I remember those lazy summer nights. In my light, light dress, I would open the window and gaze at the moon in the night. I would look and almost feel the air touching every inch of my body. The cool breeze, the nature and my neighbor’s gun.
He was a strange man. A Texan. He moved here long ago when his wife died in a car crash. He’d use his gun daily since then. He’d shut through the window into the sky. Tryin’ to kill that fucking bastard that killed my wife all over again, he’d say. The fucking bastard died in the accident as well.
We live in a two story building, you see. It’s just our family on the first floor: mum, dad, my sister and me. He had the second floor for his own. We’d rarely talk though, he was an odd man. He wouldn’t talk much. I don’t talk much either; this is where we are alike.
Every night, he’d take out his gun and shoot at the sky. It was his religion, it was his ritual of some sort, nobody understood that, it actually bothered everyone at first. But you get used to living with other people’s ghosts. I did. I couldn’t fall asleep until he shot that bullet into the sky. I know mum couldn’t, I would hear her going into the kitchen for a glass of water, waiting for him to shoot. When he did, she’d turn the kitchen lights off and fall asleep.
I never could fall asleep after his shots though. I kept thinking about how much he had loved his wife that he decided to continue this ritual until the day he died. Although he came to live with us a long time ago, like ten years perhaps, he was thrown out of every home he tried to live in, because the neighbors couldn’t accept this weird ritual of his.
I would sit there looking through the window wondering about him and his life. I heard him breathe when he would go out to the balcony. He couldn’t sleep either, maybe it was the summer’s heat, maybe he had insomnia. No one dared to ask, even me. Even if someone asked, I doubt that he would respond and his silence was disturbing. I had lots of thoughts at night, about my own future even. About my future when I grow older and live with Vic in another house, for example. I was wondering how I will fall asleep without hearing that shot at night. After the dose of thinking I listened to my own breathing or sometimes looked at the picture of my aunt to whom I once said “I wish you nothing but death”. My mum put her picture in my room as a punishment after she died. You see she cut my lips when I was little and the scars will never heal. They are not very noticeable, though which is good. She’d often laugh at me because of that. I never told my mother about her sister, I said that I cut them myself. I decided to have my own ghost and live with it. It was sometimes hard seeing her face, smiling, full of greed and hatred. My sister saw her cutting my lips with the little scissors and auntie said: “You say this to anyone and I will make your smile eternal too.”
My sister never spoke of that again. Neither did I.
And one night he didn’t shoot. In the morning we didn’t talk while having breakfast. Dad was silent, instead of saying the morning jokes. Mum’s hands were shaking. My sister was looking at me with a gaze that almost asked me to tell her that he did shoot. I was looking at them all, observing how the old Texan became a part of our life. His ritual became ours. My mother’s moves were chaotic; she seemed to be impatient and anticipating.
“I’ll go see Vic today,” I said to my family.
My dad looked at me like he approved it, so I did. I saw Vic from afar, he was earlier than me, as usual, sitting of the grass near the lake where we always meet. He was sad today.
“I didn’t hear it,” he said.
I looked at him attentively.
“Tell me he did,” he said it calmly, looking at the little waves of the lake.
“He didn’t shoot, Vic,” I said. “Now kiss me.”
He looked at me, smiled and pretended he didn’t want to. So I sat further from him. He looked at me then turned away. Fine, I thought and turned away as well. In one second I felt something on my hand, in two more seconds that thing held my hands and I couldn’t do anything about it. And in three more seconds I felt this soft touch on my lips. How could he not kiss me? He lay down on me, touching me and kissing me on the neck, lips and shoulders. Then he lay beside me.
“I like your dress,” he said
I didn’t react. I just lay there, feeling the soft wind on my skin.
“I like your breasts,” he said loudly.
I turned to him and started making faces at him and he just laughed. And I laughed at him. It was a sunny summer’s day and we didn’t have a care in the world.
Who am I trying to kid? We did have one care. And it bothered everyone.
I came back home to see a pie on the table and my mum sitting in the kitchen looking through the window. Waiting.
“I have to ask you this,” she said. “Go to him, make sure he is fine, give him this pie. I won’t be able to sleep. I just can’t.”
Her face was almost crying, she thought he died. And it seemed only I felt that he was fine.
“All right, mum.”
I took the stairs I almost never took before. They were clean, though, he’d clean them time to time. I wasn’t afraid. I am not saying that I wasn’t curious why didn’t he shoot, I was, but there was something in me that was killing the will to know. I knocked on his door. No one opened. I waited. Knocked again and waited… until he opened.
