Sunday, August 07, 2005
Copyright 2005 by T.E. H****
The bus churned along the street, alternately lurching to a stop and jerking forward. The veteran riders rode the rolling coach like seasoned sailors riding out a storm. Many managed to read. Others talked with friends. A few muttered and stared out windows, occasionally chuckling and nudging the person next to them.
Shawn neither read nor talked with friends. He wasn't a mutterer either. He sat at a window, eyes shielded by sunglasses. His head was tilted to one side. He appeared to be sleeping. But Shawn wasn't asleep.
Behind the dark glasses his eyes moved, noting every person crammed onto the bus. His reflection stared intently back at him in the window. It was a plain face, thin with pale skin wrapped tightly around high cheekbones. His brown hair had a consistent tousled look. He ran his fingers through the hair and smiled a slightly crooked smile as the hair fell back into its accustomed place.
Shawn turned away from the window and listened intently to snatches of conversation drifting through the crowded bus.
"...and I told her that's how I work and if you don't like it...and then he took the report and told Edison it was his idea, that son of a ...you see that game Sunday? They ought to get rid of Hasslebeck, that asshole couldn't throw a..."
Shawn saw familiar pavement rolling by outside. He reached up and pulled the chord, signaling the driver to stop. He edged down the aisle, juggling his briefcase and umbrella as he dug into his pocket for change. The driver nodded mechanically as the change slid into the coin box. The doors opened with a sigh and Shawn tripped down the steps as the bus lunged away in a noxious cloud of diesel.
It was only a block walk to his building. It was in the center of the city. Most old and once fashionable hotels in the area were slowly being refurbished and sold as co-ops or condos. Many housed fashionable studios. Shawn's building was one of the buildings in transition. Only a small portion of the rooms had been sold as co-ops. The rest were still rented to the city's transient and not so transient population. Shawn liked that. That was one of the reasons he'd bought the studio co-op here. So much color, so much life to watch. So many emotions, so much pain.
The dowager of a building sat primly on the corner. It sternly faced a nameless 24-hour restaurant on the corner -- infamous for its clientele. Shawn looked in the window as he passed. A woman with permanent youth painted on her face smiled from a window seat. Shawn looked down shyly as he passed. The woman laughed and nudged her companion. Shawn felt their eyes on his back as he fought the urge to run for the sanctuary of his building. He felt humiliating warmth spread across his face as blood rushed to his cheeks, branding him with embarrassment. He cursed softly under his breath. Damn. They were just hookers. They're the only ones that eat there. He didn't need to be embarrassed. But it was as if the woman had looked through his sunglasses and into his eyes, boring into his brain...his soul. He shivered and pushed through the plate glass door to his building.
The lobby always reminded him of a scene from a 1940s movie. A ceiling fan turned lazily overhead, stirring palm fronds in huge cast-iron planters. Rattan couches and chairs faced each other over a worn oriental carpet. The scene was spoiled slightly by a gurgling soda machine and an out-of-order video game lurking in the corner. I should fire the set designer, Shawn thought, smiling his crooked smile again.
The bored desk clerk looked up from a vintage black and white television set and nodded, "Evening Mr. Killary."
Shawn reluctantly removed his sunglasses and returned the greeting. "Hello, Andy, any mail?"
The clerk checked the cubbyholes behind the desk and handed Shawn a stack of envelopes. He then turned back to the flickering television set.
Nothing earth shattering. Just the regular YOU HAVE ALREADY WON garbage and a few bills. Shawn punched the button on the ancient elevator and waited patiently as it groaned its way down to the lobby. He shoved the mail into his overcoat pocket. The elevator door slid open and he stepped in and punched the seventh floor. The overhead light flickered as the door creaked shut and the elevator began rising with less than usual protest. He looked up, mesmerized by the strobe-effect the light created in the dim car as it rose. He shook himself out of the trance as the car lurched to a stop at his floor and spit him out.
As he walked down the dark hallway, the once rich carpet muffled his footsteps. He liked that. He felt almost invisible as he slipped down the hall lined with rows of dark doors with faded numbers. He imagined prying eyes pressed to the peep holes watching in vain as he walked calmly to his door unseen.
