MayShortReads 07: Bedtime


He doesn’t think it’s cheating. Nobody can point a finger at him for looking out of his own window. But Susheel admits, he wouldn’t tell anybody else about her. He hasn’t even talked to Reman about this thing and Reman is his best friend. But that was because in the beginning, he wasn’t sure what it was.

It was one of those nights that it was too hot to sleep.

He could have gone out, but he didn’t. He could have gone online but that one time, he didn’t. Susheel doesn’t believe his online activities really constitute cheating but Sarina doesn’t agree. So he doesn’t tell her. It doesn’t weigh on his mind. After all, what she doesn’t know, doesn’t hurt her and it is harmless.  Susheel likes to keep things tidy in his mind and the internet does not breach his protocol. Sarina doesn’t always realize that he could do much worse and she’d never know. But that doesn’t worry him either. He wouldn’t do those things. Because he’s not the cheating sort. That wouldn’t be elegant.

The thing that bothers him a bit about this though, is the not knowing. The nebulousness of the situation makes it a blurry thought that he is very uncomfortable with. He examines it in his head again.

All he did was go up to the window, in search of some fresh air. He doesn’t remember the date or the time. He stayed but it was in his own room, looking out of his own window. There’s nothing wrong with that, he tells himself.

But to no avail. That uneasy feeling tickles its way up from his stomach to his chest region. And he knows there’s something inexplicable about the fact that he’s looking forward to tonight. Inexplicable, but it’s still not cheating.

He finishes his meal, the television smoothly drowning out inexplicable feelings and moral ambivalence. Sarina calls and they have the sweet goodnight conversations that couples newly in love, have. A fresh, ripe mango carries him past primetime and a little past time to sleep. He groans as he gets up from the sofa. He has trouble sleeping if he’s not in bed by eleven. The clock is showing quarter past twelve. The movie wasn’t even all that.

He goes to his bedroom, changes and turns over the bedsheet. But it’s only after he turns off the tubelight that his other self comes out. It seems to rub its hands in glee as it brings up the realization that he’s awake late, deliberately. He’s been waiting. For her, the other self, whispers tangibly in his own voice, as he turns to the window.

It is not cheating, he tells himself firmly.

The girl is there, moving around in her bedroom. He knows it’s her bedroom because he’s been in her building. In another house, but they all have the same layout. That house belongs to the chairman of that building and he visited to discuss residents’ plans for the open space between their buildings. Completely legit, it’s not cheating. Even if, the other self whispers, his heart leapt when he realized at the committee meeting, that this would be a chance to get into her building.

Her movements slow down as she puts away things and then flings herself down. He can’t see her after she’s flopped onto her bed but ah, there, her knee’s coming up so he knows she must be lying back, crossing one leg over the other. This would probably be a good time to go back to bed, Susheel thinks, with the slightest twinge of regret. But he waits a few seconds, counting them down, anyway.

And his patience is rewarded as her knee vanishes and she sits up. She shakes a wavy mass of hair, away from her head. She does it for so long, he’s sure she knows she is being watched. Then she stops and goes still, staring right ahead of her. Perhaps she’s on the phone, Susheel surmises. But she holds out her hands right in front of her and her wrists move together. As a little flap falls away from the silhouette of her hands, he realizes she’s wearing a full sleeved shirt that she just unbuttoned at the cuffs.

How can something so mundane be cheating? Everyday, hundreds of women button and unbutton their cuffs in public. He’s sure he saw Nandini from the business development team, doing it that very morning in the conference room. It’s a normal action for a hot day like this one. But, his eyes didn’t slide from wrists up to Nandini’s arms, the way they’re doing now. The other self is back, whispering.

The girl walks around her bed and stops, framed in the windowsill. She leans forward perceptibly and puts her arms high above her head, her elbows forming an angle on either side of her head. Susheel admires the pose. Angles and curves together, a civil engineer’s delight. Then she lowers her arms and brings them down in front of her, so he can’t see her wrists any more.