“Yep?” He said calmly.
“Hi, I’m the neighbor downstairs, my mum made you this pie and wanted me to make sure you are ok,” I said.
“Thank you but you eat it all up, miss. I am fine,” he said.
I looked at him. He looked at me. His gaze was stronger than mine, so eventually I looked down.
“I didn’t hear it.” I said and heard him closing the door. Not slamming it, but closing it quietly.
I looked at the door for a moment then went to sit on the stairs. I was thinking about him, he was a very handsome man, yes he was old but years ago he must have been the most handsome guy in town.
And I heard him open the door. I could already imagine him pointing his gun at me and shooting me and saying: “Heard it now.” I closed my eyes.
When I opened them I just saw him sitting next to me only now wearing a cowboy hat.
“You got a nice boy there. He comes up to ya some nights, havin’ fun there miss?” he asked calmly, smiling at me.
I smiled at him, I must admit, he got me shy there.
“It’s not what you think…” I didn’t finish.
“Well why ain’ it?” he smiled again and looked right into my face and his smile was gone. I didn’t turn away, I knew he saw my scars or my eternal smile, like auntie called it.
“I hear you breathe on the balcony every time after you shoot. You keep thinking of her.”
“At night yes. And sometimes I think of you when you silently listen to me,” he said.
“Scissors,” I said and sighted. “She took scissors and cut my lips. A frame with her picture is in my room because no one saw her cutting me but everyone saw me wishing her death.”
“Why yer keepin’ it then?” He asked.
“Same reason you’re shooting.”
He looked away. He understood me. He took his cowboy hat off and closed his eyes.
“Don’t pity me, sir,” I said interrupting his thoughts.
He opened his eyes and looked at me.
“It’s just a photo, miss. It’s destroyable,” he said.
“I haven’t figured a good way to destroy it yet.”
“When you do, miss, you know where to find me,” he said and stood up. “And miss, I hope when this guy comes next time it will be what I think.”
He smiled and made me smile.
“Sir, are you sure you don’t want the pie?”
But he already closed the door, I didn’t even say goodbye.
I came back home that evening with the pie to find my whole family by the kitchen table, sitting and waiting. Their faces turned to me as I approached them.
“He’s fine,” I said. “I guess he fell asleep yesterday and forgot to shoot or something.”
They all were calm now and as I sat by the kitchen table, they started to eat.
I couldn’t sleep that night either. I was looking through the window, thinking about the Texan when I heard steps. I saw a silhouette coming towards me. It was Vic.
“Hi Juliet,” he said.
“Hi yourself, Romeo, climb in,” I replied with a little laugh.
He entered my room looking into my eyes. I looked back at him as he sat on the floor. I sat right next to him.
“He’s fine,” I spoke at last.
Vic was silent for a moment then he looked at me.
“That’s not why I came here. I came here to spend time with you,” he said it and touched my nose.
I smiled at him and kissed him softly. He touched my face with his hands and touched my lips by his so slowly then he opened his mouth and bit my lip softly. I embraced him tighter and closed my eyes. He touched me slowly while he was kissing my neck and shoulders. He paused for a moment and I opened my eyes, he knew I loved when he did that. He carried me to the bed while kissing me passionately, every kiss was deeper and deeper. I took his shirt off to feel his warmth. I knew the neighbor heard us. Every time, he wasn’t listening but he heard us. I think he was thinking about himself and his wife when he heard us.
“Wait,” I said to Vic.
He looked at me confused as I stood up and took the frame with the picture of my aunt. I came closer to the window and heard him breathe silently. He was waiting to shoot but didn’t want to disturb me and Vic. Or he was waiting for my move to help him and myself.
“Thank you,” I said loudly and heard him stand up. I closed my eyes and threw the frame as high as I could and heard him shoot.
When what’s left of the frame fell down, I noticed that the bullet went right through her face. I looked at it for a while, not smiling, not crying, I was calm.
I came back to Vic who apparently was very proud of me. I didn’t tell him about my aunt but I know that my sister couldn’t bear her guilt and told him.
That night was what the Texan thought it would be.
As I was lying in Vic’s embrace, I heard him shoot again. Did he make up for yesterday’s failure to shoot? That thought was just a manipulation. What I originally thought was if it was my neighbor’s gun that shot to the sky or to his forehead tonight. Turned out later it was the second. And everyone lives with their ghosts.
This is for Wiesia.