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Episode 25: The Surveilling

All day the sun just a rumour. Bleak light straining through taut rain drops, drowning in dark puddles.

The last muddy notes from the bottom of the coffee mug drift up behind his eyeballs. Spenser sits near the window so he can watch the sidewalk, watch the street. He looks into and through his wan reflection, the wet glass distending his features so that his face resembles melted wax. The claustral elegance of dark wet bodies moving up and down the street. Hastily sketched courses bent awry and replotted. Lives in brief convergence. Entanglements averted. Bodies keeling in the downpour, bent double in hydrophobic poses, desperate to protect the crystalline structure and glow of handheld devices. Not for the first time Spenser thinks about algorithmic happenstance and the fact that any one of these strangers could be reading about him as they walked by. What kind of world is this?

Across the street, a filthy man in brown rags mouths indignities at passersby between long slugs from a brassy tall boy.

Spenser tries to invent backstories for the people sloshing past, thinks that maybe harnessing his powers of observation in this way could be an earnest writerly exercise in characterization. Skill building. Raw data for future stories. The young man in the skinny jeans cheats on his Introduction to Economics assignments and lusts after the young woman sitting in front of him in his Tuesday morning History of Western Civilization course. He has written a short letter to the young woman in the History of Western Civilization, a letter that confesses his love and translates the flittings of his sparrowheart into what he believes to be finely crafted (if amateurish) poetic forms. Rapturous proclamations of admiration and devotion and sacrifice and fidelity. But the young man cannot muster the courage to present the letter to the young woman. The letter that he carries in the front pocket of his skinny jeans, the letter that is now damp and swollen from the rain. The young man knows somewhere deep inside himself that he will never possess the courage to present the letter to the young woman and so the letter that he carries is a source of both pride and sadness. He likes to say the young woman’s name aloud, quietly, as he walks.

The old man in the foggy glasses eats green olives straight from the jar and reads the obituaries first. He killed a man during the war and rainy days are tough on his conscience. Snowy nights are worse.

The woman with the yellow boots has a scar on her left shin that reminds her of her grandfather.

Spenser isn’t writing any of this down, but holding it, ill-formed, in his head. Mouthing a few words into the table, down toward his feet. He finds the exercise difficult to sustain, and he is disappointed to feel the first viscous waves of boredom dulling all his senses. The people are moving too quickly. Once they are out of view the connection is lost and his imagination is unable to bridge the gap.

He looks up to see the man in filthy brown rags staring at him through the slick window. Staring very hard. I am fixed in his gaze is what comes to mind. Then Spenser looks away.