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The People Watcher


Dawn Merrow

Today I woke up an hour earlier than I had wanted. I willingly moved away from my sea of down pillows and blankets, having been snapped from my already restless slumber by a nightmare that has been plaguing my sleep for what must be several months. There are three windows in my bedroom. All of them share a similar view of tall dingy buildings and busy streets. The dark structures help mask the bleak gray sky that chokes my mornings. It is skies like that, overwhelmed with slow groggy clouds, which make it impossible for me to greet the start of a new day with any shade of optimism. I would love to wake up each and every day with a renewed sense of eagerness, but just seeing the newly risen sun fighting to break through the drab, morbid sky is more than enough to throw a wet blanket on any kind of good mood I had mustered up for myself.

My original plans for the day were to lay in bed for a few extra hours, then waste away the rest of it in the studio painting, but as I stood at my window, my plans changed. Gazing over the city, I got the urge to walk those streets and see those people close up.

I got dressed soon after having made that decision, and readied myself for my excursion. My usual blue jeans, tee shirt, and pony-tailed hair combination was my costume of choice. No jacket or sweater was needed today; the warm breeze that ruffled my pale blue curtains was an indicator of the calm spring weather. I grabbed my large purse, filled with notebooks, sketchbooks, pens, pencils, and enough money so that I could stay out all day, and left my apartment.

The streets were crowded with nameless, faceless figures mulling about to wherever it was they needed to be. At first, just the thought of all of those people held me, frozen, in the entryway to my apartment building. That fear melted away as the sun finally emerged from behind the confines of the cloud cover, and I found the courage to walk down the full yet lonely streets. 

As I searched for something to do to occupy my time, I came across a quaint coffee shop. The smell of the hot, enticing Java alone was enough to draw my attention. I entered the shop and found myself a table next to the wall length window. A young waitress with fiery red hair sloppily clipped back, tired pale green eyes, and a welcoming smile came over to me to take my order. I used her name, Kailee, which I had read on her nametag. This small usage of familiarity was something my server was not used to, and a more sincere smile came to her face. I gladly gave her my order of hot tea and a raspberry muffin, and she left me as quickly as she had come.

At that point, I took a moment to take in my surroundings. There were three other customers in the small room. A woman, a few years my junior, sat alone at a tiny table in the corner. She had blond hair cut into a punky bob. The more I looked at her, the younger she appeared to be. Her deep brown eyes were framed in thick black liner. She had glittery black nail polish, chipped and chewed, on her short nails. A form fitting tee shirt, decorated with a large sparkly butterfly, hugged her adolescent curves. Her skinny legs were swimming in oversized jeans, and pink platform sneakers gave her height to make up for her obvious immaturity. A book lay open on the table in front of her, and she held a cup of coffee in her diminutive hands. Every few moments her gaze would shift, and a page turn would take place soon after. I longed to know what it was that this young girl was reading. Whatever it was, it must speak to not only her age, but also to her state of mind.

I moved my curiosity away from the anonymous little girl and onto an older man sitting in the center of the shop. He was wearing an old suit; it was a light shade of a musty brown. The tie was black and stood out as a sharp contrast to his stark white dress shirt. Behind a pair of reading glasses, I could barely make out his placid gray-blue eyes. He reminded me of a beloved English teacher, and the leather brief case that proudly sat on the floor behind him supported my theory. He casually drank from his teacup, his eyes never leaving the newspaper he had spread out in front of him.

My tea came shortly after I became bored with studying the admired teacher. Kailee the waitress gracefully placed the full cup onto the saucer and put it on the table next to my muffin. I gingerly drank my tea as I continued to curiously observe the final customer. A melancholy, yet handsome, man with long jet-black hair pulled back into a ponytail sat solemnly in an armchair only a few feet away from where I was. He was staring out the window, ignoring the coffee and scone that waited for him on the end table beside the chair.

His gentle eyes were the most shocking blue I had ever seen. They were welled with painful tears, but he was not crying. Instead of the wild rivers that normally run down the cheeks of the forlorn, his tears created lakes of agony in his beautiful eyes. I had to hold back my need to get up from my chair to talk to him. I knew not to impose my unwelcome presence on him, and only watched from afar.

I sat there for hours watching him. The young girl and older gentlemen left without my noticing. I was intently focused on the mysterious man sitting near me. I wanted, needed, to know his story.

It got dark, and we still sat there. He never made eye contact with me, even though I looked at only him. I bought cup after cup of tea, and endless amounts of pastries. The dark man never ate or drank a single thing. The same cup of coffee sat before him the entire time.

