Logan smiled awkwardly.
There were only so many economics books she could read during her summer break. She went to the library a few times, but it was filled with mostly children’s books—the economics books were amongst the dusty tomes in reserves and were woefully out of date. She would have reached out to an ex-boyfriend, except she never had a boyfriend. She had, in fact, never been kissed. A boy once told her that she had a “rocking body” hidden underneath the giant, goofy T-shirts she always wore. She thought about this, as she leafed through the sole Playboy magazine that she purloined from her father’s collection. Her body was not too different from the women in the magazine, she thought, though she was not as tan. But as a result of her books and her T-shirts and awkward smile, she had remained entirely asexual. A fat boy tried to hold her hand in sixth grade, unsuccessfully.
Logan switched from economics textbooks to romance novels she borrowed from the library. They brought about a profound sadness in her, for her celibacy. One night, after her mother retired to the bedroom subsequent to her nightly ritual of Jay Leno and wine from the gallon jug, she decided to go for a walk—at midnight, out in the dark. She was wearing her trademark extra-large T-shirt, and shorts, and wandered out into the crisp night air—typical for Provo in July. She looked at the houses, surprised at how many of them still had their lights on. They must have been watching Jay Leno too.
A house just up the street was a bit set back from the road, light on in the living room. With trepidation, Logan traversed the front yard, stood on her tiptoes amongst the hedges, and looked in the window, in between the half-open vertical blinds. A middle-aged man with dark, curly hair, was reclining on a sofa, his feet on a hassock. He was holding his penis. Madonna’s Vogue video was playing. In the background was a small dining room table and a grandfather clock.
Logan’s heart raced. She recognized the man as the friendly character who offered to shovel their driveway in the winter. She stepped back from the window and paused, before jogging home, six houses to the south, where she gently opened the door to the porch and crept inside, tiptoeing across the carpet and into her bedroom, where she sat on the edge of the bed, not seeing the floor under her feet. Thoughts swirled inside her head. Did anyone see her cross the yard? Probably not—it was well past midnight. She listened outside the house for sirens. There were none.
She found the experience thrilling. Doing something that was forbidden, the fear of getting caught, the surprise at what she found. She knew instantly she would do it again at the first opportunity.
Logan had been told throughout most of her life that her smile was lopsided and strange. What she knew, that others didn’t, was that when she smiled, she wasn’t smiling.
Logan entered the living room, grabbed the remote, and turned the TV down a couple of notches, and sat down at the table with her mother. Her mother took a long draw from a brown cigarette, and tapped the ashes into an already-full ashtray.
She sat smiling awkwardly at the worn, wooden kitchen table. Logan wanted to ask her mother to come to her graduation, but she already knew what the answer would be. She also knew that it would be better to not ask that question until the date drew near—still, she had to have the answer. And even though she knew the answer, she knew it would be devastating.
“No,” her mother said.
“I didn’t even ask you yet.”
“I knew what you were going to ask me. No.”
“I’m busy,” her mother said, letting out a puff of smoke.
Logan was incredulous. “You spend 10 hours a day smoking at this very table. You’re not busy.”
“You have no idea what I do for you. What I did for you kids, after your father passed.”
“Great,” Logan said. “I think I get to ask for one thing. I have never asked anything else, and I will never ask for anything again. Please come to my graduation.”
“I don’t understand,” Logan said, on the verge of tears.
“I don’t need to give you an explanation. I don’t want to do it, and I’m not going to do something I don’t want to do.”
“Well,” Logan said, crying now, “I’m sorry I asked.”
“You should be. And you’ll get over it.”
No explanation was offered. Her mother said “no” to anything and everything as a matter of reflex. Sometimes she would say “yes” later, but not often. If you asked her to do something, to go one inch out of her way, to deviate from her daily routine for even a second, the answer was always “no.” It’s not as if she had anything else planned, aside from sitting at the table and smoking her brown cigarettes, watching Night Court reruns on TV, and chatting on the white rotary-dial phone with her sisters, which is where she would be when Logan crossed the stage to receive her diploma.
