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A Face at the Window (Dennis McFarland)


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  Though I had willfully embarked on a journey of dishonesty, though I had made the decision secretly to pursue the supernatural opportunities that seemed to be knocking at my door, though I was ready to sustain whatever frights might be involved without my wife's comforting, I was not entirely able to disguise my moods. As we walked back from the restaurant to the hotel, sharing the umbrella Pascal had provided, Ellen mentioned that I had seemed vaguely upset through dinner. Was anything wrong?

It occurred to me to say that I couldn't enjoy myself when she was watching me like a hawk and would she please just lay off for Christ's sake...but that would have revealed too much of my hand--I knew I would have to curb these snappish impulses--and so I told her I was feeling a little tired, a little affected by the change in the weather.

We maintained a courteous silence the rest of the way to the hotel. We were silent in the elevator, silent as we entered the flat, still silent as we undressed and prepared for bed. We brushed our teeth together, politely taking turns at spitting into the sink.

The twin beds had been turned down and the drapes drawn by a chambermaid. I had about ten minutes on my own while Ellen finished in the bathroom, and I lay quietly in bed, thinking. I was aware that the flat had permanently changed, my perception of it deepened. It now had a real presence for me, like rooms one has known as a child--and more: a hidden life behind the walls, its odd nooks and trapezoids and triangles formed by the dormer windows, its broad moldings and glossy white panels mere diversions for the eye, bits of interior design, falsely static representations of its true, mutable nature. I felt a strangely familiar ambivalence toward the flat now. Why familiar? Well, I had felt something like this before, felt something like it each time in the past when I tied off my arm with a piece of rubber tubing, each time I saw the swell and rise of the vein, each time I overthrew the youthful fear of injections, touched the tip of the needle to the still gullible skin, and rewitnessed the red prominence of blood surge into the barrel's cold-shaken blow, the me mixing with the it. Occasionally, dreamily, I would think, at the moment of hitting, of a ceramic novelty we had around my house when I was a kid, a bald-headed man flushing himself ("Good-bye Cruel World") down a toilet.

Ellen came into the room, sat next to me on the bed, put her hand on my stomach, and said, "Strange day...This morning we were going home." Then, after a pause, "I'm sorry, Cook, but you do seem sad."

"I'm not sad," I said.

She looked at me thoughtfully, pondering my answer. Then she smiled and said, "It's so early to be going to bed, isn't it?"

"I know."

She reached across me, turned out the lamp, and got under the covers with me. In the darkness we could hear rain on the windows and, with gusts, one of the windows rattling in its casement. For me, the dark was very alive--rich and auspicious and disquieting. When we made love, I maneuvered her into top position so that I could watch the room, watch the dark, a vigil that proved curiously stimulating. I didn't know how to analyze the man in my vision from that afternoon, the sleeping, bearded drunkard who'd told me to sod off, and I didn't know how to analyze the vision itself (except to know that it definitely was no dream). Nor was I particularly interested in doing any analysis while Ellen and I were making love. What I knew about the thoughts that passed through my mind during sex was that they generally fell into one of three categories--they either contributed to the pleasure, took away from it, or were neutral--and images from that afternoon's vision were decidedly contributing. I could think of it as a man in my wife's bed, or as a man in my own bed, whatever made me happy; but what I couldn't avoid was the certainty that his presence, though terrifying and hostile--enough to scare any reasonable person away--had also been intensely, even essentially, sexual. The curious arousal I felt about watching the dark room while we were making love was the arousal that came from a sense of our being watched. And while this sense heightened my pleasure, it also took me psychically away from my wife, deeper and deeper, I felt, into a secret reality, one in which I used her for my purposes as I pleased and withheld from her the truth to which she was entitled. I even felt a strength of purpose behind this experience, that the heat of sex was being used by some power outside myself to burn me away from my attachments, to isolate me. As I said, this stuff would certainly have scared any reasonable person away. But I was not a reasonable person, and I was not scared away.

Afterward, Ellen lay with her head on my chest, stroking with her fingers the muscle in my forearm. "You know, Cookie," she said into the darkness, "I'm aware that I've been too attentive to you so far on this trip. And I know I'm prone to overreact to things. To worry too much. If anything were seriously wrong, you'd tell me, I know that. I think I have some completely normal anxiety about being away from home and away from Jordie, and it just connected to you by mistake. I want you to know that I'm sorry and that I'm really going to try to stop doing it."

 
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Excerpted from A Face at the Window by Dennis McFarland. Copyright © 1997 by Dennis McFarland. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.