Work of a Geniusbysweet_katrina579©
The man stood by the window in a dark room, smoking and waiting patiently. There was nothing else to do but wait. His eyes flickered between the fattening moon in the starless sky and the apartment on the fourth floor of the building across the street - one floor lower than his own. It appeared lightless and lifeless. No one was there, not yet anyway.
The oppressive heat of Chicago summer seemed determined to kill everything in its path. During the day the pavement would be scorching hot to the touch, slightly cooling off in the evenings but still giving away the uncomfortable warmth. The buildings radiated heat as the trees and grass were yellowing under the unrelenting sunrays. A glance into the distance would make the air appear to blur and dance as if levitating over the fire. Nights were slightly better and yet just as bad as days. Sidewalks sported wet circular stains where the air conditioners sweated in an attempt to block out the persistent and deadly onslaught of the heat wave. In a state of emergency people were advised against watering their lawns or washing their cars in the privacy of their own homes. Nobody said it was forbidden to do so, after all, this was a free country, but tickets were written to people who ignored the city's need for water and sooner or later, most complied. Two weeks of ninety plus temperatures with unrelenting humidity had worn everybody out.
Old people were dying by a dozen a day, asthmatics sought refuge in hospitals, healthy people dragged themselves through the streets like they were old and weighed down by invisible hands. Pigeons sat on wires looking miserable and too lazy to fly. Dogs were just as beaten as people and unwilling to walk, they somewhat resisted being pulled by their leashes, but not much. It was too hot for a battle between humans and beasts. Only squirrels seemed to be unaffected by the heat, hurriedly jumping from trees to the ground, rushing across the street and risking their lives, climbing another tree or if they were in luck a half-closed dumpster where they could find a load of rotting food.
The man by the window turned his head and glanced at the clock on the computer desk, shining green digits. Exactly two o'clock in the morning. The last time he checked it had been one fifty-eight. A deep sigh ballooned his chest and the exhale sounded almost painful. Always a patient person, tonight he was lacking in the virtue of perseverance. The beginning of a new day was less than five hours away, and his body should be refreshed, his mind eager. He didn't believe that could be achieved now.
With no air-conditioner or a cool corner to hide into, his loft studio apartment felt like the insides of an oven. Even the old, beaten up bathtub was warm. A man can only take so many cold showers and they didn't seem to help much anyway. As soon as one stepped from under the blissful spray of cooling water, the heat wrapped itself around one's body, covering it in sticky discomfort.
He tried all tricks he could think of. He stocked his freezer with wet underwear and then forgot about it only to realize it would be too stiff to put on when he finally remembered it was there. A few pairs of boxer shorts were kept soaking in the small bucket, tucked deep inside the refrigerator, and the man would change his underwear every couple of hours or so. Despite the welcoming cool off for at least a few minutes, after a week of this practice he began noticing the first burning pain when peeing, probably the consequence of a bladder infection that he suspected he had given himself while indulging in desperate measures.
If Isabella were still here, thought the man, there would be an air-conditioner installed in the window. There would be healthy food in the refrigerator, not the remnants of fried chicken dinner from two days ago and stale pizza he had picked up on his way home almost a week earlier. There would be no Tupperware with food so old its contents seemed to have created a life of its own. The dishes would be done, the clothes clean, carefully folded and put in their proper places in the closet.
Beautiful, overworked, overemotional, overdramatic Isabella. He believed she did love him in her own way. Could somebody, whose body was a sculpture of perfect symmetry ever know true love, rather than simple gratitude for the adoration by other humans, desperately lacking her grace and magnificence, he often wondered. He knew she loved the fact that he was an artist, an aspiring painter and sculptor, even though he hasn't quite made it yet. She liked to believe she was his muse, and had made him paint her, sculpt her bust, cast her torso in bronze, lip-to-lip as he had called it. She could never get enough of him creating her image.
