BellaOnline Literary Review
Gentle Face by Christine Catalano

Table of Contents


A Dirty Martini of an Evening

Susan P. Blevins

Martin shifted his weight in the shabby old armchair by the window, attempting to find a more comfortable position for his bony buttocks. He was turning eighty in a couple of months and he’d lost a lot of weight lately. He spent hours sitting by the window of his apartment on the eighth floor. He liked looking at the sky above and the trees below, but most of all he liked looking into the windows of the apartments in the building across from him. He set down his binoculars on the newspaper-strewn side table and reached for his cocktail. Now he allowed himself only one every evening, because he couldn’t metabolize it like he used to when he was younger. It softened the edges of his loneliness a bit and a dirty martini of an evening was his daily treat in an otherwise drab existence. Loneliness was his constant companion since his wife Cynthia died of cancer five years ago. That’s when he’d purchased the binoculars and started intruding gently into the lives of others. They became his family, and he shared vicariously in their joys and sorrows.

He picked up the binoculars and focused them on the window of the apartment on the fifth floor that a newly married couple had moved into three years ago. They had a baby now and it cried a lot which was driving the husband crazy. They weren’t as happy as they used to be, and they didn’t have sex nearly as often as in the early days. Martin chuckled to himself as he remembered all the shenanigans he’d witnessed just after they’d moved in. They’d even had sex on the kitchen table one night.

Then there were the two adjoining apartments on the seventh floor, Muslims living in one and Orthodox Jews in the other. He wondered if they heard each other’s prayers through the thin walls on Fridays and Saturdays? He enjoyed seeing how they shared in each other’s festivals, eating and dancing together. Why can’t everyone get on like that, he pondered, and focus on similarities rather than on differences. We all have the same dreams, work with dignity, food on the table, a better life for our children.

Martin’s two children came to visit him occasionally and brought him some prepared foods to stock his fridge, but the truth was, he felt closer to his neighbors across the yawning chasm between the buildings than he did to his own flesh and blood.

He even felt a fondness for the two gay guys who lived on the eighth floor, right across from him, though he could never understand homosexuality. Most of the time they were happy enough together, but recently they’d been having arguments about something, and he wondered if it was because of a young man who had been visiting them quite often of late.

His heart was aching for the poor man on the fourth floor, though. No one should have to go through such suffering, and his poor devoted wife suffered along with him, always attentive to his comfort, moistening his lips, wiping his brow. He’d come down sick just after Martin started using his binoculars. He got skinny as a rail, his face gaunt, ears sticking out like paddles. He had to stop going to work, and he couldn’t exercise any longer. Vomiting started, which wore him out; he started resting more and more, until now he was confined to his bed all the time, people drifting in and out checking on him throughout the day. Martin thought they must be hospice people. He saw the poor wife weeping in the next room, stifling her tears so her husband wouldn’t hear. It seemed like the end was very near now, so he murmured a short prayer for him.

Martin thought back over his own life, with its ups and its downs, his marriage mostly a happy one, his health mostly pretty good. He knew he was winding down now, and was grateful that he was still in his right mind, and could move about a bit. Even though he missed Cynthia, and felt lonely much of the time, he wouldn’t have swapped his life for any of the lives he observed. Everyone has secret pain and sorrow, and we all don a mask the minute the front door closes behind us. He was content with what had gone before, and surrendered himself to what was yet to come. If the strangers that he considered family could cope with their problems, then dammit, he could too.

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Reader Feedback:
A charming voyeur! I really liked and felt empathy for him. Another beautiful tale.