Second unreliable third

From his position, sitting in the fragile-looking chair, he can see clearly into the flats opposite. If the windows were open, he thinks, he’d be able to have a conversation without having to raise his voice too much. But the winter chill means he keeps the window closed, and he’s content to sit there drinking his tea.

It’s mostly young people in the building opposite. Student types. He’s seen them come and go with their little backpacks slung over one shoulder, or gathered in their small rooms at night drinking beers, laughing or playing music (which he can sometimes hear without any windows being open).

In the room directly opposite, the one into which he can most comfortably see, is a single girl. She’s pretty, but painfully thin. He can see that despite the heavy jumpers she always wears. He thinks she probably needs such thick clothing because she’s too thin to ever be warm. If he was to see her in her underwear, he’d be able to confirm that she was anorexic. Or the other one. Bulimic. Is that it? Some kind of eating disorder anyway. But he’s never seen her in her underwear, or in anything less than those thick, shapeless jumpers. The fact that she doesn’t wear the skimpy outfits he sees on so many young girls only confirms his theory that she is not comfortable with her own body image.

In the two days since his arrival, he’s only really seen her sitting on her couch. Alone. Her back to the window. She keeps her head bowed low most of the time, like she’s quietly crying into her lap. She can sit like that for hours. She never switches on the television, even though it directly faces her. As far as he can see, the screen remains black the whole day.

She will, occasionally, drag her fingers through her hair. She teases the strands to their ends, lets them fall, then lifts another lock and repeats, over and over. It looks compulsive to him, like she’s combing for tangles that could not possibly occur in such shiny, silken hair. At one point, she lets her head fall back and frees a lengthy sigh. If the window was open, he’s sure he’d hear her moan.

Shortly after, she stands. A laptop in her hands. She claps it shut, checks her watch, and tidies the computer onto a corner desk. She leaves the room and pulls the door closed behind her. She’ll be going to her bed, he thinks. She’ll shut the curtains, and get under the covers, still fully clothed. She probably does this instead of eating, he guesses.

He stands, still holding his mug of tea, and goes to the window, like he’s trying to keep the same distance between them. Maybe he hopes that she’ll be able to feel his presence, feel that he’s not so far away, that somebody somewhere would be happy to see her again.

And then she appears. Outside. On the street. She has a little backpack slung over one shoulder, and walks in the direction of the city. A doctor’s appointment, he surmises. That’s good, he says, almost out loud. At least she’s getting help.


(I felt I failed badly with yesterday’s attempt, so this is another go, and a kind of follow-on. Exercise: Write a story fragment from the POV of an unreliable, third-person limited narrator.)

Book editor with, considering the links between therapy and fiction at and reviewer for @bookmunch.

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