There’s a clock in this apartment. After 8 months, I still don’t know where, but I hear it. I hear it constantly. What do clocks do? They tick.
They tick like a never ending itch, reminding me of the one thing I can count on in my life; consistency. My ears just want to scratch it, but they can never satisfy the stimulation.
I woke up on my girlfriend’s couch again. It was 2:37, or maybe it was 2:14. Another sunny day wasted. The way the mid-afternoon sun seeps in through the blinds and thin red curtains gives the room a sort of dusty, tarnished brass hue. It always reminds me of two things: that dream I’ve been having every two weeks, and the fact that I have been hiding out in my girlfriend’s apartment since July, but I haven’t seen her in 9 weeks.
I’m back on the couch. I hear that damned clock ticking still. The last thing I remember is trying to remember where my girlfriend ran off to, and the discomfort of synthetic wool on my bare skin.
A couple cars just drove by outside, I can hear the mist slapping rubber and pavement, it must have showered while I was out. I should, too.
There is a clock that I have no qualms with. The microwave clock. It actually tells me the time. Almost a quarter past one. Now I hear myself breathing. It’s a sleeping pattern, but my mind has my body handcuffed to consciousness.
I hear noises coming from the back door in the hallway of this rundown shit hole of an apartment complex. It’s the neighbor across the way just getting in, as well as an accompanying, hushed voice. It’s unfamiliar.
I don’t remember getting up, but I do remember feeling the light from the peep hole bless my eye with warmth and alertness. I can’t really see anything from this vignetted vantage point, but I hear noises from inside the kitchen of the neighbor across the hall.
A couple of hours must have passed, and I’m still glued to the peephole until, finally, a man who appears to be homeless comes up the outside stairs, enters the inner stairwell outside my girlfriend’s door and straight through to the basement door. I hear him descend the cement steps and scuffle about until it finally muffles out, and the momentum of his movements slows to an inaudible crawl.
Satisfied, I saunter from the kitchen door back into the living room and resume my post on the couch. I don’t remember any of my dreams and I sleep for 11 hours.
2 weeks pass, and my peeping episode grows. First a habit and now an obsession. On Monday, I spend 9 hours in total between my girlfriend’s two doors, just observing and waiting for God knows what to happen. Maybe He’ll make it clear what it is when I see it, though.
Front and back, front and back, front and back I go.
Yesterday, I put in 7 straight hours just at the front door until the UPS guy comes and sends me curling back into the depths of the couch, then I post up at the back door hole until 3 am as I listen to my girlfriend’s neighbor and his red-locked, red-rimmed bobble head of a love interest, Theresa, down a Coors and smoke at the top of the outside stairwell while they talk about how they wished to move to Denver.
They come and they go. Four times they do. I wonder what each sliver of audience they might bring. An hour and some beef passes and no return.
I look back at that same couch, my tomb, across the kitchen in the room over. Maybe it would welcome me. I step away from the door and ask my body if it feels tired.
I feel the rims on the bottom of my eyes tethered to the ends of my eye lids like bungie cords. My lungs calmly sprawl and curl up, and even my flowing blood settles from crashing waves to a tranquil stream of melatonin and Lord knows whatever other deficiencies my paranoia gifts me.
I hear the outer stairwell door husk open and clammer shut. I don’t remember moving, but next thing I know my left eyeball again attaches itself to the peephole.
It’s the homeless man. I’ve now seen him twice. With all disregard to anything around him he lumbers into the door between my girlfriend’s and neighbor’s apartments while he compulsively scratches head as if he were lighting a match. The sound of his footsteps dissipates until my ears fall off the trail.
The door, left cracked open, releases a dim light that tip-toes out of the basement and into our little hallway. It invites me beyond my door; my window; my 2 centimeter gateway to omniscience. It beckons.
I stop breathing for 5 minutes. I can’t hear anything, except for a scarce shuffling. It must be in my head, but every time I think the allure is departed, another shuffling from below plucks my mind like a stray hammer bumping into a piano string.
I unlock my girlfriend’s back door and slip it, against the silence, open enough to lean my head out. I become a statue as I conjoin with the stillness of the early morning for the next two minutes.
The faint brushing and rare infrasonic thuds from the dim light beyond becomes a little stronger outside my shield. With that strength, the invitation turns into a weak grip and leads me to step out of my girlfriend’s apartment entirely.
Time passes. Anywhere from a few minutes to a lifetime. I find myself two steps away from the top of the stairwell. I make less noise than my own shadow and tilt my head downward against the cinder block wall. I pick up the hushed reverberations from the basement on the other end of the stairwell wall. A rank smell dimly permeates my nostrils and tickles the less fortunate, finer tunings of my tongue.
He’s busy down there. For half an hour more, he slowly stirs along in that basement. Later, I hear the brash clank of the washing machine being fiddled with, but he doesn’t try to start it.
I hear muttered sounds, the kind the one only addresses to oneself. It’s so gentle to my ears that I struggle to distinguish what is sound and what is negative space.
His feet scrape toward the steps. The air moves with him and my nose confirms. I back away and quickly ooze through the door like egg white, fugitive from a smashed shell. I try to shut my girlfriend’s back door quickly without a creak nor a slam. It’s unknown if I am successful on either front. It doesn’t really matter. I’m back at my tiny window.
I wait for him.
I see a shadow at the end of the stairs. It’s still for a time, then the door pardons itself out of his way and he stands outside the pair of apartment doors. He’s holding a grocery bag in his hand. I’m not sure if anything is in it. He turns and faces my door. For a second, I didn’t budge. Then he steps toward the neighbors door. He fondles the handle.
It’s locked and he shows himself outside.
I suppose I’ve seen enough. I lock up, resign to my couch and tell myself I’ll go outside tomorrow and try to find my girlfriend. I sleep 10 hours and don’t remember a single dream.