Greetings, fellow indie writers and readers! I am Beem Weeks, author of the historical fiction/coming-of-age novel JAZZ BABY and SLIVERS OF LIFE: A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. My goal in life is to promote the indie movement to the world. I can be found on Twitter @VoiceOfIndie and @BeemWeeks. I enjoy indie films, loud music, and a well told story. Lansing, Michigan, USA.
Slivers Of Life
Erica Brynor pondered the notion of getting caught and just what she’d do with such an intrusion. The very idea of discovery at a stranger’s window put her in a mind to cry—even just thinking about it. She cast herself more coward than common pervert. The girl just didn’t have it in her to approach people for simple conversation like a normal person—which is the only reason she took to window-peeping in the first place.
A person can learn a lot more about someone in ten minutes of silent observation than in an hour full of bullshit conversation. At least that’s how Erica saw things.
She’d grown privy to quirks and qualms believed hidden, the ones belonging to those living in her own neighborhood.
Take Mrs. Pritchett, who lives on the corner. The old gal used to be famous, a jazz singer, way back in the twenties and thirties. Ninety-something and still not ready to die just yet, she stays up late each night, a widow spinning old 78’s of herself and singing along, reliving an era that’ll never come back around. She knows nobody cares anymore. Nobody wants to hear stories about old New Orleans and old New York. But Erica listens. She savors every word the woman speaks inside that empty room, words meant for an audience no longer there.
During daylight hours, with the sun high and accusing, Erica rides her bike through the neighborhood, searching all those familiar faces for any intimation of her treachery. But then the night always falls, bringing along shadows deep enough to conceal a girl in her secret endeavors.
And nobody suspects a thing.
Just before midnight she swapped out her nightshirt for black jeans, black T-shirt, and a Myron Middle School ball cap—also black—which she received for winning the seventh-grade essay contest last spring. Her ritual had to remain exactly the same—even the slightest deviation could result in her immediate discovery: T-shirt goes on first, then jeans; hair—brunette—pulled into a ponytail; left shoe, then right—always tie the right shoe first. The ball cap, that was an early summer add-on, a feature made indistinguishable since most of the kids in the neighborhood own one.
She pressed an ear against her bedroom door, listened for subtleties common to a sleeping house. Her mother always watched Leno—but only his monologue. After that, well, the man just wasn’t funny. Erica preferred Letterman. But she wasn’t allowed to stay up that late—not even during summer vacation.
She pulled the screen from her window and climbed out into the night, eager to learn a new secret concerning any one of a dozen neighbors she knew by sight more so than by name.
Backyards offered the deepest shadows, the darkest cover.
Night lay unopened before her, waiting only for a choice to be made concerning direction and secret. She could move north, cut through the Fannerys’ yard and settle in among shrubbery gathered like hooligans beneath Melody Pincer’s window. Melody’s a cutter—and only Erica knows about it! Being a cutter means she makes herself feel pain to relieve pain, though it’s hard to believe a girl like Melody might really be suffering inside: a popular cheerleader, class valedictorian, Wellesley College in the fall.
How’s that supposed to suck?
No. There’d be nothing new at Melody’s window this night.
A breeze carried her south toward Dunhill Street, where it crosses Maplewine. Mr. Coddington’s Cape Cod staked its claim to that corner lot the way a hibernating bear would a cave. Keep away, seemed to be the general vibe from its owner. But the man, he’d never hurt anybody; he just needed time alone with the misery that had become his life—what with the divorce and all. He’d wander through the better part of a fifth most nights—usually vodka—and still manage an early rise as assistant principal of Myron Middle School. He called to mind vague memories of Erica’s own long-gone father, memories that grew weak as water with each passing year.
Erica crossed Dunhill Street, met coyly the brush pile behind Billy Pike’s house. This would be a tough one: to peep, or not to peep. The thing with Billy Pike, he sometimes had a girl in his room, usually doing it to her. To Erica, a situation like that was just plain gross.
She scooted through Pike property, spilled onto the Rymans’ lot, took refuge behind a rose bush growing untended beneath Willa Ryman’s window. Arcade Fire sang some mournful refrain through speakers turned almost too low for a proper listen.
Radio or CD? Erica wondered.
Her fingers gained grip on the brick sill; she pulled herself chin high for a first daring peep. That’s the best part, the initial glimpse inside a moment not meant for spectators.
Cinnamon incense sweetened the night through the open window. A lonely candle’s flame danced like Herodias’s daughter in a nearby corner. Willa herself pulled long angry drags from a menthol cigarette most likely lifted from her mother’s purse. Black underwear and a matching bra performed miserably at concealing bruises too fresh to be soon forgiven. Welts rose along her back in shapes of hands.
Who hit the girl? Erica wondered. And for what reason?
Willa dropped onto her bed, gave a harsh rub against a purple bruise on her leg. “Asshole,” she muttered to nobody in particular.
Such a scrawny girl, all knobs and sharp angles. Boys liked her, though—the kind of boys who rode motorcycles and worked on old cars. That owed to Willa’s reputation.
Maybe that’s why somebody slapped her up.
* * *
Cory Tarver’s window loomed like a bad seventies sitcom nobody ever bothered to watch—until it got canceled. After his parents kicked him out, everybody speculated on the goings-on in his basement bedroom.
Only Erica knew for certain, though.
