Watching Me Watching
I sat in the cafeteria watching the people go by. They don't know I'm watching. They think I'm reading the paper and sipping my coffee. The latter I'm doing, but not the former. I people-watch, it's what I do. Other people fascinate me. I can sit and watch them for hours. People accuse me of stalking them. Not me. I'm a people watcher – that's all.
I like to watch them and speculate about their lives. That man in the fancy overcoat. Let's call him Chester. Chester likes being comfortable and being in this place isn't his idea. He's here with a woman, not his wife, I'm guessing. He's careful to keep distance between them, self-conscious if she touches him. Not his wife – his girlfriend. She has something special to tell him – something he won't want to hear. She knows, but also knows she has to. I turn away from her despair.
In the corner is a family having hot chocolate on this cold, city night. Winter isn't far away. You can feel it in the way they chat about the cold. Their breath clouds around them – it's chilly in here. The air conditioning hasn't been turned off yet. Some optimistic soul things it's still only fall.
The one I really want to watch is that girl by the door. She sits alone, forlorn, forgotten. Medium height, she straight, dirty blonde hair and pale eyes. They show up green in the light of the cafeteria, but then, so does her hair. Her face is drawn, dirty and finely chiseled. I hope she'll find a man or die soon. Either way is okay with me. Anything that will end her suffering.
I take another sip of my coffee and scan the room again. In the far corner, opposite the family, not far from the unhappy girl, Is a man like me. Not that he looks like me. We're very different. He's got light brown hair and mine is dark. His eyes are hazel, mine are green. He wears all black. Though I do too, his jacket is short, my coat is long. He wears boots similar to mine, but his are scuffed. Mine shine like new, though they are old.
Both of us have a look – an affectation, if you will – the look of a predator. Though I cannot speak for him, I can for myself. I am a predator. I hunt through the night. I follow the unwary, cutting them down in their prime. Would I harm the family? No. The lonely girl? Also, no. The successful business man and his floozy – yes. Well, not her, him. Perhaps when he's leaving their love nest, sated from a night of debauchery with a woman half his age.
They rise to leave. I fold my paper and take my coffee. No sense leaving evidence. The man opposite me makes to rise, sees me and hesitates. I glare at him before my eyes flicker to the man. I raise an eyebrow. He shakes his head, tipping his chin at the woman. I make my own negative reply. In agreement, we follow them separately, on different sides of the street. We move quietly, casually, as if we have nowhere else to be.
Her place must be close, because they're walking. Arm in arm, they walk up the steep sidewalk. They climb slowly. My doppelganger and I match their pace. They enter an apartment building at the crest of the hill. Moments later, lights come on in the first floor apartment. We see our prey silhouetted against the blinds, kissing. They retire to another room and we wait, smoking cigarettes in the dark.
My shadow walks across the street to stand next to me. He faces the window, a smile on his lips.
"Tonight?" I ask quietly.
"I would ask you the same." He finishes his cigarette. Squeezing out the end, he puts it in his pocket, much as I've done with my own.
"If we take one without the other....."
"The free one will become cautious," he finished my sentence for me.
We nodded in unison.
"When he leaves," I murmured as the door opened.
Nodding, he faded into the shadows, moving toward the back of the building. I stay in my hiding place, waiting for the businessman to walk away. After many fond kisses, he does, heading back down the sidewalk. He must walk right past me to get back to the cafeteria. He won't make it that far. Or perhaps he will?
I allow him to walk by, whistling happily. I hear the bushes rustle behind me. My friend returns.
"Not tonight," he says before I ask him.
I understand because I feel the same. Silently, I invited him back to the cafeteria for coffee.
"Tomorrow?" I ask him.
A shrug answers my question. We're patient, we wait in the shadows with our deep, dark secrets.
I opened the door to the opulent office, inhaling deeply. Cigarette smoke, old books, new leather and the hit of Oriental lime Hai Karate aftershave greeted my sensitive nose. Closing the door with a firm click, I looked around me, wondering where the doctor was.
The office is spacious but crowded. A large, walnut desk dominated the area near the tall, arched windows. He has an excellent view of the park. Unfortunately, his back is to it. Though if he placed his chair on the other side, he'd have his back to the door. Not safe when dealing with people like me. The desk is vast, cluttered, presenting a formidable barrier between the doctor and his clients. If I had to deal with his clientele, I'd hide too. Hell, I'd chain us down and leave the room, waiting until our psychoses gripped us, spiriting us away.
