Friday, November 27, 2020
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
The house next door was perfectly quiet for the next few days. I suppose they were settling in, so there was no coming and going, but there also wasn't any noise. There's about three feet of space between that house and mine, except in the dining-room where the outer walls abut, so there's not usually a lot of noise, not like an apartment or a party-wall kind of arrangement; but still there had always been a low distant sort of lived-in sound when the last owners were there, and when the house was being shown. Even with my ear pressed against the wall that touched theirs (my head inside my built-in china cabinets) I could hear nothing, no footsteps or voices or music. It was a little eerie.
I also couldn't see into the house: the front windows had been covered by paper blinds all along, though they'd been kept open during the sale and were now tightly closed; but on the rare occasions that lights came on behind them, there were no shadows cast nor any other signs of life within; and then the back atrium windows had been completely frosted at some point between the sale and the move-in, as all three stories of the thing were now translucent white, though I could see the shadows of plants up against the windows all the way up; The Boy must've done it himself with cut-and-stick film, because there'd been no glass-men in, I'd have noticed.
I was quite dejected, unable to catch sneaky peeks of The Boy at home, from either my back yard or my front window. And as the days dragged on without a sighting of my obsession, my depression grew. I worried about him, wondering if he was even in the house still, or if it had all been some sort of mistake— perhaps The Diva had not liked the house and they'd left the same night as they arrived, sometime when I wasn't at the window to see them— and they would disappear to some more stylish neighborhood and put the house back on the market.
Or more optimistically, perhaps The Diva had caught a cold or something and was laid up in bed, The Boy assiduously tending her with pots of tea and bowls of broth. I just knew it could not be normal for her to stay at home for days on end, women like that are not shut-ins, as a rule. A woman who wears a Chanel cape and carries a Kelly handbag is not going to be indoors on her duff all day, she has to be out where she can be admired and envied.
It was more likely they were going out late at night, when I wasn't watching. Though I live in my window most of the day, after dark I tend to back off since I'm visible to passersby—mirrored glass requires it to be brighter outside than inside to work, and with no sun and insufficient streetlights it was the other way around. So I tend not to turn my lights on, and stay on the couch at night, where I can only be seen from the upper windows directly across the street, with my laptop and the television (and the occasional fire on the hearth) the only illumination to betray me.
I did sit at my desk later than usual, watching for my neighbors, but after about eight or nine o'clock, with uncounted strangers staring at me as they walked by, I couldn't stand it and retreated to the couch. I considered getting some of those DIY security cameras and mounting one outside the bay window, pointing at the house next door as well as one pointed at my front door and up the street in the other direction so it wasn't obvious that I was spying on that particular part of the sidewalk; but I wasn't sure I'd be able to install them and would have to contact strangers to get them set up—and then it would be spying again, tacky tacky tacky, so I dismissed the idea.
My next sighting came from an unexpected quarter: on my usual Thursday afternoon on the lam from my cleaners, immersed in a pile of "Lifestyle" magazines (you know the sort, rich people's decorated homes and rich people's fancy-dressed pastimes and rich people's luxury goods adverts, I'm hopelessly addicted to them and have been since the TV show Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous entranced me as a teenager in the 80s) I found my new neighbors in the new issue of San Francisco Social, snapped at a prestigious fundraiser in the Legion of Honor—one of those dinner and cocktails and silent auction affairs for vague catch-all causes that are so expensive to buy into that only the very rich can be bothered.
The Diva was stunning in a black sheath dress and an Egyptian-style gemstone necklace so vast it really qualified as armor, The Boy standing behind her to one side again and just toothsome in black tie with his hair neatly brushed and gleaming in the darkness. The two-by-two-inch snap was captioned Agatha de Momerie and Tristan Mallow at the Philanthropy Circle Fine Arts Gala.
Tristan. Tristan! Trissssssstannnnn— what a beautiful name, and it suited him perfectly. I wondered that he had a different surname than The Diva (I didn't have the nerve to say her name aloud), perhaps it was his father's name and she went by her maiden name? Or they hadn't been married? Or perhaps he wasn't her son, a nephew or cousin—or maybe not even related to her at all? A secretary or kept boy? It was a tantalizing mystery.
