Outside looking in

Do you think you have to talk to somebody to really know them? To really understand them, I mean. Or do you think that you can know somebody just by watching them?

I remember reading about a study once. I’ve forgotten the details now, it’s been a while, and my memory’s not what it used to be although I seem to remember a lot of things from decades ago, from when I first moved here, for example.

Outside looking in.

I was here when they moved in, too. That must have been just a coincidence, and not one with the highest of odds. I was often out and about when I was younger, and a bachelor, unlike now when I’m a bachelor but an old man. Are old men even called bachelors anymore? Whenever I fill out a questionnaire, I tick the “unmarried” box.

Oh, the study. Like I said, the details are a little foggy, but the gist of it was that people that just spent 15 minutes in somebody’s room could answer to questions about that person better than they friends. Quite remarkable, isn’t it?

With science backing me up then, I’d say I know them, and especially her, well. Maybe better than her friends, or even her kids do or her husband ever did.

That’s what you get when you live in the same apartment building with someone for – let’s see now – 52 years.

She moved in on one sunny August morning. I was on my small balcony smoking a cigarette, and having a cup of coffee when I first noticed her walking across our backyard carrying a chair. I remember it because when she had trouble opening the back door, I considered running down to help her, but just when I was going to shout to her, the door opened, and she walked in. I spent the rest of the morning watching her carry her things into the building.

Technically, it wasn’t the same building, I suppose because my building and hers were in a straight angle in the street corner so we didn’t even have the same address. I had my balcony toward her kitchen and bedroom and especially in the beginning, that late summer of 1964 (I think), I ate my breakfast on the balcony and pretended we were having breakfast together.

I watched her make a cup of tea and a sandwich and lean on her hand, or play with her hair, and read a book while eating. Always a book, never a newspaper. That’s how I knew she was smart.

She had the nicest pair of red gloves I have ever seen. People don’t wear gloves as much as they used to, not unless it’s cold and they need gloves for warmth, I mean. She didn’t, either. She only wore her gloves when it was cold – that’s how I knew she wasn’t just book-smart – and that’s how I could see if it was cold outside: watching her leave the apartment in the morning.

I figured it was just a matter of time until we’d meet. Surely the odds were on my side? Surely we were going to bump into each other at the corner store or on the street? I once read something about this, the odds of meeting a person you’re thinking of, but I can’t remember what I read. Now, whatever the odds were, they beat me.

One morning as I was having breakfast with her – she in her kitchen, I on my balcony – I noticed that she wasn’t alone in the kitchen. it must have been 1965 or so because I never ate breakfast outside in the winter. That she wasn’t alone wasn’t unusual, I had seen other girls there before, her roommates, surely. But this one time, there was a man there. He looked like a young Elvis, with a dark, thick hair, and a pearly smile. Very handsome.

Before I knew it, there were three people in the kitchen eating breakfast together. She, her husband, and their son. I had seen her rubbing her then-nonexistent pregnant tummy in the kitchen once. That’s how I knew she was expecting.

The first time I saw the son, he had the whitest hair I have ever seen on a person – that must have been around 1968 or so when he was big enough to sit at the table. And what do you know, he has white hair again, I just saw him the other day.

But in-between there, he had a dark, thick hair, like Elvis (or his father). He was a wild boy, always climbing on things in the backyard. She just laughed. She didn’t seem to be afraid of the boy falling from a tree – or the roof. He took his friends up there once even though it’s against the city code. Maybe he didn’t know, but she must have. She was smart.

She was so smart because she was a teacher. I could tell, because every once in a while, she invited her class to her apartment – and the kids were always about the same age – and they had a big party with ice cream and cake,

Elvis moved out of the apartment at one point, but he moved back in. Then Elvis Jr moved out. That was tough on all of us. She wept the entire day in the kitchen after he got in a car and drove away. Not long after that, Elvis moved out again, and that time, he didn’t come back.

That was the Nineties, though, and suddenly people didn’t have class anymore. That’s what I thought anyway. Men started to have sideburns again. Sideburns! A beard I can understand, but sideburns … that’s just a person being lazy.

Elvis Jr moved in briefly at one point. That made her happy. She started to have flowers in the kitchen again, and if I’m not mistaken – and I might be, the memory’s not what it used to be, and I’m something of a romantic – she even started to wear red gloves again. Then he moved out again.

About ten years ago, she became a grandmother. Elvis Jr and his family pay a visit every Sunday. Imagine that. She spends every Saturday in the kitchen cooking and baking. I can see that she’s singing, but I can’t hear the music so I pretend we’re singing the same song. We’re singing “My Funny Valentine” by Chet Baker, a great trumpeter, or “Let It Be” by the Beatles. It was written by Paul McCartney. I’ve always been more of a Lennon man myself but with her, I’ll sing anything.

I’ve seen it all, I guess. Or that’s what I thought.You’ll never guess what happened to me today.

She waved at me. She must have seen me sitting on the balcony.

Oh, I don’t smoke anymore. I just sit there and watch the world go by.

Did I wave back? Yes, I did. I’m not a stalker.

I always feel like
somebody’s watching me.
And I have no privacy.
Ooo-oo-oh, I always feel like
somebody’s watching me.
Tell me is it just a dream?
Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me (1984)

This is a part of an ongoing series of stories, mostly flash fiction, inspired by 80s pop songs. You can find them all here

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