Whenever I am a passenger in a car at night, I try to see inside lit rooms of the houses we pass. I like to imagine what might be going on inside every house, every apartment.
If people are at the window, I wonder who they are looking for out here in the darkness. A missing child who didn’t show up for dinner? A prowler? Or are they looking in the lit window of the house across the street, also imagining what might be happening there?
Are there card games going on? Are people laughing? Maybe someone is crumpled upon a mattress, crying. Are there fires burning on crisp nights? Pie being eaten on loveseats while toes toast by the embers? Scrapbooks being made of trips taken to exotic destinations?
I have a cherished fantasy in which by some stroke of magic, the entire population of a city simply vanishes at night—all but me. And by similar magic, all the doors are left open, so that I can wander from house to house, looking inside the really interesting ones. I would choose ones with bay windows, sidelights, and multiple chimneys. I would love seeing what the vanished people had left on the kitchen tables, what books they stacked on nightstands; and I would meet their pets, none of whom would be unfriendly.
This may stem from my occupation as a writer. Empty houses tell stories, and touring the empty homes would give me more plotlines than I could handle in a lifetime. Love affairs—open diaries. Murders and mayhem—bloodstains on carpet. Loneliness—binoculars on windowsills. Illness and desolation—pill bottles and the half-empty glass of water by the bed.
In the meanwhile, I have begun walking my dog in the evenings, the better for peering in living room windows and hoping for just a glimpse of a story. Wait—what was that woman doing? It looks like she just threw something into the fireplace. I wonder what it was…