Looking Through Your Neighbor’s Window
By Matt Mullen
I was allowed to be in the room. The household I grew up in had progressive values; kids could be in parent’s room, parents could be in kid’s rooms. The bathroom was the only private place. In the bathroom I could go and be alone and sit on the floor and listen to the dripping sound of water from the bathtub and drown out the sound of brothers below me yelling at parents below me in the kitchen. The droplets were small and clear and when they hit the floor of the bathtub they would spread out and disappear.
I was allowed to be in this room, but it gave him chills to stand there and see the big beg with rustled white sheets and pressed down pillows. Why was I in the room? There was nothing I needed, or wanted. I never searched the room for Christmas presents in December because I thought Santa was real. I thought this because both my father and my mother told me this and they never agreed on anything. The room was dark except for the lights in the hall, which cast eerie shadows on the walls and made the woman’s face in portrait by the door seem ghoulish. I hated that portrait. I wished I could pull it from the wall and stamp on it and say the housekeeper did it. Then she would be fired and no one would rearrange his socks the wrong way anymore.
Turning away from the portrait, and the big bed with tangled sheets, I faced the window. The window looked out on the house across the way: far enough to feel separate but close enough to feel secure. Then seconds later a light clicked on in the house, a bathroom. It was dark outside, and the light made the room look as clear as a television screen. The room had white tiles just like his and a bathtub just like his. A man entered the room. The man was his neighbor. I wondered if the man listened to the sound of falling water and if it calmed him, too. I watched as the man started to do something. I didn’t know what the man was doing but it made me sick to my stomach. The man smiled like the woman in the portrait.
It was then, gazing from window to window, house to house, I realized how exposed we all were. How even when we went into the one place we thought was private there was someone watching: across the way, or above, or below, or peeking through the drain in the bathtub, like I nightmared about when I was younger. We were all voyeurs too, whether we knew it, or liked it, or not. I took one more look, imprinting the scene in my mind forever, and fled the bedroom. Entering the hall, I yearend desperately for the calming bathtub faucet, with its gentle, dripping water. But I knew I would never retreat to the bathroom again. I never wanted to be like the smiling man alone in the bathroom. Alone, but not private. Instead I sought my family, my loud, large family. With this in mind I took one last look in the darkened bedroom, at the big messy bed, at the portrait of the grinning lady, and at the window with its view of his neighbors house. I glanced in my bathroom down the hall, and marched down the stairs, into the dazzling noise.
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