There were so many moments where I almost approached him, but I could never find the motivation or the words. I created conversations in my head, but none of them satisfied me. So, I just sat there, and watched him. He left when the shop was about to close, but I lingered for a few more minutes. I hung my head in disappointment as I walked home. Maybe he will be back tomorrow. I will just have to wait and see.

* * * *

Part Two

I barely slept last night. The image of the dark man haunted my mind like a lost ghost ship floating aimlessly in my thoughts. It was impossible for me to get him out of my head. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw him staring out that window. The few moments of sleep I was graced with were crowded with his pale bony face. His small soft lips gently stretched into a subtle frown plagued my dreams.

My eyes peeled open as my alarm clock blared in my ears. The day that awaited me would be once again spent within the warm walls of the coffee shop. I was elated to see the dark man sitting in his same chair. Scone and coffee, new and fresh, stood strong on the table next to him. I sat at a table one closer to him than the one I had occupied the day before. He didn’t seem to notice my move, and continued his maudlin stare out the window.

Kailee the waitress greeted me with a kind hello, and I gave her my order. Today I was determined to sketch the dark man. I took my leather bound sketchbook and charcoal pencils out of my purse, and opened the worn book to a fresh page. The paper was woven with linen and crushed rose petals, giving it not only a rich texture but also a lovely feminine scent. For a fleeting second I swore the dark man’s eyes shifted slightly to the side toward me, but I quickly realized they had not.

Knowing he would not be moving any time soon, I began my drawing. I clumsily ignored Kailee when she brought my order, offering her a mere monosyllabic grunt and meager nod. She put my food down, less graciously than yesterday, and left me to my work. The dark man’s face came to the paper effortlessly, and his mesmerizing features were forever captured within the confines of my sketchbook. His graceful shoulders and piano player fingers flowed like rainwater on a windowpane onto the rose scented paper. No mistakes were made, and his perfection came from my hands like kind words from a mother’s mouth.

What amazes me is that he was never the least bit aware of my fervor in admiring him. When the sketch was complete I sat back in my chair, relaxing my hands, back, and arms. I let my mind wrap around him, finding comfort in his perplexity. I allowed my imagination to escape myself as I pondered his possible past. I tried to picture him as a child, but nothing came to me. I could only see him, as he was then, a dark adult with some phantom trauma in his distant history that still pained him, and that was it. He was more like an illusion than an actual person.

I paid no attention to the customers that came and went throughout the day. I could have missed out on many interesting faces to sketches, countless stories to ponder, but none of that mattered to me. All I cared about was the dark man. I labored to picture him in any other daily activity, but the fight was useless. Even when I tried to fantasize about him as a lover I could not. He was only the dark man, sitting in a large armchair, staring out a window.

I wondered briefly about his clothing. He seemed rather businessman like. Black dress pants, black patent leather shoes, black dress shirt. The top few buttons of his shirt were undone revealing his porcelain skin. I wanted to touch his neck, examine that milky skin. When that thought passed through my mind, it marked the first pseudo-sexual thought I had for him. When I dreamed of running my small painter’s hands over his angelic body a sudden bolt of lightening ran through my body.

My face flushed and I turned away from him, taking a bite of my muffin. I was thoroughly embarrassed. I had defamed his godlike persona. I had besmirched the altar of perfection at which I had worshiping this dark man.

The day ended as yesterday had. Now, I lay awake in my bed once again, this time my body fevered with the thought of the dark man’s ivory skin.

* * * *

Part Three

I did end up falling asleep last night, this notebook still open on my sweat stained chest. Summer is pushing spring away with heavy, humid force. It’s only early May, and the city is already in the suffocating grasp of a heat wave. I woke up this morning with an eerie sense of disappointment, sure that the dark man would have enough sense not to be in an over heated coffee shop on a day like today. Even though my own common knowledge screamed against it, I threw on a flowing cotton dress and flip flops, my hair in a high, messy ponytail. The walk to the sullen brick building was oppressive, even at that early hour.

At first, I appeared to be right in my assumption. The dark man was not in his chair. I decided that I might as well have some breakfast while I was there. I chatted with Kailee about the horrible weather, and bought some iced herbal tea and a large cinnamon bun. Since the dark man wasn’t in his chair, I chose one of the other large armchairs to sit in. I set myself down in the chair straight across from the dark man’s sacred throne. I took a book from my purse and began to read, the world created by the plot fully enveloping me. I did not hear the door open. I was oblivious to the person making their way toward me.