Fishing his key from his pocket he gently pushed the key in the lock and turned it slowly. He paused for a moment, listening. The doorknob felt cool in his hand. With a brief glance over his shoulder he quickly turned the knob and stepped quickly into the room. He quickly eased the door shut behind him with an almost inaudible click. He slid the bolt and attached the chain guard with a sigh.
The room was dark. All of the shades on the windows were tightly drawn. Shadows flickered on the back wall of the small room. Light from a glowing screen provided the only illumination for the room. Figures moved about on the screen without sound. Shawn stood momentarily transfixed by the colorful shapes. No sound came from the box. He left the set running most of the time but he seldom turned up the sound. He preferred to make up his own dialogue -- create his own scenarios from the scattered images. The images on the screen blurred and were replaced with a different screen in a different time.
It was a game he'd made up when he was small. Both parents had worked. A cheap black and white portable had been his combination babysitter; daycare center and imaginary playmate all rolled up into one nice neat and inexpensive package.
His was a working-class family. At first his mother had only worked part-time. Later it seemed that he was left alone more and more. His mother would always come home in time to prepare dinner.
Dinner. Shawn snapped out of the memory. That reminded him he should eat something. Shawn turned from screen and hung up his umbrella and overcoat. It was a tiny, studio apartment with a small kitchen and bath. There was little in the way of furnishings. The television dominated the room. A worn, overstuffed easy chair sat across from it. His bed was folded neatly into the wall. A walk-in closet held his three suits and casual clothes.
He removed his suit and changed into a faded pair of gray Levis and a dark sweatshirt. He made his way to tiny kitchen, filled a pan with water and placed in on the stove to boil. He opened the geriatric refrigerator and fished out a can of Stroh's. He popped the top and sat down on an old wooden kitchen chair with a cracked wicker seat and watched as steam slowly began to rise. He heard his mother's voice.
"You always had funny eyes boy," his mother would tell him as he watched her prepare dinner. "You came into the world hard, face up, not face down like you was supposed to. You almost died, drowning on the fluids that was giving you life. I always thought you saw something then when you came so close to the maker."
He'd watch and listen without comment. Her tired face lined with years of hard work. She so seldom spoke. When she did it was inevitably some biblical quote garnered from the glowing evangelists on Sunday morning TV. His mother had never read the Bible. She couldn't read.
His father would come in, sit his lunch box on the counter and nod at his mother and look in Shawn's direction.
It had always like that. He had never cried much as a child. His father wouldn't stand for that. He'd never been prepared to deal with children. He'd been an only child as well. His own father had been a no-nonsense working man. The old "seen but not heard" attitude was law. Shawn learned that lesson well.
His father worked in a warehouse year after year. It was hard work, tedious work. He turned to the modern miracle of television as his escape from the rigors of his mundane life. The strongest image Shawn had of his father was of a shapeless figure merged with the overstuffed easy chair, bathed in the holy glow of the TV. When his father was watched television, which was most of his free time, he demanded the same silence and reverence one would expect within the sanctity of a cathedral. A violation of that sanctity received quick and emotionless retribution. Shawn shuddered involuntarily.
His father had died when Shawn was twelve. Shawn had not cried. His father had trained him well. Relatives he had seldom seen attended the funeral. They dropped by the apartment afterwards to pay their respects. He remembered sitting in his father's chair staring at the blank screen of the TV, wishing his mother would allow him to turn it on. Meanwhile the adults stood about, looking at him with misty eyes and shaking their heads sadly.
After that his mother worked more and more talked less and less. She became more adamant about him learning the lord's word by listening to hour after hour of video preachers. She lived another six years. One morning when he went to wake her for work he found her body twisted grotesquely on her bed, her eyelids half closed, staring up at him. He'd looked closely into her eyes before gently closing them with his fingertips. He'd cried afterwards.
Somehow she had managed to save enough money to keep up payments on a life insurance policy. The money had got him through college with enough left over to buy his co-op. Instead of the hard, manual-labor that had aged and killed his parents, he was a white-collar worker who spent each day staring into a computer screen pouring over the credit histories of countless strangers.
