Face, Meet Sidewalk

The Close Call

Posted on: June 22, 2011

He drives the van slowly past, pretending to look for house numbers. Good, she’s left the curtains open. It is always so disappointing when she remembers to close them. Tonight must be his lucky night. Maybe it’s the sign he’d been waiting for – that he should finally make his move.

As he rolls through the quiet neighbourhood, he remembers the first time they met. Well, truth be told, they still haven’t actually met. But he will never forget the first time he saw her. The planets must have been in alignment that night.

It was dusk. The street lights weren’t on yet, but it was just dark enough to be able to see into houses. As was his habit, he sought the comforting snapshots of happy people inside the warm yellow light of their domestic routines. In most of the homes he passed, he could see families making dinner, chatting companionably. The familiar, bitter taste of injustice swelled in his throat and he swallowed hard against it every few seconds.

On that night, he happened to glance at her front window from the perfect angle at the exact moment she came out of the bathroom. She wore a short robe, and was rubbing her butter yellow hair with a towel. He slammed on the brakes hard enough that he nearly ate the steering wheel. Quickly, he looked around and seeing no one, made a sharp turn into the alley behind her house. To his delight he found a spot to park the van that afforded an unobstructed view of her rear windows. He crawled into the back and took the lens cap off the camera. In exactly four and a half seconds, he was in love.

She was perfect.

He watched her from behind the van’s tinted windows for hours that night, catching glimpses of skin here and there as she walked obliviously back and forth past the windows. She dressed, sipping a glass of wine and singing to some inaudible song. When she eventually locked up and went out, dressed to the nines, he decided she was going out with the girls. Nothing to worry about – he saw no evidence that a man lived there.

But he could not get her out of his mind. At seven a.m. he was back, this time parked in front of the house with a view of the living room. His patience was rewarded when she poked her tousled head out the front door around eight to retrieve the newspaper from the mailbox. Even with sleep-swollen eyes, she was beautiful. He  left only when the neighbours started walking their dogs. Despite its inconspicuousness, he didn’t want the van to draw any attention. He could tell this girl was a keeper. Even better than the others.

Over the next few weeks, he forced himself to ration his time in her presence. He wanted to learn everything possible about this perfect, enchanting woman, to be fully prepared before he made his move. He used every source of information at his disposal, and categorized each tidbit about her. By the time she got home from work that first day, he knew her name – Kate. Inside a week, he had her cell phone number, employer, and the minute details of her daily schedule logged in his notebook. He learned that she drank black Café Americano to keep her weight down, and that she had three payments left on her Miata (people throw the most personal information in their recycling boxes!). Several times, he even got up the nerve to speak to her, only to lose it at the last moment.

Now, anticipating their first official date, the nerves are back. To calm himself, he allows his imagination to roam lovingly across each of the photos on his bedroom wall. This is his biggest collection yet; a true testament to his love for this woman.  That telephoto lens was his best investment yet. With it, he can see so much more detail. The mole on her left shoulder blade is his favorite. In the clearest picture, it almost looks heart shaped. And even without a big lens, the buttonhole camera he installed in his coveralls produces a decent picture. The hydro poles on her block have now been “serviced” a number of times, and each time up the pole, he has managed another photo to add to his collection. On an ‘excursion’ one day, he snapped the one that has become his favourite: she is sitting just inside a restaurant drinking Cosmos with a girlfriend, laughing. A strand of hair is stuck in her lipstick. How he longs to brush it away, each time he looks at it! That night, he almost introduced himself. She looked a little too tipsy to drive home, he thought of offering her a ride. As always, at the last second, he chickened out and settled for following a few car lengths back, just to be sure she got home safely.

Anyway, he is sure she knows him by now. For heaven’s sake, he has a pair of her panties, pilfered one glorious day while she was at work. He used her spare key, hidden under a pot on the back deck, and roamed her house freely for the better part of an hour. It was an immeasurable thrill, and he couldn’t stop himself from taking a little souvenir. Just the smell of them has gotten him to sleep every night since.

And by now, she has given him enough glances, exchanged enough hellos (just the word, rolling from her tongue in his direction, breaks across him in a wave of pure pleasure) that he can tell she is into him. Maybe not in a forward, make-the-first-move way, but in a comfortable, old-friend way. How could she not be? They have so much in common – a love of sports, an absent father. She’s just a little shy, that’s all. He is so sure she is the woman for him; he even feels confident that what happened with his last girlfriend will not happen with Kate. Kate already loves him. He can just tell she would never back him into a corner like… what was her name? He can’t even remember the others now, they all seem so pale and lifeless compared to Kate.

And tonight, tonight is going to be the night. He can feel it. It is an omen that he can see straight into her living room. She is curled up on the couch. Wait, hadn’t she made a date with her girlfriend tonight? He had been planning to intercept her on the way to her car – charm her into changing her plans to a date with him instead. What is she doing in sweat pants and bedroom slippers? With Kleenex? Is she sick? Well that would just ruin everything! He’ll never make it through the good night kiss if she is sick.

No, wait, she isn’t blowing her nose or sneezing (he’d have seen that coming anyway, now that he is delivering water jugs to her office every day). She is crying! Bingo! If she’s upset about something, she’ll need some comfort. He can just take her on a drive, maybe enjoy a picnic under the stars. The basket is already in the back – chilled wine, some nice camembert, a roofie, just in case. He forgot the duct tape this time, but it should be OK, because she is already in love with him too. It’s perfect. Comforting her is even better (and less risky) than his original plan, which was foolproof – but this is better because it’s less likely to freak her out right off the hop. He hates it when they get all hysterical and beg him to let them go, it’s such a turn-off. Bad things happen when he gets turned off. He doesn’t want to risk that with perfect, beautiful Kate.

His hands start to shake with anticipation (or is it performance anxiety? He can’t tell). He knows if he waits too long, he’ll manage to find some excuse to procrastinate one more night, and end up back home, alone and frustrated again, listening to Mother berate him for failing to place the toothpaste precisely perpendicular to the counter or something. He takes a deep breath, picks up the bouquet of flowers from the passenger seat and opens the door, exposing himself for all to see.

The walk across the rainy street and up to the front door is interminable, and instantaneous at the same time. He reaches out and presses the bell. A moment passes before he hears a quiet rustle and the door opens a few inches. She looks blankly at him, her eyes rimmed red, her face blotchy. Her expression is closed, unfriendly. Not at all like her. Not how he pictured their first date starting out.

“Can I help you?” she asks.

He hesitates. Maybe tonight is not the night after all. She is obviously not at her best.

“Oh, sorry,” he says, sliding the flowers behind his back. “Wrong house.”

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