Just Looking

He liked to look in windows. He knew it was wrong and could get him in big trouble, but   a glimpse of fire burning in a grate, a vase of flowers on the window sill, a table set for a meal proved irresistible. He couldn’t help himself, he had to look. If there was a sheltering bush with a good view of the house, he’d linger a bit, watching the family as they ate dinner or gathered around a television set. Then he’d resume walking slowly, blending into the shadows, head down, but eyes darting.

A slight figure, so pale that his face became ghost-like in the dark, he’d walk for miles, zeroing in on homes with the curtains open and the dogs inside for the night. He was careful not to go to the same neighborhoods too often. There was one house he particularly liked, though, one that pulled him back to visit more often than he should have.

The busy family that lived there hardly ever thought to close the blinds. Lamp-lit windows made golden paths on the lawn. Doors slammed, voices called, and bikes lay forgotten in the driveway. The house was white; it reminded him of a wedding cake, a gleaming haven in the gathering dusk. He’d scoot under the branches of an evergreen tree in the front yard and look his fill.  A basketball goal hung over the garage door and once a boy and his father were playing together. They were so near he could smell their sweat.

“Hey, let’s go in,” the father said. “It’s too dark; I can’t even see the darn hoop.”

“Let’s shoot free-throws, then. You can do that with your eyes shut, can’t you?” They laughed together like old friends.

Watching the pair of them, he felt sick and empty. His stomach growled. When had he last eaten? Propelled by hunger, he turned toward home.

Reaching the bridge, he scrambled down the embankment. One of the others had a small campfire going, and it lit his way through the broken bottles around the pup-tent. He hoped his mother had picked up something from the 7-11 – maybe one of those hot dogs that rolled perpetually under the heat lamp. His mouth watered.

But the tent was empty. There was an open can of beans and a plastic spoon on the cardboard box that served as their table. That meant his mother didn’t expect to come back to the tent to sleep that night. He shoveled in the beans, wrapped up in his crusty blanket and curled into a ball to preserve as much body heat as possible.

When he closed his eyes, he saw the warmly lit rooms of the houses he’d passed. He heard the boy and his father laughing. Maybe someday, he thought as he slipped into merciful sleep. Maybe someday. For now, all he could do was look.




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