Monday, March 16, 2009

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

We really do live in an amazing neighborhood, this historic preservation jealously guarded by the National Historic Register, which means I have to get special permission to paint my back steps their original color (dark red, very attractive with our butter-colored house) and which also means that some of the houses are so gorgeously well-maintained with their Victorian paint colors and their immaculate gardens that our house is almost embarrassed to be near them, and some houses so unutterably dreadful that a self-respecting meth cooker wouldn't squat there.

Our house, which is just a plain old mid-Victorian gentleman's residence, sits on a corner. It was built, in its current elevation, in about 1880 or thereabouts, although our living room, which boasts walls nearly eighteen inches thick, was originally constructed as a log cabin in the 1830s, according to the former owner. And then there's the basement, which looks like it's been there since Dracula was a young lad, cruising the strip with his friend, Ra Ankh-Hamen, whose internal organs were removed from his body and put into decorative canopic jars shortly before his corpse was wrapped in fine linen. I don't go down there, because mummies and vampires? I do not care to mix with their ilk.

The house next door to us is actually an apartment building, constructed in the 1920s. Back then, it was built as an upper and a lower, with the most amazing tiled fireplaces and built in bookcases and china cupboards and little leaded-glass windows on either side of the chimney piece. The same man who used to own our house also owned this apartment building, and he cleverly divided the upper and lower flats into four separate apartments, the two front apartments being large two bedroom places with the original wood floors, refinished and glossed to within an inch of their lives, and two studio apartments 'round back where the servants' and tradesmen's entrances used to be, and those were intended to serve students at the local university.

Our house is separated from the apartment building by a very narrow driveway, juuuust wide enough for Anne to creep down, hugging her side mirrors all up around her ears, as it were. This passage was originally intended only for a buggy, so it's understandable that a plump girl like Anne might find it a bit of a squeeze. The buggy shed, which used to sit behind our house in a state of wanton disrepair, was torn down in order to make room for the parking of modern cars, since it, with room only to house the buggy and the horse that drew it, was not deep enough for a newer car. While it's always nice to have an artistic horse around the place, it would be wrong to have a tumbledown building out back just for him and his easel, oil pastels and gum erasers, which would mean we'd have to park our cars on the roof.

You might wonder if I have a point to all this, and if I do, when I'm ever going to get around to letting you know what it is, so I'll tell you that this piece is about our neighbor in the lower apartment next door and her deplorable tendency to peek out of her bathroom window and into our kitchen and dining room.

This young woman and her husband and baby moved into the lower apartment a few months ago. They're a nice young couple, quiet and pleasant. This past winter, when I was outside with the dogs, she came out to sweep the snow off her generous front porch and confided to me in a honey-and-peaches accent which ended every statement in a question that she was from Florida? And had never seen snow like this before? I apologized on behalf of the entire Hoosier state and told her that this amount of snow was uncommon even for us, and that I fervently hoped neither she nor I would ever see this much again.

She seemed nice enough.

Three weeks ago on a Saturday, the girls and I were getting ready to leave for Mass, which involves a lot of gathering up of music books, and urging Aisling to hurry and urging Meelyn to stop yelling at Aisling to hurry up, and reminding Aisling to put on her shoes, and reminding Meelyn that she is not Aisling's mother and if anyone is going to yell at Aisling for trying to leave the house wearing pink pig bedroom slippers, it will be me.

Meelyn and I were standing in the kitchen and Aisling was in the kitchen, with the swinging door open between the two rooms, and I was in mid-flow in my speech about how if Aisling would put her shoes where they belonged, she'd be able to find them when she needed them, when all of a sudden, Aisling said, "Look at that lady!"

Meelyn and I looked where Aisling was pointing, and sure enough, there was our neighbor, framed by her bathroom window, gazing into our house and at us with unabashed frankness. Well, until she perceived that we could see her just as clearly as she could see us; as soon as our heads swiveled in her direction, her mouth formed a round O of horror and she immediately dropped out of sight below the windowsill. I presume she made her way out of the bathroom by crawling on hands and knees, for we saw no more of her after that.

One week to the day later, I was at the kitchen table with my back to the window, eating a bowl of tomato soup for my lunch. I was already dressed for Mass, and since I knew that a slurp of soup would be attracted to the front of my nice top the way paper clips are attracted to magnets, I had taken the precaution of tucking a kitchen towel in the neck of my blouse. It's a good thing I had, too, because just before I stood up to get another bowl of soup, I spilled a spoonful right down the very front of me, making myself look something like a gunshot victim.

I turned around to go to the stove when my attention was arrested by the fact that someone was watching as I dabbed ineffectually at my bosom. You know how you get that weird, prickly feeling? Well, I had it, so my head snapped up and I met the eyes of my neighbor across the way, looking in at my discomfiture, soup running down my front and a bowl in my hand.

Again, she got that look on her face that clearly said "Busted!!!!" I was rendered extremely peevish by this -- who does this girl think she is? Harriet-the-friggin'-Spy? -- especially at being caught at wearing a messy bib and being greedy over my soup. I reached over and smartly switched the window blind closed.

Closing the blind is not a permanent solution, though, because my kitchen is as dark as the Black Hole of Calcutta, only not as dangerous. It was built, of course, in a time when the thing that was done in a kitchen was cooking, whereas the homes of today often combine an entertainment feature as part of their kitcheny goodness. All I can say is that if anyone wants to come out and sit at the table and watch me roast red peppers or peel potatoes, they're welcome to do so, and there's a jar on top of the microwave requesting donations for my Paint the Kitchen a Tuscan Sort of Yellow Project. That should brighten things up.

So the blind is open. Right now, for instance, it is open. And, I couldn't help but notice just a few hours ago, so is the neighbors' bathroom window. As I was sitting here typing while Meelyn and Aisling were at the YMCA, I caught her at it again -- standing there as bold as brass, watching me type.

Finally, I decided that I'd just let her look. Heaven knows, it's always nice to find someone who finds you fascinating. So I jazzed up the typing, flinging my hands into the air in a theatrical manner, as if I were playing some difficult but transcendant piece on a Steinway concert grand instead of on a Dell computer keyboard. I mussed my hair into an artistic disarray and bent forward, with my nose so close, I could have typed QWERTY with it, then throwing my head back and typing like a virtuoso, helped along by Johann Christian Cannabich's Symphony No. 57 in E Flat Major, which was pouring like wine and sunshine through the speakers in the living room.

Oh, I put on a show, I did. If she's going to be such a Stary Mary, she might as well get some entertainment value for it.

I'm thinking about having my husband build a marquee above my kitchen window, with lights, and announcing daily performances:



Or, more to the point:


Although come to think of it, she's already seen that. I don't want to go into re-runs quite so soon.

1 comment:

Kayte said...

Well, some people keep magazines in their bathrooms, and some people play music in theirs, some may even have a tv...but your neighbor has YOU! How much fun is this??? You could have all sorts of fun with this.

BTW, should I quit commenting? None are posted anymore. I can stop anytime...really.