Two words: meth lab.
* * *
Erica bolted across Dandelion Drive, where the streetlight had burned out almost a month ago. She stumbled between a pair of dying yew trees, fell into the cool pool of darkness surrounding the only house that far down the block.
Neighborhood kids call the man who lives there Gacy, after the famous serial killer, even though he looks nothing at all like the infamous fiend. Nobody knows his real name, what he does for a living, or even the sound of his voice.
But Erica knows.
She slipped behind a tangle of weeds burdening the ground beneath a cracked picture window facing Dandelion Drive. Forget the backyard; a soul could vanish like smoke in that overgrown mess.
The shriveled husk of an old woman slumped like a boneless entity in a worn wheelchair. Some nights she’d call the man Harold; mostly it was William, though. And he seemed partial to William, as if in this name they retained a slim thread of a past that had clearly begun to unravel.
“Ma,” he called her. “Your program is on.” Mid-fifties, him, maybe older; gray hair falling out; overweight by more than a few extra late-night snacks.
The woman said, “Milton Berle?”
“Uncle Milty is dead, Ma,” he explained, wheeling her to a place of prominence before an ancient Magnavox lifted out of an Andy Griffith rerun. “Jay Leno is getting started.”
“I don’t care for that fellow,” Ma complained.
“You watch him every night, Ma.”
“Is that so? Well, we’ll just have to see what your father has to say about that.”
“Dad’s dead, Ma.”
“And when did this come about?”
The man fell back on a ragged recliner once blue now gone gray, popped open a Diet Coke, and rolled his eyes. “Twenty years ago, Ma. Surely you remember that much.”
But then that voice came at Erica, spoken directly into her ear. “Is that you, Brynor?” His hot breath warmed her neck.
Can a heart go completely still—even just for a moment—and start itself back up again?
The night swirled around her; sweat raced a mad dash down the girl’s spine. She closed her eyes and prayed it was only a hallucination, a delayed bad reaction to the HPV vaccine her mother made her take.
But the voice came again. “Are you peeping, Brynor?” His hand found the small of her back; he followed her closer to the ground in a squat. “I thought I was the only one peeping in this neighborhood.”
Erica dared a glance, to put a face with the voice:
Billy Pike, the one who does it to his girlfriend.
A lie found its way into her mouth. “I wasn’t peeping.”
“Sure looked like it to me.” He gained his feet, had a quick peek inside the window, returned to her with all his accusations intact. “You do this every night?”
In the pale light leaking from the window, Erica studied the boy’s features. “A couple times a week,” she admitted.
“Erica Brynor, nasty girl of the night,” he teased. “I always knew there was something else beneath that quiet-girl routine.”
“And what’s your excuse?”
A grin bent his lips. “I just like to watch.”
* * *
They followed a path cutting through a woods behind Pequot Elementary, into a neighborhood unfamiliar to Erica. Billy pointed toward this house and that, giving up names, dishing dirt on deeds done behind closed doors.
“There’s an awful lot of strange goings-on in these parts,” he explained, spreading his arms wide. “Take the Lipnickies here.” His head bent toward a house on the corner. “Young married couple, so lovey-dovey in the daytime, but come night they sleep in separate rooms. And it‘s not like they argue, either.”
He was nice to look at, this Billy Pike. Beneath the streetlight his eyes took on a soft brown glow.
“Come on,” he said, taking her hand, pulling her along as he traipsed into the backyard of a newer brick ranch house. “This is Miss Turnbull’s place. She teaches kindergarten at Pequot.”
Erica’s hands grasped the sill; she flung a lazy gaze through the open window. “Oh my gosh!” she hollered.
The woman spun around, fixed her eyes on the young interloper, and gasped. “How dare you intrude!” She bolted toward the door and swore swift punishment, should she lay hold on the girl.
Billy ran left; Erica scampered right, zooming past her irate pursuer, barely escaping an outstretched arm.
“Can you believe that shit?” the boy said, sucking down great gulps of air at the top of the street. “And she’s a kindergarten teacher!”
Erica struggled to catch her breath between fits of nervous giggles. “She’d have killed me,” she said, “had she caught me.”
“Uh-uh. She’d have done to you what she was doing to him.”
“Eww! Don’t say that!” She tested boundaries of this new-found ally and spilled a confession. “I peeped you before, a couple of times. You were in your room with a girl.”
Billy Pike ran silent for a moment, like maybe he needed to mull over the possibilities of all she might have seen. Or maybe she’d crossed one of those boundaries an ally ought never cross—or at least not mention once the breach occurs. But if Billy took offense, he never let on. “Ex-girlfriend,” he said, eyeing the girl in the soft glow of a low summer moon. “And I’ve peeped you—a time or three.”
It was Erica’s turn to mull those possibilities, to ponder compromising positions she may or may not have engaged in recently. “I’m okay with that,” she finally admitted.
Billy’s head tipped a nod so subtle but clear in its intent.
What they saw, well—they’d allow each other those secrets.
At least for now.
They left off in front of the Brynor house with the gray of dawn etching the beginnings of another day along the edges of an expiring night.
His hand found hers. “ You, ah, wanna do this again maybe?”
“You mean peep?”
“Why not? We make a great team.”
“Sure,” she said, breaking loose of him. “But next time, let’s skip the kindergarten teachers.”
* * END * *
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