March 11, 2005

Real Life Unfunnies

Through the open screened window, with the smell of eggs and bacon, comes the sound of a woman sobbing, weirdly musical and wobbly, turning upward at the ends of phrases. Though she’s my next–door neighbor, I don’t know her, have never even seen her to smile hello—she must be one of those student renters who dot our neighborhood, or a young office worker. My fictionalizing mind immediately goes into action: has someone died?

Then a voice answers her, a young man’s voice, polite and not unfriendly: “Goodbye.”

So it’s that.

A car door opens and shuts in their driveway, and the man’s voice is not heard again. But the woman’s voice grows louder, and it’s not musical anymore, it crescendos quickly and snaps off the ends of phrases with choked breaths. So that’s why it sounded almost musical–comical before: she was pleading with someone.

I’m eating a cheese sandwich for breakfast. The smell of bacon comes in stronger, and the scene is playing out in my mind: what if I went out as if to water the lawn, noticed her, asked what was wrong, comforted her…

I don’t even consider, at this point, that whatever strife she had with her boyfriend she might have with me. Or that I’m old enough to be her father, or that my life is full without her. The Play button gets hit automatically. My wife is out of town today—that must be nourishing the fantasy—but my life is still all here, as if she were just in a different room of our house. I’m taking the kids to school in a few minutes.

The sobbing stops after a while, perhaps only because sobbing must stop. The audience leaves the theater. For a few seconds there’s the afterglow when real–life scenery looks filmed, but that, too, quickly fades. I need to remind them to brush their teeth.