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a science fiction short story

by John Argo


original art by Brian Callahan 1997Marie and Steve Compton, when they moved into the empty house next door to Charlie, brought with them an electricity that convinced Charlie he was in love like never before in his life.

The delicious new feeling frightened Charlie, for he had to be very careful. And he really meant to be good. And he hoped that, after his last brush with the police, the court-assigned shrink had been right when she told him he was cured.

Charlie Hart was 30. He lived alone with his secrets, his pleasures, his yearnings, in the house his late mother had bequeathed him. As Charlie's lawyer pointed out to the judge, Charlie was an educated man, a contributor to society. He just had this minor problem. He liked to peek into people's windows at night.

When Charlie was thirteen, his Daddy had run away with another woman. His Momma thereupon rarely smiled. Her eyes had a shocked, bereaved glitter, as though brimming with tears. She'd stare at Charlie and say: "You'll come to no good end, boy."

Charlie's testicles ached a lot, and he felt a yearning, some dreadful and nameless hunger. When he tried to ask Momma about it, she turned away with a resentful look that made him feel guilty. She would throw her sewing down, say "Men!" and storm out of the room. He would call after her, but a door would slam, and the boy, tiptoeing into the long dark hallway, would hear the sound of muffled sobs coming from Momma's bedroom. He began to realize that he was a victim of his male nature, as Daddy had been, and he felt a deep sense of guilt and shame.

At the same time, he could not resist his growing urges. Wearing his black sweats and a wool cap, he would ease out of his second-story bedroom window, slide down a hard cold tree limb, and roam the neighborhood like a feral animal, alive with the night. Never mind the thin and artificial thread of civilization: a narrow street, a clump of houses, a passing car. There was a deeper truth in the night, a friendship with the owl, the rodent, the passing clouds. Stalking from lawn to lawn, through holes in fences, he became a student, an expert, of windows. He turned away from the things that did not please: an elderly widow, part invalid, struggling with monumental heroism to straddle an aluminum potty; he turned quickly away from such indictments of mortality. The beatings, the fights that took place behind Venetian blinds, those he avoided.

He got to know the places and times to look. There was the tall, big-breasted woman with thick glasses who lay naked in bed reading and eating cookies. There was the young mother who breast-fed a baby every night at ten. But his coup d'état was the discovery that, from seven-thirty to eight each evening, Laurie Tomasini practiced cheerleading in front of her bedroom mirror while undressing for bed.

Girls liked Charlie at first. Laurie had been no exception. He was a compact, nice-faced boy with dark curly hair. All the boys desired Laurie Tomasini. The boys from nearby Foster High even stopped by during lunch time to watch her practice with the 8th grade cheerleading squad. Laurie had SPOKEN with Charlie. Laurie had a boyish body, but softer in the hips and shoulders. She looked flat-chested; but had acres of glossy mahogany hair, and a gorgeous face. Her skin was the color of brandy. She had dark eyes, naturally elongated like an Egyptian princess's including the snow-white corners. A woman's beauty, Charlie decided, was indescribable; it could only be looked at, not touched, and he had a rare talent for looking. She had the fig-shaped nose, the lotus mouth, the football jaw Charlie found in the library in books on timeless Nilotic art.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jean-Thomas Cullen, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.