There was an apartment building I’d pass each day on the trolley to work in Argenstrath. Now it’s not unusual for folks to rent in town, even nicer areas - nicer rental properties. No, what was odd was that there was always a woman who’d stare back at me as I stared at the buildings I passed.
I waved to her one day and her gaze went from a general glance at the outside to specifically staring at me. At least, that’s how I felt her gaze was. I may have been crazy, imagining it.
I started dating a young lady not long after the unsettling gaze incident. I thought no more of the apartment building, nor any buildings I’d pass anymore. I was too overcome with a sense of joyous infatuation, like one does when they start a new romance.
Of course, coincidence would have it that the young lady, Florence, lived in that very apartment in town. I picked her up outside the building for a date one evening.
“Sorry I took so long to powder my nose. Shall we?”
“Sure thing, darling. You know, it’s funny. I pass by your building on my ride to work each day.”
“Oh?” She gave a big smile, “So you’re staring wistfully at it, wondering what I’m up to.”
She giggled, but I was zoning out, lost in the recesses of my mind.
She dropped her head and looked at me with confusion… no, concern in her eyes. “You do, right? Have I done something wrong?”
“It’s… it’s not you, Flo. Sorry. There was a woman staring at me from that window there. It gave me an odd feeling a few weeks ago. Almost forgot about it, honestly.”
“Percy, that window is a fake as far as I can tell. It’s on my floor and I think they only put it there to make the facade look more symmetrical or something.”
“Oh, must have been another window then. Never mind”
She raised an eyebrow, teasing my sanity for a moment before beaming from ear-to-ear again and grabbing onto my arm.
And I thought nothing more of it. Our date out to the museum went wonderfully that night, and we had many more dates.
But here’s where things changed: three days later, while I rode to work. I saw her again. It wasn’t in some other window. It wasn’t my imagination. She was there. A middle-aged woman in black with a piercing look.
She was staring straight at me the whole time. From the moment the trolley crested the hill and the window came into view. I had been glancing that way and saw her immediately. And she saw me.
Naturally, I told Florence. It was going to bother me and she was going to notice. I didn’t want to be distracted or upset to visit her place. So I was determined to come inside, neighbors be damned what they thought.
“Percy, I can take you up there, but I swear you’ll not find anything. Look, the window is dark while you can see inside the others, or at least blinds. I can practically see the dust on the fake curtains they put there. It’s a facade, nothing more.”
“It would put my mind at ease just to know for sure,” I said.
“Fine. You’re in luck that my apartment is the one on the same floor just over there, and the neighbors who live by the other ones are so kind to me,” she said, turning back to the door.
She went back inside, letting me in behind her. We entered the cramped elevator at the end of the hall. The doors closed, and the floor lifted below us.
“I can’t blame you, the insides are a maze. They made the outside look much nicer than it truly is, but that’s not terribly uncommon in this end of Argenstrath,” she said.
When we stopped moving, the bell dinged and the doors opened again. I let her go first, as if I had a choice of leaving the thing first.
There were a few turns in the corridor, it wasn’t a straight-shot like I’d seen in most apartments I’d visited. She unlocked her door and pointed to a window across the room. “The outer wall is along this side. This one’s my apartment.”
I poked my head in, smiled at the mess of things. She had had wardrobe pieces strewn about and powders and makeup all over any horizontal surface. This was why she’d always met me looking so lovely and well dressed… and a bit late.
“Hey!” she said, “This was not a tour, Percy!”
“Sorry, yes. I see, that’s the left-most window you have. Okay,” I said.
She closed her door and locked it up tight, giving me a look like I'd been naughty.
“One second, let’s see if Ms. Geraldine is even home.”
Florence knocked on the next door.
“One moment!” cried a voice from the other side, presumably Ms. Geraldine.
“Hi, I was… this may be a silly request, but is your place presentable?” Flo asked.
Geraldine looked confused. “Well, I—”
“Only, Percy here, by the way — Percy this is miss Geraldine, Geraldine, Percy — anyway, he’s hung up about that fake window in front. Thinks he saw someone look at him funny,” she said.
I felt patronized, but I let it go, probably the best way to get inside was to make it seem sillier. And If I were wrong, it’d be of no use to make the poor woman upset.
“Sure thing, just watch your step, I’ve lost a few pins sewing up a new dress the other day. Made m’self bleed through a sock yesterday, haha.”
A nice change of mood to be sure. She let us over to her bathroom near where her apartment and Florence’s would meet. There was a window there.
