I’ve been a witness to a terrible secret kept by one of Warsaw’s few ascendants to the dreary socialist blocks that hang about the streets today. She, stubbornly, still stands against the threat of ruin and decay, guarding fearlessly what’s known today as plac Unii Lubelskiej.
This mistress of time holds secrets that would terrify most of us and her dark doors look heavy with the weight of keeping them inside. She is somewhat bent by time, though she remains resilient without masking her age from the onlookers and the passers-by, inured by the unrestrained spirits of violent men. Her walls, appropriately enough, look like an adamant, pale armour made of self-reliance that, even on a gloomy day like this one, gives off a peculiar, yet elegant hue.
Most of the time, the façade is as far as my eye can go. I stop at the walls, the doors, and secretive windows and wait for the dusk, because on occasion, the fourth floor is brightly lit from inside. On those occasions the windows become clear and the light shining off the parquet floor escapes onto the street. It reveals the perfectly complementary antique furniture that puffs in smells of heavy oak. When I am gifted with the pleasure of such a sight, I lean over the backrest of my couch, onto the window sill and look out into the tall, saloon-like rooms that connect to each other by the large double-winged doors of pale white. I can tell that the apartment is warm despite it being so decadently spacious, because the girl that lives there always walks barefoot, even in the harshest Polish winters, skidding along her supple feet against the floor.
I can’t help myself but stare at her. Her body is young, maybe nineteen, slender with long curly hair that she never ties down, but waves often left and right as she walks around the apartment. I’ve given her a story of sorts that plays into my fantasy of her. I excite myself by adding layers to her character to such an extent that her made-up imperfections make her seem less distant to me than all the people I tell myself I know. I’m terrified of ever meeting her. Running into her on the street. Hearing her voice. The ruin of the life I’ve made for her seems too upsetting.
Like that apartment, for example. It’s hers, you see. She’s inherited it from her grandparents who owned it long before the war. As a daughter of bourgeois émigrés that settled in Chicago, her dreams of becoming a violinist tragically withered when a deadbeat drunk rammed his Camaro into the cab her parents took one Saturday night. Since then, her only dream was to forget, and start again in this vibrant city, where the sounds of screeching tires are replaced with the click-clacking of trams against the tracks. She has a fund perhaps, and that keeps her comfortable but not wealthy. The apartment alone costs her an arm and a leg but she hasn’t the heart to give it up, it’s hers after all – her heirloom. I can tell it’s dear to her. She often stops and looks at its corners, touches the walls and glides her soft palms across creases in the paint. She moves sensually, with remorse. She stops with the pain of loss and lunges forward to rid herself of the feeling of abandonment. My God, her vulnerability. It’s a sexual act when she wipes a tear from her cheek monotonously, already used to it, like a habit.
But that day she was a strangely collected figure. She was reading a magazine about photography from what I could gather through my binoculars. She was wearing striped knee-high socks and a long white shirt that barely covered her panties. I could see under it when she flicked it with her finger to scratch her lower back. My palms were sweaty and my breath blurred the window as I exhaled. She did it casually, without hesitation; I doubt she ever thought someone’s looking. Or maybe she had, but she hasn’t a care in the world for it, and does all of it anyway. I like to think she’s innocent in it. She just has an itch and she’s only sensual because she breathes that way. She takes no effort in being such. Paulina is her name. I like to think so. Paula.
I remember her twisting suddenly, away from the windows. I can see it all, even as I blink, as if I’m staring at her now. She’s turning her head away from the window. Focusing on the deep void that I cannot see, she looks inward, frightfully. She folds the magazine slowly. One foot descends and touches the floor. The other curls its toes in anticipation. And then she jolts again! It must be a sound, someone thumping at the door. Her shirt is stuck under her panties and I can see her curvy ass while she’s standing. She’s a frozen figure staring into the darkness. But her long legs, bent slightly in the knee and her ass are warm bread of drunken mornings when I cannot get enough of its smell. Her skin is smooth and tanned and my fingers touch the dough that burns below the broken crust.
Paula stands still. Alarmed. She shakes. Her palms are raised and elbows bent, she balances her pulsating heart like some circus act. Her steps quieten to the sound of cushions whispering to each other frightening tales, but to me they sounded like the dirty secrets told to dirty minds, and her feet like record player’s needles that barely touch the vinyl, or are yet to do so, just yet.
I blink again. She trembles. The banging must be louder. Paula’s drawn to it helplessly as if in a dream. She disappears into the void, the dark, and I could no longer see her quivering body. I waited in anticipation for her to appear again. I thought it must have been nothing. She’ll appear any moment now and I’ll loosen the grip I have on the leather binds of the binoculars that creak under my sweaty palms, I thought, hot and slippery from what she did to me. She titillated uncomfortably, touched with no hands, spoke without words, and held me with her presence. In her absence, after a treat like that, a longing would set in and churn away any sensibility of the remaining day.
