The window is dirty, carelessly riddled with dust and afternoon sweat. Two men start to fight in the parlor, raising their hands with bruises and not letting out a single sound. One woman is in the bathroom crying. She looks at the mirror with one eye open, sees the half-empty bottles of Water Men's Perfume scattered on the tile, and lets out a groan. Not deep enough to draw a mark on her heart but real enough to make her believe they were already reaching out to the call of death.
This is how they find themselves. In the mornings of every day that is not October, Sarah sits by the balcony and calls out to one man. His name is French and can't be recalled so each of those mornings that the air is too uptight and the food starts to burn on the stove, Sarah sits there on a chair that can't hold her weight and calls out to him.
There are two men that live with her in the apartment that smells of yesterdays and cigarette and unpaid debts. The house has always been that way, first, as they called themselves siblings and later, as they called themselves Checkmates. There hadn't been a time in their lives where the idea to be any different, believe in anything other than the strong minty smell of survival, made sense. Maybe in the year 1945, it had made sense and people had done it but then again, it could have stopped in 1983 because that was the day or rather, the year in which a baby had cried out and a woman had laughed until she had fallen asleep.
These men weren't the typical kind of brothers one could hope for. They were reckless in the number of girls that came into the apartment each night, giggling and hitting their tiny heads against her bedroom wall. Then, as usual, in the mornings, they would pick up their clothes and hurry home, always forgetting to close the door. Always.
Maybe that detail wasn't as important as the anger that bubbled up inside her head as one or two of those sunburnt, skinny girls tried to engage her in friendly conversations. They talked about the weather and the future of Spain. They talked about Rome and the rain in Nigeria. Then they would leave, forgetting to close the door.
Sarah tells him this. She tells him in the mornings that it is not October as he makes coffee and rinses the spoons. She tells him about Charlotte and the way she nodded her head as she told her that blacks were friendlier.
She tells him, "Isn't that racist? I mean, what the hell!"
He drinks his coffee, shakes his head, and tells her he is going to work. In the evenings when the moon is just at its peak, he tells her, "We believe that which makes more sense. Do you think it is racist?"
"It could be. Everyone has it inside of them, right? The idea to be friendly and..."
"Is that an idea, Friendship?" He asks her.
"I don't know." She tells him because she doesn't know.
"Go to sleep, Sarah. I have a long day tomorrow."
Then he leaves her. She sits by the balcony on an old chair and waits for him. He doesn't get up and come to the window or the balcony. She doesn't expect him to but just so she can have a few minutes or hours to herself, she waits.
There had been a girl once. A girl with soft curly hair that stole glances at her and asked her silent questions. The girl would come to the window as he slept and tell her nothing. No one ever talked about it.
And then she left. Disappeared maybe.
Sarah calls him Doctor. The smile he gives as he leaves the house in the morning is the smile only doctors give out. The smile is slow, sad, tainted with pity that it begs to be moved or ignored. But you keep staring because you want to either way. Sarah knows the kind of job he does, knows where he works. She knows that he works on the second floor of a building where the receptionist stares wildly into the sunlight as though she would rather prefer to be elsewhere, drinking expensive wine and touching herself under the sheets.
Sarah knows that his patients are peculiar sort of fellows; knows that they are not really sick but come and lie on their backs, holding origami and talking about their lives as if it were one lifeless pool of frivolity.
"Am I like one of your patients?" Sarah asks him one day as he prepares dinner. She could hear the deeply rooted snores of her brothers and the strange girl they brought along with them and she knew they would wake up in an hour and tell her to take off her dress with her smiling like the world was for them all but she asked him anyway.
"Yeah. You're a doctor, right? You treat people who are kind of crazy and they become well, whole."
"How do you think I treat people like you?"
"You talk to them...like we are doing now and you ask them things."
"Sarah, do you think you're sick?"
There was no answer.
"There is something about you that is different. I don't have patients who are like you, Sarah. And I cannot share those things with you. I can tell you this though. I do not treat them. I help them treat themselves."
"But you hold them and you ask them questions. They love you, all those women who have husbands that come home late."
"Go to bed. You're not like them."
Sarah did not know what the Doctor had meant by that statement but she knows now. She knows the meaning behind his words, behind his seemingly untouchable glasses.
Then she knows nothing. It so happens that perhaps The Doctor was wrong then when he told her she was not like his patients. Or maybe he had been right. Maybe what he had meant was that she was sick and his patients weren't. At least not like her.
"Doctor, what is wrong with me?" She asks him as he drinks milk in June.
"What do you mean?"
"I am not afraid of anything, not anymore. I tried to cut myself and my crazy mind was pulling me on, telling me to do it and heck, I wasn't scared. I don't want to be like this. I want to feel fear for once. I want to be afraid that if I die, I'd die alone."
"Don't you think feeling free is a good thing? I am afraid all of the time. I am afraid of my own wedding photograph! I am afraid of sunshine and rain and umbrellas and snakes. But you? You're free from all that so why do you want to give it all up?"
No answer in June or August. Not in October either. But in December, she says to him under the full moon, "I want to look you in the eye and fear what will happen next. We hate it, yes, but Doctor? There really is nothing as brutal and frustrating as having no fear of tomorrow. Try it and you'll see."
The window is dirty, carelessly riddled by dust and afternoon sweat. Two men are fighting, discreetly throwing punches and raising closed fists of bruises and guilt. One woman is in the bathroom, crying. She looks at the mirror with wide eyes and chuckles. Then she cries again.
She doesn't know it now but she is tired in the way helpless people are; in the distinct way half-dead butterflies do. She gets up from the tile and runs out of the bathroom. One of the brothers looks at her, back to the window where the doctor stands, back against them, talking with a lady.
"Sarah." He starts to speak.
She shakes her head. He leaves the apartment. In a fraction of a millisecond, the other brother leaves and forgets, like all the others, to close the door. She goes to the balcony and she calls out his name. She calls him Doctor. He turns to her and waves. The lady waves too. Sarah smiles then doesn't. Then she giggles.
"How are you doing?." Doctor asks.
The lady looks at him.
Sarah stops smiling. She calls back, "I've seen better days. What about you?"
"Am great. I am going out...we are going out. By the way, this is Ashley. You'll be seeing her around."
"I know. Nice to meet you, Ashley!"
She waves at Sarah again. Then they leave together just the way all the others before her do. Coming and then going.
Sarah goes into her room and removes the withering flowers from the vase. She dumps them in the trash can and coughs wildly. In a minute, she is back at the dirty window searching for the people who are not us.