What follows is one of my first short stories. Be nice, please.
Bertram Ward had no trouble finding an apartment after he graduated college. What Bert was having trouble with was reconciling the fact that his apartment was just as unremarkable as his life at the moment.
It was a one-room efficiency in one of those towns that always lauded itself as a “good place to raise a family”. The only saving grace of this over-sized dorm room was that the entire wall opposite of the entry way was fitted with one big window. You could get a nice view of the street if you craned your neck and you could always “people watch” courtesy of the apartments across the way, but that was really it as far as having a ‘view’.
One early evening a few weeks after he had moved in, Bert stood at that very window. A pang of loneliness echoed through his soul. His gaze wandered over to the apartments across the way. The neighboring building was practically identical to his own building in structure.
“Probably owned by the same company,” Bert said out loud, trying to make himself feel less lonely.
A flurry of movement caught Bert’s eye. A young woman who lived in the building across from Bert tore open her blinds.
Startled, Bert busied himself with nothing in particular in the off chance that the young lady across the way saw him and branded him as ‘the creepy guy who lives in the building across the way’.
The girl in the window had long curly dark hair, the appearance of being in good health, and (this is the thing that killed Bert) she was smiling: It drove him absolutely bananas. Was she happy to let the little bit of light in? Was she aware that she had an admirer across the way?
“Who in the hell smiles when they open the blinds at night?” he thought.
Bert immediately began hatching a scenario that would put the two of them in the same room.
[He could see it now.
He would walk into her building like he owned the largest pair of balls in the world and attempt to chat up her doorman.
“Hi there! My name is Bert Ward and I live in the building next door.”
The doorman didn’t cease reading his paper.
“I was wondering if you could tell me about one of the tenants here? She lives on the 8th floor? Has long, dark hair?”
The doorman replied by letting loose with a fart that could only be the result of a half of a century’s of poor diet and hard living. He followed this up with meticulously folding his paper and staring through Bert at the clock behind him.
“Sorry to have bothered you” Bert mumbled as he did an about face and headed back to his room.]
The chime of his watch brought him back to reality.
He’d have to be satisfied with the knowledge that he now has something pretty to look at.
“It’s time for bed, anyway” he thought.
Weeks went by.
Bert established a routine: Work, home, minimal social contact, rinse, lather, repeat. Every night ended the same way. Bert would look out his window, watching the sky change colors, waiting for her to open her blinds. His day wouldn’t be complete without her.
At this point in Bert’s life, he’s done everything that a single white male was supposed to do. The banality of life after college was keeping Bert from a good night’s sleep.
Maybe a little look into the past would have yielded an answer to his sleeplessness. Maybe all he needed was to be needed at the end of the night. While Bert always shielded himself with the idea that some people are meant to be alone, the idea of having someone as an anchor, someone as a constant resonated with him on a subconscious level.
It was another sleepless night. Lying on his back now, Bert stared at a lone bar of light splayed across his ceiling from a gap between his curtains.
Bert knew that a lot of the current knowledge about rest and the nature of sleep was bullshit anyways. Make your bedroom for sleep, only. Only go to bed when you are tired. What you eat affects how you sleep.
Utter garbage. Sleep, as weird of an activity as it is, is a choice. If you want to sleep, you have to really want it. This was a theory Bert put into practice when he attended junior college. To fellow classmates, he was known as “one of the Dwarves”. It didn’t matter what was going on at all, Bert had no trouble sleeping wherever he fucking pleased: his car, the quad in the middle of the grounds (affectionately known as “cancer corner” from the amount of people out there smoking on a regular basis) the cafeteria… It didn’t matter. Bert used all of the white noise around him as a lullaby.
Still lying on his back now, staring at that errant bar of light, Bert truly missed those days. All he wanted to do was to get at least one night of good sleep. He wasn’t asking for a whole hell of a lot, was he?
“I can’t win,” Bert groaned.
The red analog clock in his ‘kitchen’ tick-tocked 5:13 am.
After having a piss that rivaled the output most waterfalls, Bertram couldn’t help himself; he had to see if she was awake.
Cursory glances, double paned glass and a distance of 100 feet could only tell a person so much. Regardless, a part of Bert knew that it was love keeping him up at night.