The water in the pot began boiling over, spitting as it hit the burner. He dumped a box of macaroni into the water and walked into the other room absently sipping from the Stroh's.
With a shrug Shawn sat the can down and threw himself into the easy chair, picking up the remote control and vacantly began zapping through the channels.
It was amazing how much Shawn picked up from TV. He knew how to read by the time he was four. By the time he started kindergarten he had developed quite a vocabulary. But he rarely talked. He preferred to listen and above all, observe.
He'd always done well in school. He absorbed the subjects his teachers presented. But he never mixed with the other children. He remembered the countless notations on report cards: "Shawn does exceptional work but he has difficulty relating to others...Shawn fails to participate in class discussions...Shawn lacks social skills."
The timer on the stove buzzed harshly. Shawn rose to drain the macaroni, mechanically dumping the powdered cheese-mix, butter and milk in with the noodles. He carried the pan of rapidly congealing macaroni back to the easy chair and methodically spooned it into his mouth as the images flickered across his face.
Through the corner of his eye he watched as the last vestiges of sunlight had faded behind the tightly pulled shades. He rose with a sigh, set the half-eaten pan of macaroni and cheese in the sink and walked to the three windows that filled up the balance of the west wall of his apartment. With the care of a Legionnaire raising the American flag on the 4th of July he raised each shade. He gasped slightly. Before him the lights of a universe of windows blinked at him.
It was the reason he'd picked this apartment. He stared mesmerized at the cityscape. He loved the way the night softened the lines of the buildings clustered before him. Most of all he loved the sea of windows, each with an untold story.
He pulled himself away from the window and walked to the closet. Carefully he picked up an object shrouded in plastic supported by a sturdy wooden tripod. He gently carried it to the window and spread the legs of the tripod. He methodically slid the plastic cover from the telescope and removed the lens caps from both ends marveling at the smoothness of the concave eye of the scope. It stared unblinking into the night.
He pulled one of the kitchen chairs up to the scope and settled down carefully bringing his face up to the eyepiece. With skilled hands he adjusted the focus and while adjusting the telescope power. The unblinking eye pulled in a window.
A family was settling down to dinner -- a mother, a father and two children. Shawn watched silently as food was passed around the table. The father spoke. The woman and children laughed. Shawn pulled back from the scope and rubbed his eyes. He felt pain as protesting brain cells exploded behind his eyes. He shuffled to the kitchen and tapped three aspirin out of a half-empty bottle and washed it down with the rest of the Stroh's. He returned to the window.
The family was still eating dinner. He marveled at how happy they seemed. The father was talking again. Shawn zoomed in on his face.
His eyes smile, he thought. He shifted to the mother. She reached over and touched her husband. Her eyes met his. Shawn pulled the zoom back, framing the entire scene. The children squirmed in their seats. Shawn caught his breath, waiting for an angry hand to strike out. The man and woman merely laughed and the children darted from the table. Shawn released the air from his lungs. It was time to move on.
He shifted the telescope eye from window to window, pausing, sometimes for seconds, sometimes for minutes and absorbing each scene. Occasionally he would look down at his watch impatiently. Finally, the hands hit 9 p.m. and he expertly scanned a row of brightly-lit windows. He stopped and refocused carefully.
She was there. She was always there, or she had been for the last three months. Sometimes at a different window, sometimes with different people, but always there. He liked that -- needed that.
He zoomed in closely on her face and sighed. She met his gaze unblinking. Her eyes sparkled with a hint of laughter and sadness. Blonde, perfectly styled hair framed her sculptured face. One corner of her mouth raised slightly creating an effect of innocence and knowing. She continued to return his stare, daring him to be the first to look away.
He zoomed back slightly. Her model's frame was draped carefully in a long, black dress, clinging seductively to her body. One hand curled around a champagne glass. Other figures were in the background but Shawn had no interest in them.
He had no idea what the building was. He had never been in it or even near it. Oh, he knew where it was. He'd fantasized about walking by it in the daylight and accidentally running into her. But he couldn't do that.
