Her forehead stretched and arced into a pale rainbow and her hair lengthened into a dark mane. Her eyes and nose shimmered, while her mouth melted towards her sagging chest. Her clothes were random brushstrokes of ruby red and deep green. And then in a warped flash, she was gone.
Ira pulled his eye from the peephole and walked over to his desk by the low futon. The PC lying beneath the desk shuddered like an old washing-machine and he gave it a light kick. Ira’s screensaver vanished as he jiggled his mouse and a daily spreadsheet was revealed in a shock of neon white. Ira noted the time of day the woman had walked by, how many steps it took her to pass his door, the shape of her tousled hairstyle and the colour of her clothes. But as soon as he had written red and green, he changed them to blue and yellow.
He took a sip of water, but just a sip. The water was resting on a circle drawn on a random piece of paper. Inside the circle was written the name of a homeopathic remedy, this time Pulsitilla 10m, a dose that was able to send a sensitive man out of his mind. The idea was that the name and the circle would somehow change the water’s molecules and create a healing fluid. Ira swore by it.
He wasn’t treating himself for any physical or mental malady though; it was more of a philosophical thing. He didn’t think he was seeing things clearly anymore. Day in, day out he was in his musty one-bedroom apartment waiting for footsteps along the hall and then rushing to the peephole to make his assessment. The only contact with humans was with his amenable acquaintance Andre, from Tesco, who would load up eggs and sandwiches in Ira’s metal basket. The basket was attached to a rope that dangled out of Ira’s window and he had to yank it up three flights. This would be the only time he would look through the window.
Out the front was a churned-up car park. He could always hear cars’ crunching around outside and it was faintly soothing to listen to, but it looked like Bosnia in the bad old days. Beyond, there was a street where the gangs hung out by the dying oak trees and the concrete walls. And beyond that was a small row of elegant Victorian houses, with lovely middle-class families, living in fear of the gangs who stared venomously into their living rooms.
No, Ira didn’t believe in looking out the window. He felt it was wrong. The peephole was where it was at. But now he couldn’t shake the feeling he was missing something. He needed to loosen up, just let things hang out.
Having eaten, he analysed his spread-sheets. There were reams of logs about hats, handbags and limps, coughs and sneezes, Roman noses, hunched shoulders, snatched conversations, the odd fight, the odd kiss and on and on.
Is this schizophrenia, what am I doing? He thought. But no, maybe I haven’t gone far enough. Does the peephole reveal too much?
‘Let’s be honest,’ Ira said out loud, chewing on an empty biro, ‘all of these spread sheets are lies in one way or another.’
He wondered what one can glean from a moment, and whether trying to get so specific and distilled could tell him anymore than getting out the door and seeing it all for himself. Or maybe he should just make it all up. No, he wasn’t crazy, he was a fucking genius.
Patter, patter, patter.
Ira, deep in thought, slowly made his way to the door and peered out. His wet eye, iris like an exploding brown star, fidgeted left and right. But he saw nothing. The person had gone. He inhaled a short gasp of air and a warm, aching pain unravelled from the centre of his chest. He bent over and rested his palms on his thighs.
After some time, he gathered himself. Alright, he thought, it’s a sign. Let’s give the peephole a break. All I need is in this stinking room. Jesus, all I need is the speck of dust on my little finger. But for now, let’s start with the room. Ira perched himself on the edge of his bed and surveyed his surroundings, twisting his head slowly like an owl.
The first thing that stood out for him was his pencil drawings of sleek black panthers proudly striding across icy mountains, blue-tacked to the wall. They really weren’t that bad Ira thought.
Ira’s Dad had died of cancer a number of years ago, roughly the time when Ira began thinking about nature and the nature of things. Before quitting uni, selling all his books, and setting himself up in his council flat to conduct his experiments, Ira sat his mother down in the living room of her Georgian house and tried to explain himself.
‘Please don’t think this is about dad, ok? I’ve been planning this for a long time.’
‘You’re throwing everything away,’ his mother responded, her weathered skin tensing into a pained expression, ‘just after your dad has died, and you expect me to believe that?’
Ira stood up and shoved his hands in his pockets with petulance. He paced around the living room that looked out onto the giant garden where the family dog, an aging border collie, moped on the patio.
‘Can’t you see I’m trying to do something? Even though it’s close to dad’s death, doesn’t mean it’s because of it. I mean that’s the type of logical thinking I’m trying to escape,’
Ira stopped pacing and turned to his mum, hands on hips.
