Okay, who out there has triskaidekaphobia? Those who do might be very afraid of today’s date.
My mother, on the other hand, always considered 13 to be a lucky number for her. When she was thirteen, she and her family were on a trip to the beach but they had a flat tire. Her Dad pulled to the side of the road but, in those days, the roads weren’t very wide. While her dad fixed the tire, she decided to get out of the car on the driver’s side and was hit by an on-coming car. She only ended up with 13 stitches and a bit of a concussion, but she could have been killed. That’s why she considers the number to be lucky. She also had her stitches removed thirteen days later, on the thirteenth.
The following is another Neighbourhood Chronicle, part of an adult short story called A Question of Trust. At this point, I’d like to say that a portion of this story is probably not suitable for readers under 16 – in particular, a section of the last scene, which might be disturbing to some people. You have been warned!
Deborah stood peeling vegetables at the kitchen sink, her gaze travelling past the cedar deck rails. The new green of the lawn caught her eye and made her smile. Winter was finally over. Buds were forming on the poplars hedging the back property line, hiding the fence where the dark stain was beginning to weather away. On the other side of the lane was the crowded parking lot where car doors slammed at all hours of the night, rousing her from a sound sleep. Her eyes reluctantly climbed the wall of the cream-coloured building, beyond the parked cars, to rest on the darkened windows of the corner apartment on the fourth floor.
The blinds were drawn.
“I still sense you watching me through the slats,” she told him with her mind.
A shiver tickled down her spine.
Her eyes roamed to the patio doors leading to the balcony from which she’d often seen him staring down at her as she played with the children or worked in the garden. The pale outline of a white T-shirt, common apparel for him, was half hidden, the face safely shrouded by shadow.
“Why do you study me?” she whispered. “What perverse pleasure do you derive from making me nervous in my own home?”
She became conscious of every move she made as she stepped to the stove to flip the sizzling steaks frying in the pan and to the fridge to pour three glasses of cold milk. She had no proof that it was she who drew his attention, but she could feel the scrutiny of his dark, mysterious eyes that caused her heart to race and her cheeks to flush.
The first time she caught him watching her was just after he had moved in. He had stood on the balcony, gazing down at her. One afternoon, days later, she had seen him waiting for a bus as she and her pre-schooler walked home with groceries. She had deliberately cast her eyes about in a casual manner, pretending he was unimportant, but she could not help notice how young he was, how attractive, and slightly defiant. There was no mistaking the ebony pony tail that glistened in the sunlight. The hint of a dark moustache sprouted on his upper lip. His profile revealed sharp contours; a long straight nose, broad brow, high cheek bones and a narrow dimpled chin. His physique was that of a young adult, firm and toned.
One thing puzzled her: “What is it about me that interests you?”
Her face denied the fact that she was fast approaching forty, yet she was no great beauty, no voluptuous blonde that would be comfortable in a bikini. She considered herself a ‘plain Jane’ with sun-streaked, mousy brown hair to suit her shy personality. She had a small upturned nose and full lips, her best feature being her hazel eyes with gold flecks that caught the light. Her figure was softly rounded by the birth of two children, small breasts, a thick waist and sturdy thighs. Nothing about her was extraordinary.
So why would he be watching?
The sunlight slowly died, tingeing the clouds with purplish hues. Lights winked on in the other apartments, but his windows remained dark. Was it because he feared discovery? His cameo would give his actions away. Debbie wished she had installed a blind on her kitchen window to block his scrutiny, for her peace of mind at least, until her supper was ready and she could retreat from her fish bowl. She also wished Barry was still with her. It had been almost a year since his fatal car accident and she longed to feel his strong protective arms around her, again.
Finally, the potatoes were soft enough for mashing, the steaks done to perfection, and the vegetable salad artistically arranged on the plates. Now she could slip into the recesses of the dining room, away from prying eyes to eat with the children in privacy.
Afterwards, she put off washing the dishes. Instead, she played a game with her children, absently moving her marker around the board.
“Is something wrong, Mommy?” her daughter asked, sensing her lack of interest.
“No, honey. I just have a few things on my mind.”
When Christina finally proclaimed victory, Deb hustled her youngsters off to bed, settling them down with a brief story, before returning to the living room. The TV droned, a movie beginning, as she settled into the cosy cushions, pulling her feet up beneath her. She hoped the show would keep her distracted, preventing her from thinking about the stranger who seemed to be constantly watching.
