When Claire looks through the dirty window glass, it’s almost as if she can catch just the slightest, shadow glimpse of him on the other side. It ripples and undulates through the imperfections in the ancient pane, showing first a vision of his handsome and angular features, then shifting to cast him in a dim and muddied reflection, a criminal and ragged beauty that she cannot reach from this side of the glass.
In her journal, she writes: He’s in the periphery of my vision, in the reflection in my tea kettle, a shadow falling across the page in my book, there for a moment and then disappeared when I turn my head to see if I can catch his attention before he vanishes again. I haven’t felt his touch, but the moments where I can sense him hovering only an inch from my skin make me shiver in a way that is only fear on the thinnest layer of its surface. Underneath that, I am electric and alive.
The nearest she has come to capturing his being is in a photo, a photo taken of her on the sofa upon which she now sits, taken three weeks ago by her neighbor, the woman who lives in the downstairs apartment, the photographer from the magazine that comes in the mail every other month. In this photo, she is visible from her collar bones on up, illuminated by the dull and gray light which tumbles gracelessly and weakly through her dirty windows, slipping over her like sooty autumn rainwater overflowing a blocked storm drain. She does not smile, she wears no make-up, but she is beautiful in the way that is impossible to create through tricks of lipstick and rouge. Behind her, the faded tendrils and vines of an antique wallpaper spin out around her head like a fracturing halo, and there, just in the upper right corner of the frame, there is a blur, a blur which almost but not quite coalesces itself into the recognizable features of a man’s face: sharp chin, Roman nose, a brow heavy enough to cast the eyes into dark hollows in the face, blue eyes or gray?
A trick of the light, the photographer tells her after the image is published. Shadows across the wallpaper, she says.
Claire, however, knows better. She writes: A creak in the boards of the bedroom floor when it’s just before dawn; a fingerprint which isn’t mine on the handle of the oven door; a fog of breath appearing on the bathroom mirror while I am washing my face. I know he is here. I can feel the air his body displaces as he moves about the room. The stray hairs falling across my face shiver in his wake. Is he reading over my shoulder this very second?
The tenant in the apartment before her had moved across the Atlantic to Paris to study art. The one before that had gotten married or engaged, her landlord can’t remember which, and left to move in with her husband, or was it her boyfriend? Before that, the memories of tenants past grow hazy in the landlord’s mind, an endless supply of faces and furniture come though and gone, but none having left, he is certain, in the sort of permanence that would result in… something being left behind. He assures her that it is all in her head, and not to be distressed over something which isn’t there. Claire tells him that she isn’t at all distressed, although she chooses not to reveal to him exactly what sort of emotions she in fact is having regarding the specter she is certain is anchored to her apartment.
Coming home from shopping one afternoon, she stops at the top of the winding staircase which leands from the entry of the building up three flights to her front door. She notices for the first time that the handrail wobbles slightly at the top of the stairs, and she sets her grocery bag to the floor and bends to examine the rail. Had it once been broken, there at the join where it changes from the diagonal to the horizontal? Is that a crack which had been shoddily repaired, and below it on the marble landing, a scuff mark, as from the shoe of someone who had suddenly lost balance and tumbled against the railing, breaking through and falling the distressing distance of three stories, plummeting through the space in the center of the spiraling stairway, as though through the eye of a needle, to the stone floor at the bottom?
Later, in her journal: It doesn’t matter, the how of it, but only that it is. I am an armchair detective eyeing the bottle of drain cleaner or the kitchen knife with the chip in the handle and seeing murder most foul, when the cause is so much more insignificant than the effect. What led to this moment is immaterial. All that matters is that the moment exists.
In the morning, when she goes into the kitchen to make herself coffee, she surprises herself by, without thinking, putting a second ceramic mug next to her own on the tile counter. She starts to put it back into the cupboard, but changes her mind and leaves it where it is. She pours her own mug, and then fills the second as well.
That evening, when she returns from work, the cold coffee is still in the second mug, untouched. The mug, however, she is certain, has spun so that the handle is facing in the opposite direction from where she’d left it that morning.
She hasn’t been happier in years.