Throwing open the curtains with a great flourish, Bert stood there for a minute taking in the sky as it was affected by the rising sun.
All reds, oranges and blues, Bert felt a calm wash over him. It was like watching a rapidly changing bruise that didn’t end with that sickly yellowish green hue that all bruises ended with.
After the moment passed, Bert proceeded to flop on his bed and wait.
He knew it wouldn’t feel right if he didn’t start it with her.
Bert threw another glance at the clock. 5:19 am.
“C’mon hon. I’m going to be late,” Bert said to himself.
It never dawned on him that he only saw her when the sun was going down.
She appeared a few seconds later.
Something was wrong this time.
Her smile was gone.
She stood at her window, wrapped head to toe in a blanket, taking in the sky much like Bert did.
There was a sad drop of knowledge in the rest of her face.
“What’s wrong, babe?” Bert said creeping towards the window.
“Didn’t sleep good?” The window fogged at his question.
The girl in the window looked up and locked eyes with Bertram. Jumping at the fact that he had been ‘caught’, Bert tried to play it off like he was trying to get the window open a crack but it was stuck.
She smirked at a little at this.
Bert let his eyes travel back to her. He noticed that her window was open. He waved at her.
Her smirk bloomed into a smile.
Unable to take his eyes from her, Bert watched on in horror as she climbed up on the window ledge and jumped to the ground below.
Bert collapsed in shock.
He looked like a comma without a sentence.
Throughout any person’s life, a wide range of emotions and feelings can be experienced. The more basic feelings that have to do with the senses are the ones that we just barely experience. We cannot say that we know what it means to be truly hot unless someone lights a fire in our flesh just as much as we can’t really say we know what it means to feel cold unless we freeze to death.
There is always some small part of our existence that will fight to keep those things balanced. When Bertram saw that last, little wisp of hair disappear from his view, all sense went with it.
Curled on the floor now in front of his window, Bertram felt the cold that fear brought with it.
“WHAT DID YOU DO??” he sobbed.
Why? Why was the only word going through his head.
Sitting up now, “there’s no way that I saw that. There’s…. there’s just no way. I’m just… just really tired.”
His mind was drowning. Without realizing it, Bert stood up with his back to the window, composing himself. Taking another deep breath to steady himself, he turned around to face the world on the other side of the pane of glass.
She was still standing there. Her window was closed and she was in the apartment. She was smiling that same smile that Bert fell in love with.
Tearing at the window latches, Bert threw the windows open and looked into the alley below. His mind shut down at what he saw.
There was a body floating a top a lake of blood. Dotting the perimeter of the corpse were various medical rescue professionals, a handful of Nosey Nellie’s and a couple of policemen looking up to his window.
They couldn’t (didn’t) see him.
It was Bert’s body.
Bertram Ward was dead. He was dead and he didn’t know it.
The fear that had landed on him when he thought that she had jumped was now fighting for purchase against the warmth of knowledge.
He tore his gaze away from the scene that unfolded below them. She was still looking at him. She was still smiling at him.
He wanted to cry but he knew that the tears wouldn’t come.
She waved him over.
Bert closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he was sitting in her apartment window.
She stood in front of him. Instinctively checking to make sure he wasn’t damaging her blinds, he was surprised to see… that there were no blinds.
There was no furniture.
It was a completely bare apartment.
He looked to her: she was still smiling.
Not knowing fully what to say Bert decided to keep it simple.
“Hello, Bertram” she smiled.
“What’s happened to me?”
“You’re dead, silly ass” she said rolling her eyes.
“How’s it that you can see me?”
“We’re of the same ilk”. To prove it she reached out to touch him. Bert didn’t feel the hand that he was expecting only a cold, more pronounced chill.
He looked into her eyes.
“Bert, people aren’t meant to be alone. Especially as alone as you were”.
Confusion and then realization washed over Bertram Ward’s face.
“It became too much for you to bare. You don’t remember the last time you went to work, do you?”
“No,” he said with a shake of his head.
Her look changed to that of a mother caring for her child.
“What happens next?”
“Shhh. That’s for me to worry about. Come on, Bert time for you to get some sleep.”