He imagined it was an exclusive club -- a place reserved for the beautiful people. That was what his mother had always called people with money. People, she had carefully pointed out, he had no business knowing about or being around. "And the meek shall inherit the earth..." she had recited.
Again he imagined he was walking up to the building. She would be coming out and their eyes would meet. He would start to say something and then the laughter would start. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO..." he screamed, clasping his hands to his ears. "Not her, she wouldn't laugh."
He felt sweat trickling down his neck. The throbbing behind his eyes was returning. Shivering slightly, he stood up and walked shakily to the kitchen for more aspirin and another beer. He downed the tablets and held the cold can against his forehead. Ridiculous, he thought. He'd never even met this woman but he knew he loved her.
He walked back to the window and sat down. Gently he leaned over and pressed his eye to the telescope. For a brief, terrifying moment he hesitated, sure that he would see her perfect face marred by a mocking sneer. But, no, her expression was frozen with that look that had haunted him since the first time he'd picked her window. She was for him. He knew that.
Shawn looked down at his watch. It was well past 10 p.m. He longed to stay with her but it was past time for bed. He had work in the morning. It was important that he keep himself in check. With one last look he methodically replaced the lens caps on the telescope, covered it up and carried it back to the closet. He walked back to the window and slowly lowered the shade, staring into the direction of her window as the city was blotted out.
In the bathroom he opened the medicine cabinet, avoiding his image in the cracked mirror and pulled out a brown plastic prescription bottle. Pushing and turning he lifted the lid and rolled out one capsule. He carried it back to the living room. The television screen still flickered and rolled. Shawn pulled the bed down from its place in the wall, stripped out of his clothes and climbed under the cover.
He held the capsule up and looked at it in the pale light of the television. With a sigh he reached for his now warm beer and washed it down. He lay back on the bed and stared into space. The woman's face stared back. She smiled and he closed his eyes. The capsule blotted out his thoughts and his mind slipped into a world of white noise and static.
* * *
A tendril of light pried open one eye. He blinked away a test pattern and twisted awake. His mouth tasted stale. He grimaced and shuffled across the room to the bathroom. He twisted on the cold water and waited for the rust to clear away before splashing some into his face. He reached for his toothbrush, aimed a stream of paste at it and scrubbed the staleness from his mouth.
He shuffled into the kitchen and started coffee and then maneuvered mechanically back into the bathroom and started the shower. He shuddered as he stepped into the spray. Groping for a bottle of shampoo, he lathered his hair and vainly attempted to scrub the staleness from his brain.
He hated the capsules, but it was the only way he could tune-out and sleep. Dever had prescribed them. "When in doubt prescribe tranquilizers." should be inscribed above the man's desk, Shawn mused, or perhaps a drug for all reasons.
The warm spray began to work. His brain began to respond. He turned off the shower and listened to the pipes protest in response. Wrapping one towel around his waist and using another to massage his body, he dripped a trail into the kitchen as the last of the coffee gurgled through the filter. He rummaged through the cupboard and pulled out a cracked mug, filling it carefully with steaming black liquid. He took a mouthful of the coffee into his mouth, ignoring the protesting nerves in his mouth. The acidic bitterness brought out a slight grimace. A soft "Ahhhhhhh" escaped his lips as the caffeine began rousing the rest of his snoozing brain cells. He slurped down the remainder of the cup and returned to the bathroom.
Continuing his ritual, he shaved and dressed. He leaned over staring intently at the bathroom mirror. He pulled down one eyelid and groaned. "Patriotic eyes," he said to face in the mirror. "Red, white and blue..." Oh well, he thought. At least it's Friday.
Shawn slipped a pre-tied tie over his head and tightened the knot. He poured down one more cup of coffee and headed for the door. He paused briefly and looked longingly at the faces flashing across the television screen. Finally he pulled away and slipped out the door, softly locking the deadbolt behind him, double-checking it before he headed for the elevator.
Time to get down to reality, he thought.
