Neighbourhood Watch

Ever since I could remember, I’ve always had the habit of staring into other people’s windows. Wait. That came out wrong… What I meant is that, I’ve always enjoyed observing how other people act when they’re alone in their homes. At first, I glanced into windows while I waited for the bus or when I took Rex out for a walk in the evenings. You know, just to pass the time or to occupy my mind.

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Over the years, however, I made an even greater effort to slip out of the house, my headphones already plugged into my walkman as I took slow strides around the cul-de-sac. The exterior of the houses were standard and uniform: brownish-red Spanish roofs paired with cream-coloured stucco walls. Each house had a double-set garage that would be closed at all times (interestingly enough, since no one took such precautions with their blinds). The housefronts were perfectly maintained: vibrant green lawns with various flowers unfurled on either side of the stone walkway. The windows on all four sides of the house had white trim, almost comparable to that of a television screen; to change the channel, I simply strolled on to the next house.

Now, I’m not some pervert who gets off on watching people at their most vulnerable moments; I wasn’t interested in seeing people in that light. I am more concerned about how they act when they think they aren’t being watched. I want to see people at their most authentic self. So, each evening, when the front porch lights turn on and illuminate the forbidden interior, I go for a stroll.

For the most part, the scenes in the windows were what most people might deem as mundane and conventional: a family of four or five, sitting around a large dining table sporting heaps of various steaming foods. The mom would spoon food into the baby’s mouth before taking a bite of her own while the eldest son or father would sneak food beneath the table to the dog. The middle child recounted her day at school to her dad as he listened to her every word. It was dull. And, yet, it brought me joy to watch them — to observe what a family could look and feel like.

But what I saw tonight was different.

I had made my usual rounds of the neighbourhood, music flowing softly through my earbuds until I was stopped dead in my tracks. The McCaugh’s house on the far left of the cul-de-sac was alight with the curtains left open in the room on the lower left — a rare sight, indeed. If you were to ask anyone to describe the McCaugh family, you’d likely receive a shrug in response. The fact is, the McCaugh’s spent very little time in public view, and never socialized. The head of the family, Peter McCaugh, was always already on his way to work before the neighbourhood awoke and after work, he would tinker with his car, the garage door closed. His wife, Catherine, was only ever seen when she would run errands or tend to her garden; she never had much to say. The couple had one child, Calla, a sophomore like me, but we never ran in the same social circles (she was of the class president variety). Although Calla was much in the public eye at school, none of knew much about her or her life at home. Needless to say, curiosity got the better of me and I strolled closer to get a better view of the room on display.

Inside the room, Calla was splayed out on top of her bed with several textbooks open and a pink highlighter in her hand. Her pale legs were swinging back and forth in a constant motion when her door flew open. Standing imposingly in the doorway, Peter McCaugh was shaking, blood rose to his neck, ears and face as he yelled at his daughter incomprehensibly. Calla seemed to respond nonchalantly, rolling her eyes and returning to her textbooks. In an instant, Mr. McCaugh threw him weight on top of her, turning her around to face him, screaming into her face. Calla was motionless, almost as if she had prepared herself for what was to happen next.

I certainly wasn’t. I wasn’t prepared for any of it.

I wasn’t prepared to see him slap her hard across the face. I wasn’t prepared for him to fling her across the room like a rag doll. And I certainly wasn’t prepared to watch him remove her clothes, piece by piece.

But she was.

Calla just laid there. She did not fight; didn’t even open her mouth to scream.

It was only when Mr. McCaugh pulled himself off of her lifeless body and left the room, buttoning up his pants as he did. Only when he had left and the door was once again closed, did Calla slowly begin to lift herself from the bed. She stared at the wall for what seemed like hours to my horrified eyes. Then, at last, she dressed in thick layers, a backpack in hand. In a matter of seconds, as if practiced before, I watched as Calla exited through the second floor window on to the roof. She threw her backpack onto the ground and braced herself for impact. When she landed with a soft thud and was about to vanish down the street, her eyes met mine. She stood there for a minute longer, no doubt wondering how much I had seen. Only, my face said it all. And she knew.

“You didn’t see anything. Anything,” she said and walked briskly down the street, her body becoming smaller with each step.