three at a time, sweating, palpitating, until finally he would burst into the hall on eight, or nine, race to find her apartment, orient and double-check his math in front of what he believed to be her door, compose himself, and then knock politely, after which there would be a pause, a strained note of anticipation, before an almost imperceptible shadow would eclipse the peephole and, a brief moment later, the door would open, and there she is, she had expected him, though maybe she can’t quite believe he’s actually there, hadn’t quite let herself think that he was the kind of guy who would count out her floor and apartment number and race across the street just to see her, and now take her in his arms and kiss her, a kiss full of the passion absent from all the other aspects of his life, a bright, swirling kiss in the depths of night, like a film negative, and she accepts his kiss, for all its ambition and misplaced emotion, and they hold each other, just hovering there, halfway between the hall and her apartment, and this was where the fantasy dissipated, like the condensed breath he had to wipe from the window to see that she was gone.
Her window was dark now. The kid on two had stopped jumping on the sofa, but the woman with the spoon was still pacing back and forth. Here and then gone and then here and then gone. Music dribbled out of the stereo at a low volume. He walked to it and turned it off, and listened for a while to the taxis and distant laughter.
Photo credit: Dawn Lohnas