When the shrill tone of the phone pierced the near silence, she nearly leapt out of her skin. With a shaky hand, she pressed the button for the call display but all that was listed was an unknown name and number.
“Could he have figured out how to contact me?” she thought with trepidation, remembering Bonnie’s encounter the previous spring. “Should I answer it? What would I say?”
Hesitantly, she picked up the receiver and said hello, her voice wavering. With a sigh of relief she realized it was just her mother calling on her cellular phone, which didn’t register on the caller display. They chatted briefly, but before hanging up, her mother gave Deborah a list of things to bring when she and the children came to the cottage for a weekend visit.
Glancing at the burl clock on the stone fireplace, Deborah figured the movie would now be well on its way so, having missed half of it, she headed for the kitchen to wash the dishes. She could not resist a peek out the window to see if he was looking for her.
All was black.
“You’re young,” she thought. “You’re probably out partying and don’t have time to spy on an old lady like me. Then, again, perhaps you’re prowling the neighbourhood and have found a hiding place nestled in my cedars, peering in my front windows to get a closer look.”
She shuddered at the disturbing thought.
Bending down, she reached for the dishwashing detergent under the sink. As she stood upright again, a flash of light caught her eye. She looked up. He was home. A shadow passed across the patio doors and the lamp went on in one of the bedrooms, seeping through the slats of the Venetian blinds. A gap widened and his silhouette appeared, staring into the night. She leaned over and hastily poured the detergent into the dishwasher, switched the machine on, then ducked out of the kitchen to the safety of the living room.
Most of the movie had passed by this time, so she began channel surfing. Car headlights stabbed the night and pierced through the sheers covering her windows. Suddenly afraid, she rose to pull the heavier curtains across the sheers to prevent anyone from peering in at her. She returned to the couch, feeling a little better protected.
The unexpected bing-bong of the doorbell nearly sent Deborah through the roof.
Flicking on the outside light, she peeked through the peephole. When she recognized her next door neighbour, she exhaled the breath she had unconsciously been holding. She unbolted the door, opening it wide.
Sheila looked at her sheepishly. “It seems we forgot our house key . . . again.”
“No problem,” Deborah assured her with a grin. “Just a sec.”
She dashed to the kitchen and grabbed the spare key. Dangling it in front of her, she said, “Here you are.”
“Thanks. I’ll bring it right back.”
Sheila darted next door. Deb leaned against the door frame waiting until her neighbour returned with the key.
“It sure is a good thing we keep the spare, here,” Sheila said. “We’re getting so absent-minded in our old age! Thanks, again.”
“Always a pleasure to help,” Deb smiled.
“You ok?” Sheila asked, her brow puckering. “You looked a bit spooked when you first opened the door.”
“I just don’t expect callers this late, that’s all. Once I saw it was you, I was fine.”
“Is that guy still watching you?”
“Seems so, but I’m sure it’s just my imagination. We probably just happen to be looking out the window at the same time and it only appears that he’s watching me.”
“Maybe,” Sheila said doubtfully. “But if you ever run into trouble, remember, we’re right next door.”
“That’s a real comfort. Thanks.”
“Well, good night.”
He watched from the shadows as the other woman left the modest bungalow. His object of desire closed the door behind her. He heard the click of the dead bolt, and sighed. There was little more to see, now that her drapes were drawn . . . at least, not from here.
The next evening, Deborah dropped Michael off at the sitter’s before bringing Christina to Brownies. Her heart leapt into her mouth when she noticed the black-haired youth playing basketball in the schoolyard. He glanced in her direction. She averted her eyes, concentrating on lifting the heavy box of Brownie supplies from the back of the station wagon. She felt as though his stare was boring into her back until she entered the relative safety of the school.
Deb had planned for outdoor activities that night since the weather was so fine, but almost changed her mind at the thought that the youth would be out there, watching every movement she made. Swallowing her nervousness, she pretended the ball players were insignificant and led her troupe of Brownies past the basketball hoops around the corner of the school to a secluded part of the field, away from prying eyes.
For the next hour, she supervised the girls’ activities, her attention constantly drawn to the corner of the building, expecting to see deep brown eyes staring at her. However, they never appeared. She began to relax, wondering whether she had been overreacting, that the shadowy figure that frequently appeared in the apartment window was merely coincidence.
As she and her daughter departed for the evening, he was still there. When she dared to glance up, she found herself staring directly into his dark, brooding eyes. Her heart fluttered with momentary terror before she could turn away. Her face burned to the point where she feared it was bright enough to be seen in China. She swallowed hard, concentrating on her daughter, who was skipping ahead.
