look

Look
by Cora Frazier

He sees me standing on the street in front of a restaurant wearing my coat with the cape. It’s night, and the light of the awning is peach. “O.K.,” he thinks. “What’s the relevance of this?” He only sees me for a few seconds, not the full time I am waiting there. He sees a man pull up in a cab, but he does not see the man in profile, as I do, because the man does not look good in profile. The man getting out of the cab is not familiar to him. The man looks like him. “When is this?” he thinks. “Is this recent?” He sees both the man’s face and mine rise as the man comes toward me. “A friend,” he tells himself. “An acquaintance. A networking thing.”

He sees the man and me sitting down in the restaurant, narrow and perpendicular, lit as if over water. He sees the way we are positioned at the table, diagonal to each other, with me at the end. He can imagine our bodies touching somewhere under the table, but he tries not to imagine that. He does not see the man stand up and speak to a woman at another table. He does not see me sitting there alone, flipping the menu back and forth without comprehension of anything but the prices. He does not see me light up my phone, without a message from him.

He sees the man and me walk into an unfamiliar apartment building. Or no, maybe he doesn’t. No, actually, he doesn’t. He doesn’t see the woman outside wearing cupid pajamas and sandals on the coldest day of the year, her bare feet calcified over like they’ve become winter weather boots. He doesn’t see the trash in the echoing lobby, the broken high chair, food wrappers, and piece of paper taped to the wall advertising an event on Saturday where you can speak to an attorney in a park about any summonses you may have received. He doesn’t see the man and me riding a red elevator with a faint Motown song coming from a radio that the man says he suspects someone left behind on top of the elevator while fixing it. But maybe he sees the man and me for a brief moment in the red elevator when we’re joking about this forgotten radio.

He sees the man and me kiss on the couch. But the way he sees it, the room isn’t so bright, it isn’t as bright as it is now. He sees the man pulling my shirt over my head. He can’t watch, he doesn’t want to watch. But he does, he can’t look away. I am straddling the man. He doesn’t see me when I remove my bra, because in his mind I have larger breasts than I do.

“It’s nothing,” he tells himself. He sees the man keep pausing to speak to me, as if from nervousness. He thinks, “How could she?” He thinks, “Does this man want to see her again?” He thinks of calling my cell phone now. “Would she pick up?” he wonders. “When was this, anyway?” He sees me smiling and going along with the man’s non sequiturs. He thinks that I am a slut, I have always been a slut. He thinks, “No, she couldn’t. I see her, even now, thinking about me and winking to me,” and for a moment I stare at the blank white wall behind the couch of the man’s apartment, as if at him.

He sees me walking up the same steps that he has climbed many times before. He wonders what time it is, because he didn’t see any of the scene before this moment, he didn’t see how light or dark it was outside. He was just plopped down here in the stairwell. He wishes he could stop seeing these things and go back to his own life. He feels exhausted, and he isn’t so sure he cares anymore.

He sees me turn the key in the lock. He sees me rattle it. Then for some reason he imagines I am thinking, “Have the locks been changed?” Not because he remembers changing the locks, but because he doesn’t.

He sees me open the door and walk across the silent floor. “Is it snowing?” he wonders. But I’ve moved away from the windows before he can glimpse what’s outside. I’m walking down the hall toward the bedroom, and he half expects to see himself, and wouldn’t that be strange. “Will I see myself hug her?” he thinks. “Will I throw her highlighter pens across the room? Will I slam the refrigerator door shut?” But he doesn’t see himself anywhere, the apartment is empty except for me, and I lie down on the bed on my side and put a pillow between my legs.

If he stopped looking, he wonders—if he refused to look, if he left the room that he is currently sitting in—would he see me in person, in real time? Standing at the sink, washing a mug? Lying on the rug with a pillow between my legs? Would he see me sliding my key out of the lock and stepping into the apartment?

Or would he see something else entirely that he can’t even imagine?

Because, for a while, I haven’t done anything besides lie there, and it has become boring to watch.

He begins to suspect this is inflicted on him. Not by God, or a higher power, but by me personally. He watches as I sit at my computer, argue with KeyFood about discounts, walk in one direction while staring at my phone, unable to understand my place in space beyond whether the round dot representing me is getting closer or further from my destination. He has things to do. Someone is outside the room, pacing, asking if they can come in. For nine hours a day, at least, this person goes to work. At night this person sleeps beside him. She has thin arms that are often bent at the elbow, and when she smiles, her bottom lip goes deep into her head as if she’s aware of something primordially amusing. She says things like, “I get it.” She says things like, “lol” pronounced “lawl.” She says, “Seriously, still?” She doesn’t seem to be keeping track of how much he looks at her. To her, looking is an incidental part of being. You look where you walk, you look at the person you’re speaking to, you look at your phone. She stacks different-sized Tupperware on top of each other in the morning and puts them in a tote bag.

At first he isn’t sure if the knock is coming from my gym or his own environment. He sees me staring at myself in the mirror, sweating, lying on my stomach as if I am mid-push-up. The knocking continues. The person outside is saying something over the loud dance track. He turns down the volume and hears the person yelling his name.

Then he hears her say, “Fine.” He hears his front door open and close.

By the time I am brushing my teeth, the person still isn’t back to brush her own teeth and slide into bed beside him, usually wearing, he remembers now, a long, soft shirt with Eeyore on the front that says, “I am OVER it!”

He sees his friend Ron, out of the apartment, for Thai food, the same place they always eat. Every time they suggest multiple options to each other, and every time they choose this one. His friend Ron tells him that he saw me on the subway.

“Oh really?” he says. “What did she look like? What did she say? Was she pouring vinegar into a humidifier to clean it?”

“Is that, like, something you guys did together?” Ron laughs. “She seemed good,” Ron says. He shrugs. “The same.” He laughs again. Ron says, “I told her how happy you were.”

“Oh,” he says. He is about to ask what Ron means, but then he remembers his desk, which he can raise to a standing desk by pressing a button. He remembers his new apartment and his new girlfriend, who said she is staying at her cousin’s and will reach out when she’s ready.

He looks down at his noodles. He has only take a few bites. He looks back up at Ron.

“I am, aren’t I?” he says.

 

Cora Frazier is a writer based in Brooklyn. Her humor and reporting have appeared in The New Yorker since 2012. She has also written for McSweeney’s, n+1, and Saturday Night Live.

Image source: Another Believer via Creative Commons

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