I sat in one of the chairs facing the desk, gazing out at the park view. I wouldn't normally have my back to the door, but I could see it reflected in the windowpane. It's a comfortable chair. Soft leather – maybe kid. It felt smooth and cool beneath my hands. I massaged it gently as I waited. And waited. The door behind me opened.
I stayed put, allowing the doctor to take his place behind the desk. I can't tell if he's surprised to see me here or not. Usually I wait in the outer room.
"The receptionist told me to come in," I told him.
The doctor, a man of few words, nodded at me, extending his hand in invitation.
"Shall I lie down?"
"Do you want to?"
As always, a question answered with another question. I felt this first response set the tone for us. I rose from my chair and lay down on the couch. I could hear him move quietly behind me and I was tempted to get up and lie facing him, but that isn't done. He'll sit behind me where I can't see him, and write things on his tablet with a pen that scratches occasionally. All their pens scratch.
"You understand why you're here?" he asked me quietly as I settled on the couch.
"Of course. You want to see if I'm sane."
"Has anyone said you aren't?"
"Has anyone said I am?" I chuckled as the silence fell. "Yes, I understand. Shall I simply talk? Or do you have questions?"
He said nothing, waiting.
"May I smoke?"
"Would you like to?"
"Not really. I've never smoked. I simply wanted to know if I could, should I choose to take up the habit."
He didn't say anything. I made the assumption that he disapproved of my flippant nature. Perhaps I'd learn to be less sarcastic. I doubt it. He writes something on his pad, the nib of his pen scritch scratches on the page
"This couch is lovely," I remarked politely. "So soft. I love leather. People are buying Naugahyde these days, claiming it's as good as leather. Nothing beats leather. The feel, the smell...." I inhaled deeply.
He didn't reply.
"Do you think the cows know it's coming? Do you think they realize they're going to die so someone can have a fabulous couch? Do they feel pain? Fear? Is their fear part of this couch? Perhaps their pain is tanned into the leather." I stroked it with my hands, longingly. "I can feel their agony worked into every seam – every tuft...."
The doctor cleared his throat pointedly. He thinks I ramble. Perhaps I do. Or maybe my revelation makes him think his office is haunted by the ghosts of angry cows. I can't see him, but the squeak of his buttocks against the leather of his fancy chair tells a story of his discomfort.
"Does that upset you, Doctor?"
He cleared his throat. "You're not here to talk about leather, Jon."
"Dr. Hamilton used to let me talk about whatever I wanted."
"And you may."
"I want to talk about leather." I paused to see if he'd contradict me. "Is the office haunted by the ghosts of angry cows?"
"Do you think it is?"
"I think I liked Dr. Hamilton better. He didn't ask so many questions. Why can't I see him?"
"He's no longer with us, Jon."
"Is he dead?"
"He found me difficult. He didn't like me to talk about the pain."
"Then talk about pain."
"Not just any pain. The pain. The pain something feels when it knows the next breath it takes is its last. The pain of fear as it struggles against death and loses. The pain you feel after really great sex when you wonder if the next time can ever be as good. Pain and pleasure are very closely related, you know. Each is an overload of the senses. One can't exist without the other. In great pleasure lurks great pain. In great pain, pleasure lives. That bothered Dr. Hamilton. He said I was sadistic."
"Do you think you're sadistic, Jon?"
I paused, thinking that over. Dr. Hamilton never asked so many questions. This man asks too many. He muddles my thinking and spoils my perception of the moment. But he's waiting for an answer.
The silence seems to resonate in the cluttered, book laden office. The loose pages on his desk are whispering to one another. I can't hear them clearly, but I think they're saying, "Crazy Johnny. Crazy Johnny!" Voices like the schoolyard children of my youth. "Crazy Johnny!"
"I met a woman," I blurted out. "Her name is Sylvia and...." I ground to a halt unable to complete the sentence.
"What about Sylvia?"
"She didn't like the pain."
He says nothing, but I hear him scoot around in his chair once more. He scribbles something else on the pad. Clearly uncomfortable, he continues to say nothing. I let the silence surround us. I like long silences.
