I can hear them going at it through the walls: the bed thumping, thumping with a steady rhythm, the grunts he makes, the awkward little awww baby’s she groans every now and then. My sister can moan like a porn star. “I don’t fake it,” she’ll brag to anyone who’ll listen. “If I’m with a guy and he’s doing a shitty job, I’m gonna tell him.”
“This one time, this guy – and you gotta know that I’m not that judgemental, I’m really not. Like, if you’re kinda shitty, but you tried real hard, well, okay. I can live with that. You get an “A” for effort. But this one guy… he was just, he was just something else.”
From the way things are sounding, Thomas over in the next room is doing alright. The two of them have been dating for about a week, and according to Zoe they are very much in love. His divorce was finalized a few days ago, but she wasn’t a rebound; they have a special connection. “Like, they got married at 16 anyways,” Zoe says. “People that get married at sixteen are supposed to get divorced at twenty-seven. Tom is right on track when you really think about it.”
The thumping is picking up, growing more urgent. “I’m an animal,” he yells in a voice loud enough for me to hear. I try not to laugh.
“Here, let’s flip. Yeah, like that. Like—”
“Oh. Oh. Oh. Ohhhh.”
Oh god. I don’t want to hear this.
I make my way to the living room. Turn on our old, dusty TV and flip through the channels. At two in the morning, there’s not much left to watch other than infomercials on TLC. I try to concentrate on the Slap Chop guy. I would even turn the volume up, but I don’t want the neighbours to complain.
Zoe is two years older than me, but you wouldn’t guess it, most people don’t. Most people don’t even think we’re related. She’s got short black hair that’s always a little greasy. She dyed the tips pink about a month ago, and it suits her. My hair’s long and brown. I’ve never even dyed it. I don’t think any of us really remember Zoe’s natural hair colour.
The moans and the thumping stop. I can hear Zoe say, “That was a good one.” The door clicks open and out she comes. She walks over to the fridge and fumbles around. I can hear her tearing open a cardboard box, the beeping of the oven as she sets the temperature and slides something in, and the sound of her bare feet padding on the floor.
“You want some pizza?” I turn around to see her standing there in her blue polka-dot house coat, her hair sticking on end like an electrocuted porcupine.
“Nah, I’m good.”
About half-way back to the kitchen she stops, pauses and turns around. I can hear the excitement in her movements.
“Jennnnz,” Her voice is a couple of pitches higher. “Jen, I forgot to tell you.”
“I talked to Andrew.”
“You have a date this Saturday.”
A huge part of me wants to squeal, run to her and jump up and down. The way we used to when I was twelve and we were best friends.
“What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy.”
“Oh, yeah. I am. Thanks so much Zo, it’s really sweet of you.”
Zoe looks a little defeated. She wanders back. Closes the door. I keep watching infomercials.
I am happy. Of course I am. I haven’t really dated much, so this is kind of a big deal. Zoe’s always telling me I need to get laid. That twenty-five and no sex is not cool and that I’m too damn pretty to be a virgin.
“You’ve got abs,” she points out. “Virgins don’t have abs. That’s a scientific fact.” But I’m here anyways, so something somewhere isn’t adding up.
Saturday morning I wake up at eight; no alarm clock necessary. I sometimes get anxiety attacks that make my whole digestive system feel like its constricting like a giant snake is writhing in my body. It hurts and I can’t eat anything and if I am eating something, it usually comes back up.
I don’t want to be nervous. Not now. I already know what I’m going to wear, so I try it on so I can stand in front of the mirror and try out different conversation bits. Babble about my life like a crazy woman. Anything, anything but the weather. Never talk about the weather.
I keep staring at the clock. Compulsively. It’s the kind of day that’s simultaneously the long and short. I have no idea how Einstein’s understanding of relativity can be at peace with that.
Even with my careful timing, I’m still at the coffee shop thirty minutes early. It’s okay though, I have a book ready for this. I brought Zoe’s copy of A Game of Thrones.
I want Andrew to come and see me sitting there, with the sun beaming down on me and a cup of coffee lounging on the table. I want him to see me deep in a book, a book that he might have read or heard about. He could ask me about it and I could put it down carefully and let my fingers linger on the cover. We could start talking, maybe laugh at a joke I’d say, and settle into something warm and cozy and right.
But I’ve never read A Game of Thrones. He’ll come in and see that I’m right at the beginning. He’ll know that I’m just doing it to look chic and intellectual or something really poser-ish. He’ll find out it’s Zoe’s book, and want to talk to Zoe instead of me.
When the waitress comes to ask me if I want anything, my voice is a little too high. I don’t really want a coffee – I don’t even drink coffee – but I want the cup on my table for when Andrew gets here. I order a hot chocolate instead: they look about the same anyways. He’ll probably know the difference though.
