Watching You Through Windows, Hearing You Through Walls

"My Neighbors," a short story by Douglas Silver

silhouette in window

Watching You Through Windows, Hearing You Through Walls

My Neighbors

I listen to them at night, the neighbors making love. They don’t always make love. Some nights they fuck. Some nights they screw. Some nights they bang. Some nights it’s more about her. Some nights him. It’s never equal because it never is. Some nights it’s not night but I usually go to sleep afterward because after coming comes shame.   

But when I can’t sleep, when I am out of sleep and there is only shame, I listen closer. Nestled in a tiny crook of my tiny apartment that is not mine, in my tiny building that is not mine, beside my open window adjacent to their open window, our sounds walled in by the airshaft. He asks if she picked up soy sauce and she says she got tamari and he says he likes soy sauce and she says you don’t know the difference and he says I got a promo code for the rental car, 20% off, and she says that’s fucking amazing, and he says it’s not like your sister’s going to stay married to this assclown and she says don’t start please don’t fucking start we’re going, and there is silence and it is in the silences that I feel every pulse in my body. It is in the silence that I wait for the silence to end and it is everything.

I love you he or she says. I love you he or she replies. I want to masturbate again only slightly more than I want to kill myself. So I masturbate and don’t kill myself and then a new day.

This is my secret. It’s the only one I have. I do not know them. I have never known anyone so completely. I don’t look at them in the hallway. I wish they looked at me. They are not attractive. I want them always. Their sex arouses me like no lover or gem of pornography ever has. I have always been more comfortable with other people’s intimacies. I have always trusted witnesses over participants.

At the library, I charge my phone and ask the Internet if I am wrong to listen. The Internet says I am. I am a pervert. I am voyeur. I am violating the sanctity of their home and the social contract by which all moral homo sapiens agree to live.

I ask again, and the Internet says I am not wrong.  I am in my home and these are their sounds, their lovemakingfuckingscrewingbanging, that are violating my space. Sound travels by waves, the Internet explains to me. There are no listening waves. I am a victim. I am harmless. My innocence is a law of physics. I prefer this answer and the next time I see them together I nod. He nods back. She doesn’t notice me.

That night they fuck and screw and I come so hard my legs give out and I sigh and I pray that they hear me but they don’t because they are still focusing on each other and I hate myself with a certainty so profound it must be divine.

Weeks pass. I hear nothing from them. See nothing of them. One night, I’m woken by clumsy footfalls. Key fumbling. Their drunk sex is my favorite. It is rare and loud and unforgiving and I’ll remember more than either of them. I get naked. Crouch by the window. My sweaty back plastered to the drywall, so horny I am lightheaded, so lightheaded I am free. I wait and I wait and I wait and wait, losing my freedom, and then I hear them. He’s coughing and then he’s hacking and then he’s vomiting. It sounds like a bucket of water poured onto a rusting chainsaw. Her voice is steady long after his goes silent. I stay by the window. I get myself off. I am angry and I do it angrily, and I leave myself raw. It feels honest and I hate them.

A week later, I see him on my way to the food pantry. He looks sallow, thin.

Two days after that, coming home from the library, I see her. She looks like she’s been crying from the moment of conception, like her mother told her that the secret to soft skin is abject misery. I say hello. She does not look at me.

At first, I assume he is sick and then I know he is sick and then I realize he was never sick but simply dying and there is a difference and that difference is hope. Sex was two three maybe four times a week. Dying is every day, every night.

I listen.

Some nights he wheezes. Some nights she bawls. Some nights he is in agony. Some nights she prays aloud. Some nights it’s more about him. Some nights her. It’s never equal because it never is.

One evening I come home to this place that is not a home but it is where I live and will die and in between settle and settle for less and less and less, and their apartment door is open and the apartment is empty and everything is gone and I walk into the bedroom and I stand by the window abutting the airshaft, the window from which I cannot see my window but I hope they heard me, even if they listened separately and never told each other, like I was an inexplicable secret between lovers, like I was a life worth eavesdropping on, and I open the window higher, stick out my head farther and farther, staring into my apartment, empty of life and longing and voice, and then farther still, into this dank cloister, listening for anyone. Anyone at all.   

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