To keep his pride, he would do just about anything required. Family portraits, pottery, hand made china ordered by the clients. He would draw for the comics, come up with advertisement sketches and everything else that he hated but was forced to undertake to survive.
All the while, Isabella stood by his side, admiring his paintings, finding subliminal messages and beauty that he didn't put there; didn't even think about when creating. She would carefully point out that what he considered beautiful was really grotesque and disgusting, admiration of which would make people cringe in horror and counsel that he should devote himself to still life and portraits instead. Lacking the eye for the aesthetic, Isabella was one of those people who try very hard to appear educated on the subject, displaying the nonexistent to appreciate and judge. She drove him crazy sometimes. However, when the bills came, she would quietly pay them all, never mentioning the fact that it was really her generosity that allowed him to indulge in this little artistic way of life, as his father had put it. Two weeks after she moved in with him he quit his part time job selling bathroom supplies and fully dedicated himself to art.
He regretted that she had left a few months ago. But when alone and his mind reminiscing on the past, he knew that they couldn't have stayed together for much longer. Two years was a long enough time and if she hadn't decided to leave on her own accord he would have made her do so sooner or later.
Still, life with Isabella was easier in some ways. There was an order and discipline present that he desperately lacked when living alone. There was a warm body in bed next to him every night, there were Sunday breakfasts at Mitchell's, elegant dinners and parties thrown by her employer where she proudly introduced him as her fiancŽ even though they had never had an honest talk about marriage. It was just something she took for granted. If she supported him long enough, if they persevered for a certain amount of time, marriage would follow. He doubted it would have ever taken place and once she realized her mistake she was gone. The dreaded scenes of hysterical crying, begging and accusations never happened. When he returned from the gallery one day, she was simply gone. Her clothes and a few knickknacks that she held dear were gone too. Everything he had ever given her as a gift - jewelry, books and his works of her were left in the apartment. It was as if she wanted to begin all over, without anything to remind her of him.
He never trusted her completely anyway. She was too beautiful and classy for him. He could never guess what she really saw in him. Hoping for the world fame on the arm of a celebrated artist? His work was good, he could tell that much, but he was no Picasso and there would never be recognition big enough to satisfy someone like Isabella. He had known artists who were now old men, plagued by heavy smoker's cough and trembling hands; their talent beyond anything he could ever dream for himself and nobody knew their names. They were unrecognized, unappreciated and unwanted. They must not have been the right characters for the slippery slope of fame. Often he'd stay awake at night, fearing that he would wake up in the morning and find himself to be that same old man, life wasted, ambitions unfulfilled. He created popular art because he had to, not out of ambition. His best work, most of which never left the confines of his studio was gruesome and according to Isabella disgustingly monstrous. She believed nobody would be interested in it and he suspected she might be right.
One more cigarette, thought the man to himself. One more cigarette and I'm off to bed, fuck this waiting. He ran a hand through his damp, unruly hair, letting out another sigh.
Just as he inhaled the first deep drag of the newly lit cigarette, the familiar shiny blue Mustang appeared at the end of the block, turning in from the main street onto their residential one, bearing a name of a celebrated British poet. The man straightened in anticipation and immediate excitement.
Not that I doubt you, buddy, went through the man's mind, but you better have scored tonight. Too hot to be standing here for nothing!
The car pulled into an empty parking space on the opposite side of the street and the man's eagerness grew. A minute passed, then two and as hard as he tried to see inside the car, inadequate street lighting prevented him to see anything apart from the silhouette of the driver.
Come on! Come on! He shook his head in annoyance. There must be someone with him and they're talking. Maybe he was trying to put the passenger at ease, or talk her into coming upstairs with him. The man didn't doubt that the passenger, if there indeed were one, would be a woman. Despite his neighbor having the face of the now old French actor whom he watched in quirky detective movies as a child, not every woman would fall for the external beauty. Sarcastic grin played on the man's face and his eyes narrowed in dismay. Some still had a little common sense left.
