Jody stood in the dark with his head leaning against the window. The glass pulsed with the rain tapping against it. The pane was cold, almost cold enough to chase away the headache. It left his temple but stopped just behind his eyes, where nothing except man-made chemicals could reach it.
He wasn’t young anymore. A hard pill to swallow, but he didn’t have much choice. He didn’t even bother with hangovers anymore. Two in the morning and his body had decided it’d had enough, put the damn bottle down, Jody. Except he didn’t. The Rolling Rock in his hand was gradually getting warmer; the heat vent he stood over had something to do with that. Beads of sweat trickled down his chest, over the little paunch of a belly that he’d become used to. He could feel the moisture soaking his boxers, mixing with the sticky dampness already lingering there.
Funny that he could feel so dirty afterwards. It didn’t seem that long ago that there was nothing negative associated with it. Couldn’t possibly be anything bad about it. And now it felt like binging on junk food—an occasional indulgence, enjoyable at the time, followed by a mild and vague sense of regret.
She stirred on the bed, mumbling. He glanced over his shoulder and watched her through the faint glow of the plug-in nightlight in the corner. An amorphous shape, entwined in the sheets almost like he’d tied her up and left her there. He had a faint memory of her face, too much eyeliner and enough makeup to conceal the crow’s feet but not so much to convince you they weren’t still there. Hair so black it was brazenly artificial. Details he could apply to half a dozen women he knew and even more that he didn’t. Nothing specifically her, least of all her name, which she may not have even told him.
“Wuh.” Her voice thick and barely human.
Jody turned back to the window. “Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “It’s raining.”
She patted the bed. “Come back.”
“In a bit.”
Another inarticulate noise, then she was silent again.
He took a pull from the bottle and closed his eyes. Swooned a little as a wave of vertigo washed over him. He forced it back. No sense passing out on the floor when you had a woman in bed. Even if she was sprawled diagonally across the mattress.
His apartment sat on the southern edge of town, where civilization was suddenly interrupted by nature. On the northern side, houses faded slowly into farmland, quietly, seamlessly. Here, where the glacier had stopped centuries before, hills and forests sprang immediately into existence. There were times Jody felt as though he didn’t even live within the city limits. These were the moments he felt happiest, as though he had accomplished something with his life. That he had somehow escaped the limitations the place had put on him when he was born.
Jody squinted, trying to see further into the night. He could feel something out there, a presence of great magnitude. Maybe the alcohol talking, working its fingers into his reality, massaging away the bullshit until a greater truth was revealed. He had the impression, not that he was being watched, but that he was being observed. Not him, specifically, but the entire town, perhaps all of humanity. A whole species put impassively under the microscope.
He couldn’t see them but he could sense them. Deer along the tree line, legs stiff and necks held erect, ears twitching every so often but otherwise still and immobile. Around them and between their legs, smaller creatures of the forest, raccoons and opossums, squirrels and rabbits. Birds in the branches overhead, occasionally shifting their wings and rustling the few leaves that still clung to life. And dotted here and there, a coyote or coy dog, seemingly oblivious to the prey surrounding them, sitting on their haunches and staring intently forward with no sign of curiosity or concern. All of them, just watching. And all of them sopping wet, fur and feathers soaked through to the skin beneath, cold water sluicing down onto the leaf-covered mud.
Jody pulled his head back from the glass and set the bottle on the windowsill. Felt conspicuous holding it. Guilty.
“Hey,” he said.
The sound of movement behind him.
She groaned. The mattress squealed as she rolled off it. A gasp when her feet hit the cold hardwood floor. She waddled up next to him, pressed her clammy breast against his side. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder to keep her from falling over.
“Do you feel it?” he asked.
She breathed against him. “Wuh?”
“Close your eyes. Do you feel it?”
Her head nodded against his skin. “Yuh. I feel it, baby.” She yawned. “I feel it.”
“I’m glad,” he said, though he didn’t believe her. He already regretted inviting her to the window. Bringing her home from the bar. He should be alone for this. Some things in life were meant to be shared, and even Jody had a few of those on occasion. Even now, when solitude had become a daily staple, almost a necessity.
But not this. He felt it as keenly as he felt those dozens, hundreds of eyes. As surely as he knew that they held no judgment, no emotion at all, only the passionless quest for knowledge. This moment, this revelation, the first and last epiphany he would ever experience, was meant only for him.
D.W. Davis is a native of rural East-Central Illinois. His work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at Facebook.com/DanielDavis05, or @dan_davis86 on Twitter.