I heard a deep, smooth voice utter a distinguished “Is that seat taken?” and looked up from my book. The voice sounded like melting chocolate, and I was intrigued by who the voice might be coming from. A sharp pang of shock hit me when I turned and saw the dark man standing beside me; looking straight into me, into the sultry things I had thought of him. I told him that no one had been sitting there, and watched him float down into the comfort of his chair. He seemed uneasy with me sitting there, and even drank the hot coffee he had foolishly ordered. I tried to become invisible, blending into my chair as best I could. He eventually stopped seeing me as a threat, and began his daily ritual of staring out the window.

Today, he was wearing light weight black linen pants, the same patent leather shoes, and a black cotton tee shirt. His gaunt, white arms were intoxicating, with their smooth blemish-free skin. I flushed again, and my desire to caress his skin grew. He noticed me watching him, and for the first time in three days he broke his obsession with peering out the window, looking straight at me. He really saw me, instead of just acknowledging my physical existence as a formality. That moment soon passed, and we both broke the awkward eye contact.

The hours passed quickly today. I pretended to read my book as I watched him close up for the first time. A protracted feeling of excitement stirred in me as we sat there. I wanted to know everything about him, but my vocal chords were paralyzed by the surge of fearful vigor. The sky that engulfed the dark man turned a deep magenta as the sun started to set behind the buildings on the horizon line. This seemed to deepen his sadness as I saw a single tear roll down his chiseled cheek. This moved me so very deeply that I felt my own eyes inundate, and I struggled to hold back my emotion.

Returning to my guise of reading, I synchronized my breathing with his. His every breath was slow, methodical, calculated. Everything he did had intent and purpose. He did nothing without first considering all possible outcomes.
The dark man left at his normal time, and I departed soon after. Today was a success, and I walked home fully contented. It is time to go to sleep and once again dream of my dark man.

* * * *

Part Four

Waking up on this steamy Thursday was harder than I had planned. I was certain that today would be disappointing compared to yesterday. Hearing the dark man’s seductive voice for the first time sent my world into a sexually frustrated tailspin. Now, my nightly apparitions of the dark man had an accompanying soundtrack. I struggled to get dressed and out into the hot city. Running half an hour later than the past three days, I left my apartment in a frenzied rush. The streets leading to the coffee shop were more crowded than I was used to. My long, white, flowing linen dress, a throwback to Emily Dickinson, stood out in the flood of power-suits and cell phones. I was gladly comforted by the sweet mocha smell of the coffee shop.

My stomach became nervously tied up at the sight of the dark man sitting at my usual table. I ordered my breakfast, noticing Kailee uneasily glancing at my occupied table. I stood there, impatiently tapping my fingers on the green wooden counter top. Kailee came back to me, my order in her hands. She hesitated in handing it to me. Once again, her eyes snapped to my dark man. "He’s been coming here for close to a year,” she said to me in a subdued whisper, “all day, every day he sat in that one chair. He never touched any of his food, never moved. He just stared out the window. Then, you came. You were the first person he made eye contact with. Now, he’s moved to your table. You seem like a very smart lady, just be careful is all I’m saying. He gives me the willies.”

I gave her a maternal nod and smile and turned to face my new challenge. Walking slow and steadily, I moved past my usual table. “Excuse me, miss,” I head his deep infectious voice behind me; I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around, the rubber soles of my Keds squeaking on the newly mopped hardwood floors. “I was hoping you would be joining me this morning.”

I couldn’t think of enough words to put a sentence together. Instead of verbally responding, I shakily moved toward the table. The dark man’s blue eyes had their usual pain, but seemed to posses a new life. For the first and glorious time, I saw a death-like smile ease across his usually granite face. He stood up to pull out my chair. My knees were peach jam as I maneuvered myself into the tall metal chair.

The dark man returned to his seat, maintaining unbroken eye contact. He asked my name and I offered it to him like I was a toddler anxiously shoving my latest crayon masterpiece into the hands of my father. My voice was wavering with fear. The conversation was unsteady in the beginning, but we soon fell into the flow of it. We discussed books, films, and art. The dark man knows a great deal about the things I am most passionate about. He was also charmingly fascinated by my work in art and literature.

To be honest, I missed some of what he said. The shapes of his mouth forming the words spoke only whispers of sex to my love deprived brain. I tried to smile sweetly and make witty remarks, which he never so much as chuckled at. That was the strange thing, really. He looked at me intently, and listened keenly, but never laughed and didn’t smile after that initial ghostly grin.

