About twenty-five years ago, I came home from work and walked through the door of my apartment. “Honey, I’m home,” I announced cheerily, even though I lived alone.
It was summer, so it was still light outside, with birds chirping in the trees and kids splashing in the swimming pool outside my second-story window. A few minutes after I got in, I heard three loud knocks. My door had no peephole, so I couldn’t see who was out there. “The next place I live,” I said out loud, “I’ll make bloody-well-sure that the door has a peephole.” I was in the habit of talking to myself. It drove my mom crazy when I was a kid, and these days it drives my husband nuts. He’s always saying, “What?” from distant parts of the house. To keep him from getting annoyed, I sometimes lie and tell him I’m just singing.
I opened the door half-way and saw this young worker-type guy wearing a tool belt. “You want a peephole?” he asked, clairvoyantly. He had a little brass object in his hand, which he waved enticingly. “Five minutes, five bucks and I can install it for you.”
“Right now?” I asked.
“Right now,” he said.
“What a bargain!” I thought, then asked him to wait while I checked to make sure I had enough cash in my usually barren wallet. I shut the door and rummaged through my purse, finding three singles and some nickels and dimes. “Hold on!” I shouted through the door, then ran to my bedroom to see if there was any loose change in a bowl I kept on the dresser. While I was looking, I was marveling at how fortuitous — and bizarre — it was that this peephole-installer happened to appear out of thin air at the exact moment I was wishing for a peephole.
It reminded me of a similar incident that had happened years earlier. I was around 4 years old, swinging on my swing set out in my backyard. I was wishing like crazy for a kite when suddenly—boom! A yellow paper kite crashed to the ground right in front of my eyes. For a second, I thought I was hallucinating, then jumped off my swing to run over and grab it. But the instant I touched it, the string jerked, and the yellow kite flew up into the sky and sailed away over my house.
As I continued my search for change, I hoped that the peephole installer would stick around and not disappear like my kite. Because I really wanted this peephole.
For the past few days, I’d been getting unexpected visits from a guy I’d met a couple weeks before at a house party. A friend of mine I’d known since college, who’d gone out with this guy a few times, said we should go because he always threw such great parties with lots of interesting people.
Once we got there, I could see that my friend — along with most of the other women at the party— was absolutely crazy about him. I took an instant disliking to him. He was tall, dark, and handsome and looked kind of like Warren Beatty back in his heyday. I made a calculated guess that he’d slept with half the females at the party, while the other half seemed eager to join the ranks. Anyway, they were all circling around him like moths to a naked light bulb. It was nauseating.
The party, as my friend promised, was nice, in a swank house on Lido Island with top-notch catering and real champagne. After about an hour, the Lothario finally swatted away his admirers, made his way through the crowd, and started chatting with my friend, whose eyes were glowing like embers in a girl scout’s campfire. After a brief and cursory conversation with her, he asked, “Well—who’s this?” Before my friend could introduce me, I said, “I’m Indira Gandhi. Delighted to make your acquaintance,” in a British accent, then presented my hand in a queenly manner, which he kissed. (I was also then in the habit of putting on an English accent, just for kicks, when in a room full of strangers.) I’m not sure which puzzled him most: the exotic name Indira, or the word “acquaintance,” as he seemed unfamiliar with both. He then took my arm and began introducing me to his friends. “This is Indira.”
After escorting me out onto the terrace, like the prince in Cinderella, he asked where I was from. I told him I was from Reykjavik. “Where is that?” he asked. I told him it was in the West Indies. He seemed impressed.
A few minutes later, at the stroke of midnight, I looked at my watch and told him I was late for a dental appointment. “Alas, I must take my leave,” I said with sorrow.
“A dentist appointment on a Saturday night!” he exclaimed.
“Yes,” I told him enigmatically (another word that most certainly would have thrown him for a loop) and left without further explanation.
I felt kind of guilty at how much fun I’d had toying with this affluent, yet educationally challenged Casanova. But my guilt flew straight out the window when my friend—having utterly failed at making a date with him — was now weeping silently in the passenger side of my car.
