A Novel of Men Who Fell From Grace

            “I’m right here,” Lanier whispered. His lips were slightly apart, and his eyes, though deep set, bulged from their pockets with intensity and desire and a certain amber glaze. He was tall, delicately structured, and his hair lay in bangs like a hammock across his forehead. Loose, foam padded headphones sat haphazardly above his ears. He stood at the back of the house, underneath the outstretched arms of the Japanese Plum tree. He leaned against the warped stucco that framed the little girl’s bedroom window as the music sang into his ears, lyrics about how I can’t take my eyes off of you, and how you’d be like heaven to touch. He knew how to tap-dance around the motion sensors in the darkest of night; there was a rhythm to it, swinging his shoulders back, bobbing right to left. No lights, no stars. He hadn’t heard a car pass the front of the house in over an hour. It was late in the night and late into the fall when the poplars and oaks had begun to turn, and the pines greened sharply for winter. Around midnight the sky was the color of Muscari hyacinths, a deep bruised purple-black, the moon covered by thin clouds, and when he stopped the tape player, the sounds of night became amplified all around him.
            “Sadie-baby,” he whispered as he gently ran his fingers along the glass of her window. He watched her sleep, knowing that her mother was on the other side of the house. Her mother, the fat cow, he thought. Her mother, whom he had watched earlier brushing tangles from Sadie’s hair until the poor girl hollered, her face wet with tears. Her mother, whom he couldn’t watch as she paddled Sadie with the backside of the brush for crying, paddled until his sweet little girl moaned, her cries so deep that they were hollow and muted.
            He also watched for the cats, the cats that watched him. He hated those cats for how close they got to her. Lanier wiped the sweat off his palms onto his pants; the dark sweater he wore closed in on his neck. Sadie’s knees were always scraped, her hair bunched in soft red curls, her socks with little frills he wanted to chew up and swallow. It was impossible for Lanier to say how long he had been coming to watch her—more than a year, less than a year—nights bled into mornings when poised like a sandhill crane and invigorated, deluded by coffee and crystal, suffering. His fingers shook like meter. Every sound, every leaf and blade of grass became muffled by the hammering in his lungs. And yet he could hardly breathe. He could see her; tangled in her sheets, one leg out of the covers, one little fist balled under her chin.
            She runs in her sleep, he thought. Her ski-sled bed surrounded by glow lights for nighttime, little beacons that gave her soft, freckled cheeks radiance. He often imagines pinching, nibbling them; he wants her cries deep inside of him. A cat leaped onto the foot of the bed, the shimmer of the eyes, a livid and direct glare. He startled and pulled away from the window. The tabby rolled on its back, rubbed its ear onto the comforter and began to pat at the uncovered sock frills in a taunting, almost provocative manner.
            “I’m right here Sadie-baby,” Lanier whispered. The breath from his mouth turned to a dense fog in the night chill and brushed against her bedroom window, clouding then clearing, clouding then clearing. He pulled a piece of tinfoil from his pocket that had been folded neatly into a four-square. He unfolded it, and in the middle crevice he placed a crystal, clear ice, and lit it from underneath. He sucked the rising smoke through a short plastic straw and watched the ceiling fan in Sadie’s room spin trails on a slow cycle. The fan’s breeze skated one thick curl of hair back and forth over her cheek.
            Hers was a flat house—almost identical to his house down the street; most of the homes on the street were practically the same—hidden safely in the community of picket fences and tall hedges. The spark of the lighter never disturbs her, the orange glow reflecting in the window like a deadening pulse.