It all started when Melissa left. She took the better half of their music collection, some DVDs he was sure had been his at some point, and most of the silverware. She took the dog, too – filthy, thankless animal.
It was Wednesday afternoon. Joshua could still remember the light beams glowing gold on the hardwood as she threw things into a box. The memory held no sounds, though the mix of metal forks and CD cases had certainly made an interesting symphony that day.
At first Joshua didn’t leave because he was certain that Melissa would come right back, toting that ridiculous box, tugging Gal on a leash behind her. Three weeks later, even his mother couldn’t lie appeasements to him any more.
Somewhere, Joshua had read that it takes fourteen days to form a habit. Twenty-one days inside, Joshua had become fully accustomed to his new lifestyle. The grocery store delivered foodstuffs to him every Saturday evening. Netflix brought him the movies Melissa had walked off with, and then some. He’d finished all his Christmas shopping five months early. Changed the air filters. Detailed the kitchen with a set of toothpicks.
A friend brought him a kitten from a shelter in hopes that another life form might knock Joshua out of the house. Alas, a quick internet search yeilded three vets within walking distance that did house-calls, an online pet medication deliver service, and the same grocery store brought Muffles a full week’s supply of cat food along with Joshua’s Mountain Man Lean Cuisines.
The first week Joshua lived in squalor. No dishes, no trash pick-up, and no change of clothes. At two weeks, Joshua bribed a neighbor’s son to take out his trash for a measly fiver and started eating off plates. On the third week, he even became fancy and started using a tray as he gobbled his meals off the couch, re-watching yet another cut-em-up horror film where women didn’t survive.
At the end of three weeks, Joshua felt like he had already read the internet in it’s entirety. He’d started each morning with some innocent factoid on Wikipedia and found himself well versed in the history of the Third Reich, the evolution of Wysteria plants, and could recite both the long and short term effects of the fiscal deficit, its causes, and what the government wasn’t doing to improve the situation.
On Monday of the fourth week, Joshua’s binoculars finally came through. By Thursday, Joshua could predict the goings-on of all the citizens living on East 14th Street. The old man left for work by foot at approximately four in the morning. His wife always woke up and saw him off with a kiss. The lights in their apartment often went out after his departure and he wouldn’t see the wife again until she’s leave to run errands around 11 o’clock.
There were twelve families living up and down the street. Seven on Joshua’s side, five on the opposite side of the street. Nearly all of them left at the same time in the mornings and came home again in the evenings. Joshua was certain that the man who drove a deep blue convertible was cheating on his wife with the pretty blonde from across the street who was married to the man in the toupee but he couldn’t prove anything in a court of law, yet.
There were three senile old bats who lived on the upstairs floor of the building on the corner. They would often sit naked on the roof of the building, their tits hanging like sacks of oatmeal past their belly-buttons and their glasses making their faces seem certifiably unhinged. Once, on a particularly sunny day, the three of them had a dance party instead of just sitting around. Joshua was still trying to eradicate the memory, but no porn had been of any help yet.
A month after becoming a fully-functioning shut-in, Joshua was greeted with the sight of new resident moving into her flat on East 14th Street. She was undeniably perfect, Joshua was sure of it. She had fierce red hair, cut short to a bob and adorned with a black skull and cross-bones bow. Her eye-makeup was so heavy he could see the contours of her eyes without the binoculars, three floors up. She was round and it appeared that the softest part of her was a delectable rump Joshua immediately needed to run his hand over – if the double-sided razor edges of her soul didn’t mutilate him first.
Another bribe to the neighbor’s kid provided the apple of Joshua’s eye with some assistance. Although, there was something to be said about watching her bend to try and pick up the mattress single-handed.
For the first few months, Joshua continued to bribe his up-stairs steward for information. Her name was Annalisa, she worked in sales. She had a cat named Corgie. Her favorite color was green.
Joshua watched on.
It had been five, maybe six months since Annalisa first appeared – almost a year after Joshua’s retreat into his man-cave that the idea of coming outside and meeting Annalisa first started to bubble under the seething current of psychological issues.
Regardless of how perfect Annalisa appeared, the idea that Melissa may one day return continued to eat at Joshua. At night, it had become a ritual to imagine her coming home while he slept, setting her tattered box down in the hall, and slipping under the covers next to him. Now a nightly guilt wracked him. Joshua predicted different scenarios of Melissa finding out about his angel from across the street, each more gruesome than the last.
Still, he persisted during daylight hours with his plan. The grocery store delivery boy remarked that it was refreshing to see Joshua purchase perishable goods for both himself and Muffles. The neighbor kid earned an extra bonus for taking out all the larger pieces of trash Joshua had accumulated and kept his snide under-breathed comments about being half a year too late for spring cleaning mostly to himself.
Netflix took a deserving rest in lieu of a fitness routine.
Eventually, Joshua’s nightly ritual became a well-rehearsed first meeting. Each time Annalisa was amazed by his knowledge of the migration patterns of spotted owls and his critical understanding of the post-modernist’s plight for recognition though the use of unconventional materials. In his head, she always giggled when he mentioned the flash-knitters accustomed to covering bikes and fire-hydrants.
At last the day had come.
A similar golden glow descended upon the wooden floors of Joshua’s living room. Muffles sprawled out in a sun spot and wheezed in a cat-like purr as the beams warmed his belly. Joshua checked himself into a shower, wrapped himself into the freshly pressed suit a local cleaner had walked over for him, and finished himself with a dapper black bow tie decorated with a skull and cross bones.
Joshua took a look out his window one last time to ensure himself that this was the right day, the right moment, and he was greeted with the sight of Annalisa walking down the street towards the bus stop with a spirited step.
Joshua took a moment to himself on the couch. Perhaps that hadn’t been the perfect moment, after all.
A beer would tide him over until his muse returned. Perhaps two. Perhaps more.
At approximately eleven at night, long after even Muffles had given up on this endeavor Joshua spotted Annalisa strolling solemnly towards her apartment. Her unsuccessful night written across her face, lit by the orange of the street lamps.
Joshua gathered his wits about him, deciding to meet Annalisa on the street as she came up.
At that moment Joshua’s phone rang with the all-too-familiar ring of a certain she-demon, drunk and seeking a pardon. A mistake.
It was as he had always imagined it to be. The familiar open and close of the door, the shuffling down the hall, the body he remembered so well, and the guilt which had made a home of his oft empty bed.
Joshua slept on the couch, unable to reconcile the seeping emotions that came pouring from both halves of the broken home.
At a quarter to five in the morning Joshua heard the scream, at five he heard the sirens. He came upon the window and gazed with his binoculars through the misty morning colored with regret to see the emergency workers carrying a precious stranger’s body in a black bag to an ambulance, a neighbor following close behind, clutching a black skull and crossbones bow.