What Are You Looking At? by Simon Webster

The crystal decanter, that’s first, then there’s the back of the red marble Buddha, his face beaming on the other side, then something new, a plastic blob of reds and yellows and a tiny bit of green. In the cream glow of the streetlight I rest my arse against a steel bollard. There are eight bollards in a row deterring parking, encouraging movement. Leaning against it chills the base of my spine. The amusement arcade shutters are down behind me, closed for the winter.

It’s late on Tuesday and the liveliness of the road is just right, not too busy for me to be in the way, not too quiet for me to be noticeable. There’s a pink wash on the side of the apartment block and cracks in the plaster I couldn’t see on the fourth floor. It would’ve helped my peace of mind to know the decanter was going to survive. Mam gave it to us with good intentions. We’d splash in some whiskey on anniversaries and whenever Jen held it I’d say, “Careful!” It was cuboid with decorative etchings, zigzags, a fancy stopper, a golden rectangular sticker on the base. There were fights, not just at the end, and Jen raised the decanter more than once. It would’ve helped to know it was going to survive me. You couldn’t predict that.

I bought the laughing Buddha. We needed all the help we could get and there was a joy that radiated from the red marble. I’m not a Buddhist so I can’t say it went any deeper than us mentioning it to each other now and then. It was heavy, heavier than the decanter. It had been on a shelf in the charity shop near my Dad’s house. I lifted it up and its weight made the four euro price tag look like a bargain. Weight equals substance. I wish I’d been stockier. She never picked up the heavy marble Buddha to throw at me. Out of respect, I’m sure, for the statue. The colourful plastic object I don’t know what that is. I’m resting against the cold steel bollard, the chill snaking up my spine, and my eyes are straining to see what this plastic object is.

Some guy is hovering beside me. I’m making it appear I’m ignoring him. He’s resting his arse against the next bollard to my right, settling himself in for the night. I consider giving him a critical stare to impress upon him that it’s not me who’s doing anything unusual, it’s him. Firstly for staring at me staring up at the window and secondly for staring up at the window himself. I take time to decide how to express this concisely. I turn and say, “What are you looking at?”

He nods up at my old window and says, “Do you know the girl who lives there?”

“She’s not in,” I say and I look back at the decanter, the Buddha and the plastic object.

The curtains are lime green. When I moved in I didn’t notice them but when times got bad I’d be lying on the couch, staring about, looking for some stimulation. Then I noticed them and hated them and the light shades and the carpet. My Dad wasn’t observant. He was happier for it. I look at the lime green curtains now and they trigger the bad times. I stand here for half an hour every Tuesday evening when the lights are off. When she’s not home.

“I lived there,” this guy says. “I lived there and I thought that was it. But it wasn’t it.”

No, that’s my story! I used to live there! I take a proper look at him. Younger than me. Fitter. He has a goatee. He means before me and Jen. He means years ago. He looks too young to have a years ago. “She ended it with me last Sunday,” he says.

There are chips in the paint on the window sill. You can’t see the paintwork that well the other side of the window. I would’ve painted it if I’d known.

“I lived there too,” I say.

“You? When?”

“Two years back.”

“Not with my Jennifer,” he says.

“No,” I say. “Somebody else.” Jen hated being called Jennifer.

“That crystal decanter and the Buddha,” I say. “They’re from my time.”

“The Buddha really cheers up the place,” he says. “The decanter I don’t think I saw until you said it there now. What is a decanter?”

“It’s a thing that decants,” I say. “It was my Dad’s.”

Jen hates beards. If I had stubble I couldn’t even hug her. This guy wouldn’t be let within ten miles with his goatee. Did Jen move after she threw me out? Have I been holding this weekly pilgrimage at the window of somebody else’s home?

The arcade late into summer nights, all the tunes games play on five second loops, the beeping of coin machines, the occasional fanfare from the slots, Jen told me to relax when I’d be stomping around the apartment on a bad night. I can only come here when the arcade is shut.

“I miss the pillow fights,” he says. “It’s the stupid things you miss.”

Jen isn’t playful. Talk of pillow fights makes me envy his more youthful relationship. Our life was about trying to pay the rent and working out what money we owed. There was never the headspace for pillow fights.

“I don’t think she’s in,” he says.

“She’s not,” I say. “I wouldn’t be here if anyone was in. That’d be weird. I’m here to see the decanter and the Buddha and the… What’s that plastic object?”

“That’s a spinning top,” he says. “No point standing about if she’s not in. I want her to see what she’s turning her back on.”

He walks away, head lowered, and I give him time to round the corner and I take my weight away from the cold steel. That’s not Jen’s apartment. Jen’s gone.


Simon Webster is an Irish writer who has been writing stories for forty years. Some of his work can be found at: mrsimonwebster.wordpress.com (along with writing prompts and literary magazine links). He is the editor of The Cabinet Of Heed.
cabinetofheed.wordpress.com. You can follow him on twitter: @mrsimonwebster

Image: Mike Wilson