I hit the computer at a run when I got home later that afternoon, Googling Agatha de Momerie and Tristan Mallow to see what I could find out about them. It should not have surprised me that they had absolutely zero social media presence, The Diva didn't seem the type to post selfies on Instagram or muse over banalities on Twitter or share recipes on Pinterest; The Boy, though, was of an age that he should've been all over the place, but it was fairly likely he used a nom de guerre to mask his identity from stalkers— I mean, who wouldn't want to stalk him? I don't use my real name, either, I am Charlie Curmudgeon on every single platform, Charles Pugh only to my bank.
I did find some more fundraiser red carpet snaps of them, though, from society pages over the last several years. They were buried deep, underneath discussions of Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise, a million marshmallow recipes, and how to raise mallow plants (who knew that was a flower? I thought it was a sort of reed), but they were there in the archives of New York Magazine and Town & Country. The Boy must be older than he looks, though, for as old as some of those pictures were, going back as far as ten years—he had to be in his middle to late twenties, or else The Diva had been dragging him around in her wake since he was a child. A very tall and developed child, as they both looked exactly the same ten years ago as they did at the Fine Arts Gala. That presented a puzzle, but not as tantalizing as the other puzzles, so it slipped my mind.
However, these pictures I could share with my friends online without being a creepy creeper, they were more-or-less public domain and consent had been given.
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Thursday, November 12, 2020
The Diva made a subtle but perfectly intelligible gesture with her right hand, directing The Boy to open the door to the house for her; he rushed up the steps to unlock the door and rushed back down to grab a few of the bags off the driver; The Diva sailed into the house like a tall ship entering a harbor. The Boy followed and the uniformed driver, who incidentally looked exactly like Odd Job from Dr. No minus the lethal bowler hat, brought up the rear.
The driver emerged a moment later, drove the gorgeous pearl gray Rolls away, and the show was over. I sat at my desk for the longest time, agog, simply digesting what I'd seen. The Diva was just amazing, the kind of fabulous that you simply don't get in San Francisco— she was New York fabulous, Paris fabulous, and was as fascinating in her own way as The Boy. And far more puzzling: beautiful boys happen everywhere, but a glamorous woman like that simply isn't to be found on the wrong side of Market Street in the most provincial of the world's capitals. I couldn't imagine what she was doing here.
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I didn't see the boy leave that evening, he must've sneaked out while I was unavoidably forced to the bathroom, or quite avoidably detained foraging for snacks. And I didn't see him come back the next day, either, or the day after — despite staking out my front window from first light to sunset.
More interesting, though, nobody else came to the house: if the new owners were coming in, I would expect more workmen, as nobody ever moved into a new house without repainting or reflooring at least part of it; nobody came to take away the realtor's rented furniture, either, nor to clear away any of the staging; and most irritatingly, the decorator I'd imagined was The Boy's employer never made an appearance, crushing my fantasy of stalking a lovely young assistant through professional channels.
The lack of the mysterious decorator made me wonder if the boy was indeed a decorator's assistant as I'd surmised. What if he was part of the moving team, flying out early to get the house ready for moving in while the other two drove the truck across the country? Or if he was an employee of the new owners, a personal assistant or secretary? Or what if he was one of the new owners? Or a member of the family? What if he was moving in next door? I didn't think my heart would be able to stand having that boy next door permanently, I'd just die of the strain.
The new owner turned up on the Friday, and was as unexpected as everything else that had happened in front of that house. A pearl gray 50s-vintage Rolls-Royce ghosted up to the curb outside, disgorging The Boy (gorgeous in a dapper summer suit) and a uniformed driver the moment it came to a halt; then The Boy reached back into the car and handed out a woman of absolutely stunning chic: all long slim limbs and dramatic angles, with a broad semi-sheer black leghorn hat smartly tilted, a sharply tailored Chanel cape of tweedy bouclé, elegant gloved-to-the-elbow hands emerging from slits at the front, stiletto black boots up over the knee, and an unmistakable Hermès Kelly handbag of ink-green alligator hanging from her elbow.
