A Constellation of Windows
By Jean Seok
11 March 2002
Twenty-one stories above ground, Enoch peeled his left hand from the glass and reattached it, rolling his palm and then each finger against the cold surface. He peeped over the window frame.
Through slanted blinds he could see Talia Morgan pacing inside, one hand holding the phone, the other fiddling with the remote. Light from the changing channels flickered across her skin.
Enoch crept sideways, then settled like a small slash against the building's side. The stone was smooth and comforting beneath his feet. He pressed an ear to the glass.
". . . should have been there," Talia said. "I never imagined . . ."
Sudden wind rattled the windows and Enoch's heart thudded almost as hard. He shifted his weight a fraction to the right, careful not to detach the suction pads at his fingertips.
"Do you really think--" Talia laughed, and Enoch's mouth opened wide in imitation.
He stayed until the last light blinked out in her studio. On his way down, he paused at each lit window, watching a boy shooting computer monsters, a bulky man cutting a slice of pie, and a mother suckling her child.
He reached the ground shortly after midnight. The rose bushes were still fragrant, but summer was over and the roses would be gone by his next visit. Enoch clambered down a gentle slope, stumbled once or twice, and tottered away.
A handful of paint flakes came loose as Enoch pushed the door open.
He breathed in deeply, suspiciously, before turning on the yellow bulb above the kitchen table. Only after the door was closed did Enoch drop to all fours with a whimper of relief.
He sat for a while, then ambled to Hammie's cage in the corner of his room. The hamster was asleep. As always, Enoch was fascinated by the frenetic energy of her lungs and the tiny gasping breaths that kept her alive. He poked her rump, but she only burrowed deeper into the straw.
When Enoch bought her, he had been desperate for a chase.
The pet shop clerk had been helpful, showing him an assortment of mice and guinea pigs and even a pair of canaries, but in the end, Enoch had settled on the brown-and-white hamster.
The experiment proved to be a disappointment. The hamster ran well enough in the cramped apartment, but it took no more than a few minutes of leaping and skidding before Enoch's jaws closed over the wriggling morsel.
A certain grittiness in its fur stopped Enoch from crunching down.
He spat out the hamster into the bathroom sink. It fell into the water with a small plop, but soon rose to the surface. Enoch dunked the hamster and swirled it around for a better rinse. It rose again, eyes wide and paws churning.
Enoch watched for several minutes. Then he wadded up some bathroom tissue, dried the hamster as best he could, and put it in the stained tub.
He had bought the cage the next day.
The mailroom smelled of paper and glue, but Enoch was more intrigued by the scent of ink, rising from the thousands of names and addresses that passed through there.
"Hey, Mr. E, third floor's ready to go!" Jeffrey said, waving a hand from across the room. He was tall and stooped, a reed that had grown too fast to support its own weight.
Enoch looked around furtively, but no one else seemed to be paying attention. He hobbled over to the gangly youth.
"You know, Mr. E," Jeffrey said, "it's really not a problem. I could do the rounds for you."
Enoch eyed the day's mail. "I like making the rounds."
"All right, then." Jeffrey grinned. "Let me know if the legs start bothering you."
Enoch waved. The cart squeaked as he started off.
It was interesting to watch people receive their mail. Some stopped their work to chat with him, others barely offered a grunt of acknowledgment. Talia always stopped to chat.
"Hi, Enoch!" Talia's brown hair, loose the night before, was tied back today. "Have a lot of stuff for me?"
"Hello, Ms. Morgan," Enoch said, standing on his toes to reach over the receptionist's desk and place a bundle of mail in her hands. "It's a very nice day." The phrase came out very well.
"It is lovely fall weather." Talia smiled. Her eyes were large behind the thick lenses. "I had the clearest view from my window this morning."
"I have a window, too . . . but it has a big crack."
Talia's smile disappeared. Nothing Enoch could think of seemed good enough to fill the silence.
But to his relief, she smiled again. "I'm having friends over for pizza, Friday. If you aren't busy, maybe you can make it?"
Enoch stared, clutching the handle of his cart. "Yes . . . I would like that very much. . . . Thank you." This had never happened before; he had never been invited to anything. He turned, pulling at the protesting cart.
"Wait," Talia called out. "Let me give you my address!"
Enoch shuffled closer, but could not meet her eyes.
He made it to the grocery store on the corner just before closing time.
At the meat section, Enoch hovered above the mouth-watering steaks for a long time before adding a package of ground beef to his cart. He would save for flowers for when he visited Talia. A carrot for Hammie completed his shopping.
Enoch could scarcely feel the pain in his leg joints as he walked home.