I don’t think she was upset with me. She knew he was a flirt. Rather, in listening to the heart-wrenching sounds of her stifled sobs, I suspected she was experiencing a deeper existential crisis, one in which she was coming to grips with the fact that she didn’t stand a chance of having any type of relationship with a man of his caliber. Her pain was palpable, which made me dislike him—and men like him — all the more.
At work, a few days later, I answered the phone to an incredulous voice. “Your name isn’t Indira!”
After a beat, I responded, “No my dear, it isn’t.”
During our brief conversation on the terrace, I must have told him where I worked. After asking the receptionist to speak with Indira Gandhi, he persevered, asking if any of the female employees fit my description.
“Oh! You must mean Lotus,” the receptionist said, and put the call through.
His name was Eric. During the phone call, I learned that the swank house on Lido belonged to his mother, where he was house-sitting while she was away on an extended business trip in Europe. He was also an entrepreneur, which he enunciated with practiced perfection.
After half-listening to more of his credentials, I apologized, telling him I had to get back to work. The very next day, he called again. And the next. After a week of late-night deadlines, I finally relented to meet him for a drink after work. Why not? I thought. Maybe he has an intelligent brother.
He turned out to be almost charming, in a dim-witted sort of way. Our cocktail waitress seemed starstruck and was practically throwing herself at him. He did have startling green eyes, dark lashes that were about a mile long, broad shoulders, a tall angular physique, and a suave and stylish manner. In the ladies’ room, a girl remarked on how lucky I was, and another girl chimed in with, “Oh, yeah!”
It was like being out on a date with a celebrity. Everyone stared at him. It was both flattering and amusing. To keep the conversation rolling, I couldn’t quite lay off on my historical references and non sequiturs, which flew right over his pretty head. He was generous, though, because he didn’t bat an eye when I ordered a ridiculously expensive glass of Pinot Noir.
After our drink, he walked me back to my car and waited while I tried to start it. Of all nights, it conked out! It was the water pump again. Back then, I always made sure to keep my yearly AAA account current, because my old car was becoming less and less dependable. Eric went back into the restaurant with me, where I called for a tow truck. All the while he waited with me, then insisted on driving me home. But instead of dropping me at the front entrance of my building, as I’d requested, he walked me to my door.
I thanked him, said a quick good night, went inside, and locked the door. “Oh, come on! Invite me in for a cup of coffee at least,” he coaxed. He knocked a few more times, then went away. As he was leaving, I heard him say, “Sonofabitch,” under his breath. Or maybe he just said, “Bitch.” I can’t be sure.
I met with Eric a few times after that. I was in between boyfriends. And he was so eager.
He was also very attentive and gallant. He seemed protective and concerned—unlike the last guy I was in love with, who would never have stayed while I waited for a tow truck, much less have paid for an extravagantly priced glass of wine. He may not have been the most stimulating conversationalist, but he was kind, complimentary, and caring. Whether or not Eric’s motives were sincere, he was pleasant and easy to be around. A balm to my ego, which had taken a beating from my last relationship.
On what turned out to be my last date with Eric, we got into a passionate clinch, and I almost succumbed. Like falling asleep when you’re driving. But at the ripe old age of 25, I discovered that I could no longer follow my primal instincts when it came to sex. It just felt wrong. Plus, I was put off by promiscuous men. Especially prolifically promiscuous men. It seemed so unsanitary. And movie-star-attractive men, like Eric, seemed to revel in this sort of lifestyle.
Anyway, classically handsome men had never appealed to me. Especially vain men. I was attracted to men who were unconventional looking, humble, modest, calm, exclusive, intelligent, creative, patient, kind-hearted, witty, perceptive, unpretentious, eccentric, acerbic, edgy, hard-to-figure, beaten down by life, tattered, disheveled, tortured, wildly talented and long-legged and lean. No wonder I was alone.
My lack of interest in Eric must have driven him slightly mad. It wasn’t like I was any great beauty — I wasn’t. He had his pick of gorgeous girls. Any day, any night. I suspected I stood out to him for being one of the few females he’d encountered who didn’t fall immediately in lust with him—which must have made him all the more determined to have me. I can’t think what else.