Her face was even more arresting than her intensely stylish ensemble: a long aristocratic nose, high arched brows, bold cheekbones, great fathomless black eyes, incisively angled jaw, precise mulberry-glazed mouth, and flawless white skin so smooth it seemed to glow with reflected light. She was as artificial and magnificent as a Dior New Look model, or a black-and-white film star, graceful and majestic and too exquisite to be quite real.
More interesting, though, is that she had the same features as The Boy, the same eyes and nose and cheekbones arranged slightly differently, more refined and brittle, but undeniably of the same blood. Could she be his mother? She didn't look old enough, but too old to be his sister. Maybe an aunt?
She gazed appraisingly at the house next door, studying it without apparent satisfaction, while the driver unloaded a good deal of expensive matched luggage from the back of the Rolls. The Boy stood just behind her and to one side, nervously biting his lip and watching The Diva (what else could I call her?) as she examined the facade, obviously hoping for approval and fearing reproach.
Friday, November 6, 2020
The Boy lounged on the steps for a few minutes, scrolling on his phone, then stood up and looked up and down the street with a question-mark look on his face, as if trying to decide which way to go; then consulted his phone and took off decisively to the right, passing my window on his way.
As he passed, he looked directly at me and smiled slightly, giving me a hell of a start— the bottom half of my windows are coated with a reflective tinting, allowing me much needed privacy in nearly-street-level windows without obscuring my view; he couldn't possibly have seen me through what was essentially a two-way mirror between us.
Once I swallowed my thumping heart, I realized he must have been looking at himself: I frequently enjoy impromptu shows outside my window when people tall enough to catch their reflection will stop to check their look or try out a pose or two. His actually meeting my eye was just a coincidence, an illusion of the angle, and that sweet smile was meant for himself alone.
No matter how sternly I reminded myself that he couldn't have seen me, my anxiety flipped on and ramped up to a low-level panic— the sort of panic you get from narrowly avoiding a traffic collision rather than the panic of stepping into an empty elevator shaft, but still uncomfortable. It was part of my problem with people, the discomfort of being seen, which I had to brace myself against when I went out of the house. On top of the fear of being seen, though, was the sensation of being caught doing something naughty, which is what turned the discomfort into real fear. The illusory conviction that the Boy knew I'd been watching him threw me into a tailspin of guilt.
Comfort food and pointless exercise were my remedies for mild panic attacks, so I climbed my rather steep stairs a few times before grabbing a pint of dulce de leche ice cream and another cup of coffee, decaf this time. And all that took exactly how long the Boy was gone, as I'd just settled back into my chair when he came back down the street, a tall paper coffee cup in his hand, walking slowly and studying the spindly trees and occasional flowerbeds along the curb. My panic subsided immediately I caught sight of him, his extravagant beauty a balm to my anxious soul.
Not long afterward another big truck showed up, a moving truck rather than a delivery truck, blazoned with logos and contact information for a New York moving agency. So the Boy wasn't from the realtors' decorator, but the new owner's decorator!
I didn't know the house had sold, the listing was still active the last time I looked at it, a few days before. I immediately went into the realtor's website and found that sometime in the last few days, the listing had changed. And there hadn't been a "Sale Pending" period, standard for online real estate listings, when a prospective buyer puts in a bid and the sale goes into escrow.
That may easily have been a computer error, and the price listed on the sale had to be an error as well: a little less than half of the asking price! The price had been too high, certainly, but the previous owners, a couple of trust-fund-baby financiers who'd moved to the suburbs when the female half fell pregnant, had resolutely refused to budge on that price for nearly a year. I couldn't imagine they'd suddenly settle for half, way less than the house was worth, less even than I'd paid for my much smaller (if much nicer) house seven years ago. There had to be a mistake somewhere.
