the short story project


Brandon Pecina

Through the Glass

Every year that passes is another reminder that this life, my life, has gone on at least a year too long. 6th of January, 2017’s the date. I wish I could get a handle on the weather —the devil’s in the details, or so they tell me — but the damned sky-nymphs can’t make up their minds, whether snow or sunshine. By now, I figure it’s expected by any small East Texas town. The air’s wet, that much I can say. The windowsill’s bleeding crystals that stain the cracked, painted surface like hundreds of tiny snow-globes. I guess that means that it’s cold outside tonight. That’s not saying much. It’s nearing 2am— 1:47 to be precise. The air’s never colder than the pre-dawn hours, and I figure this time qualifies.

I stare out this window like I’ve been for the past 5 years,
and the view grows dimmer each pass around the sun. I’m not sure
if its the glass pane — whether by the second hand of my old
Howard Miller or by the constant assault of my steady-burning
Marlboro’s — or if it’s due to the fog slowly covering my own
two, aging window panes, I can’t say for certain. Still, while
the walls and fixtures of this old apartment may be failing, my
mind sees as keenly as it ever has.

It’s two minutes ’til the hour, now. He’ll come around the
corner the way he always does this time on a Friday, skulking
along the edge of the shadows like the thief that he is. Oh,

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it’s not fine silver or bundles of cash that he lines his
pockets with. It’s time.

He rings her apartment; I imagine that I can hear the sound.
It spills out into the chilled night air like an accusation,
laying out the truth of his deeds for the transients and
vagrants to read about, like a stand up man would read about the
latest scandal in the morning paper. But I can’t hear it; not
really. Just like I can’t see the look on his face as he enters
the building and starts his walk up three flights of stairs, his
anticipation growing as he approaches her door. He doesn’t knock
— there’s no need — as she opens the door before he can steady
the souls of those ill-gotten leathers he wears on his wondering

And there she stands. A vision even to this old man’s waning
eyes. Brown hair — curls, just down to the shoulder — and a
smile that could make an old man dream again. All of five-foot
tall and not a, ounce over a-hundred and ten pounds— two-hundred
and seventy when he’s on top of her. There are no depths
undiscovered by a woman’s heart when in the grips of an
indifferent man. It’s a trap too often set for, and far too
often fallen into by those with the purest of intent.

She’ll let him in, just like she always does. He’ll stay for
two hours, maybe three, and then head off into the night where

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he belongs, leaving her to her tears and the cold comfort of the
pillow she holds in his place. I try not to think about what
happens in-between.

The hours pass like a sickle through the weeds. The sun peeks
out over the landscape but I know he doesn’t see me. No, the
sun, he shines for the towers, for the mountain peaks and the
searching sparrows— but not for me. He sets for me, but sunset
is a long way off now and I can’t be sure I’ll see it.

It’s coming up on 6:30. The young journeyman will be headed
out the door in short order. I can’t see it, but he’s in a
bustle now. Rounding up his necessaries and doing his best to
give some passing affection to his dutiful spouse. He’s one of
them — a gay — but a good man to the best of my knowledge. Time
was a man like him couldn’t step out his front door without
putting on airs. But times’ve changed and there’s no need for a
man of his kind to hide himself. It’s a good change, as I see
it. Never should a man be forced to wear a mask in place of his
soul. But hell, what do I know?

He gives a kiss, takes the same bagel he leaves the building
with every morning, and heads for the door. And off he goes.
6:30 on the dot. He’s a good man. I come from a different time
with different measures of a man, but one measure that has stood

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the test is that of a man’s willingness to work for his family.
A man puts the time in, pays his dues, having only his pride and
his children to show for it. And is this enough? Damn straight,
it’s enough.

He want’s children, my gay friend there. Not long ago, maybe
three weeks or so, he and his… hell, I don’t know what the right
word is that they call them. Spouse worked once before so I’ll
go with that. Anyway, him and his “spouse” were leaving their
building when another man walked by carrying a small child in
his arms. This man stopped just a few steps past them, put the
kid down to tie his shoe. My two friends stopped and turned
back, watching the other man fuss over the small boy.

Now, they may not be like most others I’ve known in my
lifetime but there was no mistaking that look. They both had it.
It was the same look my Katherine gave one day back in ’73. We
were married only a year then.

My Katherine.

I was a young man, only 28 and barely knew enough to tighten
my britches. I couldn’t picture me as a dad. My Katherine, she
wanted nothing more than to be a momma and I promised her that.
I’m ashamed to say that’s not the only promise I broke over our
38 years. There was just never enough money, never enough space

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in this little apartment — and Lord knows it was the most I
could afford — and I always thought there’d be time.

There’s never enough time.

Seconds pass — or what seemed like seconds — and the bell on
that old Howard Miller chimes out twelve times— I think I’ll
miss that sound. The bell tolls and it’s noon. I must’ve dozed
off for a bit. Any longer for dreaming and I would’ve missed my
next appointment. The ache in my back… I would’ve thought it
could get much worse after that “minor” accident back at my old
job, but a few too many hours in this old chair and…

Well now, that’s enough digressing for today. More important
things to focus on.

It’s 12:24 now. Every day, near half-past the hour, a young
man barely old enough to shave begins gathering the tools. He
lives on the second floor of the building across the street.
Right about now he’s dressed, making his way down two flights
and out the door onto the sidewalk where he ply’s his trade. Of
all my friends, I think I value my time with him the most.

When I was a young man, fresh out of school and eager to make
a place for myself in this world, I took to the factories. I
built things, sure, but I didn’t create anything— nothing of
real value, anyway. I worked in plastics. My father worked in

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steel — sturdy, unyielding steel. And I worked in plastics. I’m
not saying my work was without value. I provided. I provided for
my wife, my mother after my father passed. We ate good food,
always had a roof and four walls to keep us from the elements.
Hell, I’m sitting encased by those four walls now. Still, I
didn’t create.

I’m watching as across the street, right now, that young man
– James, I imagine his name is — is half done with his first
work of the day. He paints, you see. What’s most amazing is that
he doesn’t paint the planes or cattle or small East Texas
cityscapes. What this boy paints is beyond my imagination, for
sure. He paints cities of crystal, creatures that I’ve never
dreamt of, let alone seen. I don’t know where he gets it from.

I was never what you would call the artistic type — never had
the inclination or talent for it. No, my love was literature.
There was a time when I fancied myself quite the writer.

It’s funny, that.

Hours pass. The shadows grow long over the street separating
my faded window from that youthful soul who knows no other way
but to bear itself in bright colors and long brush strokes. He’s
packing up now. The light’s dying over the horizon.

Not much left.

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As he goes back in, passing out of view through the door of
that building across the street, I catch a single tear rolling
down my cheek.

“I’ll be damned, Can’t remember the last time that happened.”
I hear the words come out of my mouth, as though I wasn’t saying
them at all.

I take up the bottle of fifty year old scotch I’d been
saving, remove the lid, and pour myself a drink for the first
time in ten years. It burns going down — that old familiar burn
— and it’s good. In this moment I don’t see all things I made,
all the dreams I never quite lived up to, or any of the faces of
my friends who had been my only company for these past 5 years
since my Katherine was taken from me. It turns out, as I take
that hunk of steel in my hand — steel like my dad made — the
only face I see is my own. Younger? Sure — more days ahead than
behind, anyway — and so damned dumb.

As the small steel circle made it’s impression on the loose,
wrinkled skin beneath my chin, I look one last time into those
young, eager eyes and again I hear my own voice, spoke from
someplace far away: “You could’ve…

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