My Entry for the 2016 Monash Prize
I was halfway through my furious masturbation session when the woman from 15 Burkwood Street halted her yoga, mid-downward dog, and stared straight at me in the bush outside of her window.
“Oh no,” I said, panicking that I had been discovered, perhaps with a hint of frustration that I also wouldn’t be able to complete my journey of voyeurism and make a contribution to the fertilisation of her lovely hydrangeas.
I quickly pulled up the elastic of my running shorts, extracted myself from the bush, and bolted up the side path where I’d come, vaulting over the gate and out onto the front lawn; taking off up the street.
The slam of a door and an outraged voice followed me, “You sick bastard! You’d best hope my husband doesn’t find you!”
I forced my limbs to move faster, and for my erection to subside quickly; though as soon as I began to imagine the husband (presumably six foot two with a tattooed arm sleeve and a steroid addiction), the erection subsided before I turned out the end of the street.
Even though I took the backstreets home, in order to avoid detection from either the police, the husband, or both, it only took me fifteen minutes to arrive back to the unit block, and another five to stretch outside my door.
When I entered my apartment, I quickly undressed, stepped into the shower, and once I had a workable erection, I began where I’d left off — thanking a higher power for the invention of yoga pants when I finished.
I haven’t always been a voyeur.
I was solely into running in the beginning; I would track for kilometres around the neighbourhoods in my vicinity, making up my path as I went. I was not a morning person; my runs would take place after work and before dinner. Running on a full stomach was hardly a good idea.
I kept myself in good shape this way, but running also served as a way to cast the stress and anxiety that might have accumulated through the day out of my mind. Every street I ran I would leave behind more and more mental flotsam, until I would arrive back at my apartment, my breaths short and erratic, my sides burning, but my mind remarkably clear.
Of course, my runs would take me on the dark, lonely streets that were only illuminated by the occasional streetlight or headlights from a passing car. Yet on the streets even devoid of these, I had to navigate based on the porch lights of passing houses, and a fair amount of guessing where the next pothole would be.
Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of the lives of the people that inhabited the houses I passed. Families through the windows, the shades half drawn, other times no shades at all. Old people, young people, gay couples, straight couples, the uncoupled, pets of numerous species — even the houses with no lights on, keeping me guessing as to the nature of the occupants, if any.
It was in the winter, when Amy was still living with me, that I first began to develop a guarded infatuation with the lives of others. Trotting lightly through the empty streets at night, my sweaty, previously white singlet flapping softly in the breeze, was when it was dark enough to ensure that people were home and in the midst of dinner or other domestic acitvities. Pre-Daylight Saving, the twilight stretched on much longer, and by the time it had receded to darkness, I would already be slowly, sweatily climbing my apartment steps.
There was something highly artificial about this nightly observance, to0. As I ran past the houses, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in a museum, passing in front of rows of glass display cabinets. What was missing was the plaque with the explanation as to the contents of the cabinet — what interested me was filling this in.
As with many obsessions, it started out slowly at first. A peak through a front window or hamstring stretches on a low-set red brick fence set across from a master bedroom. But then I made a foray into backyards — those properties without dogs, of course. The single viewer of a number of reality shows. It was fascinating — seeing such raw life evolve in front of me. And if I wished to change the channel I simple jumped the fence, or ran further, to another street, another house, another display cabinet of yet another branch of human domesticity.
This accelerating observance was not unnoticed by Amy.
“Hun,” she had said, a habit that annoyed me simply because it held within it the hint of a thirty-year relationship with one that had, at the time, been progressing for just over two. It also never failed to conjure up an image of a bow and arrow wielding, horse riding Mongolian. “You need to stop it.”
“Stop it?” I said, despite knowing exactly what she was referring to.
She rolled over in bed to look at me, her face rather shapeless in the dank gloom of our lightless bedroom.
“You have to stop with this…spying. Frankly, it’s weird,” she said.
“It’s not that weird,” I said. “People watch reality shows all the time on TV. I’m just not sitting on the couch while I do it.”
“Hun, those people on those reality shows consent to being filmed and watched,” she countered.
I didn’t reply. And I continued my observation. To my credit, it didn’t cross into the realm of voyuerism until after Amy left me.
I had arrived home from one of my runs, later than usual, due to a particularly engaging argument between a middle-aged husband and wife (childless) over the husband’s use of the smoked salmon in his breakfast that morning. Apparently, it had been reserved for a platter for an event occuring that weekend.