I try reading. I try making sense of the words, but I’m too busy thinking about how I must look to everyone else. People must have noticed that my eyes aren’t moving at the right pace. They know I’m not reading; I’m spending too much time on one page. I look like such a sham.
I want to say that I looked up slowly, casually, not too quickly. I look up and see a man, probably in his early 30s. Already balding. Stooped shoulders. Hopefully not Andrew. He’s not ugly, but there’s something about him that seems so dull.
“I’m Andrew. Nice to meet you.”
He shakes my hand. Shakes my hand? He says something about the weather. I pick up the menu; I won’t be too nervous to eat.
“I’ll have a chicken parmesan sandwich.”
Andrew’s wearing a white shirt, a grey tie and a black suit. On the right kind of guy it would look classic, but on Andrew it just looks sad. Like he wanted to wear something with some colour, but didn’t have the courage so he went with what everyone else was doing. He looks like he could just disappear into a mass of commuters and nameless nobodies.
“He’s the male version of you.” I remember Zoe telling me, over and over. “He’s a great guy. He’s not bad-looking. Personality-wise though, he is just so you.”
Except that my kind of guy is… the vanilla ice cream of people. Andrew says something about his high school buddies. I nod and smile.
Then my sandwich comes.
“I decided to become an actuary since in today’s economy, you really need to pick a job that’s going to pay. It just made sense.”
I take huge, glorious bites from my sandwich. It tastes like garlic and cheese and chicken. It’s warm and soft in that bready way, but there’s enough crunch to it to make it so, so worth it.
“I get good vacation time and everything. The pay’s good too. No one really likes their jobs anyways. You just gotta get ‘er done.”
The fries are good too. They’re thin, crispy, and they come with mayo to dip them in.
“I’m saving up for a new car right now, since the one I have is, well, it wasn’t made yesterday, if you know what I mean.”
I’m alternating between sips of hot chocolate, French fries, and the sandwich.
“You got something on your—”
I wipe at the corner of my mouth.
“Almost, you just— yeah, there you go.”
Is this how Zoe sees me? Is this how everyone sees me? Do I look like – do I sound like Andrew? And Zoe, Zoe who knows me better than anyone. She really thinks I’m like this?
He thanks me at the end of it. Tries to kiss me and gets my cheek. He gives me his business card and tells me that we should so this again sometime. Maybe next week. He knows this great Italian place that has really good lasagna.
I don’t want to go home just yet. I don’t want to see Zoe. I don’t want to see the confusion on her face when I tell her that Andrew isn’t for me.
It’s kind of cold outside, so I fold my arms tightly over my chest and walk quickly. Like I have a purpose, like I have somewhere to be. Like I’m someone interesting that people might see and think, “Geez, I’d want to get to know her.” A train passes by and that’s the only sound other than my footsteps.
I can see an old motel at the end of the street. It’s the City Scene Motel and the neon lights look like they could have been chic at some time. The “c” and the “n” in “Scene” are burnt out. The lights that do work flicker like they could go at any moment. I don’t know why, but there’s something about the place that makes me want to go in.
The door has heavy metal bars on it to keep some people out, I guess. The lobby is musty. The walls were painted a warm shade of red, and now it’s peeling.
“Are you lost?”
“No, no. I’m okay.”
The clerk behind the counter looks almost too hopeful.
“Do you want a room?”
I think I do.
The clerk warns me that trains go by pretty often, especially around this time. That’s fine though, I don’t mind.
I check into room number five. It’s small and the air smells stale. Everything about it is tiny: the bed, the bathroom, the TV, the desk. The only big thing about the room is the window, which is a bit strange since it has a pretty amazing view of nothing. It’s like a glass case beside the train tracks. With the light on and the curtains open, anyone could see what’s going on inside.
For a minute, I think about turning on the TV and watching Say Yes to the Dress. But the remote is nonexistent and I could watch TV at home anyways. This place needs something different. I don’t know what exactly, but I want something to happen.
The whole little room shakes as a train rumbles close. It booms past and I can almost see the people through the windows. I can’t make out their faces, but I know they’re there. I know they can watch me too. Not well, maybe not at all, but if I was doing something crazy, they might catch a small glimpse of it.
I get up and stare out the window carefully. Press my face close to the glass and see my breath fog and then melt away again. My hands against the window feel the cool smoothness of it.
I’m still standing there, looking out, when another train rocks by with its men in their business suits. I try to catch their faces. I want more than tiny glimpses, but they slip away and soon they’re gone.
If I had brought pyjamas to change into, I would have done it then. I toy with the idea of sleeping, but the beds are the kind of beds that always feel dirty no matter how many times the sheets are washed.
I think about heading back home. But I want the train to rock me to sleep. I want to feel the watchful, confused eyes of hundreds of unknown strangers.
I slip out of my sweater when the next train goes by. I take my shoes off with the next one. Then my socks.
I don’t know why, but it fells right, so I’m doing it.