It’s really simple, Susheel realizes. His fears are unfounded, probably a result of Sarina’s nagging and his own overzealous conscience. He smiles to himself and relaxes, his shoulders unknotting themselves from the tight stranglehold they’ve gotten into, unbeknownst to himself.

Susheel leans forward to his window, almost tenderly. She’s his harmless little nocturnal secret. Nobody need know, not Reman, not Sarina, not even the girl herself. Voyeurism is a guilty pleasure but not a culpable one. Still, no one need know.

Just as he thinks that, the girl moves again, turning to her side. She shrugs off a shirt and stops. Her profile, framed against the window clearly indicates that she’s naked. His engineer’s mind takes in the distance from the top of the window to the angle of her shoulder, even as his eyes focus on the tip of her prominent curve. Instinctively he knows, she’s about as tall as him and if they embraced, they’d be heart-to-heart, one on each side. Very deliberately, she turns towards him and locks in position.

It dawns on Susheel that this is the moment he has been waiting for, the crystallizing of the hitherto indiscernible. The threshold of cheating. It is shaped like a window within a window. He marvels at how clean it is, in design. Her angles and her curves are now defined in a way that clothes only mar. Cheating is shaped like her.

He raises his hand, places it on the window frame, just below shoulder level and leaves it there.

Dr. Sketchy Houston 9-28

Dr. Sketchy Houston 9-28 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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8 thoughts on “MayShortReads 07: Bedtime

  1. febinmathew May 9, 2013 at 00:29 Reply

    Oooooh this one is crisp. A lovely character sketch for Susheel, simple but again, brimming with tangents and possibilities.
    ‘Window within a window’ was a lovely little catchprase.
    However, the end was a little…incomplete, if I may use the term. But that is probably just the anticipation of a twist talking.

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    • IdeaSmith May 14, 2013 at 14:54 Reply

      @Febinmathew: Point taken! I didn’t realize it wasn’t clear enough. The girl in the window knows he is watching and begins a flirting/sexual dance and since he continues to watch, he acknowledges participation too. Hence, the dilemma of cheating or not is solved as it is confirmed that he is indeed, cheating.

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      • febinmathew May 29, 2013 at 01:12

        Maybe just the question of whether it truly was cheating was not the crux, but the fact that what really drove him to it, the slippery slope, and the complicity of the girl. Just a thought.

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      • IdeaSmith May 29, 2013 at 19:17

        @febinmathew: I guess that would be the natural conclusion. Still, I wanted to focus on an accidental, not-indicative-of-any-unhappiness-otherwise incident that sparks off a seamy association.

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      • febinmathew May 29, 2013 at 21:30

        Hmm, well that was of course woven right in there. Again, a balanced stance, the strange relation between voyeur and exhibitionist.

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  2. Ronaan Roy (@RonaanRoy) May 31, 2013 at 21:58 Reply

    Ah this racy little number. Fortunately for you, I am a boy, and so this story falls easily for me, keeping me on the edge even though there’s nothing there but a smidgen of voyeurism. Susheel reclaims himself for being simple and being regretful, so we manage to side with him despite the leaning towards perversity. But under all of that, there’s nothing in the story. Ah, well it’s a short story, written in a marathon of short stories, done in a day and it only has to titillate me once.

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    • IdeaSmith June 1, 2013 at 21:22 Reply

      @Ronaan Roy: ‘Fortunately for you, I am a boy’? I resent the implication that women don’t enjoy the same erotic, voyeuristic impulses that men do.

      The timing of this story was part of it’s feel. You know I descended into darker, greyer tones as the month progressed. So down the road, ‘Bedtime’ may have been a lot more depraved, instead of just mildly perverse. This marathon exercise has its shortcomings.

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  3. […] the stories and found a pattern of the heavy & dark. Murder, self-harm, sexual abuse, cheating, voyeurism and masochism all showed up. Even when there was humour, it was either irony or borderline dark. So […]

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