The shutter speed was slow, the light dusty so she appeared to blur ever so slightly and soften into the windowpane, with the ISO high enough to make the picture faintly grainy. She became unreal, a mere imprint on the sandy beach, an endless amelioration of increasingly tangled limbs and dark hair that seemed to beckon to him irresistibly… It had started with her lips: such delicious lips, ripe to be kissed and stolen, stolen and kissed – his heart would flutter, pound furiously as he would clatter to the bedroom floor and feel a flush of heat rise up his neck, as if she had seen him, seen through him, known him. But she was only smiling wonderingly at the untouchable sky above. Fly. Fall. He wanted her so much.
And then it was her neck he would covet; the slender, vulnerable neck framed by prominent collarbones he craved to press lightly against, to breathe on. But he could not, and so he had resorted to a more permanent solution: the photograph, which served as a visual memory of his admiration. It was his career, he reasoned. It was a habit to take photos of beautiful things around him, and she had been no exception. He had only viewed her as a beautiful thing, a potential model of his artistic imagination. He had not meant to obsessively continue to take a shot every day at seven PM in dusk as she consistently appeared at her window, silent and contemplative, an enigma, a mesmerising puzzle he could not solve. He had not meant to fall in love.
In love with her firm lips that must surely speak of truthful words, in love with her freckles, so light and briefly scattered across her cheekbone like a cluster of stars in the dark sky, gone too soon. In love with her nose, cast with a slim bridge and strong highlights in the sunlit afternoon – a bold nose, a courageous nose. In love with her large palms and slender fingers with nails bitten to the quick, piano fingers that grasped the wooden window sill with surprising strength as she peered down into the narrow street with serious grey eyes, a still storm that sometimes burst into thunderous rain. He had witnessed this, a private scream of silence as she covered her eyes and opened her mouth and said absolutely nothing – and he, the equally inaudible bystander. He had a photo of this too, among the myriads stored in his 8MB memory card. Each day tucked away, lost from sight, because he was afraid that in developing the photos, he would cross a line that he had never known existed. He teetered in limbo between obsession and fanaticism, and it was terrifying. But he could not stop.
His only role in her life was to observe, and this he took on comfortably, easily, becoming a minor and yet somehow the most significant part of his daily routine. His hands delicately supporting the familiar weight of the camera, the tool that allowed him to capture her allure, the charm that somehow oozed from her unknowingly, even more beautiful because of her unknowingness. His sharp eyes intently focused on the small window into her world: he peered through the lens with a professional objectivity and yet his trembling fingers betrayed his longing. The act of craning his neck became an art; for her he turned into a bewitched crane expressing its dance of courtship through the elaborate framework of the camera. And then the smooth, simple click that followed after a long, hushed sigh of pregnant quiet. He only ever shot her once a day, and it was enough, for she was always perfect.
He would imagine, sometimes, after she had finished her moment of contemplation and retreated to her inner sanctuary, their meeting. At first he scarcely dared wonder of it, so strange and alien did she seem, as if from another city, country, planet. He, boy-man approaching his thirties, lifelong dreamer and no romantic wordsmith, did not have the right to speak with her, of her. But in her gaze he was transformed into a love struck fool, and as the spring melted into the summer and swept into the autumn, his mind could not help taking liberties with her. It started– he couldn’t remember when, exactly – in the deep of a night that trembled with longing, heat wave after heat wave as he lay on his narrow bed. He dreamed of perfectly formed breasts and pink nipples. He imagined the ridges of her ribcage that led down to the dip of her sweet navel, soft thighs, wet – And in the anonymity of night or early morning, he would feel the need to destroy her, lift her, recreate her, thrust her into three-dimensionality from the flat plane she had existed in snapshot – fuck yes, she was so fuckable. He was so in love, so in lust. She was so loveable, so lustable, so unbearably untouchable.
But that was only at night. Daytime reigned in both his fears and his desire, carefully transported into only the technological vessel that would allow him to consume her quietly, unknowingly. He was content simply to be her witness…
Until the day she vanished.
He waited, as always, patiently beside the window at precisely seven o’clock in the afternoon. It was again late summer, the solstice already passed and the sun lower in the sky, casting a cold yellow glow on the white bricks framing her window. They were both creatures of precise habit, and thus he had never considered or expected her to change. She was as constant as the northern star, he: her worshipper. But no matter how long he waited, patiently, faithfully – she did not appear.
He removed his being from the window but continued to pace his room, somehow inexplicably distraught, more anxious than he should be over the wellbeing of a stranger. A stranger he had, equally inexplicably, fallen in love with. He clasped his head with shuddering fingers and sat on the bed. Had she discovered him, somehow? He had been so careful not to be intrusive. He knew what he was doing was strange, taboo, not the social norm… but she was such an eldritch creature in her own right that he had felt his actions acceptable, or was it an excuse? No, surely not. Surely she would not disappear from him without warning, migrated south in search of a better eternity?
He was relieved from his agonies with the doorbell. He forced a nonchalant expression on his face and clomped downstairs – and opened the door to find the cops at his door. What do you want? He said. His heart leapt, he was so afraid. Was he to be named a criminal? His crime: an addiction. Sir, they said. Sir, we only wish to ask you a few questions about the girl who lived next door. The young woman, sir. Today she shot her father, stepmother and an unidentified male living a few streets down. Today she died. Do you know anything about her, sir?
No, he said. No, I do not know anything at all. I am sorry.
He watched them leave, and when they drove off he walked back upstairs slowly. For a long while, he lay on his bed and stared at the cracked ceiling, watched a fly, thought absolutely nothing. Then he got up and, for the first time, connected the camera to the computer. 521 photos, 521 days since he had first seen her. He flicked through them. She, leaning on the windowsill. She, staring at the sky. She, sitting on her bed. She, taking off her shoes. She, watering the plant. She, brushing her hair. She, who he had born witness to for 521 days and yet knew absolutely nothing about. He wondered if he had done this sooner, if he would have seen something, a sign. He wondered if he had had the courage to speak to her instead of just taking her photo, she would not be gone.
And then he paused, shifting back to image 343. He hadn’t noticed, but it seemed almost as if she was staring straight into the photo at him. What day had this been? Why hadn’t he noticed? Was it possible she had always known of him, as he had known of her? Heartstrings, regret. Anguish.
He stared at the photos and wondered for a long time, and when he was finished his finger hovered briefly above the keyboard and hit delete.
Once there was a murderer and her witness, and inexplicably they had been in love.
- princeling posted this