I slowly pry open the buttons on my shirt, watch my reflection in the window and pretend not to watch the people in the train as it goes by again. I don’t want to see them, but I want them to see me. I want them to catch a glimpse of skin. Just enough for them to jerk up from their newspapers. And then I would be gone before they ever knew for sure.
My shirt falls off slowly. The fabric slides down my back, and slips onto the floor. Another train rushes by. I can almost feel the wind of it passing against my skin and it feels cold, but in a good way. I take my bra off just as slowly, savouring the chilly air as it hits my vulnerable skin. I look down at the small goosebumps that run all over my arms and chest and breasts. Another train goes by.
One thing Zoe finds strange about me is that I never masturbate. When I tell her, she almost announces it to the world. “Everyone masturbates,” she tells me. “I swear, masturbate totally means ‘master’, as in master of our bodies. And ‘bate’ as in beat. ‘Cause for guys it’s fap, fap, and for us it’s shlick, shlick, shlick. And that is kind of like some beat or some rhythm or something. And yes, that has nothing to do with what I was saying, but its okay ‘cause everyone masturbates anyways.” That’s Zoe logic for you.
I lean my body against the cold glass panes, nipples first. The shock of it runs through my body and I feel a deep pulse between my legs. I take my pants off when the next train comes and stand there naked except for my underwear. I plant my feet firmly on the old carpet and feel its fabric between my toes. Legs apart. I stand there studying my reflection. I cover my breasts, as if the next train surprises me when it comes. Mouth slightly open. Like a picture frozen in time. I stand there in shocked, exposed silence and imagine their eyes as they go by. I imagine men growing hard in their seats. Young professional women going home to their cats and thinking of me. Wishing they could find the woman in the window. Wishing they could touch her. Wishing she would fuck them. In front of the window, for everyone to see.
I’m almost surprised when I reach down and feel how wet I am. Shocked at how good it feels, at how much I want it.
Another train goes by and this time I don’t pretend to be surprised. I stare right out at them.
I let my fingers slip into the wetness. I let them run over me, let them rub. Trains rush by. Passengers watch.
It’s me and the train and the countless, nameless, people. I think of them thinking of me and I rub harder and faster and I gasp from somewhere I didn’t know existed.
My body tingles for almost an hour afterwards.
I sleep on the bed covers, naked. When it eventually gets too cold, I sneak under.
I need to live like this. I need to find a place like this one. Get a promotion. Buy a briefcase. Sit at the counter in bars and sip martinis. Cross my legs. Feel the men stare at me, women too. Maybe some of them would be too scared to approach. Maybe some of them would try. And I would talk to them, and let them buy me drinks. And if I wanted to, maybe I would take one home, back to the apartment by the train tracks. And I would fuck them with the lights on and the curtains open and if they didn’t feel comfortable with that then they could take their things and go.
And the men and women on the train would see me, and they would want me. I would become the one in their dreams and they would wish that one day they could find the woman in the window and come up to her place and screw her as the rest of the world watched.
Zoe is the loud one, but I can be seen. People will always want me.
I come home the next day to find Zoe sitting on the floor, music blaring, halfway through a bottle of wine. Her eyes are wet and red when she turns them up to look at me. They look huge and vulnerable and so, so full of hurt.
“How was your date?” She asks.
“It was okay.”
“Just okay?” Her voice croaks a bit.
“He’s kind of boring”
She looks down at the carpet. I sit down and wrap her up in my arms.
“I thought you’d like him.”
She pauses to wipe her nose with her hand. I can see the wetness of it shine on her skin.
“I wanted you to like him so badly.” She rests her head on my shoulder. “I wanted you guys to go to dinners and movies together. And I wanted him to pop your cherry and buy you roses and send them to your office. You guys could get married and have cute little kids. I could be the cool aunt that buys them beer and vibrators.”
She breaks off and I can feel her tiny body shake as huge sobs start spilling out.
“I would be such a good aunt.”
Her face screws up and turns red and blotchy.
“I think that’s the kind of person I’m supposed to be: an aunt. I know I’m cool and funky and loud, and I know guys want me. But I don’t think they love me. They see a quirky girl and they think ‘Hey, she’s cool. She’ll get me to be spontaneous and stuff.’ But they don’t really love me.”
The sobs are coming out in huge waves. I can feel her tears seeping into my shirt.
“I’m too unstable. I feel suffocated when I date normal guys, and when I date guys as screwed up as I am, it doesn’t cancel out. We’re just extra fucked up. I just–”
“That’s not true.” I tell her. I realize it is though, and hope she doesn’t hear the lie in my voice. “Hon, what’s going on? Why are you like this? What happened to Thomas?”
“We had a fight.”
“But you guys always fight.”
She takes a swig of wine, straight from the bottle. She passes it to me and I take a sip too.
I think about the train and about the motel and moving out.
“Please don’t leave me Jen.” Her voice is a whisper.
“Don’t worry,” I tell her, “I won’t.”