November 15 – today’s one thousand words
In the still morning air of mid November, the orange horizon greets a tired mind. Coffee and a quiet moment by the window – the ritual, the brain preparation – there is time to anticipate todays mysteries. Across the street an ancient brick home, now offices for a group of surgeons is the only house revealing signs of life. There is a light on behind the curtains of the western window on the top floor. Last week I noticed one window was cracked open to the air about six inches. The next day in the middle of the afternoon one of the curtains was drawn to the right – the darkness of the room was revealed for a couple of hours – however, no notice of anyone in the room and then later, when I looked again the curtain was closed. In the four years I’ve been sitting here I’ve never seen a sign of life from anything but the bottom two floors.
So, who or what is it? Is there a human staying there? Is it the cleaners airing out the apartment or office? I wonder, what is the function of that space. I am tempted to sit for a time with binoculars to my eyes in order to reveal a grand discovery.
What would I see?
There is a cat living there. At different times of the day it climbs onto a table at the window and peeks out. Or one paw plays with the edge of the white veil – batting at it in amusement until the runners on the curtain-rod give and the fabric slides a little to the left – the window is open to the day. The sound scares the cat and it jumps down, forgets the game and spends a few hours asleep beneath a table on a bed of sweaters in a box with light from the window beaming down warming it as the sun traverses on its early-winter journey.
There is a cleaner – an east Indian woman who arrives at the offices mid afternoon – the lower floors are busy with work so she starts at the abandoned top floor where there is never very much to do. She begins by opening the drape a little bit and sits down to look out over the playground below. The children come out for a recess a couple of times a day and if she arrives twenty minutes before she needs to begin, she can look at them and feel their joy for a while. She begins to vacuum, leaves the drapery open so that there is light enough to work. Forced air heating keeps the dust down but she uses a duster anyway – brushes all the surfaces from the back of the room around to the left by the window and all the way around. The final job – the one that says ‘OK, you’re done here, good job’, she grasps the fibrous edge of the curtain and slides it back across the view until it covers the glass and it will remain closed all night and sometimes for an entire week if she doesn’t have to come up to this floor.
There is an old man renting the top floor of the offices. He used to be the caretaker of the property. Twenty years ago he was hired to cut the lawns, trim the bushes and shovel snow through the winter months. The administrator of the surgical offices rented the suite to him on a reduced fee program in order to balance books – a mutually agreeable contract – the old man benefits from low rent and it makes his pension just enough to last through the month – and the building administrator has an income to show for the space instead of a fee for cleaning, snow removal in the winter, watering and gardening in the summer. He gets up early each day – you can’t waste daylight hours, that would be irresponsible. His routine has changed over the years. There is no longer a need for a regimen of activity so he now sits by the window, opens the curtain a crack at about 7:15 and watches the squirrels trace their travels up and down trees – out the branches and over the tops of fences and roofs. He sees the day start at the eastern edge of the city – heralded by an orange band on the horizon and he comes back to the window occasionally through the day and later on he will watch golden hour paint the scenery with its ethereal glow until that same orange hue heralds the end of his watch – and the curtain will close at the tips of his fingers. Tomorrow he’ll sit here again.
There is a squatter. No one knows about the hole in the fence at the back of the property on the river side. No one knows about the latch on the coal chute he broke off easily with a screw driver. And if he exits the building during the night after the workers have gone home he can still make it to the store in time to buy a couple of cans of food and get back to stay warm overnight. In the daylight he has to be completely quiet. He’s mapped places in the room where the floorboards creak and he can tip-toe around safely, but he doesn’t. He’s afraid that any movement might accidentally awaken the people – surgeons and patients – to his occupation on the top floor. So he sits and cracks the curtain a tiny bit and looks out the window occasionally to let his mind wander – relax and enjoy the day. The rest of the time he reads. There is a children’s library – Take a Book – Leave a Book on a post across the street near the school. It’s filled with Dora the Explorer, Arthur, and Berenstien Bears books, and he doesn’t mind borrowing these on his nightly journey. It’s dark and no one knows. Occasionally he will find a novel – last time it was “Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese and this he found to be a wonderful and sad piece that occupied him for a week – and he put it in his backpack and knew he would never return it and felt a little guilty – but resolved in the days to come to find a replacement for it – and return something to the cramped space where the books sit and wait for someone to come by and choose them. He imagines that he’s pleased the book by taking it. That it wanted to be with him – that its story was waiting for him to come. This will be his residence for a couple more weeks. He’s planning to hop a train south but has to save enough from his bottle collecting to be able to afford a set of folding solar panels so he can recharge his electronics on the road between towns – a trick he learned from watching Youtube video of a train-rider. Except for this accessory, he’s prepared for the journey, and in a couple of weeks the curtain in the window will remain closed over the days and weeks and months and I’ll sit here and wonder why.