‘I mean,’ he said, ‘do you believe they know anything at University? For Christ’s sake, it’s all left brain. And I’m not knocking the left brain; it’s just that it’s rotting from years of neglect.’
Ira’s mum began to shudder with tears.
‘Oh, mum,’ he said, ‘Come on, I’ll be fine.’
He placed himself on the little leather-bound chair beside her.
‘Trust me,’ Ira said gently.
His mother raised her head, letting her tears fall, and shifted her body to face him.
‘Do you still believe your father was killed by a magic tree?’ she said.
Ira shook his head slowly in despair, and then swept his dangling fringe from his eyes.
‘From a mobile phone mast mum, hidden in a tree. God, don’t accuse me of insanity just because you know nothing about technology.’
Chastened she bowed her head and gave two tumultuous snorts.
‘I’m worried Ira,’ she said quietly, ‘I’m just worried.’
Ira saw beyond the Freudian view of his paintings. The paintings weren’t as simple as being about a loss of a parent. His mind, his soul, his life was not a series of events caused by those well-intentioned unwitting puppet masters. My God please let it be more complex than that, Ira thought.
Before he could clarify his thoughts, he heard soft thuds on the floor outside his door. He told himself not to move, to continue contemplating his paintings, and even give up on the peephole all together. He was onto something, he thought. Maybe he could start a new experiment, object based, that would begin by analysing his own belongings and then move onto others, of all kinds, to see where that would take him. He wanted to see what an object can mean, and what’s behind it.
But he couldn’t repress the scraping of his feet, his tingling fingertips and the electricity in his heart.
One last time.
It was Danielle Kapol whom he’d strangely never seen before. Her hair was pulled into tight bunches and she walked with elegant bow legs. Her eyes were a fierce molten blue, shielded by almost squinting eyelids. She was beautiful and Ira was hung up on her immediately.
She’s a failed history graduate, Ira thought. Once a grade A student, flying through uni with ease, ignoring the boys, the drink, the drugs, focusing entirely on becoming a recognised scholar. And being somewhat naïve she believed all this would come together; a sky rocket future sealed by her solid genes, pale silky skin and an unwavering determination to sit at a desk and read books.
But when she was called into her tutor’s office, eager to discuss her options for an MA, he let slip there was no future in Academia. There was no goddamn money! Nobody gave a shit about research no matter what they told her. Money and respect were in IT and sales and to some extent football. Well, she cracked, the poor girl. Her crisp Caucasian heritage meant for nothing and her dreams were destroyed; something beyond her ego and her righteousness, beyond her conviction that her place in the world was cemented. No, underneath all that, she was an innocent girl with genuine hopes; a very sweet, wonderful girl.
And now she’s here, Ira thought, outside my door. Of course, she’d gone by that point, while Ira, back turned to the peephole, was daydreaming. But for once he wasn’t just weaving a magical tale about some stranger’s past; he was beginning to imagine the future. And he was in it.
Ira began to contemplate leaving his flat and tracking down this unsuspecting girl. The next few days Ira stood for hours at a time glued to his peephole as if it were a hallucinogenic TV set. His only breaks were rushing to the loo or making a bowl of cereal.
Many of the regulars passed his door but Ira was unmoved. He couldn’t even remember their names, and his PC remained idle.
Finally, Danielle appeared again. She looked so different with her straight hair hanging free, her tight green t-shirt with puffy shoulders, and a short flowery skirt that hung loosely over sheer black leggings. Everything was so dazzling and confusing for such a determined and single-minded young man as Ira. He saw a girl who carried herself with sadness, and yet a powerful pride. Ira was a virgin, and this was not something he hid from in his own mind. It was abundantly clear to him that his sudden infatuation might be due to his hollering genitals. But he had confidence in his acute judgement and ruthless detachment honed by months in front of the peephole. He really felt something for this girl, he was sure.
With a burst of passion, he flung his front door open and strode out into the hallway. He dug his fists into his eyes due to the sharp light cutting through the hall. The walls curved down from the low ceiling lined with peeling orange paint. Colours were alive and dancing. He felt he could see molecules bouncing along the corridor and pouring out the window at the far end. Everything was moving and expanding. Ira couldn’t think; his mind was blasted by light, his senses overloaded.