I opened the door, sweating profusely, my shoes left outside to air out, and encountered Amy naked, except for some black, lacy underwear.
“Mark,” she said, breasts wobbling slightly and she shifted her position from leaning on the wall to standing without support. “Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve had sex?”
My brain, rattled empty by my nightly run, couldn’t think of the answer fast enough.
“Seven weeks,” she said. She upped the pitch and said it again, “Seven!”
“Are you sure?” I asked her.
“Yes hun, I’m sure. Do you know how I know it’s been seven weeks?” she said.
“Exactly seven weeks ago was the day you first came home from your run and said that you’d spied on a family making spaghetti bolognese through their kitchen window, so you decided to come home and make some for us,” she said.
“Mark, you’re obsessed! We barely talk to each other anymore! Weeknights were some of the only times we could relax, but your runs have completely taken over. And when we do talk, all you tell me is how mister and misses such-and-such were having an argument, or that the people on the corner block wear shoes inside the house,” she said, exploding, her nakedness doing next to nothing to make her seem like she was less serious.
Her gaze softened, and for the first time I began to feel a sense of remorse gathering a beachead in the bottom of my stomach.
“Mark, I want to go to bed with you, and after tonight, all I want you to do on your nightly runs is run,” she said.
But I didn’t step forward to haul her over my shoulder, to carry her to bed, to deposit her on it with a soft thump and tear at her underwear — the very idea of it held no interest for me anymore. The thought — the knowledge that all around me, others’ lives were accelerating along in their own little bubbles, and that I had access to the lens to witness it all. How could I be selfish and concentrate on my own life when there was so much of it happening already?
And so, I whispered to Amy, who was on the verge of tears, “I’m sorry.” I walked past her and stepped into a scalding hot shower, where I stayed for a long time — so long that the hot water ran cold and my skin felt like soft rubber.
When I came back out, Amy, her suitcase, with as many of her clothes as she had managed to fit, and any echo of the word ‘hun,’ were gone.
It was the very next night, while I was treating myself to an extra long run, given the fact that I had no one left in my apartment to judge me anymore (unless my Mother showed up out of the blue), that I crossed from simple observance to voyeurism.
I might have crossed into it before, but this particular night was the first time I saw any form of fornication inside any of the houses whose backyards I frequented upon.
It was a young couple – late twenties, but immediately from the outset I could see that they had already been through what many couples wouldn’t go through until much later in life, if at all. The brunette woman, who cast her shirt away like one freed from a straight jacket, was missing her left breast – the result of what I imagined to be breast cancer.
The man, a plain looking gentleman, had a rather strange tattoo running down his spine – large Gothic script that read “461.” He didn’t seem to mind about her only having one breast; his passionate kisses and searching hands were not at all lacking in longing, as far as I could tell.
It was after the foreplay that I found that I had an erection, that was currently trying to bury itself like a worm in the dirt.
I couldn’t hear any of the moans from inside the house, but their couch sagged as they picked up speed, their limbs soon glistening with sweat, the woman’s expression one of unbridled ecstasy.
Having not the advantage to sloop behind any of the trees and masturbate standing up, I rolled over and gazed at them sideways while stroking myself, so that they appeared to be standing on the end of their couch.
Without warning, I lost control and came on their lawn, surprised at how quickly it took. Amy had been right. It had been a long time.
The couple finished up; they lay there for a time after, before going off to take a shower, or so I imagine. As soon as they’d retreated from the living room, I pulled my shorts back up, jumped the fence, and tore away up the street.
After this experience, I ran exclusively to sate my sexual needs. I thought nothing wrong with it — they were always couples, mid-twenties or older, and I never felt the want, nor the desire, to knock on the door and make myself known to a single woman whom I might have been spying upon. It wasn't anything like that — this lustful voice did not cross my mind. No. I was happy with pleasuring myself; every night I lived a fantasy, I saw more than I ever thought possible and I went home satisfied, lungs short of air, but my mind completely lucid. I watched as my other troubles at work drop away as I enveloped myself in the roll of being a voyeur of these relationships — a silent, non-participant, watcher in the night.
I was a sweaty, skinny, singlet-wearing wearing God.
For obvious reasons, I didn’t make a return to 15 Burkwood Street for the next three weeks — only going back there because it was a Saturday night and I’d exhausted my options elsewhere, with most of the younger couples already out on the town.
Instead of taking the side gate of her property, I stealthily navigated my way into the backyard of Number 13 Burkwood, before jumping the fence into 15. I landed softly — the soil damp from the day’s sporadic showers.