They returned home, retrieving Aaron from Sheila’s house. When both children were nestled in bed, Deborah went to the kitchen to tidy up the hastily left mess from dinner. As she rinsed the dishes and placed them in the racks of the dishwasher, she let her gaze wander. Movement along the parking lot fence drew her attention. A black pony tail bobbed along the top, head and shoulders above his companions.
The Watcher was returning home.
Several minutes later, the lights went on in his apartment. Then, he appeared on the balcony. He went to the edge, resting his elbows on the top rail. His face was in profile to her, watching the road below as street lights flickered on and the clouds overhead darkened from mauve to deep purple.
Deb tried not to look at him, but she had to know if he would turn and watch her as intently as the activity in the street. Finally, his gaze shifted. His face was in shadow and she could not see any expression from that distance, only black penetrating eyes that seemed to zoom in on her. She could not bear the intensity of his stare and looked away, quickly finishing her job, so she could retreat to another room.
Deb dragged her suitcases up from the basement and began to pack. It would be good to get away from the city for a couple of days, away from prying eyes. Her kids loved visiting their grandparents at the cottage, swimming in the lake, although this early in the season, Deb doubted whether all the ice would have melted. There was still lots to do, she knew. All she had to do was wait until after school tomorrow and then they could leave.
The darkness was his friend.
It hid him well that night, so he could watch, undetected. He was getting bolder, lurking ever closer. Tonight he felt brave and decided to take a chance. Bounding over the high back gate, he crouched on the other side, waiting and listening.
A car drove slowly down the lane, its headlights flicking through the slats in the fence. He flattened himself against the garage until it turned the corner. Scanning the windows of the apartment block, he found with satisfaction that no one was on their balcony tonight. Too chilly, he thought. He had dressed for the weather – all black, of course. A final glance around. No faces appeared in any of the windows of the block or the corner house next door.
The garage blocked his view of the house and the one window from which he could see her, so he slunk to the poplars, using their new foliage for shelter. Peering through the leaves, he saw a figure appear at the kitchen window. He watched as she began placing glasses in the cupboard beside the sink. Her head frequently bobbed below the sill as she put away the other dishes. As if sensing his scrutiny, she paused for a moment, peering into the night.
He blessed the darkness that prevented her from seeing him.
Deborah spent a glorious long weekend with her parents, away from the prying eyes of her assumed stalker. The sun blazed brightly each day, enticing the family to sit on the warm sand and dip their toes into the icy cold waves of the lake, recently thawed. Deb helped her children build sand castles and taught her daughter how to skip stones on the still water’s surface. They strolled down to the local bakery each morning so the kids could pick out their favourite cookies for their afternoon snack. Each evening, they tried a different flavour of ice cream at the ‘Moonlight Inn’.
He knew the house would be empty.
Through his constant vigilance, he was also aware that, if he were to stay low and follow the outer wall of the house, he could get to the back door without setting off the sensor light that might alert a nosy neighbour to his presence. He eased through the back gate. Crouching, he crept along the deck as close to the wall as possible. He made it to the door without setting off the light, letting his pent up air escape in a slow steady stream. Opening the screen door just wide enough, he tried to work the picks in the lock.
Once he heard the click, he was inside in an instant.
Lights had been left on in the kitchen and living room, so he avoided the areas that were too bright, heading instead to the bedrooms. He flashed his penlight around each room, to make certain of his destination, although he knew instinctively which room was hers. He went to the long low dresser with the vanity mirror, quickly checking the contents of each drawer until he found her underwear. Most of it was ordinary, but hidden underneath were three pairs of skimpy, lacy bikinis.
His heart nearly burst.
He held a frilly pair to his face and smelled the faint scent of fabric softener. He wrinkled his nose. Spotting a bottle of perfume on her dresser, he sniffed it. This was the fragrance he dreamed about. He squirted the chosen underwear several times with the perfume and stuffed them into his jacket pocket. Unable to contain his desire any longer, he left the house.
He went to the parking lot and jumped into his car. Cruising down Main Street, he spotted a hitch-hiker. She wore skin-tight jeans and a leather jacket. Her hair was light, shoulder-length. She wore far too much make-up, but she would have to do. He slowed to a stop beside her, opening the passenger door to offer her a lift . . .
Have a great weekend, everyone! 🙂