He squinted and staggered his way down two flights of stairs. He could smell the flowery scent of Danielle’s perfume and he followed. He was led through dark hallways with sticky floors and tight bends. Eventually he escaped the darkness and moved into the communal garden at the back of the apartment block.
A cloudless sky held a high sun that blazed gloriously with an intense dry heat. Ira felt a mixture of pain and joy, fear and freedom. As the white and yellow blotches in his eyesight died down, he could make out a small but lush garden. Trees were overgrown and arched over the long grass. The flowers were in full bloom with exploding colours and berry vines crawling over the wooden fences. From the gloom of his darkened flat Ira felt this place was a utopia. Who’d of thought it would be in his back garden.
In a quiet corner of the garden under the shade of a drooping apple tree Danielle lay amongst the soft grass and fallen apples. Holding his hand above his eyes he was astonished by Danielle’s delicate skin, the shape of her long legs and small waist. But it was her eyes that knocked him out. They shone, reflecting all the light of the white sun and the watery blue sky.
As Ira approached tentatively, she analysed him briefly and then gave a warm smile.
‘I haven’t seen you before. Have you just moved in?’ she said.
Ira opened his mouth to speak but he couldn’t make a sound. Danielle didn’t seem to notice.
‘I moved in recently myself. Shit here isn’t it. I mean, out here’s nice but inside… Hey, take a seat.’
Ira did as he was told. Danielle looked at him seriously.
‘You look really pale, and why are you squinting like that?’
All Ira could muster was a shrug.
‘So, what do you do?’ she said.
Ira almost gave a little chuckle. The situation was ridiculous, he was ridiculous. He thought, fuck it.
‘I’m conducting an experiment. I stare out of my peephole at passers-by and make notes.’
‘Oh, cool,” she said, “People don’t try things like that, you know? People should just let it all hang out more.”
Ira peeked at Danielle out of the corner of his eye. She swirled and shook, colours merging with one another in the sunlight.
‘Look,’ Danielle finally said, turning to Ira with a warm, though analytic expression, ‘I’ve got to head off, but a couple of friends and I are going sight-seeing this weekend. You can live all your life in London and know less about it than a tourist. Anyway, the offer’s there if you want to come.’
She gave his arm a gentle squeeze then lifted herself from the ground, brushed dried grass from her clothes and straightened her crumpled skirt.
‘See you,’ she said.
Ira gave an awkward wave. That went strangely well Ira thought. And then called after her,
‘I forgot to ask your name.’
But she kept walking, seeming not to hear.
Ira was in love. There was no two ways about it. He loved Danielle, or whatever her name was. Ira believed in love at first sight. If the peephole taught him anything it was the depth of feeling one could muster from a single glance.
Ira felt as if the grass was caressing his body and the hanging trees were whispering soothing words into his ear. He’d felt the thunderbolt.
A new world opened up for Ira, a new vision. The potential for a life in the real world. Happiness.
It looked like the end of the peephole and the passing of an era, so Ira created his own story, to calm his nerves, ease his doubts, make him feel in control of his destiny, affirm his place in the world or something. Maybe he was just a great big bullshit artist.
As a child Ira flew across the world following his inventor father, who’d scored some success in China, Haiti and Peru with his reversible plant pots. His dutiful mother was in tow, heartbroken each time a new house had to be emptied and the keys turned over.
Ira learnt about cultures, climates, customs and airports, but felt no richer for the experience. He’d spend his days in the garden, wherever he was on the globe, absorbing the sunlight reflecting off his opened book. His parents became worried when the sun became too hot and he refused to come in. Then it would rain and he wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t even sit under a tree for cover. His dad would have to drag him by the underarms, feet scraping along the mushy grass.
His dad sat Ira down on his grandfather’s ancient rocking chair for a chat.
‘You will die, are you crazy!’ his father bellowed.
Eventually Ira was banned from the garden and his little phase outdoors was over.
Now he’d found a new garden, with new possibilities, free of the restraints he’d enforced on himself with the peephole. All of a sudden, doors had opened for him, and, yes, he was sure he would find new experiments to occupy his mind, it was in his nature to explore. But this had to be progress.
His mind was buzzing, and he felt a surge of energy that was almost too much to contain, a dangerous rush even. He gazed directly into the sun – one big peephole – to cleanse his vision, until he felt purified. Then, blinking back the pain he dragged himself down the side alley, into the street, and went for a walk. It was his first time in the neighbourhood.
There was so much to see.