Only look up when they look away

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a short piece using an unreliable narrator. A man becomes infatuated with a woman who lives in his building. He is suspicious of his landlords intentions with her.

Submitted: May 02, 2013

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Submitted: May 02, 2013




Only look up when they look away

By: C. Cotton

I met Cindy in the spring, but I had seen her many times before.  Cindy is a woman who most men would pass over.  Her hair is cut in a bob, and I’m sure she has been mistaken for a boy.  Our relationship was struck when she entered an elevator in our apartment building.  I was wearing a free tote bag from NYU and she had asked me what I was studying.  I told her political science, which was what I would have liked to do if it wasn’t for the money.She was an MFA student in creative writing at the university, I was sure then that she would be published.  I said I’d love to read her work, but what I meant was that I believed in her deeply.We got along well, like I knew we would.  Our conversation took us past my stop and continued up until her door.  She had me ranting on the obscene state of the city government.  For the first time in my life someone was happy to let me talk.  I gesticulated down the hall while making some fiery points; points that would make the bureaucrats cringe. She was happy to listen to me, she nodded her head and agreed wholeheartedly, I was sure of that.  I could tell she was shy, but my heart swelled when she was brave enough to smile as she said goodbye.  I knew what she meant was, “I admire you, and in time you will know the recesses of my mind better than I”.  Most men would see nothing in these moments, but I see her for the way she is. I love her simplicity. 

  Her apartment is up three floors, adjacent to mine on the right.  I have absently followed her life as any nosy neighbor would since I saw her watering the irises in her window boxes. I took up gardening around the same time, pruning irises of my own, when I caught a glimpse of her changing in the window.  For a moment I saw the shape of her figure pulling up a sundress.  Each part of her body was framed horizontally by open venetian blinds. I admit I closed my eyes slowly. I only felt for the dry petals and plucked them tenderly. Anytime I saw her changing was unintentional, I would have told her that.

  After our first conversation to her door, I ran my hand along the yellow wallpaper back to the elevator, wondering if she had ever touched the same piece of wall.  I pressed the button to the elevator slowly; I felt a rush knowing that she stands where I am now.  I thought of how beautiful she must look at night with the streetlights straying down her back and leaving her shadow mingling on the wall.  How the sun warms the window in the morning, hoping to reach her shoulders. We had met, and I was in love, and spring was the best time for one to fall in love.

  The elevator doors slid open and there stood the real pervert. Out stepped the landlord, Mr. Wheeler, the purveyor of all my tragedy.  We exchanged formalities as I stepped aside to make way for his disgusting gut. 

“Don’t forget the rent this month, Griswold.” He said.

The nerve of that oafish pederast, so old and fat he wheezes every five steps. 

“Don’t worry Mr. Wheeler, just an honest mistake.”

“Three of them in a row, but who’s counting? Stock boys just aren’t paying like they used to.” he said.

“I told you I’m taking a job in management.” I said.

“Rents due April seventh, Griswold.” He said.

I had nothing left to say to him, but I knew to watch where he went.  I pretended to step into the elevator.  I popped back out crouched with my hand on the door; but I knew where he was going.  He knocked at Cindy’s apartment.

I couldn’t bear to see my Cindy talking to him. I went to the elevator and jammed my floor number.  Once I was in my apartment, I tried watching an episode of “I love Lucy” on TV land.  I overheard her blasting an episode at this time a week ago when I was taking a walk.  She’d be watching this with me right now if Wheeler didn’t have to put his paws all over her. She’s fucking him right now I just know it. I saw a man in her window the other night while I was putting in new flower boxes; I didn’t want it to be him. I threw the remote and felt the need to destroy the television, but I held myself back, I’m not dangerous no matter what Wheeler says.  Cindy would think I was crazy if she came over and it was smashed in. 

I needed to prove myself to her.  I did it in the only way I knew how, to sweep her off her feet.  For some time after that I would clip the flowers I was growing and tie them to her door handle. Flowers have a way of making a girl smile.  I had to win her heart, you understand? Wheeler didn’t deserve her. No one deserves her.

Since the day of our first meeting, I had only caught glimpses of Cindy.  I had only smelled her perfume in the elevator; I was only left with a lightheaded sensation when I knew she had been where I was.  Cindy always knew how to leave me weak in the knees.

For many nights I sat a chair at my window. I knew she would never leave her blinds open again.  I left poems under her door.  I tried every lunch spot in the vicinity of NYU.  I did everything I could for her.  She moved out sometime in May, I never saw it happen, it was Wheeler’s doing.  He had told her how I am no student; I’m just a man who stocks shelves.  He had told her I was no lover, I was some Peeping Tom.  Wheeler drove Cindy away before I ever had the chance to speak to her again.  She had betrayed me, but it didn’t matter. People have come and gone from that apartment, but I labor for her all the same.  Slipping Byron, Blake, Frost under the door, and tying irises by their stems to the old brass handle. 

© Copyright 2019 Colby Cotton. All rights reserved.

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