The four scariest words in the english language are "Tell Me a Story." It's tantamount to kryptonite - the mere mention of those words makes even the most fabulistic of us cringe like you just took the plug out of a bathtub filled with words and we're left there, watching them pool around our feet and spiral down the drain.
If that were it, if they were just a curse it'd be fine. The problem is, to some of us (me included) they're also the four sexiest words in the English language.
Years ago, there was this girl who lived across the alley from my apartment. Gorgeous, I think, but I never got a good look at her - dark hair and wide eyes is pretty much all I knew then and practically all I can remember now. During the summer months I'd be sitting here when I'd hear the rattling clank of her opening the security bars on her window. She'd clamber out with a book, a pack of smokes and a glass of wine and just sit there, caught in the building's shadow and hiding from who knows what, drinking and smoking and reading. Sometimes she'd bring a friend, but usually it was just her and the wrought iron, the pages of her book illuminated by her cigarette.
I used to sit at my desk, crafting stories around this woman in my head, trying to figure out who she was when she wasn't reading. I didn't have the guts to mirror her, to go sit on my side of the alley with a book and a beer and a cigarette of my own, waiting for the opportunity to catch her eye. I just...watched. It was so tamely voyeuristic it seems childish now, but then...it was powerful. I got to create her world in my head, and there was nothing she could possibly do to contradict it. Far as I was concerned, she lived in my imagination, escaping every once in awhile for an on-the-clock cigarette break.
I didn't see her last summer at all and her curtains have been closed since. Part of me thinks she quit smoking or decided that lighting up in the kitchen was an acceptable compromise, but I doubt it. People move in New York, it's just the way it works, but an even greater part of me hopes she got a better job living in somebody else's head, somewhere she could smoke at her desk, somewhere with real-world benefits instead of working, as it were, on spec.
I think about her when I think about leaving this apartment, when I think about the predatory nature of the New York City real estate business, when I think about the astronomical amount my rent will be going up in just a few short months. I think about her, and about all the things that've happened in this apartment that, in some weird way, she's been privy to, peering through the brick without really looking at all. She's gone, it's winter and my blinds are resolutely shut, but I keep looking up and out towards the window, hoping that she'll be sitting on my fire escape this time, wreathed in smoke and ashing into a coffee can balanced in the corner of the railings.