A light appeared further inward, lighting the wide hallway that led into her apartment. The walls closed in on the space and windows that kept her away from my sight. They nestled her until two figures emerged from the light. A figure – a figurine – of a girl with long wavy hair below a dark, and a towering figure of a man. He set down a bottle, she turned a black pirouette and emerged slowly from the dark. My fingers loosened the grip and breathed when I saw her again. Young and unsure of herself.
It haunts me always. This recurring nightmare. The man follows suit, but walks confidently in long, powerful strides. He holds the bottle by the neck, and his strong grip reveals itself as he walks closer to her. Two wine glasses in the other hand were nothing more than a manifested contradiction of imitated gentleness cowering before supressed physical power. I stopped to think who he might be.
In the meantime, he had sat his broad frame on the couch as she huddled herself to a corner. She smiled and brushed her hair behind her ear, bent her knees and folded her arms at her lap. Her shoulders moved in a slow shrug inward. What could he want of her, I wondered, this fraudulent brute? Of this innocent beauty whose parts, buried underneath, he cannot see. I watched them drink quietly, she brushed off a smile from time to time but often looked away, sometimes at the clock.
The night set in, and with it, I got a better view of them. If I think about holding those binoculars, I see her eyes appearing through the lenses, when I held my breath and kept my hands steady enough. I can see them, guessing at their true expression, but I imagine them up close, holding my breath. The delayed rushes of air washing over the palpitating heart are fitting. She is worth every breath untaken.
What now has this brute to do with her? Why do his hands touch her hair? He leans toward her. An avalanche of muscle, of stones, crumbling at the foot of this chasm that opens before them. She retreats, her shoulders shrug more intently now. He persists. He pushes. She turns away and stands. Moving closer to the window, touching the pane, she entreats for a freefall. I can hear her begging for it. “Open now, just shatter. Let me fall.” But an escape seems distant and obtuse now.
He stands, then follows her. He is a looming dark figure thrown as a backdrop against her insignificant suffering. What is she looking at? She stares dimly, stiff as a cadaver, a rebel stripped of her drive, barren, before a firing squad. Without even the bravery to face the bullets, she faces away, toward the windows. Her view must be a blank, dead image of the grey street. A deafening, stone-cold silence stares back at her, indifferent to whatever follows. He touches her shoulder. She twitches as the gunfire breaks the silence. He doesn’t stop. He only runs his hands over her soft, brown curls until he twists them into a tight hold. Like rawhide reins that bind the victim, his hands twist her until she completely surrenders, mowed down before the wall, dead. Then she moves, sensually, awaken from her death by a spell. He twists her more until there’s pleasure in the crime. He lifts her shirt, bends her over the sill and rips her panties with one, single, firm pull. She moans, her lips press against the glass. Her breath expands onto the window. Pleasure or pain? She, anyhow, seems unable to tell them apart. He ploughs, the brute, through both. His jaw pushes beside her lean cheeks, she bites her lip, and crumples as he pushes. I can see his teeth as he roars. And she twists even more. She slams her open palm against the window and I watch it slide down in one, inelegant fall. Her fingers curl into a fist, her teeth jar against each other, and she turns suddenly and pushes her nimble hands onto hard meat of this man.
Surely a sudden change of heart would make him pause at least, but no! He does not stop. She thrashes arms in his face and kicks her legs, but he subdues her without much adversity. His hand covers her mouth. The other pins her down as he penetrates her again. And again. He grows bigger, and more powerful than before, seeming almost overcome with the thrill of the moment. He reddens her skin and roughs up her hair, as he pushes open her knees just to get a good look at his work. He smiles. And all her futile defiance disintegrates into a chorus of tears that I see as she turns once more to look outwards, and I see now too. He thrusted a few more times and leant close to her ear. Everything got almost quiet enough for me to hear them. “I’ll kill you if you talk.” He said. And then stepped away and pulled his pants up. He picked up something from the table, took a quick swig from the bottle, and left.
And that was that.
Seven days have gone by since. And if you asked me I could not say with ushering confidence who he was now. A brute. Nothing more. I could not describe him any better. And to whom? The mistress whispered that I shouldn’t say or do a thing. “Keep to yourself,” she means to say, “this is nothing new and what is there to change about that?” Such is the face of the mistress of time. Silent and indifferent.
But through Paula’s face I can almost feel the pain. Her tearing eyes and silent screams I can see and hear. I haven’t looked through my binoculars again after that. I don’t look out of my windows much either. I shy away from looking across the street, to face the mistress that knows all truths. Of a thousand of her secrets, I’ve met only one, yet think I’ve met them all. Her walls, her doors, and her windows, like mirrors in the dark, will not fail again. They’ll never invite me again to look inside, but remain the bearers of secrets we all know but do not see. They will only idly remind me of the deathly, silent screams, and eyes robbed of happiness, whenever I would accidently look up, or brush my shoulder against the corners of that building.