* * *
The bus ride to work was uneventful. The morning riders were regulars. He got to work at his usual time and poured his usual cup of coffee and carried it to his terminal. He sipped slowly as he flipped the switch bringing the glowing screen to life. His in basket was piled high with the morning searches to do. Background checks mainly, confirming references and crosschecking files for risks. It was simple enough work yet it stimulated him. So much of a person's personality was revealed by his credit history. So little privacy in the world. Every time a credit card was used, electronic trails were being blazed across the country, across the world. Personally, Shawn preferred to use cash.
The day slipped by. Shawn's steadily processed lives from his in-basket to his out-basket. On his breaks he stared into the screen and saw the woman's serene face. She had become so much part of his life, his routine that he couldn't imagine life without her.
5 p.m. came and Shawn signed-off his terminal and switched off the power switch. He slipped into his overcoat, picked up his umbrella and filed out amidst the other office workers.
Once outside he headed in the opposite direction of his bus stop. It was his day to see Dr. Dever.
* * *
He hated Dever's office. The receptionist nodded when he walked in. She stared at him through an open panel in a glass-enclosed office area. He wanted to stick out his tongue and hop around like a chicken to give her the signs of insanity she seemed to expect but he didn't. He couldn't even return her stare. I wonder if she reads all of Dever's files, Shawn thought.
He sat down in an ugly vinyl chair and picked up a dog-eared magazine. He absently flipped through the pages without really looking at it. The minute hand on the office clock clicked painfully loud as it marked off time. Dever was late as usual. I wonder if he does it on purpose, Shawn thought. He didn't know how he could possible be late. He always ended Shawn's session on exactly on time regardless of what they were talking about.
The door to Dever's office opened and the doctor leaned out. "Hello Shawn, please come in and sit down, I'll just be a minute."
Shawn obediently entered the office and sat down in a large leather chair. He remembered being disappointed the first time he'd entered the office expecting to see a couch. The psychiatrists on TV all had couches.
Dever sat at a desk, writing. Finally he closed his notebook rose slowly and sat down in a chair opposite Shawn. Shawn looked down at his feet.
"Well...," Dever said. The word hung in the air and then struck Shawn. He squirmed slightly.
"Well," Dever repeated. "What's new?"
"Nothing much," Shawn replied softly.
Dever removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Then let's talk about your week," he said, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and carefully rubbing the lenses of the glasses. "Have you been trying some of the techniques we talked about?"
Dever put his glasses back on and sat back in his chair. Shawn swallowed and began fishing for words. "I...I...uh did try talking to some of the people I work with."
"And how did you feel about that?"
"I didn't feel anything." Shawn began rubbing his head.
"Are you still getting your headaches?"
Shawn's hand involuntarily went to his mouth and he began chewing a fingernail. A barely audible yes escaped from the corner of his mouth.
"Have you been taking your medication regularly?"
"And have you curtailed your nightly viewing activities?"
Shawn began rocking slowly in his seat.
"We have discussed this many times Shawn," Dever said without emotion. "One of the reasons you get headaches is because you are suppressing the guilt you feel for spying on people, invading their privacy. You are denying real human contact and living through the one-dimensional world you see through your telescope."
"You don't understand," Shawn replied softly.
"What's that, I couldn't hear you."
"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND," Shawn screamed. He began rocking back and forth again. Tears began rolling down his cheek. He hated tears. He hated Dever for forcing it out of him.
"Make me understand...tell me how you feel when you watch people." Dever leaned forward expectantly. He handed a box of tissues to Shawn. Shawn took one and wiped his face.
"I feel alive, part of things," he began. "I have control, if I see something I don't like I move on."
"What about the woman," Dever urged. "Tell me how you feel when you watch her."
Shawn looked up and for a moment met Dever's eyes. "You know I don't like to talk about her."
"Do you watch her undress...do you become aroused when you watch her?"
"NO...don't talk that way about her."
"Shawn, does the woman remind you of your mother?"
Shawn laughed and shook his head.
Dever punctured the air before him with his finger as he talked. "The woman you watch is safe...she can't reject you the way you feel your mother rejected you."
