It is four thirty in the morning, and I've just woken up in the shower, laying in the tub with a fierce stream of hot water gone cold with time running frigid down my face. I have no idea how long I've been asleep. It doesn't really matter.
Rising, I grab a towel from the pile on the floor, wrapping it around my body with an odd sense of gratitude, and move down the short hallway to my tiny bedroom. Looking around the clothes strewn about the floor, I find a T-shirt and pants I like (or maybe just choose them at random, I'm not really sure anymore…) and shrug them on, tug, zip, button, adjust for comfort. Ha, comfort. Ignoring the insistent tapping from the other side of the cardboard and duct-tape covered window (where my gaze lingers for a moment, but only a moment. I think.) I head into the kitchen for breakfast (soggy cereal with milk grown slightly warm from the broken refrigerator) and a demotivated perusal of the help wanted section of last weeks old newspaper. I used to get the newspaper every morning, searching diligently for a job, a task, anything to get me moving forward and upward, out of this shitty fourteenth floor loft in a slumhouse on the south side of a city that hasn't been worth living in by all accounts since the seventies, but it doesn't really feel worth it anymore. With a sigh, I dump the remaining cereal and set the bowl on the stack of unwashed dishes in the sink. I need to get out of here.
Back down the hall and into my room to grab a jacket (it's freezing in here), and my eyes lock on that sheet of cardboard taped over the window. From behind it, softly, tap, tap, tap. She's still out there. She always is, as soon as it gets dark, until the sun rises, knocking gently on the window, fourteen stories up, hair blowing in the night time breeze, beckoning me to open the window, to let her in. I can change your life, she seems to say, if you'll let me. Shuddering, I look away.
Nate (God I miss that kid) used to tell me that I was depressed, that I was seeing things, that I should get help. Used to, till one day she came knocking on his window too. He called me then, breathless, apologizing for not believing me. He sounded strange on the phone… eager. I never heard from him again. I wonder if he's better off.
When I first came here, it felt like life was amazing, like the world was one big opportunity stretching itself wide in front of me and just waiting for me to take that first step. I'd chosen this apartment, with its window view of the entire, sprawling, electric starscape of the city lit up at night like God's own fallen Christmas tree, just so I could look out and revel in that feeling, in that high. That feeling got me through the first few months.
Gradually, though, the joy faded, and I was left with so many needs, and so many troubles, and never enough money, and so much time to think about it all, and I slipped into the bleak depression I've been in up till now. Then one day, she came.
Back then, I'd been able to sleep at night, every night, regularly, instead of falling into fitful patches of restless slumber at disjointed times, and I'd been asleep when she first showed up. I was awoken by a soft, almost polite knocking, so soft that at first I got up and went to the door, looking out into the silent hallway. When I went to return to bed, I saw her. Standing on nothing, fourteen floors up, her dress blowing in the wind, one hand knocking on the glass like a door, the other waving as I saw her, beckoning, a friendly gesture. I've read stories in my lifetime of creatures and spirits that knock on windows at night, of vampires who can only enter a home if the owner answers the door. I knew (or thought I knew) the risks. I went out into the living room and tossed and turned on the couch, hoping she'd be gone by morning.
And she was, but she was back the next night, and the night after that, and the night after that, knocking, calling silently to me, promising wordlessly that she could change my life, make it better. Eventually, I covered the window, trying to ignore her, hoping normalcy would return, but no. It never did. It never will.
So here I am, looking down, looking away, looking anywhere but at that window, shaking with desperate desire to look out, to open it, to let her in, and knowing with every fiber of my being how desperately wrong it would be. I've held out this long, but as I sink deeper into myself, I know that soon, soon, I'll walk to that window, and with shaking hands I'll tear down the barrier, an