Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fiction by Jamie Lin

A Bystander
By Jamie Lin

I lived in a one bedroom apartment with a door labeled 2B. A couple lived in the apartment building across from me. The window of their living room was almost attached to the window of my kitchen. From my dining table, I had a view into their bathroom, living room and bedroom in that order. And through the living room, I could see the kitchen. On Saturday nights, I liked to sit under my window with a box of mint chocolate and listen to them. It fulfilled me more than if I went out and got drunk in a bar and had sex on a leather stool. Her name was Libby and his name was Jon.

When he left one morning in September, he opened a void in her corner of the world. That was her exact words, “You are leaving a void in my corner of the world.” His answer was a door slam. Everything became black and white in her place. White was the ceiling and the television, black was everything else. Her bed sheets remained lifeless on her bed even after being hit by the sun’s crystal rays. Her coffee mugs were stacking up in the sink, picking up dust and spiders who spun without consideration of the sadness they were creating. Mushrooms blossomed on the wall tiles of her bathroom. Every few hours, I would hear the crash of vodka bottles stacked in the form of a pyramid like they were cards. Her cat would walk through the glass and meowed as if in painful heat. She left bloody paw prints on the brown carpet. Instead of sleeping on her bed, she liked to sleep on the couch with the television throughout the day. She threw crackers whenever the soap operas came on.

She rejoiced at American Idol rewinds. When she sang as the top of her lungs along with the contestants, I thought someone had skinned a bird alive. Things were truly terrible when he left. She ate nothing but Campbell’s soup and stale crackers. Once she ate so much cream and broccoli that she threw up out the window, narrowing missing my windowsill with my plants. Luckily, no one was walking by when she did it. But I did notice a stench rising from the cement long after it had evaporated and the birds had eaten the crusty parts.

Once he returned, her corner of the world exploded into a ray of fierce colors again. They bickered every night over anything from the remote control to choice of jobs. They snapped each other with their beaks. They screamed every dawn from pleasure every day like roosters in ecstasy. There were harmonious moments of course. It was what kept them together for three years. He knew just what she liked to hear and she knew just what to do to get him to tell her what she liked to hear. And yes, on a deeper level, they were compatible too. She liked underground poetry and he’d read it to her although he preferred dead white men from the 1900s more. He liked to watch black and white romance movies especially Casablanca and she’d wipe his tears throughout even though she preferred porn. Their next big fight came when she announced that she was pregnant. He screamed that he wanted to marry her. She screamed that she still had soul searching to do and could not get hitched right then. He called her excuse a load of stinky crap and she cursed him out the door, down the stairs and down four streets holding a plunger. I had to hurriedly slip into my robe and slippers and make it to the window in my bedroom to see that but I did. I saw his back disappearing into the light fog, swallowed up by the small town’s three story buildings.

A week later, he showed up with puppy eyes and apologies coming out of his ears and tight ass, I was beside myself with joy. I didn’t like it when he wasn’t there. She wasn’t as interesting without him. Together, they were a duo. I figured she with her black and white hormones, he with his colorful love and later, baby with the mixed genes would be a most delightful combination that’d fill me with memories till my death.

What I didn’t expect was for them to decide to move to a house across town. “No, no, no, no,” I gasped to myself clutching my midnight snack. What would I do without them? What would I do? I thought about suicide but then, I told myself not to give up. I was better than that. The potential for a bright future was there. I just needed to stand up and take a chance. So the next morning, I rang their doorbell and pretended to be Carolyn Fisher, their real estate agent. The real Carolyn Fisher suddenly had to go out of town.

“Did you do something with your hair?” Libby said to me, pouring me a cup of coffee.

“Yes, yes I did. Do you like it?”

My hands shook from being in their home. I felt like I was meeting celebrities. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes except Libby was forty pounds more, five inches shorter and John was close to middle age if not already there with a beer gut with a nose that looked like it could fall off and sit on the dining table like a little statue of a seagull’s beak. No, they weren’t exactly the most attractive couple but my mother always told me that it was important not to be shallow.

“So what are our options,” Jon said, rubbing Libby’s back. “What we really want is a cottage sort house, you know.”

“A cottage?” Libby winced. “I thought we agreed on a townhouse sorta thing.”

“No baby, that’s retarded.”

“You’re retarded.”

