Windows

Dan sucked in his breath. Across the little courtyard – well, that’s sort of what it was if you leaned out and peered down to squint your eyes at the lonely potted plant in the corner and the broken shopping cart full of old clothes, almost a courtyard – through the window there on the other wall, the light was glowing through the curtains. She came over to pull them open, as she did nearly every afternoon. He imagined that she tried to catch the last dying light before the sun slipped away and evening crept chilly up to her door.

She was busying herself around the kitchen now, flashing into his sight and then away again behind the door. It looked like she was making cereal or something. It reminded Dan that it was nearly five and he needed to eat if he was going to get to Gloria’s by seven. It took an awfully long time to get there on the subway. He grabbed the macaroni out of the fridge and tossed it into the microwave, leaning against the windowsill to wait out the grating hum of it.

English: A wooden frame glass window in the wa...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The woman was sitting now – he called her Daisy in his head, but that probably wasn’t close to her name. He’d seen it on an envelope stuffed into his mailbox by accident, and hers was just above his. She’d been closing it as he got there once, and she’d smeared a smile onto her face and backed out of the room as he stood still and looked at her. He’d never seen her so close before that, and her hair was coming loose around her face in wisps.

Anyway, Daisy was sitting at her kitchen table and scooping the cereal into her mouth, reading something. He plucked the bowl from the microwave – the heat stung his fingers – and ate pressed against the window again. He only had an indistinct view of her, crammed between the bricks across the way, but that imperfect glimpse was so beautiful.

When he got too carried away, he scoffed at himself. Of course he was being unrealistic, and silly, and more than a bit odd. He warred between being severe with himself and relenting, as if scolding the bashful child that was really himself. He would sigh and tell himself that it wasn’t as if he’d done anything wrong, after all. He was only nursing an infatuation with a woman in his apartment building. He’d barely ever spoken to her. But she was very pretty, he would admit to himself. And the bits he could see of her apartment were messy and colorful, and he longed with a deep dark ache to see the designs of the posters on her wall.

Eventually he finished and left the bowl and fork sitting in cloudy water in his sink. One last look out the window told him she was still there, bent over the newspaper – magazine? book? – on the table before her. He blew a kiss out the window and rolled his eyes at his own theatricality, and the door slammed shut behind him. He would be early to Gloria’s.

***

Daisy let her eyes turn outside, and sighed to see the light vanish from the window. The darkness pressed against the glass, and she couldn’t see anything. Probably that man had gone. He’d been leaning against his window again, eyes fixed. She always wondered what he was looking at. He was nice looking, she thought – not that he was so handsome, though he was okay – but there was a kindness in the lines of his face. Daisy fancied she saw it, anyway. She was always too nervous to actually talk to him, never mind follow a daydream and knock at his door. She wished she knew his name. Anyway, it was really just silly. The sky was beginning to darken outside. She turned from the dimming window, shrugged against the ache in her shoulders, and bent forward again over her book. She was just getting to the best part.

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Smiling

Why do all frozen food products look the same? The shapes of the letters even matched. Arielle was holding a box of lasagna in one hand, and in the other a differently-colored box of lasagna. They looked exactly the same, but for the brand. The cold was beginning to bite into her hands, and maybe seep into her brain. It was taking her an awfully long time to decide on a frozen meal. She snapped herself straight and tossed both boxes into her cart. One of them would be better, and then she’d know.

A pudgy man whose face was red and blotchy pushed past her in the aisle and she smiled at him. It was a reflex, sort of an automatic wish to make people happy that appeared on her face without her quite willing it there. He barely glanced at her.

In the next aisle there were cans. Cans of everything – it seemed to her that everything that possibly could be put in a can had been, and they were all on the shelves in front of her. She was contemplating black beans when a middle-aged woman with short curled hair and an enormous handbag reached past to snatch up two cans of kidney beans, and Arielle smiled. The woman flashed her the face she saw most. It was that tight, pasted-on smile that people wore to be polite and took off as soon as they could. It usually looked more painful than pleased. Arielle twisted her mouth at the black beans, who looked back without sympathy.

The only thing she had left to find was fruit. She had promised Jon that she’d bring home some apples. He had asked specifically for Golden Delicious, and she was walking down the row of bright round fruits when she nearly bumped into an old man. He was tall but bent, with a withered face that sagged around pale blue eyes. She looked up and smiled at him, beginning to back up to go around him.

His face went through a transformation. At first his eyebrows shot up and his mouth opened a bit, as if he wasn’t sure what she was doing. Then, so slowly, a smile widened across his face. He grinned at her like a kid with candy. He looked positively delighted, and her smile deepened. She muttered an apology and rolled the cart to one side so he could pass. For the rest of the day – standing in the checkout line, on the subway home, cooking dinner – that happiness was spread on her face. It felt like she’d seen a very beautiful thing in that one surprised smile.