I woke to these sounds — workmen, storm sirens and the wind testing my window, the steady rattle, the fight of thin panes. Below, men hammered, and across the room my window spoke; it moaned, squeaked and knocked against its frame, trapped in the wall of my cramped efficiency. Screenless and stubborn, it was stuck shut.
I glanced through the glass, down below, but few people walked into the alley. I sat for hours, trying to write, looking for bodies, stories. No one appeared besides the workmen, and even they never glanced my way. Only relentless pounding, storming.
At war with sound, I stared at the computer. Nothing. For a long time, a blank trip, my fingers suspended over keys, hanging.
But at dusk, when I peered out the window again, someone entered the alley. Hands in his pockets, he stared at his feet. Then he looked up.
His hair, brown, was a mess. He was small, thin. His blue sweater burned a neon blur through the shadows. His jeans were the borrowed kind, gray. He squinted to see me.
The window moved, seemed to sing. I eased closer. Bang, knock, went the workmen. Crack, smash, went the storm.
Come down, the stranger mouthed up at me, shrugging. When he smiled, thick lips spread; his face was all teeth.
I pressed my forehead against the glass.
He waited, wet and mute.
I thought about practical things — feed cats, clean, write. But the window shook, and when I touched it, it whisper-screamed. Or maybe I did.
In a blue-gray turn, pivoting on one foot, he left. Just like that.
The workmen sawed trees, demolished skyscrapers and blew up my world. I forgot to sleep or eat. I reminded myself to blink. My hearing heightened. The hammering shook walls. I wondered if they'd cave in, collapse. But I wouldn't leave. I watched.
Three nights later, he reappeared in the alley. Pulling his sweater tight around his middle, he mouthed, Come down.
The sky drooled rain on the roof, smothering the building and all inside.
Shifting in his shoes, he waited, drenched.
I could strip him dry, clean, kiss something, throw away two years spent stuck inside passionless pages. Here, I studied glass cracks. I imagined the window breaking, my body falling, sucked out by the wind, a leech. One floor down, I could fall into him gently. No suicide.
The wind's pitch grew higher. Whale sounds.
He shrugged and left.
I guessed that was goodbye. I felt nausea beyond butterflies.
I was good at forgetting. The queen of amnesia. I went out for smokes. Then, back in the building hallway, I felt a draft. I opened my apartment door. Someone. In there.
His back turned, he seemed at home, sitting on my floor. Then he whipped around, looking at me, startled, like I was the intruder.
In our holding places, we were silent, divided by the broken glass scattered across my ground.
Expressionless, he stared with dark eyes, his seeing holes. For a moment, I thought I saw behind them into the nerves, the song of his scattered mind. There, I saw my own damaged mind. Two years, no touch. Nothing. Inside, trapped in the lone, rhythmic hammering. Deeply.
"You got in," I said.
He nodded. Fire escape. Broke the window ... with a rock, he said. His voice was airy, with slight pauses in between words. He smiled, nervously. Sorry ... you wouldn't ... come down.
I moved closer, standing above him, hands on hips. I shook.
He grabbed my arm.
All skin was slippery.
I thought of practical things — call cops, play dead, shout profanities, but I lost my voice, throat-buried. I picked up a piece of glass with my free hand. A weapon, just in case. I imagined cutting him, blood spreading a thick slide across his hand as I freed myself. I imagined his generic, hurt expression.
No workmen chattered. No wind whistled. But outside air drifted through the space where the window used to be, and I felt the urge to kiss his small hand, the hand that broke it, the violent, flawless, nameless hand. I grabbed his damp, blue sweater and hung on, dropping the glass.
He reached toward my eyes. I guess to touch the lids. Yes.
His sweater, the blue shade, so elusive. If I tried hard enough, maybe I could see through the color straight into his chest, his throat, his brain, a brain that held this new draft, the broken glass, the story of two nameless beings touching shared, broken minds and broken space, one stranger lost in an alley, hammering through vacancy, shattering it, filling it. The story of lifting each other, inside and up.
God, I hope the room is still there when we come down.
LIVING OUT LOUD runs every week at citybeat.com and the second issue of each month (and now) in the paper.