So for several days since our passionate clinch, Eric had been knocking on my door in the evenings. That’s why I wanted a peephole — so I could identify who was outside my door without having to open it.
• • •
I finally got the five bucks together and ran to open the door for the peephole installer. Instead of keeping the door open while he worked, like I thought he would, he rushed in and slammed the door shut in a blast that took all the oxygen out of the room. He was holding a drill gun in his right hand and had other assorted (and now dangerous looking) devices hanging from his tool belt. Then he turned to me and asked, “How about a drink?”
My life flashed before my eyes. Christ! It’s the peephole killer! What an ingenious ruse to gain instant access into someone’s house. He probably stakes out apartments looking for single girls to accost — or worse! Ted Bundy, with the phony cast on his arm, had nothing on this guy. How was I going get out of this one alive?
In my terror, I flashed back to another dangerous situation I had put myself into just a month earlier. I was visiting a girlfriend in San Francisco. We were at a crowded bar having a drink when this guy started chatting me up. He looked like a young Bill Murray and seemed engaging and harmless. After talking for a while and trying to top each other with witticisms, he told me I was the one. “The one what?” I asked.
“The one I’m going to marry,” he said. I thought he was kidding and kidded him back.
As we were leaving, he asked us if we wanted to smoke a “ripping” joint. My friend said, “Sure! Let’s drive to this place I know with a view of the bridge.” Back then, weed was still illegal, so we needed to be discreet. I was reluctant, but figured it was safe enough if my friend drove.
After a fifteen-minute drive, we got out of her car in a dark, wooded area near the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The view was terrific and there wasn’t a soul around. After we all had a few tokes of his powerful weed, he put his arm around me, steering me away from my friend for an intimate conversation, I thought. The next thing, he’s dragging me down this embankment. My friend must have been pretty high, because she was completely oblivious. I remember hearing her shout in the growing distance, “Hey look! It’s a full moon!”
Thank Christ I knew enough not to panic. Instead of resisting, I kept telling him that I was terribly jet lagged from a long flight I had just taken in earlier that night from Jamaica. (I had just come back from Jamaica, but it had been several days earlier.) I thought it was a pretty inventive strategy, and it seemed to be working. I went on to tell him that I was hot, sticky, and needed a shower. “Let’s wait until tomorrow when I’m fresh and rested.” He bought it, and started to help me up the embankment, then had second thoughts and began manhandling me again.
By now, I knew that he was a complete madman. I was using every ploy possible to appeal to his psychotic ego. Instead of trying to struggle out of his vice-like grip, I sort of melted into his arms, like I wanted it. “Let’s wait until tomorrow when I’m not so tired. And once we’re married, we can come back to this exact spot and it will be special. Let’s not spoil the moment. Don’t you agree?” I cajoled, trying my best to keep my voice calm and reasonable, while at the same time trying not to lose control of my bladder.
After a few tense seconds, he agreed and helped me up the embankment and into my friend’s car. He was in the back seat. As we drove to the safety of the crowded bar, where his car was parked, he opened up and began telling us about his recent release from a lengthy prison sentence in Atascadero. “It wasn’t my fault. The bitch asked for it!”
This last bit of information was too much. I was a real-life character in a horror movie and he was Max Cady! I was utterly terrified and trying frantically — but discreetly (easier said than done) —to signal my friend, who was still oblivious as a goddamned goat. This was before every person on planet earth had a cell phone so, naturally, neither my girlfriend nor I had one.
Once we got to the bar, I saw (complete with the screeching violins from Psycho) that it was closed and the street deserted. Max got out of the back seat and demanded my phone number. I quickly made one up, which he wrote down on a piece of paper with a sharp-looking stainless-steel pen taken from his coat pocket. Satisfied, he leaned in to kiss me, then whispered in my ear all lovey-dovey, “If this number is phony, so help me, I’ll track you down.” I was petrified. He stood up, then, and with matter-of-fact menace said, “Now: Say your phone number back to me.”