I turned to Flo. “Yes, okay. So the farthest window of yours, I’ve seen. The farthest of hers I’ve seen. But if there’s another window there… then your walls mustn’t meet!”
Geraldine interjected with a raised finger. “Well, there’s definitely a chimney or something through them walls, Gets nice and toasty in there, rather annoying.”
“Thank you Geraldine, Percy and I will let you get back to your privacy, now,” said Florence.
We left her apartment, went back down the minuscule lift, and out onto the street. The fake window taunted me. I recognized both windows now, to its left and right, and had to admit, there was no door, no room, between them.
“I’m sorry dear, you’ve set my fears aside completely. I’ll see the doctor in the morning, get something to clear my mind.”
“You’re probably not drinking enough water. You’re not wasting your rations or plants or anything are you?”
“No no, all of my water is for my own consumption, but we’ll see what the doctor has to say.”
And that was it for a whole month. Sixty days of romantic bliss, a new dietary regimen and strict sleep schedule demanded by my physician. Not a single vision of women in windows that aren’t windows.
I’d been promoted at work, no longer commuted across that particular street. So I no longer spied the building from the trolley. No reason to be bothered.
And yet, I still ventured over there to pick up my love, my darling Florence for our outings to the parks and restaurants, to the museums and the pier.
One night, she let me wait outside for a half hour on the stoop. I stared out at the city as the golden sunlight dripped down below the horizon, hanging on with pink and red hues. I looked up and watched the window washers do their repetitive job, dangling on their small platform from the room. I wrote down some thoughts I'd had that day in a journal I kept in my back pocket. And then I just sat, imagining what would be taking her so long.
So, when her neighbor walked out, I stopped her. “Percy.”
“Miss Geraldine, have you heard my Florence getting ready next door?”
“Deary, no. I don’t think I've seen her all day. You want me to let you in and check on her?”
“If it wouldn’t put you out much,” I said.
“But, o’ course,” she said.
Ms Geraldine took the stairs. Judging by her portly build, I didn’t blame her. We wouldn’t both fit in that contraption to be sure. The steps up were steep and tiresome. I was winded by the time we crested the third floor. She was fine.
“Not a lot of stairs where I lay my cap.”
“Aye, and I suspect Flo never skips the opportunity to take the lift there,” she joked.
We approached her door. I didn’t hear any noises. I knocked. Nothing.
I knocked again. Still nothing.
“Florence!? Are you alright in there?” I called.
Silence screamed back at me.
“Deary, I don’t know what to tell you,” Geraldine said.
I was suddenly overcome with a sense of dread and fear “No, something is very wrong.”
Stepped back from the door and ran shoulder-first at it. The door rattled and echoed across the hall, but did not budge. It hurt.
“Well that didn’t—”
I ignored the conversation attempt and slammed my firsts into the door over and over.
“Now, stop it dear, she’s— nothing’s coming of any of this,” she said.
My fists slid down the door and I resolved to listen to Geraldine, especially as my hands felt the pain I was trying to inflict upon the door.
“Come over my place and have a small cuppa to calm your nerves, figure out what calm actions to take next, aye?” she said.
“Sure. Thanks. Yes.”
So she led me into her apartment, sat me down in the main room and went to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
“I’ll just be a moment, I’m going to use the restroom,” I said.
I walked into her small, warm restroom once more, and noticed the window-washers’ platform just outside. I didn’t think thrice - opened the window, climbed up on the toilet and to outside.
The workman jumped backward. “Sir! You can’t be here!”
I said nothing, The platform swayed as I stormed over to the other side.
I peeked at the facade window as I passed, a rare opportunity to see it up-close. There was indeed nothing behind the curtains placed there.
Florence’s window was, thankfully, open. She rarely would have left it closed except for the odd sandstorm blowing eastward from the desert. Inside, I stood bewildered. The wall nearby had been torn, a heat radiating from the wound in the wallpaper.
I peered inside, only to see pitch black. I reached inside, and there was indeed a space there. While groping about, the wall itself moved with my arm.
I pulled my arm out and threw the false wall aside. It was nothing more than a theater flat from floor to ceiling for a small section of her apartment’s wall.
And then I noticed it: a window shade. I pulled on the shade and it retracted up.
The workman on the other side was astounded and wide-eyed. He’s probably cleaned these windows a thousand times and never suspected this. The light from the windows now made clear what else was in that small room.
I pushed the button on the wall panel and heard the whirring of gears from below. A bell chimed and the doors to the secret elevator opened.