The headlights went off and the car engine silenced. A sigh of relief escaped him as he realized that the door on the passenger's side opened in sync with the driver's.
Yes! Hissed the man quietly, and without looking reached for the nightstand lamp, flicking the switch, allowing the soft light to pour all around him. Good man, Kevin, congratulated the man in his mind. He knew the other's name by checking it on the downstairs bell when he was certain the building was empty in the daytime, with most of its inhabitants at their menial nine-to-five jobs.
Kevin looked up at the man and discreetly gave him thumbs up. The man smiled and nodded. You sick bastard, he whispered, not certain whether he was referring to his neighbor or himself.
Kevin's companion was tall and athletic, with black hair in a bob, silky looking even from far above. Her slim frame appeared strong. The man noticed her long legs and the way her body swayed with each step. This one should prove to be a challenge! Something about the woman looked familiar, but then they were all simply variations of one and the same person, as far as he could tell. Different races, different heights and hair color, different clothing styles, yes. Inevitably, their nervous giggle, audible from the quiet street below would give them away. In the mind of the man in the window, they were all foolish, probably drunken desperados, proud of their attractiveness, eager to prove to themselves that this handsome man was interested in them, even if the interest didn't reach beyond the one-night-stand. Vanity's a bitch, he concluded a long time ago.
Kevin hurried around the car and caught the woman just as she climbed out and began turning to face the building from which the man was carefully observing them. Despite the oppressive heat, the couple huddled together as if protecting each other from the cold, staggering up the stairs into the building on the other side of the street, the unmistakable giggle echoing through the night, enveloped in the restlessness of the humid air.
The man waited, puffing on his cigarette, satisfied that there was a development. Now, he could wait for as long as it would take. His view would be blocked for another thirty minutes or so. Enough time for Kevin to pour a few more drinks down the woman's throat, incapacitating her, or so he believed. He could never swear on what had been going on before Kevin mercifully allowed him a glance.
The man in the window sidestepped in an awkward attempt to keep his legs from going numb. This was the time for concentration and perseverance. If he was to move away for whatever reason and Kevin realized he wasn't there waiting, the show would be over.
The windows in Kevin's apartment illuminated, and the man was awarded with a view of the silhouettes through the blinds, which were faithfully pulled down. They would remain so until the performance began.
His deep sigh was accompanied by a wish that Kevin didn't have such passion for the dramatic. He craved for the blinds to be up all the time so that he could observe every move, entire action, maybe even the sex while the woman was still conscious if this indeed ever occurred, and the persuasion to drink more, the interaction between two adults, both of them alive and willing. He knew better than that. He didn't really mind, he was aware of the looming horror and that is what he was here for. The painful anticipation was like a mental aphrodisiac of sorts. Kevin would soon carry out the desired and he would get his fill of the gruesome and yet beautiful.
The man wished he had a cool beer in his hand, but it was too late now. A few seconds of absence might ruin everything. He simply stood there, leaning against the window frame, breathing in the stench of the overheated city, stale and oppressive.
Looking at the two silhouettes in the window, he reminisced on the first time he noticed the neighbor and his odd behavior. He was genuinely surprised to see a new person had moved in, since almost every building on the block, including his own were scheduled for a demolition within the period of two years. Most of the inhabitants of the old apartment buildings had moved out when they first heard of the plan, and he hadn't expected any new faces.
Fancy townhouses were already popping up at the end of the street like mushrooms after the rain, with the old buildings quickly replaced by overpriced monstrosities of glass and steel, without a fail all of them occupied by young yuppies with expensive cars and purebred dogs.
The initial confrontation with his neighbor's hobby in April was still fresh in his mind. The cold night was an eve of his birthday and he was slowly slipping into the comfortable constrains of depressive mood. It was the first time he truly missed Isabella, who had moved out only days before. The absence of her presence was painfully evident, he could feel more than smell the scent of her perfume still lingering in the air. He stood by the window, exactly as he did tonight, smoking and meditating. He never noticed the blue Mustang or the couple entering the building opposite his. The thoughts that occupied his mind were like a whirlwind of distant voices, blurring the present into a softly lit image of the familiar, yet unknown. His mind wandered between the late night news on the television behind him and the fragments of his own thoughts, which seemed to slip away the minute they entered his consciousness.