I took my time navigating my way to the other side of the garden — the side opposite to the one I was spotted in.
I waited a little, crouched behind the bush, and was just about to leave when the lights blazed on from inside the house.
She walked out into the view of the large glass windows that ran across the lower level of the house — hair done up high, large stiletto’s clunking across the floor, her slim figure wrapped in a dark blue cocktail dress. I strained my neck to see if her husband was in tow, all imagined six foot-two of him, but no other figures entered the living area.
Just as I thought she would be heading to her room to get changed, she began to, very deliberately, undress in front of the windows. Shoes first, then earrings; her hair followed. The dress was slower — much slower. I was so awestruck by the display in front of me that I’d forgotten to pull down my pants; I did so hastily, heat rushing to my crotch. The dress came off and she stood there, with her graceful poise, black, lacy underwear on, much like the underwear that Amy had been wearing the last night I was with her.
As if building up to the completion of her show — her audience the blades of grass, the pot plants, the bushes, a few trees, and unbeknownst to her, a sweaty voyeur — she unhitched her bra and threw it away.
With her fingers poised above the lining of her underwear, and with an accompanying second of hesitation, she stared right at me, as I was (again) on the verge of climax, and slid her underwear off in one fluid motion.
“Oh no,” I said, and once again I found myself bolting up the side path, over the fence and was just crossing the front yard when my foot found the tangled hose on the lawn and I tripped, landing hard on my stomach, as the front door opened.
“Hey,” said the woman.
“Oh no,” I said, struggling to escape before she could see my face.
“Hey!” she said, dropping to her knees in front of me. I cast my gaze downwards. She was wearing a silk robe — the bottom of it flapped in my face as the wind tossed it around. Her perfume surrounded me, and she spoke in a voice that had no hitches to it, a perfect soundtrack. Apart from sight, it was two more senses I could add to my infatuation with this woman.
“Hey,” she said again, refraining from touching me, but speaking to me softly instead. “It’s alright. I’m not going to call the police.”
I instantly lowered the octave of my voice as disbelief washed over me and replied, “Why not?”
“Because…” she faltered. Then, with great conviction, she took a breath and said, “I like being desired.”
She stood, and I raised my face ever so slightly to catch her smooth legs as they appeared before me.
“Come around tomorrow night,” she said, just as I uncoupled myself from the hose.
Without a word of reply, and hoping no one had seen us, I ran off, my racing heart not retreating to its normal rhythm until the water began to cascade around me in the shower.
The next night, I went back.
And the night after that.
In fact, every night for next week I came back to admire the woman of 15 Burkwood Street. Stripteases, mostly, sometimes she touched herself — a divorcee I had guessed, by the third night. A man never made himself known to me.
On the eighth night, she came out to me as she was halfway through a naked yoga session, where I had taken my regular place amongst the garden shrubbery.
“I can’t stand it anymore,” she said in the gloom, looking down at my erection. “I want you inside.”
I immediately shook my head. “I’m sorry — I don’t do that,” I said.
“But you fantasise about it!” she said, incredulously.
“I know,” I said, raising my hands in a sign of defence. “But it’s different. I like to watch. That’s it.”
“So you don’t want me?” she said, her voice getting louder.
“Not like that,” I said, firmly.
With the light from the house behind her, all I saw was a sillouette of her figure. A flash — too quick to register, as the hedge shearing blades came out from behind her and sliced right through the shaft of my penis, like a hot knife through a knob of butter.
The pain, the shock didn’t register at first, but I collapsed on the ground, my severed penis lying on the grass in front of me, just out of reach. Screaming, I made enough noise to alert the neighbours, and after losing consciousness, I found myself staring up at the roof of an ambulance, the faces of two paramedics floating above me. With gloved hands, one held a gauze to the bloody mess of my crotch, while the other held my severed penis, pinched in between his thumb and forefinger.
I tried to say something, but no words came. They were chatting amongst themselves — I caught a snippet of conversation between the two of them.
“…haven’t seen anything like this before.”
“Neither. This sort of stuff belongs on a television show.”
A reality show, I thought, and began to laugh hysterically before the pain struck again like a lightning strike, where I promptly fainted, my severed penis glaring at me in bright, fluorescent light.
Matt Querzoli just entered the 2016 Monash Prize, and is praying that the judges won’t be turned off by the first sentence. Follow his writing blog, his letters to strangers blog or his blog blog if you liked the post, or even the bloke himself if this tickled your proverbial pickle.