Saturday, February 27, 2010

Embracing through the gaze

This wasn't supposed to happen.

I was not supposed to notice her. I was not supposed to notice how her apparently soft hands would turn the pages of a book, as she sat down at her kitchen table. Or how she carelessly tucked her hair behind her ear every so often. I was not supposed to notice how she would wet her lips repeatedly, allowing them to shine slightly under the candlelight as her muted television set projected moving light unto the walls. I was not supposed to notice any of this - but somehow, I did.

She lived in the apartment building across the street from mine. Since both our apartments were on the same floor, I had an almost privileged view of her living room and kitchen. The two large windows that allowed me to peer inside made it seem like I was watching a movie, or staring into an ever changing picture frame. On most nights I tried not to look, but there was a very compelling quality to my nameless neighbor. I simply could not look any other way.

On most nights, she would go to bed considerably early, but on some occasions she'd have a glass of wine while watching a movie. They were always old films, and I would sometimes catch a glimpse of her smiling as she gazed into the black & white images unfolding before her eyes. After the conclusion of each film, she would sigh and stretch her arms. Walking to her bedroom, she seemed content with the celluloid frames she would now take to bed with her.

A few days had passed since I'd last seen her, when I saw a light go on in her apartment early one Saturday evening. She ran into the kitchen in some kind of hurry and quickly began to cook a meal. A couple of hours later, when I decided to have another look, I found her sitting across from a young man at the table. She was visibly enthralled with her guest, laughing uncontrollably from time to time, staring closely into his eyes, seemingly lost in the moment. After finishing dinner, they moved over to the bedroom. A short while later, the young man exited the room and quickly headed for the door. He said goodbye and left. After she closed the door behind him, she leaned into the wall for what seemed like a whole minute, but in reality was just an instant. As she turned off all the lights in her living room, she casually glanced over in my direction. I froze thinking she could see me, and in her eyes I saw the most subtle hint of sadness - as if she was trying to hold on to an elusive feeling, something not quite tangible, something not quite hers.

The following Saturday, I got home just before midnight. I didn't even bother to turn on the light inside my apartment, instead I approached the windows and found her sitting down with a picture frame in her hands, her eyes glued to the photograph. Since it was a large frame, I managed to see whose picture it was: a small girl, no older than 9. My neighbor seemed too young to have a daughter that age, so I assumed it was an old picture of herself. I sat there mesmerized looking at her, while she in turn, looked at her younger self.

It was then that it began to rain heavily and she suddenly approached her door. Before opening, she placed the picture frame in a small table beside the door. The same young man from last week stepped inside the apartment and sat down at the table without saying a word. She quickly produced a bottle of wine and poured two glasses. As she sat down across from him, he began to speak with an indifference that was apparent even from a distance. She seemed relaxed and calm; maybe the wine had something to do with it. As she poured herself glass after glass, his wine sat untouched in front of him. After a few minutes of conversation, she began to nod her head in approval while she stared at the glass in her hand, searching for words she had no intention of speaking. He got up to leave and she followed him to the door. They said goodbye and she hugged him effusively while he just put one hand on her back. He began to let go while she hanged on for a moment longer. The last thing I saw before I fell asleep, was the sight of her pacing her apartment with a glass of wine in her hand - alone.

I woke up abruptly some hours later, as if someone had shaken me. I looked over to the other apartment building, not expecting to see anything. However, to my surprise, I found my neighbor standing at the very window through which I've seen her countless times. She was standing still, gazing intently at the sky just above my building, completely oblivious to my presence. But just then, she lowered her gaze and our eyes met for the very first time. Her face had a blank expression completely devoid of feeling. I had a moment's hesitation in which I thought of acting casual, but it was impossible to look away. We locked eyes for what seemed like forever, until she lifted her arm and very slowly waved. I forced a smile but I could feel my chest tied up in knots. So many times I'd imagined what it would be like to look into each other's eyes, what it would be like to have a moment... and yet, nothing could have prepared me for this. This wasn't supposed to happen.

She slowly turned away, pausing for a fleeting instant. In the corner of her mouth, I saw that unique and subtle smile I'd seen on her face so many times as she viewed her old black & white films - that smile that had touched me from afar on so many nights. I saw this smile for the last time and I marveled at the idea that my nameless neighbor was now smiling at me. She took a few steps towards the bedroom's door, grabbed her old picture from the table and disappeared into the room.

Her next door neighbors would later recall how they heard the sound of a book drop as they got dressed for the early morning mass that Sunday. Such a sound is played over and over again in one's head, as you try to remember where exactly were you standing when you heard it.

Inside her room there was no noise, only silence. She sat down on the floor and leaned into the wall, and then reached under her bed to pull out a brown box. She looked into the eyes of the smiling 9 year old girl in the picture. She closed her eyes and tried to remember what it was like to be that little girl and not have a care in the world. She thought of this and smiled... and it was then that she pulled the trigger.

Photograph by Nichole Saldarriaga


Mayte Kairuz, MFCC said...

No podía parar de leer, esperaba y no esperaba ese final... quería que terminara solo para saber si se abría la puerta y suspiraban o si pasaba lo inevitable lo q pasó has convertido a una fan de tus short stories Kudos excelente! Cant wait for the next one!

Reavel said...

Great story. Touching! Made me ponder, thanks.