(This is a selection from my book Hot Naked Tits, which you can buy here.)
One morning he looked in his neighbor’s window and saw a picture of his own cat.
The guy had his blinds closed like always. But today a computer monitor was pressed up by the window and the slats were pushed aside. There was a narrow triangle of open glass, enough to see in the apartment. It was stacked high with crap. Old books and magazines. Old art on the walls. Prints of Hudson River Valley school paintings cut out of a coffee table book, taped to the drywall. Certificates and degrees, too far away to read, yellowed, askew in cheap frames. And a picture of his cat. It too was framed. A foot high. iPhone picture, pixellated a little. Fluffykins regarded the camera with a dead mockingbird in his mouth.
What the fuck, he thought. Well– he’s a cute cat. He got a bird. The neighbor wants a picture, fine.
He got back to work hauling trash cans to the curb. It was 7AM, garbage day. Every ten weeks or so he’d be a good citizen and take down his building’s cans. After that, work. Then home, eat, jerk off, sleep. Alone but the cat was there. The driveway between complexes was steep. He had to take care not to spill coffee grounds from the cans on his crisp white shirt. 65 per cent polyester. It needed no ironing. He’d purchased five. An investment in adulthood.
The man’s window faced his across the driveway. At night he’d hear him moaning. He sounded old, and like he hurt. On the way back up to get his briefcase he took one more look. There was an unmade bed against the wall. A duvet cover embroidered with parrots. A black file cabinet in back by the cat picture with a spindly cactus on top, hooked so far toward the window that the pot was about to tip over. A Brother P-Touch label on the top drawer said “BILLS.”
And a desk, with monitors. Three of them fixed to a jointed chrome arm bolted into the wall. They were beautiful. Broad and slim and gleaming with sapphire glass; nicer than any he’d ever seen. Placed with care at at different heights and angles like the flowers on an orchid. They must have cost thousands. Well to each his own, he thought. I’m glad the old man has something he loves.
He got his black pleather attache and his tupperware of leftover pot roast. Locked up and headed down the hill to the bus. When he got home the gap in the blinds was closed.
It was a month before he saw inside the place again. This time at night. He was out calling the cat. Normally Fluffykins came in as soon as he got home from work. But once in a while he’d get in a fight with another cat. Spend hours squaring off with it under some car. Fluffykins won mostly, which made him proud. But out back was a big steep hill covered in tall grass; coyotes lived there. If the cat was out after dark he’d sit and think about the coyotes ripping him apart until he came in. The cat hadn’t come on the street out front. So he walked up the driveway toward the back lot, making a ch-ch-ch- sound.
He saw a patch of light from the old man’s window. Heard the groaning. There was the triangle of open glass. In it, a gnarled yellow dick in a gnarled yellow hand, the latter pumping furiously. The man’s pubic hair was a tangle of white like a wizard’s beard and he jerked and jerked and groaned and groaned. One of the monitors was visible. On it a Latina woman presented her ass to the camera and looked back, concentrating as she tried to stuff a half hard arm-thick horse’s penis into it.
The horse cock was white with brown spots. The woman mouthed something in Spanish or Portuguese and the man groaned again. Accelerated. His face was hidden, but there was the cat picture. And now next to it, a picture of a girl.
Well I’ll be damned, he thought. Heather.
Heather lived there before the old man moved in. Even though she was his neighbor he met her on Tinder. They’d walked out of their buildings to head to their date at the same time. She had blue eyes and looked like a painting on a 1930’s fruit crate. They got drunk and talked shit at the Short Stop. Her choice of venue. He invited her home for Scrabble.
She wouldn’t fuck him. He learned later she was fucking the Short Stop barback. He looked one of like Ed Norton’s rapists in American History X. He was married. His wife was cheating on him but he wouldn’t leave her. The Tinder date was meant to change his mind. Instead, he’d come up the hill the next night looking for the apartment with the cat, to kick that guy’s ass. No one was home. He left a note.
Later she came to apologize. He was alone, drunk. The best way to make amends, he said, would be some pussy.
No such luck.
They talked. Her dad was in prison for life, she said. He’d stabbed her stepmother to death. He was some kind of preacher and she’d followed him to Idaho; she was Heather’s age. Well I’ll never measure up to that, he thought.
Still, she kept coming over. They’d sing Grateful Dead songs then she’d get naked and he’d rub her back, her ass, her belly. She never did fuck him but one night she came over drunk and asked: why don’t you love me. After that he knew he’d won. He moved on.
In the old man’s picture she wore a white dress with the tops of her tits hanging out. Smiling next to her potted rosemary plant. It was extraordinarily healthy. She was a skilled gardener.
Well shit, he thought. I guess she left some stuff behind. Wonder if the old man has her dirty panties. I could stand a whiff. He fell asleep trying to remember the smell of her neck.
The last time he looked in the old man’s window he saw a picture of himself.
It was sunset. He’d been with his upstairs neighbor by the trash cans, smoking. You know about the old guy next door, he asked.
You hear him too?
He lives alone. I think he’s on disability or something. He never leaves. We thought he was sick, like he had cancer. But I think he’s just crazy and sits at the computer jackin off all day. We call him Jack.
How’s shit with you, the neighbor asked.
Good. Working. You know how it is. Beats the shit out of me. But I got bills.
Ayuh. How’s things on the lady front.
You know. Fuckin Tinder. Even that’s drying up.
Your girls used to make me jealous.
Well shit man, I wouldn’t mind what you have. I’m almost forty for Christ’s sake.
Yep. Hard to find in this town though.
They parted ways. He walked out front to look for the cat. There was the light and the window and the hand; no dick in it this time. The picture. It was framed, next to Heather. She had taken it one drunk night. He was naked on his couch playing guitar. His face looked fucked up but his shoulders rippled.
He looked at Heather, then at himself, then back at her. Her tits in her white dress with her rosemary plant. Her warm belly in his lap, her naked back damp in the summer heat.
Well I have to say something, he thought. I can’t have a portrait of my god damn ball sac in the neighbor’s window. Go tell him to take it down. Maybe I’ll get that rosemary shot too. She knew me at least. Whatever else he has of hers. I have a right to it, he thought. More than him.
He walked down the driveway and up to the black metal gate of Jack’s building. The buzzers weren’t marked but he tried the handle; unlocked. The old man’s door was first on the left. The rosemary plant was there in its pot, dead. He knocked.
Coming, said the groaning voice.
The peephole darkened. The door creaked open a crack.
I’m glad you’re here, said Jack. I’ve been waiting.
He recognized the sinewy yellow hand that crept out. Reached out to shake it out of reflex. When he woke up there were colors and lights in his eyes. Bright but blurry. He was sitting down. His hands felt wrong, like they were all tendons and bones; there was an ergonomic mouse in one and a warm wet weight in the other. He forced his eyes to focus. Screens. On the left was Heather with her rosemary. On the right, the woman with the horse, furrowing her brow as she struggled to penetrate herself.