The Woman in the Window - A. J. Finn Page 0,1
the briefcase on the stoop, stamps a few sheets beneath those glinting shoes, scoops others into his arms. One tearaway scrap has snagged in the fingers of a tree. He doesn’t notice.
Rita again, plunging her arms into her sleeves, pushing her hair back. She speeds from the room. The contractor, marooned, hops off the bed and retrieves his tie, stuffs it into his pocket.
I exhale, air hissing out of a balloon. I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath.
The front door opens: Rita surges down the steps, calling to her husband. He turns; I expect he smiles—I can’t see. She stoops, peels some papers from the sidewalk.
The contractor appears at the door, one hand sunk in his pocket, the other raised in greeting. Dr. Miller waves back. He ascends to the landing, lifts his briefcase, and the two men shake. They walk inside, trailed by Rita.
Well. Maybe next time.
Monday, October 25
The car droned past a moment ago, slow and somber, like a hearse, taillights sparking in the dark. “New neighbors,” I tell my daughter.
“Across the park. Two-oh-seven.” They’re out there now, dim as ghosts in the dusk, exhuming boxes from the trunk.
“What are you eating?” I ask. It’s Chinese night, of course; she’s eating lo mein.
“Not while you’re talking to Mommy, you’re not.”
She slurps again, chews. “Mo-om.” This is a tug-of-war between us; she’s whittled Mommy down, against my wishes, to something blunt and stumpy. “Let it go,” Ed advises—but then he’s still Daddy.
“You should go say hi,” Olivia suggests.
“I’d like to, pumpkin.” I drift upstairs, to the second floor, where the view’s better. “Oh: There are pumpkins everywhere. All the neighbors have one. The Grays have four.” I’ve reached the landing, glass in hand, wine lapping at my lip. “I wish I could pick out a pumpkin for you. Tell Daddy to get you one.” I sip, swallow. “Tell him to get you two, one for you and one for me.”
I glimpse myself in the dark mirror of the half bath. “Are you happy, sweetheart?”
“Not lonely?” She never had real friends in New York; she was too shy, too small.
I peer into the dark at the top of the stairs, into the gloom above. During the day, sun drops through the domed skylight overhead; at night, it’s a wide-open eye gazing into the depths of the stairwell. “Do you miss Punch?”
“Nope.” She didn’t get along with the cat, either. He scratched her one Christmas morning, flashed his claws across her wrist, two quick rakes north-south east-west; a bright grid of blood sprang to the skin, tic-tac-toe, and Ed nearly pitched him out the window. I look for him now, find him swirled on the library sofa, watching me.
“Let me talk to Daddy, pumpkin.” I mount the next flight, the runner coarse against my soles. Rattan. What were we thinking? It stains so easily.
“Hey there, slugger,” he greets me. “New neighbors?”
“Didn’t you just get new neighbors?”
“That was two months ago. Two-twelve. The Millers.” I pivot, descending the stairs.
“Where are these other people?”
“Two-oh-seven. Across the park.”
I reach the landing, round it. “They didn’t bring much with them. Just a car.”
“Guess the movers will come later.”
Silence. I sip.
Now I’m in the living room again, by the fire, shadows steeped in the corners. “Listen . . .” Ed begins.
“They have a son.”
“There’s a son,” I repeat, pressing my forehead against the cold glass of the window. Sodium lamps have yet to sprout in this province of Harlem, and the street is lit only by a lemon-wedge of moon, but still I can make them out in silhouette: a man, a woman, and a tall boy, ferrying boxes to the front door. “A teenager,” I add.
Before I can stop myself: “I wish you were here.”
It catches me off guard. Ed too, by the sound of it. There’s a pause.
Then: “You need more time,” he says.
I stay quiet.
“The doctors say that too much contact isn’t healthy.”
“I’m the doctor who said that.”
“You’re one of them.”
A knuckle-crack behind me—a spark in the fireplace. The flames settle, muttering in the grate.
“Why don’t you invite those new people over?” he asks.
I drain my glass. “I think that’s enough for tonight.”
I can almost hear him breathe. “I’m sorry we’re not there with you.”
I can almost hear my heart. “I am, too.”
Punch has tracked me downstairs. I scoop him up in one arm, retreat to the kitchen. Set the phone on the counter. One more glass before bed.
Grasping the bottle by its throat, I turn