Drunk, I step onto my front porch to smoke a cigarette. I see a star, faint and flickering, the only star in the night sky. Absentmindedly, I scratch my crotch and mutter to myself. Then, I see her. A lonely woman, in her garage, the light of a sickly fluorescent bulb framing her. She's alone. I'm alone. What separates us is a street, a street like a foreboding river that we could never cross without imperiling our own lives, it seems. Suddenly, I'm self-conscious. We're alone, but we can't share this loneliness. I gaze at the sky again. I see four stars, now, vainly appealing to me with their light, knowing its nearly lost in the glow of the streetlights.
There's something I have to explain. I have the bedroom window that doesn't close all the way. I feel the heat and humidity of August, the cold, dry unforgiving air of January. I've listened as she argued with her husband, listened as her husband drove off, upset. I've heard him argue with his daughter on his cell phone when I was trying to sleep at 2 pm. For a reason I don't know, fate has forced her and her husband to live with her parents. I saw their car one morning and knew something unusual had happened in this quasi-retirement community I live in. Is it the economy? On Father's Day, she yelled at her husband, and I understood. He wouldn't even talk to her father, or so I heard. Was it out of shame? I don't know. We all try so hard to please people. That's all I know. I understand her pain.
We're really not different, her and I. We're both alone. She's always out there, late at night, when I step out onto the front porch. But I can't tell her any of that, and she can't tell me she feels the same way, even though I feel it as her eyes and my eyes fix on the same darkness, the same abyss. It would be wrong of us, somehow, to break the silence. But we know. She knows that I can see her and she sees the glow of my cigarette, the smoke rising in the pale light of the moon, but she says nothing. And when I see the glow of her cigarette, I too say nothing. We're slowly killing ourselves, knowing better. And quietly this night, without any recognition of what happened, or so it feels, she walks back into her house. I'll see her again, and we'll say nothing. We never do. It's our way.
Fuck it, I'm going to go to sleep.
But before I go to sleep, I'll smoke one more cigarette. From my front porch, I see that her garage door is closed now, save but a crack. The light is still on. Imagine that.
And wouldn't you know it. My lighter is dead.