31 Things In 31 Days: Day Seven

“…so what it really comes down to is not what religious-based system of morals you claim to adhere you, what your parents taught you to do, how well you please your boss, which charities you support, or stopping at that No Turn On Red when there’s someone on the sidewalk. True quality of life comes down to your answer of one simple question: How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?”

There was a long moment of silence, and then the room erupted into applause around me, to which the speaker smiled and nodded her head, then stepped aside form the podium to bow. After a moment, I joined in, but distractedly, mulling over the final punch of the presentation. How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?

That question bothered me, largely because I really hadn’t a good answer for it, and I couldn’t bring myself to make much more than the weakest effort at friendly smalltalk as I circulated through the crowd. There were a few folks I knew there, and I was acutely aware of a growing sensation of being on display as we made our old familiar greetings, chitchatting about the conference and the hotel and work and the hundred sundry things that give us common connection with our peers. It was hard to concentrate, with that question reverberating, forcing me to notice all the things I did because they were watching me – smiling just so, making this joke, adjusting my tie.

I excused myself and drove home, scowling at the dark streets, unable to not notice now how the passage of other cars forced me to alter my own driving; a blinker here, a careful slowing there. Even getting home was little relief, because I know how Mr. Watson liked to keep an eye on the folks down our little dead end road. I’d noticed once, when some of his mail had been mixed into mine and I’d brought it back to him, that he had a chair and a table with pens, notebooks, and binoculars, sitting under the curtained front window of his cape at the end of the cul de sac. Probably he could see nearly everybody’s comings and goings from there, kept note of it all. That was unnerving even before the presenter’s question got under my skin. How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?

Now my scalp practically prickled with the sensation of being watched as I hoisted my luggage from the trunk and rolled it behind me to the front door. The sensation did not go away as I let myself in and closed the door behind me, and I felt awkward walking down the hall to the bedroom. Each step felt strange and new, the step of my shoulders wrong, and the center of my back itched between the shoulder blades, even though I knew there was no angle that would let Mr. Watson see into my bedroom window from the front of his living room.

I walked around and pulled all the shades before opening my luggage and unpacking, a place for everything and everything in its place. Each movement felt stilted, like a performance, making me scowl at my own awkwardness.

Dinner was reheated leftovers, and as the microwave whirred I hunted up a roll of duct tape to tack down the edges of all the curtains, bending and stretching and with every motion feeling that unnerving sensation of being watched.

I ran out of tape before I could get the kitchen shades, so I shut the door and went to eat on the couch, frowning at the silent TV sitting opposite me, the unpowered screen cast grayish by the light slanting from the one lamp in the corner. Bite by bite I ate the warmed up chicken parm, and each piece felt heavy and too large in my mouth. My jaw felt badly hinged.

The fork rattled on the plate and the pasta slurmed in its sauce when I slammed it down on the table, and went to kneel in front of my armchair. She was silent and wide-eyed there, still rumpled from her trip in my suitcase, hands still tied to her thighs, ankles tied to the chair; it looked like perhaps it was wrenching her knees a little, with the pencil skirt allowing no give. It hadn’t let her curtsey on the stage, either. The cloth napkin still filled her mouth, and mostly muffled the cries as my knife dug between her eyelids, one and the other, gouging those bright eyes right out in a runnel of blood and grayish translucent jelly.

She struggled in the chair, screaming against the cloth in her mouth and lurching from one side to the other, while I returned to the couch and pulled my plate of chicken pram back into my lap. The knife hovered over it for a moment, smeared with the eye-stuff.

How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?

I cut off another chunk of chicken and swirled it in the pasta, scooping up some of the noodles. It was delicious, and I was finally able to let my mind wander as I chewed.


This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.

Day Six Prompt:

How do you live your life when nobody’s watching?


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