"Hammie!" Enoch reached in the plastic bag and broke off the tip of the carrot. He bounded into his bedroom.
Yves was sitting on his pallet.
Panicked, Enoch rushed to Hammie. She was running the length of her cage, agitated but fine.
His brother laughed. "I thought you might be saving it for a snack."
Enoch managed a helpless gesture.
"You really should lock your bedroom window," Yves said. "No telling what might crawl in." He seemed to find that terribly funny.
"How . . . how?" Enoch said.
"How, how?" Yves mimicked, rolling around on the pallet. "Someone picked up your spoor. How many missing Gorgi can there be?" Yves turned his head to stare at Enoch. "Time to come home, brother."
Enoch scooted against the wall. "I need more time. . . ."
"Then your life will end here."
"But . . ."
In a fluid pounce, Yves pinned Enoch to the floor. Enoch bared his teeth ingratiatingly.
"No buts." Yves peered at him. "What happened?"
Enoch clamped his mouth shut.
Yves grabbed a tuft of Enoch's hair and pried his mouth open again. "Your teeth look like a cow's."
Enoch made a half-hearted squirm. "I . . . I filed them down."
Yves narrowed his eyes. "You're lucky you'll grow new ones."
He released Enoch and started prowling the apartment. Enoch followed nervously. Yves halted in front of the kitchen table.
"Please don't," Enoch begged.
Ignoring him, Yves hopped onto the sole chair. He surveyed the assortment of bottles arranged by height.
Enoch clutched at Yves's leg. "Just a few more days, and I'll go back. I won't run away again."
Yves looked down at him in disgust. "You're a Gorgi. Act like one." With a forefinger and thumb, he flicked a white bottle.
Enoch cringed as it rolled off the edge and fell onto the tiled floor with a loud rattle.
"Calcium supplements." Yves snorted. "Are your bones creaking too much? Is your skin peeling in flakes? Butchered meat is never as satisfying as a crunchy sparrow or a plump baby." Yves jumped off the chair. "Can you even climb now?"
"I can climb," Enoch whispered.
Yves crawled up the wall next to the cabinets and looked at Enoch upside down. "But why do you climb?"
Enoch blinked. "I like to watch . . . people."
"So I can learn. So I can live among them. . . . So they will like me."
Yves clawed the wall. "You are a predator!" he roared. He climbed down and sat in front of his brother. His tone softened. "But in their eyes, all you are is a small, pathetic, misshapen man."
Yves stretched and walked back to the bedroom. "A few more days, then."
Enoch huddled in silence.
It was Thursday.
Hugging a worn shoebox, Enoch entered the pet shop. The clerk was with another customer, so Enoch waited in the corner, his box shaking ever so slightly as Hammie wandered about in the dark. When Enoch's turn came, the clerk accepted the box without question, only pausing to say, "We don't offer refunds, but you can get store credit."
Enoch shook his head. "No . . . that won't be necessary."
The clerk reached into the box and after some fumbling, brought Hammie out. He dumped her into an empty cage on the wall and pushed the shoebox back at Enoch. "Okay, sir. That's it, then."
Enoch clutched at the empty box despairingly. He could feel the clerk's exasperation.
"Don't," Enoch finally said. "Don't sell her to anyone who looks like me."
The clerk's mouth twitched. "Looks like you, sir?"
Enoch placed the shoebox on the counter. "Short . . . short and . . ." He held up his right hand and curled the fingertips back, peeling the suction pads from an imaginary window. He uncurled them again.
The clerk recoiled. "Shit! Oh, shit, man!"
Enoch turned and walked to the door on aching legs.
The clerk called out after him, but Enoch had already gone.
Enoch looked up at the building, worn and blackened from wind and rain, and began to climb.
Higher and higher, past the mother sleeping fitfully on a threadbare couch, past the man balancing a tray of snacks on his sagging gut, past the boy still shooting at monsters, and even higher still.
Twenty-one stories above ground, he looked inside a familiar window with slanted blinds. Talia Morgan was sipping from a white mug. She raised her eyes in his direction, but the dark kept him secret.
Enoch peeled his right hand from the icy glass and felt the wind against his freed palm. Talia walked a few steps closer to the window.
The wind blew harder. Far below and a universe away, a constellation of windows darkened.
With infinite care, Enoch peeled his left foot from the smooth stone. His people were too few, too fierce and too scared to adapt, and for them, nothing remained but a death that would come too slow. But not for him.
Talia reached out.
And as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Enoch let go, falling into a memory of warmth and roses.
Talia took another sip from her mug and closed the blinds.
Copyright © 2002 Jean Seok