Logan was studying for a PhD in economics at the University of Utah, concentrating in econometrics. Numbers had always fascinated her—she took calculus her sophomore year in high school and did independent studies in discrete math and linear algebra. She earned a perfect score on the math SATs. She was the school’s valedictorian, effortlessly, the progeny of smart parents, who, along with her siblings, never amounted to much. Her older sister Hannah attended gifted-and-talented programs as a teenager and now made quilts. She was perhaps the best quilt-maker in the country; she’d won a passel of awards. Logan was surprised to learn there were awards for making quilts. Her father, who passed away in 1988, was the king of living room Jeopardy, knowing all about Italian operas and French royalty and such, and drove a forklift for work. She came from a family of virtually limitless potential who consistently underperformed in all facets of life. Logan would change that, she thought—one day she would be an economist at the Federal Reserve, maybe even becoming a Fed Governor, one of seven powerful people conducting monetary policy.
But there was an inertia associated with being a member of the lower classes. There are no concrete examples of success, the path not taken—nobody has gone before you, so it’s impossible to know what it’s like. Logan had carefully chosen her classes and activities without the help of her parents or sister. She was an enigma to her high school guidance counselor. It was not easy, coming from Provo. She was in the tiny Gentile minority in a predominantly Mormon city, which meant less than it did in the 1890s, but prejudices persisted. Her family, atheists, had an every-man-for-himself worldview. While Mormons were busy tithing and going on missions and carefully manicuring their lawns, her family hoarded whatever money they could gather, in a bank account that was yielding six percent interest. Everything in the house was old, and brown. Only recently they disposed of the old wooden cabinet television, replacing it with a slightly less ancient tube TV. They moved to Provo nine years ago from Los Angeles, after the real estate boom in the 1980s. A middle-class existence is what they yearned for, but found difficult to attain.
Logan knew full well a private sector economist could make well into seven figures, or even more. She wanted prestige, to be universally recognized as smart, since her family was so indifferent to that reality. She won so many awards and scholarships, that college was practically free. To pay her way through graduate school, she worked as a TA. She had very little in common with the hundreds of students in the economics 101 class that she taught, most of them massively hung over from partying, with little interest in the Solow growth model. She marked down their grades remorselessly. Her graduate advisor led a small economic consulting firm, then retired to teach. She admired him, though his forecasting ability was unimpressive. She learned that was true of most economists—most of them were terrible forecasters, so focused instead on econometrics, which measured the here and the now of the data.
Summers were the toughest, when she returned to her 1,600 square-foot family home back in Provo, with the awful TV and the shag carpets, the cigarette smoke and the loud talking. The house, built in the early 1960s, was small and simple—her bedroom had just enough room for a double bed and a small pathway around it, any leftover space taken up by a large collection of books. She had saved most of her textbooks from college, especially the math ones, which she consulted frequently. Most of her childhood books were gone. She thought of her mother as an anti-hoarder—she threw everything in the trash once it had outlived its usefulness, which included most of Logan’s books, once she started grad school. Logan was crestfallen that her entire childhood collection of Choose Your Own Adventure books had been discarded, along with many other belongings. The stuffed animals were spared, thankfully—even her mother must have known they held sentimental value. Logan had no intention of ever reading the books again, but they were a part of her vanished childhood—and who knows, they might have been worth something someday. Without a trace of nostalgia, her mother threw out any items left unattended. Logan’s mother owned nothing but her smoking table, a few garments, and two pair of shoes. When she learned that her books were gone, Logan smiled awkwardly.
