There was music floating up from the house next door, through his window and into his room. Invading his space. They were always invading his space. George couldn’t sleep. He stared at the ceiling, shadowed in darkness. The music was gentle, at least. Soft strings of a harp. Violin. Light fingering on piano keys.
It would’ve soothed him, but he couldn’t help but wonder what they were doing down there and why they were playing the music.
The people at the purple house always fascinated him; they fascinated him more and more as he aged. He set his hands on either side of his body, pushed himself up, wrinkled arms quivering. It was a long process: sliding his bare feet to the floor, moving a veined and shaky hand to push the curtain aside. All he saw were bulbs of light and figures drifting around until he set his glasses on his nose. He’d found Marian’s pair in her dresser; the prescription was too weak, but he’d rather see through a haze than not see at all.
The purple-house-people were having some sort of get-together. There were party lights strung across the deep green of the lawn, dangling above bobbing heads, winking and twinkling in the black night. Plastic chairs were set out in a circle, a short table held up an abundance of gifts with a balloon overhead announcing 20 in golden script.
He saw the girl moving around, a glass in her hand, smiling and talking in a breezy summer dress. She was barefoot. No braces glinted in the light, but her hair still hung long and straight around her shoulders. She was a lovely creature and judging from the way the curly-haired young man at her side followed her about, he thought so, too. George would not have recognized him if he hadn’t seen the young man coming to visit her more and more frequently. He had filled out, tall and square, his curls not so wild, his smile big enough to light up a house.
George watched them move about and talk to the guests; he saw the girl finally sit to open her presents. He heard her laughter, saw her face expressions, saw the cards and money and clothes she waved around. She stood as if she were done. But no, the curly-haired young man was shaking his head.
The girl hesitated.
The guests paused, some sat back down.
The young man was saying something now, giving a speech it seemed. The girl stood very still, watching. George knew it was going to happen; he felt no surprise when he watched the young man kneel on a knee, holding something in an outstretched hand. That was not what touched him, nor was it the sight of the girl covering her mouth, nodding her head up and down, and then hugging him. It was the sight of everyone hugging and crying and shouting and exclaiming. There was so much happiness, overwhelming happiness.
George could almost feel it.
He couldn’t move. He watched the scene, entranced. Something inside of him gave a little. Deep, deep down inside, he felt that slightest bit of longing rise up again. And he wondered if life was truly as bad he had made it out to be.
He wanted to go outside.
He realized that now, as he sat there, watching the purple-house people. In a trance. What was he doing anyway, suffocating inside his own home, killing himself with each passing day, draining the little bit of life he had left inside. He didn’t know why his vision suddenly blurred and why tears had suddenly decided to form at the corners of his eyes, drop softly to the ground.
He wanted to go outside.
He wanted to go outside.
The vision of the girl and boy playing outside sprang unheeded to his memory. Hey, mister, why don’t you ever come outside? It was like he could hardly take his eyes off the scene below him. He watched the girl and boy below him living; he watched their parents and their guests living.
“I want to live,” he said.
It was a scream that jerked him awake; made him jolt upright in his seat and hit his forehead on the window sill.
The pain was quick and sharp, subsiding into an uncomfortable gnawing below the skin. His eyesight blurred, then cleared; Marian’s glasses still sat on his nose. He had left the window wide open, he must have fallen asleep while sitting here. That would explain the ache in his back and shoulders.
The air was warm outside, but a whisper of a wind blew.
Straight ahead of him, the lights on the second floor of the purple house were on. The blinds were opened to the Master bedroom where the girl’s parents stood. George squinted. They weren’t politely speaking; their body posture was stiff, they were waving their hands around. The girl’s mother was packing a bag. George noticed she had cut her hair; it was bobbed straight around her chin. She wore slacks and a white dress shirt and dumped a pile of clothes into her suitcase.
George could hear the echo of their voices. Loud, angry, hostile. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t remember seeing the mother at the party. The girl’s father had his arms out. He looked as if he were pleading with her, his hands outstretched. At one point he went to her, touched her shoulder. She slapped his hand. Their voices kept rising until finally she turned and marched away, suitcase in hand.
The front door slammed shut a minute later and then she was getting in her fancy car and driving away. Inside the house, the man stood staring at the closed door. He didn’t move for a while. He was so still. And then his knees buckled and he was sinking to the floor, his head in his hands.
George saw his shaking shoulders. He had a terrible flashback to many years ago. Marian walking out of the house. The anger in her voice. She was dead, he told the mailman. She was dead, he told the landowner. She was dead, he told his reflection in the mirror.
He had shut himself in the house and never come out again. He stared at the man on his knees and felt no tears rise, no empathy resurrect inside him. All he felt was dullness, deadness, stillness inside. He reached for the curtain and shut it.