Their shrieking sounded like a fire alarm to his ears.
Startling, blaring, never-ending.
He rolled heavily onto his side, grimacing, certain his ears were bleeding. "Stupid kids." He sat up on the bed, pushing the comforter off. It was hot to his skin, the carpet sweaty to his feet.
He shuffled to the window, rubbing the blear from his eyes, the kinks out of his neck. The whole room was as hot as a sauna. He fumbled with the curtain shielding his room from the heat outside, careful not to let the July sun beam into his room.
It took his eyes a moment to adjust to outside. He saw the purple house across from him; it was the only other house people lived in on this cul-de-sac beside his own.
George didn’t know much about the family that lived there other than what he saw of them from his window. The middle-aged mother was always inviting people over, the middle-aged father was always gone on business trips, and their little long-haired daughter liked to bring a friend of hers over for school: a skinny boy with bouncy curls.
There they were now, jumping around in the backyard, leaping through the spinning sprinkler, screaming whenever a jet of water soaked them. They couldn't have been more than ten or eleven. The little culprits.
He didn’t think his headache could have gotten any worse but their shrieking did nothing to improve the dull aching in his temples. And he’d already taken too many pills today - his mouth was as dry as cotton. George frowned and reached for the latch on the window. His fingers hesitated, self-doubt dominating. He hadn’t spoken to anyone but the doctor and the doctor’s dull-toned secretary in the past month. But that little girl was laughing about something, laughing so hard. She was bent over double, honey-colored hair plastered to the back of her T-shirt, while the boy shook the water out of his curls like a wet dog.
George couldn’t bear it.
He wet his cracked lips, fumbled with the latch on the window until it loosened, then pushed it up as high as it would go. The heat that slammed against his face and over his unkempt clothes was overwhelmingly sticky, so hot it hurt. Completely typical of the East Coast.
“Hey!” His voice cracked, his fingers trembled. “You kids better shut up!” Before his brain could command his fingers to bring the window back down he heard a girlish voice protest, “but Mister, we’re not even that loud.”
He slammed the window down, trembling. His heart was pounding faster than a freight train. He snapped the curtain closed and put a hand to his chest. Marian had always been better at talking to other people than him.
He moved the corner of the curtain away, slightly, and looked at the backyard again.
The girl was standing in the middle of the yard, staring up at him. She looked puzzled. George couldn’t believe she had spoken to him. He couldn’t believe she saw no fault in her screaming. Beside her stood the boy, hands perched on his skinny hips, curly head cocked. George dropped the curtain and stared at the fading lilacs dotting the thin material.
He became conscious of his throbbing temples again, he remembered his body was still stiff and aching. He shuffled back to bed. The curtain was still partially open.
He hated his life.
He liked keeping his window open when it rained. Not just to hear the rapping of the rain and smell its musty scent and feel its damp chill, but there was something about the melancholy clouds and weeping sky that brought solace to him. Made him think he wasn’t the only one mourning.
It was because of the open window that he saw the kids. Riding up to the purple house on their bikes, laughing about something. He set his medication down on his desk and took a step back, in case they happened to glance up and see an old man staring at them. It was never his intention to be the creepy neighbor; somehow, that had just happened.
They had their bikes stopped by the front gate and seemed to be caught up in a lively conversation. The boy threw his head back and opened his mouth. George watched him drink the rain; he saw the girl laugh at him. She said something, he poked her with his elbow. They let their bikes fall, laughing, sinking into the wet grass. They were at that golden age of youth when their bodies were beginning to fill out and their faces were losing that soft, baby look. Not a child, but not an adult.
It gave George a pang watching them, gave him memories of his life before. He didn’t like to think of his childhood, he didn’t like to think of his life at all, really. He was never the adventurous child who raced his friends in the rain, or hung upside down from trees in the backyard as he’d seen the boy do. That was more typical of Marian. George saw adventure in nothing. If he were this boy and girl’s age now, they would have found no kindred spirit in him.
George started. The boy was staring up at him from his sprawled-out position on the grass. He shoved his soggy curls off his forehead. “Why don’t you ever come out of your house?” he asked, voice overflowing with curiosity, but George was already pulling down the window and snapping the curtain into place.
He closed his eyes, willed his heart to slow down. If he held his breath and listened closely, he heard their laughter resume. The only time he ever heard laughter was from the purple house. They were always laughing. They were always living. He should tell them, warn them about their future and the bleakness that would compass them one day.
Childhood friends never stuck around. Friends never stuck around. Not when you grew old and diseased and depressed, the only survivor of everyone dying. Not when you relied on medication to get you through the day.
George stared at the bottles littering his desk and thought about telling them.
But he never did.