"It has nothing to do with my mother," Shawn said without feeling. "This woman is...well...different from anyone I've ever seen...she's perfect."
"But you've never met her, talked to her," Dever replied. "You must realize that this woman is merely another human. In order to be well you must accept this."
Shawn covered his face with his hands.
"I think it is time you met this woman, confronted her...it's the only way you can learn to discern reality. Do you understand?"
Shawn nodded slowly. The throbbing in his head rose in a crescendo of pain. Dever looked at his watch and stood up. "Well, Shawn...it is time, I'll see you next week...we'll talk about your meeting with this woman. Good night."
Shawn rose silently and walked out. He could feel the receptionist's eyes boring into his back as he stumbled through the waiting room, fumbled clumsily with the door and stepped into the hall. He fought back the tear as he stepped outside into the descending darkness. Dever was right. It was time to meet the woman.
* * *
Shawn sat at the telescope. The woman's face was framed in the eye of the lens. She was alone tonight. He was glad.
He rose and walked to his closet. He slipped a tie over his freshly laundered shirt and carefully pulled on a sports jacket. He moved back to the window and paused momentarily staring into the night. His heart pumped loudly in his ears and his breathing became shallow. Be calm, he told himself. Relax. He sucked in air slowly and walked to the bathroom. The harsh light of a single overhead bulb cast a sickly yellow over the tiny room. He leaned over the sink and stared closely at his reflection. A small crack ran down the center of the mirror, splitting the image of his face in two. He shuddered slightly and ran a comb through his hair. With a sigh he switched off the light and headed for the door. It was time.
* * *
He stood in the shadow of the entryway and turned his face away as a car passed by. The light of the headlights flooded the doorway for a moment and he fought back the urge to run back to his apartment to the gentle gray light of the TV. He shook his head and turned around. The street was empty. With a frightened look both ways, he dashed across the street. He looked back at his building. It seemed so far away. He felt paralyzed. He felt a gentle tug on his sleeve. He whirled around eyes blazing crazily.
"Whoa, honey...nothing to be scared of." It was the women from the corner restaurant -- he recognized her mocking smile from the day before. He opened his mouth to speak but he couldn't seem to form any words.
"Whatcha doin' out all alone baby, you lookin’ for a date?" She pressed her body against him and could see the lines etched in the face beneath her make-up. The sickly sweet smell of rose perfume mingled with the odor of alcohol. He began to gag. Her plastic smile quickly changed to menacing sneer.
"What'sa matter, you queer or somethin‘...what'er ya staring at?"
His head began to pound and his throat constricted, cutting off his air. He pushed out and the prostitute tumbled onto the sidewalk amidst a string of curses. He whirled and ran. Her screams echoed in his ears and finally died out as he ran and ducked into an alleyway. Gravel crunched loudly beneath his feet. The alley was dark. Foreign sounds echoed all around him and the smell of urine and garbage stung his nostrils. Still he ran. The light of a street loomed before him, pulling him forward. He imagined hands reaching out, clutching at his coat, pulling him back into the alley. He burst out of the alley and collapsed on the steps of a building entry. Buildings rose on every side. He looked up and felt dizzy. The once friendly light of windows now seemed far away.
Shawn sat for a few minutes. His breathing became regular and he stood up. The muscles in his legs protested slightly as he massaged them into moving. He walked to the nearest street corner and checked the street signs to get his bearings. "Seventh and Pine...her building should be just a few blocks west," he said out loud. The sound of his own voice startled him. It echoed slightly before being absorbed by the night. He headed west, hugging the shadows.
Shawn recognized the unique shape of the building from a block away. Lights blazed from an almost solid line of windows at street level. Shapes loomed in several of the windows. His mouth felt dry.
It was definitely the fashionable part of the city. Expensive shops and restaurants lined the street. There was very little activity at this hour.
Shawn looked at his watch. It was close to eleven. He hoped she'd still be there. He moved ahead slowly, his eyes fixed on the line of windows. A cold drizzle began to fall. A blurred image of the building loomed ahead as Shawn blinked away drops of stinging rain. Suddenly it hit him like a jolt of electricity. She was there.