I watched the movers for the next few hours, paying no attention at all to my computer or my television so I didn't miss anything of interest; the two men were very handsome, burly Italian types, and they had those nifty motorized dollies that climb the stairs on their own, which was weirdly fun to watch. Not much furniture came through, quite a few paper-wrapped parcels that could be either mirrors or paintings, some mysterious and obviously heavy objects swaddled in blankets and plastic-wrap which I assume were sculptures, and a lot of big trunks ranging from Vuitton steamers to decrepit antiques like I'd seen the Boy carrying his second day; the rest was cardboard boxes, mostly wardrobe boxes with metal rods across the tops though quite a few smaller cartons that looked like books.
The Boy came out a few times to fetch boxes out of the truck, all of them marked "FRAGILE" though they didn't seem to weigh anything. Fine glassware, perhaps? Christmas ornaments? I had a lovely time watching the process, guessing the contents of the parcels and cases, ogling the movers and glimpsing the object of my obsession, it was better than any birthday treat I've ever given myself.
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Thursday, November 5, 2020
The Boy turned up again on Monday, in a taxi this time, and earlier in the morning than he had before, so early that I was only half awake on my first cup of coffee. But after a brief disappearance into the house, he came back outside and perched on the steps, just at the edge of my windows' view, and made a couple of calls on a slim little smartphone, texting or typing notes in between calls. Dressed in a pair of battered Dickies overalls over a faded browny-gray thermal tee and venerable work boots, like the world's prettiest machinist or farmer, his hair up in its adorable bun, he looked like he was setting out to do some manual labor, heavy lifting or painting or installing things, that I dearly wished I could watch.
I got my camera and set up a shot, waiting for him to turn his head more in my direction so I could get the wonder of his face in three-quarter profile, everyone's best angle; but he didn't look around him, he watched the ground at his feet, presenting the delicious line of his neck and the dramatic angles of his cheekbones and jaw, but it was just not enough. I took a couple of snaps of his lowered profile, enough to serve my needs as a desktop wallpaper for as long as this obsession lasted, but nothing I could share with my friends online to show them how beautiful he was.
Then I started feeling guilty for spying on him and taking pictures of him unawares, planning to share his likeness across the country without his permission or knowledge. Creeper with a capital C, and though it was astronomically unlikely he'd ever find out what I'd done, my sense of guilt is well-developed enough that I'd always feel like he had found out and hated me for it.
So I put the camera away — keeping the profile shots to remind me of him after he had finished his job and disappeared from my orbit forever — and just leaned my head on my hand and gazed at him over my coffee. I can't swear that I didn't heave a couple of wistful sighs while I was at it, and it's quite possible I ran my fingers over my lips imagining what it would be like to kiss him.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2020
The next day was Thursday, also known as Cleaning Lady Invasion Day, which I almost invariably spend out of the house. It's uncomfortable being in the way when someone is cleaning, and uncomfortable to watch someone else work while you're sitting around like an indolent slug; but more uncomfortable than being in the way and watching someone work is being in the way and watching them wash your dirty cereal bowls and launder your discarded underpants. On top of which, the ladies were loud and cheerful, a mother and daughter who chattered to each other in what I assume is Tagalog the entire time they were working; if I was there, they'd try to talk to me, so I made it my business to be elsewhere on Thursdays.
It's my only regular day out, especially since the grocery store started a delivery service, and I had my rituals for the day: lunch in a restaurant on Castro, a poke around in the shops, and the rest of the afternoon at a coffee-house with pastries and espresso and a new book. I always dreaded how much walking was involved in this excursion, especially in typically San Franciscan weather, but I loved the sitting part, and the people-watching couldn't be beat. There was always some pretty boy or handsome man in at least one of my stops, whom I could ogle and daydream about.
This Thursday, however, I was reluctant to leave the house for fear of missing The Boy, with whom I was already fully obsessed far beyond my usual voyeuristic yearnings. I hadn't been away from my desk window for any appreciable amount of time in days, keeping a weather eye out for him, all for a few seconds of drinking in his beauty. I was still dithering in the window, fully dressed for outside but for my coat, when Mesdames Herradura Senior and Junior arrived, surprising them more than a little…they had my keys so I could leave before they arrived, and hadn't actually been in the same room with them in over a year.
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