I sat back a little in my chair and watched them argue right there in front of me feeling something rise in the depth of myself. It was like being in Honolulu among the palm trees and breezes and sunshine.

“Anyway, are you going to take us to see some houses or you have a folder with you or…” Jon looked at my empty hands.

“Oh. Sit down, please.” I waited till they were both seated. “I am here to tell you that there’s a great risk if you buy a house now.”

“What?” Libby cupped her ear.

“You’ll lose a lot of money. Thousands, hundreds of thousands.”

John scratched his chin. “What?”

I banged my first on the table for effect. “You two are such a beautiful couple that I just want to warn you before you make the biggest mistake of your lives. It’s a bad time to buy a house. Trust me.”

“Are you like a fortune teller or something?” Libby said, eyes widening. “I believe in those.”

“That’s bullshit,” Jon said. He turned to me, “You know what. You’re fired. We’ll find someone who will show us opened houses.”

“We don’t have to move right away,” Libby said.

I nodded my head up and down but Jon just glared at me so I figured I should leave before we lose our understanding. At least the understanding between me and Libby. I knew it’d be a bit harder to convince Jon. That was Libby’s task now. Don’t fail me, Libby. I ran back to my apartment and sat by the window and listened to them argue till midnight when their voices grew hoarse and they had basically used every word they knew.

The next morning when I woke up, I found them gone. There was a message on my answering machine from them. “You sick, sick woman,” Libby breathed. I frowned, standing in the middle of my kitchen wondering where all their stuff went. Then I remembered that I had forgotten to put my mask on when I stood up to go to bed last night and they probably saw my face and saw where I was and figured out the truth. I felt heart broken like someone took a screw driver and aimed it at my ribs, sinking into me, vibrating like my heart was having a seizure.

I decided to take a walk later that day, lost and confused and alone. Passing by a store however in lower Main Street, I felt a familiar feeling inside of me. The glass window was shaking. I pressed my face into it to see closer as there was again fog thick as a cotton blanket over the buildings. There were two birds that looked exactly like Libby and John perched on different branches close to each other. They were snapping at each other one moment and singing the next. My heart swelled.

I opened the door so hard, the bell that was attached fell off and the person behind the cashier said, “Hey.”

“Sorry. I want those two birds out front.”

“They’re not for sale,” the grumpy teenager said.

“Why not? I’ll pay a hundred dollars for them.”

He smirked. “They each cost a hundred and five. And someone already bought them. She paid and everything.”

“Oh yea and if she love them so much, why are they still here?” I glared at him, hands on my hips.

He looked at me with disrespect like most teenagers do. “Because she’s on vacation right now.”

“I’ll give you five hundred.”

“No. The webcam’s there. I’ll be fired.”

“A thousand.”

“Are you crazy, woman? They’re just birds.”

I felt my face bloat up. I controlled the tone of my words as I murmured out, "They’re not just birds.”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry, lady. I have my karma to think about, okay? I can’t accept your offer. We do have other birds if you want.”

I rolled my eyes too and left the store. I paced up and down the streets thinking. I went into a bar and spoke with a drunken man in leather about my problem. “I’ll get those birds for you,” he said. “But only on one conditional.”

I rolled my eyes and we did it in the huge fridge in the back of the bar, on a leather stool. He walked out of the store an hour later holding a cage with my two birds inside. I saw a trial of urine coming from behind the cashier but no teenager.

“You’re my hero,” I told him.

I hung the cage above the windowsill in my kitchen. I gave them their proper names. I didn’t even have to wear a mask anymore. Most of the time, the birds fulfilled my needs. Sometimes they got lazy and tired so I’d have to provoke them. Half of the time, it took a limited amount of food to get them to bicker, the other half of the time took the company of a snake to get them to chirp. No one ever moved into their apartment but that was fine. The new couple would be nothing more than disappointing anyway.

I grew bored of the birds after a month and moved on to the leather man who kept calling and saying things like bunnies, feathers, cotton candy and melted chocolate. He wasn’t my style but I was lonely. I didn’t really get attached to him till he told me his name was Jon and I told him my name was Libby.

Author bio:

Jamie Lin has a website at She's currently at college, unemployed, not doing much studying, and waiting for perfection, happiness and clarity.

Editor's note: "A Bystander" previously appeared in Barfing Frogs magazine, March 2007.

1 comment:

spacedlaw said...

That is a great story, a little creepy but fun and yet creepy again.