“A View in the Moonlight”
—a short story—
By Lance Mason
This is how Donnie later claimed it all happened, but people wouldn’t believe that Tyler alone had come up with the notion. They believed Donnie was just slinging mud to cover his own ass. Regardless, Donnie continued to argue that it was the truth, that Tyler started the whole thing, that he came to Donnie one night in the spring, near the end of their junior year, with this brainstorm about sneaking out after dark. Tyler, he said, brought the plan to him complete, like he’d read up on it, or taken lessons, or something. They hadn’t talked about it first, and Tyler had the idea full in head before he told Donnie about it. Donnie thought Tyler was crackers.
“You mean like Peeping Toms?” Donnie asked, laughing. “You wanna go around at night, hiding in the bushes, checking out girls getting undressed in their bedroom windows?” He didn’t see it as stupid, something he didn’t want to do, but it was such a weird thing for Tyler to bring up. He’d been hanging out with a strange crowd while Donnie worked nights at the Signal station, so Donnie figured that’s where he got it all. He asked Tyler if he’d already done some.
“Me and Alex Gustus watched Pam Adler just in her panties one night checking out her nipples in her dresser mirror.”
This hit Donnie like a swinging brick, Tyler just spilling that out. Donnie doubted it later, but at the time Tyler said it, standing out behind Snooker’s Pool Hall, Donnie’s mind was throbbing, suffocating with the vision of it. They’d seen pictures in skin mags like Melons or Trucker Girls, but the idea of seeing a real nipple, in the flesh, flamed off inside Donnie like a grease fire. Pam Adler’s cheerleader face appeared, bouncing around her bedroom attached to one of the nude bodies from the girlie calendar in the gas station’s tool room. Donnie couldn’t stand it. “Are we going there?” He meant Pam Adler’s house.
Tyler kept his cool. “You never know,” he said behind a foxy grin. “You have to figure it out as you go. You cruise around looking for bedroom lights on, and then try to scope on who’s there. We’ll start somewhere easy.”
As Donnie said, it was weird if Tyler had done this already without him, because they were so tight for all those years. Tyler would have known Donnie had never done it, but Donnie didn’t know Tyler had—if he had—or for how long, or how he started and kept it a secret from Donnie. He just came to Donnie that night and said they ought to do this, and made Donnie promise to keep the secret.
As hare-brained as it sounded, that’s what they did that spring. It got easier as the summer came, with warmer nights and no school the next day. At first, just the thought of seeing anything at all was enough for Donnie. Using plain gumption to sneak around and just try to see girls naked was all it took to get Donnie hot. They weren’t perverts or rapists or anything, just two hairy-legged boys looking for some thrills in the night.
Their first time, they drove the ’52 flathead. Dumb move, driving their own car. They couldn’t really hide it once they were in the neighborhood, and they had to go back to it later. Anyway, they went over to the South End and parked the Ford in the dark near an elementary school, nobody around. Thinking they’d be cool, they started walking away. A hundred feet out, they looked back. All alone, the car stuck out like dogs’ balls. Anybody going by would see it and put them on the scene if they got wind of any prowlers that night, but Tyler and Donnie thought, Fuck it, and just walked on, two geniuses.
“OK, listen,” Tyler said, pressing against Donnie as they walked, “this ain’t the movies. You can’t talk in the middle of it. Keep completely quiet. If we get caught, we’ll get the hell beat out of us and probably go to jail.”
“You sure we can do this?” Donnie asked, jumpy as a rabbit near a snake-hole. “We gonna see anything?” He tried to focus on the possible benefits.
They never even tried one window that night. They didn’t know the area—which houses had dogs or girls or guns, nothing about the alleys, fences, or trees. Local knowledge, as it’s called. Right when Tyler would want to take a stab at it, Donnie had got spooked, and vice versa. When they climbed up a pinewood fence, one of the rotted posts broke off at the footing, and the whole thing collapsed into the bushes. They ran like sons-of-bitches, laughing all the way to a little park, ducked into the trees, and fell down on the dewy grass. Puffing and panting, they lay there heaving and giggling in the dark. Nobody came, and the dogs finally stopped barking.
After a while Donnie said, “What’ll we do?”
“Nothing,” Tyler said. “Let’s go home.”
They went the long way around to the car, then headed over to the North Side. Once they crossed back into their part of town, the big nerves went away, they felt okay, and that ended their first night as Peeping Toms.
Indeed, Tyler probably had bullshitted Donnie about seeing Pam Adler in the nude. They all bullshitted each other over one thing and another. You watched enough movies and TV as a kid, your imagination kicked in in ways you didn’t think, and pretty soon you’re slinging crapola just to keep up the conversation. Donnie knew there was real bullshit, and then there was just ordinary bullshit. One was an out-and-out lie, to dodge blame, cheat people, or steal something—misleading somebody with bad intentions. The other one was just coloring things up, adding some flavors and smells to whet the appetite. Call it exaggeration—a bigger version of something that really happened.
Still, Donnie reckoned that what Tyler told him was more than an exaggeration. He didn’t think Tyler had seen any part of Pam Adler except maybe her armpits. Maybe he’d tried and failed, or maybe he’d imagined he’d done it. Anyway, he probably figured he needed a story like that to get Donnie out on the prowl with him, and telling Donnie he saw Pam Adler in nothing but her panties sure had got his attention. Besides, bullshit or not, he never thought Tyler had bad intentions.
Donnie had faith in Tyler, and they couldn’t let a first-time screw-up defeat them. Soon, though, after half-a-dozen nights climbing splintery fences, slipping in dog shit, and falling into thorn bushes, without so much as a belly button shot to show for it, it was time to think things out.