The sounds of the city penetrate the high ceilinged room, although we are several floors above the traffic. Horns honk, sirens wail. The elevated train rumbles along not far away.
There are voices in the reception room. I can't hear what they're saying, but there's talk. A woman's and a man's. She's calm, but firm. He's insistent.
"I have to see him now!" Comes through suddenly.
"He's with a patient."
"It can't wait. I need him!"
"You'll have to wait. You don't have an appointment."
"Excuse me," said my doctor.
"Take your time. It's my nickel," I offered magnanimously.
He rose, heading to the reception room, leaving the door cracked. A hurried conversation follows and the doctor comes back in, angry red and flustered.
"Our time's up for today, Jon."
"We've got thirty minutes left, Doctor."
"We'll make it up next time. This can't wait."
"It was delightful meeting you, Doctor." I held out my hand to shake his.
"You too, Jon." He nodded instead, not touching me.
He's one of those. One who's afraid the crazy will wear off on him. From his diplomas, I know he's fairly new in practice. That's why Hamilton was able to foist me off on him. He was afraid of catching the crazy too. Unfortunately for Hamilton – he did.
I first met Dr. Hamilton in the spring of 1959. My family doctor sent me to him after a series of incidents with the feral cats that lived on the land next door. Our home was in the country – not a farm, just a dirt trap of land that grew nothing but weeds. The people next door started with two cats when they moved in. By the time I was seven, there were closer to dozen. All of them used our land as their litter box. Cats are fastidious, you know. They don't like to shit in their own yard.
For my eighth birthday, Papa bought me a slingshot and showed me how to shoot dandelions and weeds. He lined up old Muscatel bottles and showed me how to shoot them too.
"Nice shooting, son." He ruffled my hair proudly. It was the first and only compliment he ever gave me.
Soon, the bottles and weeds lost their appeal. The first challenge was an old Tom. Nearly blind, unsteady, he came over to drop his load of scat. Mid crap, I hit him with a small pebble in the flank. Hissing, he leapt away. The next caught him in the shoulder and the third glanced off his skull. Mewling pitifully, he staggered back in the yard next door, catching himself on the barbed wire fence that separated us.
I don't know when he died, but the others feasted on him. I watched them from my window that night. The next morning, the wife found his body. Screaming, she ran back in the house to get her husband. I watched from our yard, curious at her disgust. It was just a dead cat. Why was she screaming like that?
Gagging, her husband got a trash bag and picked the dead Tom up with his gardening gloves. He was dropped unceremoniously in the bag and into the trash can. I snuck over later and pulled him out. He was mostly bones, but enough of him was left to examine. It was hard to believe that bag of ragged flesh and gnawed bones had once been a cat.
Mama found me later and tanned my hide. Papa came home after work and took the belt to me. They weren't mad about the cat. They didn't know I'd killed him. They were angry that I left the yard and dug around in the garbage. I was sent to bed with no supper. After the house got quiet, I snuck to the cupboard and took a biscuit. I drank out of the milk bottle and took my biscuit outside so I wouldn't leave crumbs about. I shot two more cats that night, but they didn't die. They weren't old and sick like that old Tom.
My opportunity to kill another cat came soon after. I plotted this one. I lay in wait, ready to ambush it. There was a gray tabby female, not old like the Tom. She was mean, nasty tempered and vicious. More than once, she'd chased me around my own yard, acting like she owned it. She scratched me up one time, really bad. Mama washed it all off with bleach and gave me caster oil. I had bandages on my hands for days and some of the wounds festered. I had to go to the doctor for shots.
Papa grumbled about the expense. Mama whined and told him not to yell. Neither of them spoke to me and they didn't really speak to one another – except to whine and yell. The doctor gave me three shots and a lollypop.
"That should do him up, Muriel," he told my mother. He smiled at her, handing her a lollypop too, his full lips very close to hers.
My mother was a beautiful woman. She was tall and willowy, fair skinned, with soft, blonde curls. She was a lady. No one could understand why she married a coarse, common man like my father. People said he'd fooled her into thinking he had money, but after they got married, he wouldn't give her any.
We lived in a shabby home on our dirt trap littered with cat shit. My clothes were always too small, my shoes worn and my hair trimmed around a bowl cause Mama couldn't afford to take me to the barber.
