Third to first

From this position, sitting in the fragile-looking chair, I can see clearly into the flats opposite. If the windows were open, I’d be able to have a conversation without having to raise my voice too much. But the winter chill means the windows are closed, and I’m happy to sit there drinking my tea.

It’s mostly young people in the building opposite. Student types. They come and go with their little backpacks slung over one shoulder, or gathered in their little rooms at night drinking beers, laughing or playing music (that I’ve heard without any windows being open).

In the room directly opposite is a single girl. She’s pretty, but painfully thin. That’s obvious even though she always wears big heavy jumpers. She probably needs such thick clothing because she’s too thin to ever be warm. Anorexic, probably. Or the other one. Bulimic. Is that it? Some kind of eating disorder anyway. If she was to come out one day in her underwear I’d be able to tell for sure, but she never comes out in her underwear, or in anything less than those thick, shapeless jumpers. She never wears any of the skimpy outfits that other young girls have, which only confirms the theory that she’s not comfortable with her own body image.

In the two days I’ve been here, I’ve 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 I can tell, the screen stays 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, like she’s combing for tangles that could not possibly exist in such shiny, silken hair. And, at one point, she lets her head fall back and lets loose a lengthy sigh. If the window was open, I’m sure I would’ve heard 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. She’ll shut the curtains, and get under the covers, still fully clothed. She probably does this instead of eating.

I get up, take my mug of tea to the window. Her flat is so tiny that we’re probably still the same distance apart, even with her in her bed. And maybe that gives her some comfort, to know that people aren’t so far away, if she ever needs them. And maybe she would feel so much better if she just knew that, somewhere, somebody would be very 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, probably. That’s good, I think. At least she’s getting help.

(Exercise: Rewrite a third person story from a first-person POV, reducing the number of the narrator’s pronouns by half the original number. The original is here)

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

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Posted in exercises, FridayFlash
3 comments on “Third to first
  1. Deanna Schrayer says:

    Jim! So great to read you again.
    I really like this story, how you can read it in so many ways – is he an old man concerned for the girl or is he a serial killer studying her habits? I’m torn on which I’d rather him be. Super voice and atmosphere!

  2. Welcome back! Weird – a few years ago I had a story idea which i never got round to writing, about a guy spying on his anorexic neighbour and watching her get thinner and thinner. I’d completely forgotten about it.
    Interesting piece – I wonder whether he’ll try to reach out to her to get her to find help

  3. Great narrative voice, but at the same time I was completely convinced the narrator is wrong about at least some of the things they observe — which just made the story even better for me.

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