I peep into people’s homes. Not in a criminal way. I never hide behind
bushes, I merely cruise in my car after dusk and sneak glances.
Life-fragments; vignettes played out indoors as if they’re television
scenes. My predilection isn’t a creepy, perverted sex-kink. I have no
desire to spy on naked people—hell, I don’t want to see myself naked,
A typical snippet: someone, their back to the window, seated at a table
or perhaps a desk. The person gazes downward. Are they sad? Drowsy?
Paying bills? Aware they look beatific when framed by a window and
bathed in warm, golden light? My favorite situation is groups or a
gathering. Engine idling, I glide past; an occupant walks across the
room and for a moment we travel together.
My early career was in corporate accounting. I’d fenced myself into a
cubicle and flogged numbers until my zeal corroded. I chose a new
direction. Door-to-door jobs, the inside ones, drew me in: remodeling,
carpet cleaning, interior painting, pest control.
Although still a spectator, I was closer to the action. I witnessed
domestic arguments, physical assaults, cockfights, adults eating
uncooked hotdogs, adults who fed each other uncooked hotdogs, a wobbly
table propped up by a Nobel Prize medal, fur underpants, the birth of a
two-headed sheep, and in one particular bathroom last year, a
“What exactly is that?” I asked the elderly tenant. With sudden unease
I gripped my pesticide spray apparatus. Above the sink, luminosity
swirled around a basketball-sized black void. My eyes ached if I stared
at the center. The anomaly issued a constant crackle-hum and the air
smelled of ozone and lavender.
The old woman’s hands flapped like dying birds.
“Please, Tom,” she said, squinting to read the name embroidered on my
shirt, “you mustn’t tell the landlord. I mixed bleach with ammonia,
and this happened.”
“Ma’am, there are warnings everywhere about combining those two common
household cleaning products. It’s quite dangerous.”
“I know, I know, I made a mistake. But now this whatchamacallit makes
everything spick and span for me! Look there, and there. My tile grout
has never been so un-mildewed. I do miss Snowball and Tigger, though.”
The wormhole possessed a powerful gravitational attraction, a pull with
which I’m familiar inasmuch as it applies to compulsion. Quick as an
eye-blink, the spray apparatus flew out of my hand and into oblivion.
Losing the gear would be the latest and last of my missteps as an
exterminator. My employer was sure to let me go, or beat my ass and then
What happens when two entities collide?
Maybe a positive partnership: peanut butter and jelly, rhythm and blues,
epoxy. Or a more harrowing combo: peppermint schnapps and pizza, death
and taxes, bathwater and electric toasters.
What happens when two obsessions collide?
“Come in, come in,” said the man. He was fifty-ish, sunburned,
liver-bellied. “I’m Merrill Swank, this is my lovely wife Roberta. And
“Tom from the Countertop Shop. I’m supposed to take measurements.”
“Thanks for scheduling a late appointment,” said Roberta. Her face lit
up with a million-candlepower smile. “We really appreciate your
I gave my tape measure a shake.
“Which way to the kitchen?”
“Not so fast, Tom,” said Merrill. “I have to ask you to remove your
“Of course, sir. No problem.”
I pulled off my work boots and set them on the doormat. Some folks
fixate on keeping their homes as sterile as a hospital burn unit. I
glanced at the Swanks’ soiled floor covering. Threadbare, stained,
semi-hazardous. The couple, arm-in-arm, grinned at me. They both wore
“Your socks too, please,” said Roberta. Sweat sparkled on her upper
lip. Another post-suburban empty-nester, well-fed yet famished. Her blue
plastic cat’s-eye glasses glinted.
A dog barked; Merrill’s laughter. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, we’re
“Sure, okay.” I hopped around and pulled off my mismatched socks.
“You folks care about your carpet. The Countertop Shop respects its
“Couldn’t give a shit about the rug,” said Merrill. “We want to see
“Such nice ones, too,” whispered Roberta. “Pale and veiny. Sculpted.
The soles are probably soft as calfskin.”
“Those boots must be tiresome to wear,” said Merrill, his face redder
than ever. “You gotta take care of those tootsies. Could I offer yours
a little rubdown?”
“Nice brisk alcohol or creamy, luxuriant lotion,” Roberta said, a
bottle in each hand. “Your choice!”
“Why not try both?” said Merrill. “Spoil yourself. What do you say,
Every light fixture in the room blazed as if I were in a TV studio or on
a theater stage; the glare bounced off the plastic drop cloth Merrill
spread on the floor. He and his wife kicked off their sandals. The
living room curtains gaped wide but at this time of night, from inside,
the window glass was a black mirror. All I could see was the reflected
image of Merrill, Roberta, and myself.