We stayed there talking all day. I downed glass after glass of herbal iced tea, but he never ate or drank a thing. I tried to stay away from any unneeded personal questions, unsure of the ground I stood with him. He seemed to notice and respect my weariness. I usually pay very close attention to my surroundings, but today I turned off my usually pristine perception, and became fully wrapped up in the crystal blue pools of the dark man’s eyes. Since he was all I saw, I can barely remember the taste of the pastries I ate. The sun went down and the streetlights flickered on, without any change in my unwavering observation of the dark man’s impeccable grace.

When the shop was about to close, the dark man rose from his chair and wished me a “delightful rest of my day.” I was hoping he would have offered to walk me home, but he didn’t. He just got up and left me there. I was in complete awe of what had just taken place. The dark man had made such an obvious effort to reach out to me. I feel like I’m falling in love with this dark man, this mystery. I had not asked him his name. I had learned nothing of him past or present. None of that mattered to me. The thrill of new love boiled within me, and I have lost my heart to my dark man. There will be no sleep to be had tonight.

Part Five

I woke up this morning, drenched head to toe in sweat. Last night, the temperature rose close to a hundred degrees. The outside atmosphere, however, was nothing compared to the sweltering inferno that raged inside of me for my dark man. My eyes snapped open at the first sound of my alarm clock, and I violently threw myself from the bed. Today I adorned myself with a short, yet flowing, pink sundress, wanting to please my dark man’s eye. An antique pin gingerly held my long blond hair back, away from my moist face. Before I left the apartment I took one last look in the full-length mirror that was leaned against the wall next to my closet. After smoothing the light cotton over my thick waist and round hips, unsatisfied with my unfit, untrimmed body, I bolted out of the small oven and into the steamy city streets.

I was crazed, yet managed to remain somewhat composed as I briskly walked the to the coffee shop. A smile, unmatched by any I had ever had before, sparkled on my face. When I rounded the final corner, ready to greet the inviting brick façade of the coffee shop, I was halted abruptly. Instead of the warm mocha smell and welcoming brick of a flourishing business, I saw a broken down, decrepit building standing before me. Where had the coffee shop gone? What had become of it?

Confusion mounting in my brain, I entered the ramshackle structure. Dust and grime covered every inch of a green wooden counter that extended along the left hand wall. My eyes widened in disbelief when I turned and saw the table the dark man and I had been sitting at just the day before. Only, it was astoundingly different. The paint was chipped and, much like the counter, it was over run with dust.

The armchairs, including the dark man’s, sat moth hole ridden and dusty in their correct corner. I ran my fingers along the musty fabric, tears rolling down my horror stricken face. My hands began to shake like autumn leaves that cling to the dying tree limbs, and I fell to the sullied, cracked hardwood floor. Bewilderment and fear racked my body and I sat rocking back and forth, weeping loudly.

It was then that I heard the door open, it creaked and groaned with age and wear. I immediately responded to the noise, wrenching my head up to face the sound. I was relieved to see the dark man standing in front of me, his ghostly smile shining.

“What’s wrong?” he asked me, kneeling down to my level, “Why do you look so pained?” I explained the cause of my disoriented state, and a surprising look of understanding came to him. “I knew this time would come,” the dark man said. I was ignorant to what he was talking about, and stared at him dumbfounded.

When he noticed my oblivion he took a small piece of paper from the pocket of his black linen sport coat and handed it to me. I unfolded it; it was a newspaper clipping. Upon reading the clipping, my situation quickly became clearer. The clipping I held was an obituary. My name and picture, the ink appearing somewhat fresh, took up most of it. In a small column on the opposite side, my death was chronicled. I died April 18, 2003 at midnight from self-inflicted wounds on my wrists.

I paused for a moment to think of what day it was. Today is April 23, 2003, five days later than that on the page. The dark man took me in his arms and held me tight. I closed my eyes for a few moments, taking in all that I had just come to know. When I opened my eyes he stood there with a tall glass of iced herbal tea. One last tear fell from my eye and hit the floor. I looked down, my face reflected back in the newly polished wood. My arm lifted up and I held it in front of me. After examining the deep wounds in my wrist, I lowered my arms and nodded to myself.

The dark man helped me up into his armchair, and I stared out the window at the mass of living people that mulled past me. There are some things in life that we take for granted. Life itself is one of them. Also, our mind and soul cannot handle the sudden and unexpected change from agonizing life to self inflicted death. Having taken my own life, I now sit here everyday and watch life, never being able to feel it. Never again will I feel the gentle spring breeze brushing past me on a clear morning. No more will I enjoy the touch of a lover, gentle and sensual, on my lonely skin. Yet, I cannot regret my choice, for I feel no pain.

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