He stared intently at the piece of paper in his hand, then back into my eyes. My mind went blank and my bladder started to give out. He had a horrible grin on his face and began to advance forward. Then, out of the blue—for some preternatural reason unknown to mankind—my friend repeated the phone number back to him perfectly. She was finally tuned-in enough to realize the danger and made a squealing pedal-to-the-metal getaway before Max could sprint to his car and follow.
The next morning, having spent an awful night lying awake in a cold sweat, I just wanted to go home. I was packed and ready by dawn, but my fearless and instant-phone-number-recalling friend persuaded me to stay. “Relax!” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “It’s a big city. Chances are he’ll never find you.”
Even though I agreed to stay, my vacation was ruined. I saw Max Cady out of the corner of my eye everywhere we went. In the cruel light of day, I knew that if I hadn’t reacted with such uncharacteristic calm, I would have been brutally raped and most likely murdered.
• • •
It was the single most dangerous and hideously foolish situation I had ever put myself into until this current peephole installer debacle. I grappled with what to do next.
I decided to use the same tactic I had used with Max. “So, what are you in the mood to drink? I don’t have anything here but could pop down to the liquor store to get anything you like,” I said in a very friendly voice. He looked at me and said, “No, just some tap water’ll be fine. I’m parched from installing these peepholes all day. You’d be surprised how many people want ’em.”
My God, the poor guy’s just thirsty, I realized, and ran over to my kitchen sink where I filled a glass with my innocent tap water. He drank it down in one gulp and then installed the peephole in less than the promised five minutes. I paid him and he packed up his drill bits, considerately whisking the sawdust away. Before walking out the door, he asked if I was okay.
“You look a little pale,” he said.
“No, I’m perfectly fine,” I answered.
After he left, I locked the door and collapsed on my couch in the fetal position. I must have been in a near-catatonic state before I realized it was getting dark. I was just about to stand up and turn on some lights when there was a knock at the door.
Traumatized from my near brushes with death — both real and imagined — while still tightly coiled in my fetal position, I clearly envisioned Bill Murray, Max Cady, and Ted Bundy, all perched on my threshold ready to pounce. After a few more ominous knocks, I forced myself to gather enough courage to stand up, then crept over to look through my now dreaded peephole. At first, I didn’t recognize the tall shadowy figure. Then my eyes slowly came into focus. It was Eric. I unlocked the door and opened it wide.
For more than a decade, Lotus Mae worked on-staff as a creative director and copywriter for various ad agencies in Los Angeles, California. Several years ago, Lotus and her husband made an unconventional move to a 40-acre property in the wilds of upstate New York where she continues to work as a creative consultant for ad agencies on both the east and west coast. As a graduate of Cal State Long Beach with a degree in fine arts, Lotus also dedicates herself to mixed media art and writing poetry and essays. She is currently working on a series of creative nonfiction accounts of her past adventures, which she hopes to publish as a memoir when completed. Her story Peephole is taken from this series.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Alrick Dorett/Flickr Creative Commons
Enjoyed reading. Great description of Eric!
I was so on edge about what was going to happen with the peephole guy at the end! Wonderfully done!
Thank you Kathy, for your comments on my story!
Your story “Pulses” is so beautiful, poetic, and heartfelt. I admire the way you entwine family life with plant life.
Your conceptual approach reminds me of author Andrea Barrett’s collection of short stories called “Ship Fever” published in 1996. I’d love to know if you are familiar with this of compilation stories. They are truly superb.
Let me know if you have read them!
I thank you for your marvelous story—and your comments on mine.
Oh this is powerful, and in between the punches of humor, there is very real pain. I disagree that “you got yourself into trouble.” You were living, adventuring, BEING and the times were dangerous for women because predation was very real then too, just differently cloaked, also so often using an alias.
Your story to me, illuminates this need to look very carefully at our circumstances. Sometimes a peephole is very, very necessary. Right, Indira?
Hilarious. And scary – the crazy situations we get into when we’re young. Everyone has them, well, every woman I’m guessing. Your descriptions were visceral. I also laughed at the type of man you wanted and was thrilled to know you’d found him. I mean, you’re married, right…
Hi Terri. Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed my story. And yes—I am married to a man that pretty much fits my description to a tee. Only he’s better than I hoped for. Thanks so much again! —Lotus Mae