He had fallen for a girl on a hoarding, a bill poster. He was living in a tiny bed-sit close to the office.
He had begun to fantasise and obsess about this alluring young woman in a cocktail dress, advertising a perfume the name of which he wouldn’t be able to remember. The hoarding was directly opposite the window to his room. It was big and imposing and in his isolation his becoming infatuated with her was inevitable.
The advertisements were changed once a month and over the summer he had lived alongside a series of gaudy images encouraging him to eat a particular breakfast cereal, to fly with a certain airline, to think seriously about life insurance, to choose wholegrain to look after his heart.
From the instant that he noticed her, he was mesmerised. After all those bright primary colours, the block capital letters and all those crude messages that he had tried so hard to ignore, this photograph blown-up to super-size of a woman turning away from a party in order to gaze in at him was wholly captivating and he couldn’t help but reciprocate. That evening he found himself drawn time and again to the window, where he stood and gazed out at her.
At the office he wasn’t able to concentrate and the following day felt like an eternity. But when at last he was back in his room and able to look at her the hours seemed to go by in a flash. It was past midnight when he realised that he hadn’t yet prepared his evening meal; that he needed to think seriously about going to bed and getting some sleep.
When she stepped from the hoarding he was startled. It wasn’t so much that she had suddenly taken form but he was amazed by how effortlessly and gracefully she managed in her high heels to climb down the wall.
She stood on the edge of the road and straightened her dress. Watching carefully he expected her at any moment to set off in search of a nightclub but when she raised her head she looked up and directly at him. Blushing violently he stepped backward but didn’t turn or look away. Making her way toward his building she crossed the busy street. He listened as she climbed up to the window and when she appeared he held out his hand and, taking it, she stepped into the room.
He remembered that she had been holding a wineglass.
‘What did you do with your glass?’ he asked.
‘Oh’, she replied, ‘ I put it down somewhere over there I think’.
He looked across at the board at the party scene she had deserted. The remaining revellers resplendent in their finery seemed unaware that she had disappeared but the photograph was hazy and blurred and he couldn’t see the wine glass.
The young woman studied him quizzically.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘Nothing, nothing’s wrong’.
He realised that his behaviour was unsettling her and smiling he pulled the curtains. He wasn’t embarrassed, surprisingly. After the first flush he now felt confident and entirely at ease.
‘Come here’, he said and, taking her hands, he pulled her in close and they kissed.
In the morning she was gone and at first he was stricken. There wasn’t any trace of her, no forgotten earring, not even a dirty cup. He rolled over in the bed and then he could smell her, her perfume, the perfume he supposed that she was now promoting across the street. Pleased with himself he basked in it. It had happened and he didn’t doubt that it would again.
Stretching out he decided that he was going to ring in sick, that in order to ready himself for tonight he needed to take the day off.
He slept in until late afternoon and, after reading the newspaper, he watched a little television and when at last it was time he crossed to the window. Once again he watched her step elegantly from the advertisement and climb down the wall.
Over the course of the next week he was surprised to find he wasn’t phased by her astounding good looks. He soon dispensed with any attempt at small talk and the moment she stepped through the window and into the room, taking her hand he would lead her to the bed.
Afterwards, he slept soundly and when he awoke he felt refreshed and eager to the meet the day. And then suddenly one morning he couldn’t smell her perfume. How long had it been, he wondered, how many nights, how many mornings? He tried to count; five, six, seven, eight? But no, it was nine.
He sniffed at the sheet where she had been laying, sunk his face into her pillow. He bunched up the quilt from her side, pulled it up to his nose and inhaled deeply but there was nothing.
That night he studied her and, scrutinising, he decided that she had deteriorated. It was a strange word to choose, he was aware of this, but it felt like the right one. She was fading, losing her sparkle, her shine. He hadn’t registered before that she was wearing make-up but he noticed now where it had begun to run on her face, that her arms and legs were streaked and dirty.
‘Would you like to take a shower?’ he asked.
‘No’, she looked at him, incredulous, ‘Why?’ she asked and smiled.
He decided not to push it.
‘It doesn’t matter’, he said. ‘But do you mind if we just sleep tonight? I’m really very tired and I don’t know but I think I might be coming down with something. I hope you don’t mind’.
‘It’s okay’, she said and sounded genuinely concerned. ‘Of course I don’t mind’.
As she groped and grappled her way from the board, he wondered how many more times she would be able to manage it, how many more times he would have to watch her as she clambered and scrambled down the bricks. He expected her at any moment to slip but somehow she made it. At the bottom she stood with her back toward him. Her dress was torn and coming undone at the seams and her legs were spotted with what, from where he stood, looked like dried blood.
She turned and he stepped backward and remembered that he had done this before on the first night and he hoped desperately that this would be the last. He was, in fact, convinced that it would be but he had decided what he was going to do and he wasn’t about to back down, now now.
She started across the street and, lunging forward, he closed the window and pulled the curtains. He sat on the sofa and waited for what seemed like an age and when, at last, she began to tap on the glass he switched on the television and turning the volume high asked himself ‘how long?’. He was surprised to hear his voice, to find that he was talking aloud.
‘How much longer’, he mused, ‘will I have to put up with this?’