You see the sweet face of the fat boy and wonder why he fries. Cocktail weenies, breaded chicken fingers, even zucchini. He's there any morning that you arrive in the station at a quarter to seven. Lately you've started setting your alarm.
His kitchen window is directly across from yours. You've watched him cook. He likes to listen to music while he heats the oil, dredges the meat. Oftentimes he'll dance. You imagine the beats because you've seen all the buttons on his bag. Husker Du, PIL, Heaven 17. Once you saw him fry a candy bar and thought he must be British. But you've since heard him talk - to a busker who played "Purple Rain" on portable electric guitar - and his voice was pure Minnesotan, his approbation enthusiastic but overall polite.
Last week he got on the train in a new jacket, denim, with the face of a sneering, heavily mascara-ed Joan Jett as an epaulette. He could be gay, but you're in love with him anyway. He's got beautiful hair, long, locked curls made blacker by pomade, a rock-boy-who-unfortunately-works-in-an-office aesthetic. So you know he cares about his appearance. You wonder why he doesn't just go to a show and dance, forgo those frozen french bread pizzas that he rolls in cheddar, then sautees in butter in a cast iron skillet.
He needs new cookware. Better dishes. A wine glass instead of the jelly jar he drinks from. He spends money on strong shampoo that smells of patchouli. An equal odor to cancel out all the grease. You've stood next to him on the subway and sniffed, blissfully. Why can't he spend some of that money on stemware? He sets a place every evening, never eats standing up. But the plate is always paper and the utensils plastic.
One night you decide to leave a set of clouded, Mikasa champagne flutes - the redheaded stepchild of your bridal registry - on his doorstep. They are virtually opaque, an outre shade of lavender. You imagine they will seem vaguely retro and to his taste. You keep a flute for yourself.
You just seem to be getting skinnier by the day, is what they say at work. They think with everything that's going on - your Mom's death, Jim leaving you for *!%#, the divorce - you're starving yourself. But that's not true. You're just not hungry! You're still in your twenties they say. Another guy will come your way. You don't ask, Where am I going to get another mother?
He's kind to his cat. He feeds her every evening right before his own dinner. You've stood behind him at the pet supply store, watched him buy a plush petbed shaped like a donut, a felt carrot filled with catnip. He takes care of his own.
Why doesn't he get curtains? An exhibitionist. But it's like the best kind of theater: intimate, uncomfortable, never escapist. (Since the divorce, you can't afford this place. Publishing doesn't pay. You'll have to get a roommate.)
He eventually buys a frydaddy and puts his cast iron out on the curb. You take it home. What? It's perfectly seasoned! You might want to cook some day.
Everyone decides that it's time for you to be more social. You throw a party, dim the lights, put up a disco ball. You take a cue from him and remove the chintz window panels your mother made. You've got nothing to hide. At the stroke of midnight you clear a place for yourself in front of the window. You command a friend to flip the lights off and on to get his attention. You lock eyes with him across the way and raise your purple glass. He disappears. His apartment goes black. Tomorrow, hungover, you will put your panels back up and return to peeking.
You start going out with friends again. No matter how late you get in, there is always the ghostly strobe of TV flecking the walls across the way. Before you go to bed you kiss your picture of Vincent D'Onofrio.
One day in a completely crowded subway car someone uses your back as a reading rack. You shrug your shoulders and with a full-body quiver shake off this cockroach of commuting life. You return upright and spot him, his perfect berry of a mouth twisted in amusement. He's laughing at you. No, he's smiling at you. Has he lost weight? You hope not. You think of Michelangelo, the idea that the sculpture is imprisoned in the stone. You want to be his artist.
Later that night you see a flicker across the way and open your window. There he stands, glass in hand. You run into your bedroom and change.
You are immediately buzzed up. The hallway is haunted by the smell of a thousand chickens once fried. When you reach the top, he is standing in the doorway.
You hold the dress out in front of you, at the knees - foreplay to a curtsey - and ask, is it too much? and can see by his face that it's not enough, not enough fabric covering, too little that touches in all the right places. The askew hem and glittery turquoise fabric are too perfectly punk-girl-gone-to-prom for him to even consider frying up a wiener.
You plop down on his modular couch, smile up into his sweet, fat face. I'm starving, you say.
About the author:
Heidi Bollich writes about books and film and lives in Brooklyn. She feels a deep spiritual affinity with Carl Kolchak.