She stood at the window as if waiting, aware of his presence. He stopped. An aura of light hung on her, reminding him a little of a stained-glass image illuminated by bright sunlight. Shawn felt some of her glow merge with him. Her perfect smile looked down invitingly.
The image became suddenly marred and Shawn gasped in horror as a door opened behind the woman. A bearded man in coveralls entered and moved towards her. Still she stared serenely into the night, seemingly oblivious to the intruder. The man grasped her roughly from behind. Shawn's body reacted. His face twisted into a savage mask of primitive rage as he sprung forward, covering the endless space between him and the woman. Drawing on some hidden reserve of strength he hurtled him self through the window. Shards of glass cascaded into the room. The bearded man cried out in terror and dropped his delicate burden. He fell through the door and ran, his screams echoing obscenely.
Shawn knelt next to the woman and reached out to gently cradle her body. Her body felt cold and hard in his hands. Numbly he turned her body over. His mind shrieked as synapses after synapse exploded in agony at the sight. The serene smile was still there despite a jagged crack running down the middle of her face. Her cold, blue eyes stared glassily into his. He pulled away and as he did one of her arms came off in his hand. He shrieked in agony and looked around him. Through the open door row after row of neatly displayed merchandise stretched into the gloom. He was suddenly aware of the shrill wailing of an alarm. Still grasping the arm to his chest he leapt out of the window and ran.
* * *
His building was before him. Time had ceased to have any meaning. Shawn lurched drunkenly across the street. A car horn blared. He pushed through the main entrance. The desk clerk at his perpetual station glanced up. His eyes widened.
"My God, Mr. Killary, what happened?" Shawn was suddenly aware of blood dripping down his face. His brain acknowledged his awareness with a wave of nausea mixed with pain. He staggered to the elevator and punched the button leaving a bloody print across the up arrow.
"Mr. Killary...what's that you're holding...MY GOD IT'S AN ARM...what's going on?"
The elevator door lurched open. Shawn fell through and punched seven. The door shut cutting off the clerk's panic-stricken voice. The elevator car shuddered and rose. Shawn leaned into the corner and looked up. The overhead light still flashed, reminding him of the flickering images of a silent film. The door slide open. He stumbled down the hall, a trail of crimson drops falling closely behind him. He ignored the rows of doors lined up on either side with peepholes staring accusingly as he passed. He fumbled for his key, juggling his obscene load. His hands were slippery with his blood. The lock clicked and he fell into the apartment, slamming the door behind him.
The television screen flickered and flashed mockingly as he lie on the floor. He gazed into it and was filled with the frustration of countless wasted years. He struggled to his feet and stood opposite the set. Abruptly he grasped the plastic arm in both hands, brought it back swiftly and swung it into the glowing eye. The tube shattered in a shower of sparks, sputtering sporadically before casting the room in darkness. The wail of sirens rose from the street.
Shawn collapsed in his easy chair and reached for the phone. He lifted the receiver and dialed carefully in the dark.
"Dr. Dever's Answering Service, may I help you?"
"Yes, I need to speak to Dever."
"I'm sorry sir, it is after midnight, the doctor is unavailable right now, may I take a message?"
"Just tell him I met the woman and I won't be able to make my next appointment."
"Yes, sir and what was your name?
"Killary, Shawn Killary...oh yeah, tell him I'm now in touch with reality."
"Uh...yes, sir, good night."
"Good night." Shawn rose slowly and walked to the window. He pulled the shade. The city spread out before him. The mist and rain blurred the universe of windows. Shawn stared emotionlessly into the night. A pounding began at the door. He looked over his shoulder briefly.
"Mr. Killary, open up, this is the police."
Shawn looked down at the arm clutched next to his chest. The room suddenly felt hot. The knocking became more insistent. "I need some air," Shawn said softly. He looked up at the window and plunged through. The cold air and rain felt good as he rushed towards the ground. The lights from neighboring building's windows were a blur as he descended. He closed his eyes and relaxed his grip on the plastic arm. Sean smiled his crooked smile into the night and waited for the impact.