My phone vibrates again. “Hi Kim” I say.
“Hello. Just to let you know I’m a couple of blocks away from Pippa’s, with these old opera-glasses that Shigem’s borrowed, and a few seconds ago I was looking through them at Pippa’s balcony and there did seem to be a figure in the shadows, just behind her window. It was the same weaselly size as the figure I saw on the balcony with her the other night—and of course, the one through the keyhole.”
“Were they talking to each other?”
“Hard to tell. I think so, yes.”
I close my eyes, lying here on my island, and throw my attention out to Pippa, hoping she’ll be in her sitting room so that I can see through her eyes the figure Kim just glimpsed, from a couple of blocks away beyond the glass. As I tune in to her perceptions, however, I see she’s gone into her bedroom now. I wish I could simply see through these bedroom walls into her sitting room, in addition to just seeing through her eyes and around her mind right now; though my ability to see around minds has begun to be revealed as being less complete and less under my control than I believed … and there you are, Pippa. The clock says it’s lunchtime (and what clement weather!)—but to you of course it already feels like an evening.
Time to return to your balcony, you feel. Good: this will show me your sitting room and perhaps also … but no, in fact it won’t, for now you part your curtains and uncover a door giving onto your balcony directly from this bedroom, of which I have been unaware until now.
You take your accustomed seat on the balcony, with the back of your head touching the sitting room window-pane right behind us, which I’d guess is in shadow, as Kim said it was just now. From your perch here you look across the grid of streets, beyond the edge of town, to another high-rise, where a young man undresses in the evenings and stands at his window and looks across the space above this town, at you—or seems to. As he ages, year by year, so do you. You never go to seek his building out at ground level, though you’re not sure why you don’t. Has he ever come to your building, down at ground level, seeking out its address? You guess that he hasn’t, and you’re most likely right, and yet… Sometimes in the dusk air, precisely between you both, flocks of birds alight on wires, silhouetted hard and small against the fading light that’s reflected on his windows; then they fly away. You know him, in a small way. You watched him yesterday, with his light on and yours off. Your bird-seed packet hung here at your balcony, unpecked, while the birds sat over there on the telephone wires. Behind you a game-show flickered, with the sound off. A jet plane buzzed through the sky above his high-rise; you got slowly older while you watched him undress; and he got older too, while he didn’t know you watched. What does he do when you can’t see him there at his window? you wondered. Does he watch for you inside his unlit room, like you in yours? You heated up a tin of food and ate it from the pan with a spoon, at your window. The clock ticked. The birds on the wire flew away, one by one. The last bird lingered, as if deciding whether it would try your bird-seed packet, but then joined its companions. You lit a Lucky Strike and slowly smoked it in the shadows, down to the end. The man’s light went off. Had he gone somewhere, or was he sitting there? Was he smoking, in the flicker of a game-show with muted sound, like you? The hourly bus passed below, empty, and turned right to trundle up Main Street towards the other high-rise. Suddenly you think you see, there in the high-rise nestled at the skyline, the shape of the man in the shadows of his window. You wave … but he doesn’t wave back, because the view between the two of you is only one-way. His shape behind the window is yours to enjoy, but his view of you is blocked, for he never has thought about the mile of air between you; and the traffic-lights are lonely where you live.
You should leave this town and start again, but that would be so tiring and large and complicated. You should have done this and that and made other moves, but you didn’t. “Those who lag behind will be beaten,” said the big man.
Have you seen your stars in the papers today? You’ll forget them by tomorrow, but you may as well look. So you do look. And you know what? They aren’t bad at all, Pippa Vail!
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