IN THE CORNER OF YOUR EYE I AM STANDING
by Erika D. Price
Let me explain. The college set up a webcam that peered over the entrance to the student-run sushi and sandwich place. Its gaze drifted across the automatic glass doors and grazed a window, into the bookstore. Unconcerned with the academic calendar, the camera ran all the time (though at night, all that could be seen was the blue glow from the security station, off-screen). And every day I saw you, between 9:30 and 10am, with that bright red bag swinging off your arm.
Issue #75 soundtrack: Illyin Pipes "Grasshopper"
You alternated which arm you used. Obsessed with fairness, you used to rotate which stuffed animal you brought to bed with you as a child. There was a stuffed chick with a button eye. A Snoopy dressed as the Red Baron. A blanket with a blood stain. And something else, a marmot? A beaver? I don’t remember. As an adult you alternated the side you carried your bag on, and switched between two different raincoats each day, one black and one khaki.
Sometimes I saw you with a foam cup of coffee in your right hand, bought at the diner two streets up. Google Maps hadn’t updated its view of the diner for a long time; I knew there had been a big remodel (it said so on Yelp), including a new facade on the front, but all I could see in Streetview Mode was the peeling green door that had been there before. The man sleeping on the concrete. The pavement stained with dead pigeons plucked from the sky by hawks.
Though I knew the view was outdated, I sometimes looked at the diner and wondered if you ever gave money to the man out front. I thought maybe you did so every day. I knew you took cash out of the ATM at least a few times a week, and that you charged most of your purchases. I had always wondered where the money went. I liked to imagine you taking out twenties, converting them to singles, and walking down the street with them crumpled in your jacket pockets, handing the bills out like Halloween candy to every disheveled person you saw. When I went to bed, as I forced myself to sleep, I imagined that charity was your greatest guilty pleasure.
It was a rare day that you didn’t pass the college webcam in the morning. On Sundays you came later, after calling a few friends from out of town and catching up with them in long bursts of conversation. You would stroll by the campus bookstore at 1pm, sometimes even as late as 3:30, with your hair down and unbrushed. But you never took a full day off. You worked too hard.
I was so thankful for that webcam. For years, you had lived in a one-bedroom above a Pho restaurant, across the street from a rental office. The rental company had a webcam, too, one pointed down into the street, and half a dozen old computers with flimsy security. I would steal glimpses of you stepping out and crossing in front of the rental office; on rainy days and banking holidays I hacked into the company computers and turned their cameras on you instead. From their tiny pinhole eyes, you were just a shadow across the chasm, only visible if the curtains were open. But it sustained me.
When you moved I was despondent. I had access to all the data I ever needed, but information was no match for the ineffable, momentary sight of you. It was for a new job that you had moved, I learned. A job that you described to your friends in deprecating terms, but which I could tell you were actually excited about. You loved those community college kids, and you adored how still and placid the library perpetually was. The pay was mediocre but you had state employee benefits. I was happy for you. And then I found the college had set up a webcam that grazed your path to work. Blessing of blessings.
Forgive me. I followed the rules; I never came close. There was a conference at Case Western, an important one in my subfield, but I didn’t go, despite the ramifications at my job. I knew if I showed up on your doorstep it would jolt you, so I stayed my hand. I hope you can appreciate that. I took only what I needed from you— slivers spread out thin, and rationed preciously. If you hadn’t broken the routine, you never would have known.
But when you went missing, it popped up in my Google Alert the same day. At first I felt nothing. I awaited the onslaught, knowing it was about to crash against me and tear us both under. My stomach and intestines clenched. I opened your cell phone records. Airplane mode. No recent texts, except one the day prior, from your boss, bitchily asking “Are U Okay?" And I wondered: why spare the two letters in the word “you" if she was so hell-bent on spelling “okay" all the way out?
I scanned your bank records. 4am, at an ATM next to the only store that peddled hard spirits on Sundays. You’d taken $240 out. I racked my brain over the contingencies— maybe you had crashed into someone’s car, and they had no insurance, so you spared them the arrest and set your damage right. Maybe you had burst two tires, or a windshield. Or had met someone and needed money for a room. And food. And wine. And many prophylactics.
But that wasn’t you. I knew you— you went to work at 9:30 or 10am. Oatmeal from two packets for breakfast. Cherry tomatoes in a small soft-sided lunchbox. Your hair brushed and your eyes carrying no visible bags. Not like your father, whose eyes were always puffy when I imagine him, crying over you, digging up hysterics.
You were frugal, and in your instant messages you seemed happy. You always walked briskly to work. That Monday, your red bag would have been on the left side of your body. The scuff on the bottom would have been visible like a line of bone in a deep wound. But you didn’t show up.
After three days of that, I buckled. I must explain: I watched your records, sentry-like, for days, and held vigil over the webcam. I called the manager of your apartment building so often he began to air his suspicions openly. Seventy eight hours, drained of sleep, bowels emptied from top to bottom, I broke down, and I called everyone.
I’m sorry I did it— I’m sorry I disabused you of your ignorance— but there was nothing else I saw to do. You’d never done anything like that before. In fourteen years you had never surprised me. Except when you sent the protective order, that first time so long ago.
I’ve found you again, but I won’t stand watch over you this time. I didn’t mean to scare you, to make you flee. I begged them not to tell you what I’d been doing, but a sheriff told me you had a right to know.
"Imagine how it would feel, for her to discover that," I pleaded.
The sheriff’s eyebrow twitched. She thumbed her buttons. “The truth’ll get to her. Just like it did to us. Better this way, so she can protect herself."
And she explained to me how you’d made a lot of enemies. People who used to meet you in the library and slip you things hidden in books and jewel CD cases. People who slipped up the back of your old apartment building and asked for what they were owed. I didn’t know you were in such a bad way, sweetheart. Mixed up in such trouble! I would have slipped money into your accounts, paid your utilities in secret, whatever. I guess there are things that cannot be learned from such a distance.
I was glad to learn your disappearing act was just another protective measure. But like the protective order you sent me, it was unnecessary, pointless. And you could have sent me a card or flowers when I was in the minimum security, you know. Could have shown a smidgen of gratitude.
When they let me out earlier this year, I found you right away. Too obvious. Be careful sweetheart. You still have enemies, and you are far too easy to find. No, I’m writing not to frighten you or slip you up. I just want to clear the air. For fourteen years I watched you and kept you from discovering it. I just wanted to explain, and apologize, and make my recompense.
I am throwing my computers in the lake my grandad’s house. I’m burning my cell phone with the garbage and tearing up my copies of your birth certificate, student ID, social security card, and Walgreen’s loyalty program card. Consider my eyes plucked and my ears stuffed.
But please, my child— hide deeper. Hide better. For the sake of us both.
Erika D. Price is a social psychologist and writer living in Chicago, Illinois. Her work has been featured in Literary Orphans, Blackberry, Liar's League, and The Paper Machete, among others. Her novel, Corpus Callosum, is now available from all major ebook sellers. She writes regularly at erikadprice.tumblr.com.
Sally Deskins is an artist and writer currently based in West Virginia. Heavily inspired by contemporary artist Wanda Ewing's work challenging society's definitions of femininity, Deskins' art explores womanhood and motherhood in her life and others'. Her work has been exhibited nationally and published internationally. Find her online at sallydeskins.tumblr.com.
Illyin Pipes is a Toronto-based band making down-tempo indie electronic music. Members include Jill Harris, Thom Varey, Mark Rynkun, and Chris Pruden. For more, visit the band on Tumblr, Bandcamp or Facebook.