But I digress. Getting back to the cat. I built myself a hunting blind. Mama thought it was a fort for make believe. Papa thought it was an eyesore. He was going to knock it down. Mama whined and cried and convinced him I needed somewhere to play.
"What's the harm, Henry? Let the boy have his fun. He's got precious little else out here...."
While they argued, I sat in my blind – waiting. Soon, the cat came over to do her business. I sat very still, waiting. This one, I knew, liked to clean up after. She'd sit there and wash her paws and face before going back to the chaos of the yard. One of the cats had just had 10 new kittens. They were adding their scat to the rest. But this was the one I wanted. Patient, I sat there, hardly breathing. She washed her paws, then licked one, to wash her face.
I took careful aim for that M on her forehead. Pulling back the slingshot, I let loose with a good sized rock.
Snap! Crack! I hit her right in the head. She yowled loudly, screaming her outrage. I got her again with another stone to her flank. She had a pattern on her fur that looked like a bullseye. I got her dead center.
Her screaming brought my parents and the neighbors running. The husband jerked me up by my collar, slingshot dangling from my fingers. The wife picked up the cat, cradling its battered body in her apron. The husband lifted me high, shaking me hard.
"You have to do something about this boy, Henry. He's a menace! He's damn near killed my cat! I wouldn't be surprised if he killed my old Tom and hurt those others. What are you gonna do about this? If that cat dies...."
"If it dies, there will be one less to shit on my grass, Boyd. You let those disgusting animals have the run of the place. That one clawed my boy up so bad, he had to be doctored. Is it any wonder he's gone after it? Those beasts are a menace. Why the city won't...."
"City has nothing to do with this, Henry. This is between neighbors."
The cats, drawn by the noise, were crawling under the fence or leaping over it. Some came to the woman's skirts, looking for the source of the mewing and the odor of blood. Her apron was soaked with it. Big, red spots blossomed against the white fabric.
Papa went in the house and brought out his old squirrel gun. He loaded up a shell. Kablam! He hit one cat with rock salt. The rest scattered. He pulled out another shell and loaded it. Kablam!
Boyd dropped me and started chasing my father. The woman screamed and cried, trying to hold her cat and cover her ears. Mama stood quietly, lips pressed in a tight line of disapproval. She hated those cats, but she hated violence. But Boyd had pushed Papa one step too far. She grabbed me to her, holding me close. She tried to cover my eyes, but I pried her fingers apart and watched.
Papa shot up those cats. He didn't kill any, but they were limping, the salt stinging when it hit. He had one more shell left and he leveled his gun at Boyd.
"You get off my land now," Papa said real low. "And you keep them cats off my place. You come back here – for any reason – I'll make sure there's not rock salt in there. You lay a hand on my boy again, I'll set your house afire with the two of you in it. You hear me?"
"You're crazier than your boy," Boyd said quietly. "You're crazy, Henry!" He led his wife off the property and back to their own yard. When he got to the other side, he raised his fist, shaking it. "You haven't heard the last of me, Henry!"
Papa raised his gun once more, his finger on the trigger. He aimed right at Boyd. Instead of sticking around to get hit, he ran. Papa gave him a head start before pulling the trigger once more. Kablam!
"That'll teach that fucker not to come on my land," Papa said.
"You use that word, son, I'll tan you."
He ruffled my hair, winked and went to the living room to watch the nightly news.
Boyd and his wife sent the police to our house. They had some lady who talked to me about how it was bad to hurt innocent animals. She told me they had feelings too.
"People don't have feelings. Neither do animals. They're just dumb beasts."
"Are people dumb beasts too, Johnny?"
"How would you feel if someone pointed a slingshot at you?"
I shrugged again.
"What if they pointed a gun at you?"
I shrugged a third time. "I guess I'd get it away and shoot them first before they could shoot me."
Aghast, she spoke to the police officers and they took me away. Mama cried, Papa shouted. The lady with the police said she'd see I was taken care of. She said no one was gonna do anything mean to me again. She wouldn't believe me when I told her no one ever had. I guess she thought I should be crying. She kept asking if I wanted to. I never did figure out why.
The next day, the lady came and took me to see Dr. Hamilton for the first time. He didn't usually see children, but I was a special case. He didn't know just how special I was.