The lights in the apartment opposite his came on and he looked closer. He could have sworn the apartment had been empty for months. He couldn't remember seeing any moving trucks or even hearing the commotion of furniture and boxes being carried in and out. Unlike his father, who had a hawk eye for everything around him along with the ability to remember the names, colors and all of the smallest and most trivial of details with astonishing accuracy, the son never paid attention to things he wasn't interested in. Perhaps this was the reason he became the victim of muggers twice over the past year. He never noticed the thugs quietly stalking him through the alleys in the night, approaching with the speed beyond what he thought a human would be capable of, shoving their knives in his face and demanding his wallet.
He was not a hero by nature. If there were a way to avoid trouble, he would certainly take it, and he did. He handed out his wallet and a measly few dollars with eagerness that would later shame him. Raising his hands in a gesture of surrender he nodded to the thieves, their faces painfully young and sadly followed their getaway into the adjoining alley, running away with his possessions, no matter how small.
And so, when he noticed there was life in the building on the other side of the street, he was genuinely surprised. The shades were down, of course and he could see a man walking past the window, carrying what appeared a bottle and glasses. As he reached the end of the window, he disappeared behind the wall and for a while, nothing stirred.
The man remained standing in the window and smoking, well aware that he should either devote his attention to the unfinished piece, which was due for the "Young Talent Of Chicago" exhibition or simply go to sleep, re-energizing his tired body in order to be able to plunge into the solitary work the next morning.
This was the first gallery exhibition he participated in that he didn't find exciting. After all, he wasn't all that young anymore. Pushing thirty, he would bet everybody would be younger than him, including and most annoyingly, the staff. He was definitely not a Chicagoan, but if the gallery and its sponsors didn't mind bending the rules and accepting his work because it was created in Chicago and he now lived here, he didn't really care. Any kind of exposure would be welcome and he was going to pimp himself in any sort of way he possibly could. Dignity meant nothing anymore.
He stood in the window on that chilly April night, sipping on a bottle of beer and smoking cigarettes, for some reason unwilling to move away. It was as if he had known something was about to happen, although he wouldn't be able to put a finger on it if asked. It was simply one of those feelings, a premonition of sorts, something he most certainly didn't believe in. And yet, he stood still with the monotonous voice of the news anchor in the background, his bare feet uncomfortably cold, waiting. Only, he wasn't aware that was what he was doing.
Nothing happened for what seemed like a long time and the April chill had made the man in the window wish he were in bed, snug under the warm bedcovers. He was not a voyeur, nor was he interested in the lives of his neighbors. He stubbornly dropped the half smoked cigarette inside the beer bottle now empty of its contents but for a last few drops, and content over the unmistakable sizzle of its death he began to turn away from the window when with a corner of his eye, he caught a movement in the other building.
He was startled to realize that the blinds in the window opposite, which only moments ago were drawn, were now all the way up, allowing him to see inside the apartment and onto the king sized bed, where a woman lay motionless. Her long, blond hair was spread around her head carefully, presenting a makeshift halo, such as seen on the paintings of religious East Orthodox icons. It seemed as if all lights in the apartment were on. The man took a step back when he realized that Kevin, whose name he didn't know at the time, was standing in the window as well, seemingly staring straight back at him.
As if uncertain, the man looked around his loft studio, thankful for having the presence of mind to keep his lights off. He was certain he was not clearly visible, but the other man must have noticed his silhouette in the window, reflecting off the television screen.
Kevin reached to the side and flicked the lights off. The man sighed in disappointment. A moment later the lights in the other apartment came back on. They went off. Came back on again. Kevin waved to the man and flicked his lights off and on one more time.