Watch Me by Jody Gehrman
Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor at Blackwood college, she’s dangerously close to never being noticed again. The follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman ten years younger. She’s always been bright, beautiful, independent and a little wild, but now her glow is starting to vanish. She’s heading into an age where her eyes are less blue, her charm worn out, and soon no one will ever truly look at her, want to know her, again.
There’s a key turning in your door. Adrenaline shoots through my body so fast I get a head rush.
For a second, my impulse is to stand my ground. I long to greet you and welcome you in and cook for you and ask about your day and massage the kinks from your taut shoulders and scold Emily for jumping onto your lap when it’s your turn to be petted, to be loved.
But of course none of that can happen, not yet. If you find me like this, I’ll be suspect—worse than suspect. I’ll be caught. And even though I know in my heart there’s nothing sinister about my presence here, you don’t. You won’t see it that way.
I don’t blame you. My impatience with the distance between us grows more intense every second, though.
You’re in the foyer now, closing the door. Any moment you’ll turn and see me. My heart pounds against my ribcage like a crazed dog throwing itself against a fence. I dash up the stairs, willing my boots to stay silent. If you could see me now, you’d be impressed. I’ve got stealth. My criminal instincts are honed. The good girl in you can’t help but be turned on by that. Maybe if you catch me, you’ll find it sexy.
But no. Not going to happen.
You can’t see me.
I have to disappear.
Everything’s riding on this. My pulse races.
Without thinking, I run into the first room at the top of the stairs: the bathroom. Your smell is heavy in here, a tropical storm of Kateness. I creep inside the tub and, careful not to make a sound, pull the shower curtain closed.
I hear you walking up the stairs. You’re humming. It sounds like “Wild Nights” by Van Morrison—one of my favorite songs. That has to mean something.
There’s a preoccupied cadence to your footsteps. I picture you flipping through mail, your brow furrowed in that tiny apostrophe of concentration. You probably have your reading glasses perched on the end of your nose. I ache for you. I peak around the curtain just enough to catch a glimpse of your slender bare feet reaching the top of the staircase and making a left toward your bedroom. I hold my breath, letting the curtain fall back into place.
Why didn’t I slip out when I had the chance? If you find me here, everything’s fucked.
I let my cockiness get out of hand.
From now on, I resolve to be more careful.
You’re in the bedroom, still humming. Definitely “Wild Nights.” I close my eyes and lean my head against the cool white tile. My heart continues to race. My breathing’s ragged. I can hear you searching through drawers. You must be looking for your yoga pants, your wife beater. Your humming turns to singing in the bedroom. There’s the sound of coat hangers clicking against one another. Your voice is husky and rich.
Out of nowhere, a ripple of calm washes over me. This is how it will be when we live together. You’ll be in the next room singing while you change clothes. I’ll step out of the shower, wipe steam from the mirror. I’ll walk into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around my waist. You’ll glance over your shoulder at me, your face lighting up as you pull your tank over your head. I’ll sit on the bed and rub my damp hair, caught between the need to touch you and the simple pleasure of watching you from across the room.
You drop something—your phone? The sound jolts me back to the moment. I need to go right now, while you’re still in the bedroom.
I can’t, though. With your scent in the air, your off key song in my ears, there’s too much anchoring me to the spot. We’re so close right now. I’m in your world, and even though I haven’t been invited, your nearness fills me like a drug.
Oh, God. You’re in the bathroom. You turn on the faucet at the sink. Fuck, this is torture. You’re so close.
So fucking close.
I listen to you brushing your teeth. Smell the minty freshness of your toothpaste. You gargle. Spit.
My breath catches in my throat as you fall silent. What are you doing now? You’re motionless. Are you eyeing the shower curtain? Maybe it’s not as opaque as I thought. You can see my silhouette. You’re standing there, still as a tree, holding your breath, staring at my outline in the pearly white curtain. Any second now you’ll yank open the plastic and—
Oh, God, I can’t stand it, I’m going to—
Wait. You’re leaving.
I exhale in dizzy relief as your bare feet patter back into the hallway and down the stairs.
When I hear NPR come to life in the kitchen, I decide it’s now or never. The stairs end in the downstairs hallway opposite the kitchen, so it’s risky. I have to chance it. Let’s pray you’re in the pantry or at the stove, your back to me. I lift first one foot, then the other, out of the tub, moving like a mime. Every step requires extreme control. My system’s still flooded with adrenaline; my muscles ache to take the stairs at a dead run. In spite of the radio, the oak planks will make way too much noise if I hurry. There’s a window at the landing. I catch sight of your neighbor’s children in the side yard—two little girls. They’re playing a game involving plastic guns. Like marionettes controlled by the same hand, their tiny blonde heads swivel toward me. We stare at one another through the glass for a long moment.
I need to get out of here.
There’s a bad moment at the bottom of the stairs. You’re not in the pantry. Not at the stove. You’re at the sink. All it would take for you to catch sight of me is a quick sideways glance.
Again, the crazy injustice of our situation hits me. I know you better than anyone, Kate, yet I’m forced to run away like a thief.
I hurry toward the front door.
Just as I’m closing it behind me, lunging for the porch steps, I hear you say, “Hello? Is someone there?”
CREDIT: Watch Me by Jody Gehrman. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St Martin’s Press.