Her summer consisted of reading books on economics in her tiny room, surrounded by wood-grain paneled walls. There were friends from high school who had stayed in Provo—many, in fact, but by this point, Logan had little in common with them. There was the intelligence differential, but that had always been there. They were working low-end jobs, drinking, and fucking. There is also a social stigma attached to never leaving your hometown, especially when your hometown is underperforming. Utah has a gravitational pull. Part of it is because of the Mormons—they stick with their own—and part of it is the geography—you are surrounded in all directions by mountains, a provisional barrier against the rest of the world. It occurred to Logan that she had only been outside the state of Utah three times in her life, not including the trips to Wendover. The last time was a conference she went to six months ago in the Cayman Islands, attended by some of the top economists in the world. Her graduate advisor went, and she tagged along, experiencing luxury beyond her wildest imagination. The shower in her hotel room was made of glass, and she spent 45 minutes in it at a time, sitting on the floor, until her fingers wrinkled. She wanted a glass shower when she grew up, which would be vastly better than the tub in her house, with the flower-shaped non-skid peeling off the fiberglass.
When Logan was about 13, she took trips to the grocery store and loaded up with Kraft macaroni and cheese, which is what she ate for lunch and dinner. If she had a few extra dollars, she would buy a package of hot dogs to mix in with it. There was no dinner time in her house—everyone ate when they wanted. Her sister subsisted entirely on potato chips and rice. Logan was more or less emancipated as a teenager: she bought a car for $500 with the money that she made waiting tables, and drove herself to club meetings and soccer practices. Her parents did not attend her high school graduation, her middle school graduation, or any other graduation; they did not attend sporting events or any other activity. In the brief time that her sister, the quilt-maker, went to UNLV, her parents put a UNLV sticker on their car. Oddly, her parents bragged to everyone they knew about her sister’s award-winning quilts, yet completely ignored Logan’s academic accomplishments.
The next few days, she obsessed about her crime. She would get in her car and drive slowly past the house with the window she looked in, thinking maybe its resident would be outside, working in the yard for some reason. He never was. Some days, his car was parked in the driveway; other days, it wasn’t. She thought about it some more—what made it so dangerous was what she saw. If she had looked in the front window and seen nothing, and got caught, nothing would have come of it.
She wondered if someone had placed a call to the police, and they had ignored it, or they drove by, looking for her, after she had returned to her home. She was easy to spot—blond hair not quite long enough to pull back in a ponytail, oversized T-shirt, basketball shorts, Asics running shoes. She wondered if she would be placed in a police lineup with other five-foot-three blonde girls, and the man with the penis would have to pick her out of the lineup. It was dark, after all, and there was the glare on the window from the television—there was no way he’d be able to make a positive identification. Or maybe one of the other neighbors saw her walking by, thought it was unusual, and made the call. It was voyeurism, though she didn’t derive any sexual pleasure from it—it was perhaps the first foolish risk she had taken in her entire life. She wore her seat belt, paid her taxes, and kept her hands and arms inside the car. She did what she was told, until now.
A few nights later, Logan got the courage to do it again—tiptoeing across the carpet, out the porch door, taking care to close it quietly. This time she wore a black T-shirt and black shorts, hoping to blend in with the darkness. She went through backyards, to avoid the main road, where the odd car would still rumble through in the middle of the night. Some of the backyards had fences, but not all, so it was still relatively easy to navigate. She came across an above-ground pool, and thought it might be fun to take off her clothes and skinny-dip in the pool in the dark. But she kept moving, looking for a house with lights on, bypassing the penis house—she already knew what went on there. She wanted to know what people did in the middle of the night, besides masturbating to Madonna videos.
She came across a small gray ranch house with all the lights on. This time, she was more careful—she approached the home on her hands and knees, crawling through the grass, feeling the moisture in her fingers. As she reached the exterior, she could hear voices—loud voices. She slowly stood up and peeked through the window.
She saw a married couple, arguing. It was serious. The man yelled “You fucking bitch,” and the woman threw a picture frame at him. In the background, she could see a small boy, around 3, in tears, who had wandered out of his bedroom, awakened by the noise. At this point the man reached back to strike the woman, but stopped short—the woman covered her face in fear, then glared at him. The man disappeared out of sight and a series of loud crashes ensued, as he took all the dishes out of the cabinets and smashed them against the floor. The woman cried hysterically. It was one-thirty in the morning.
Logan momentarily forgets herself, thinking that she is inside the house, a participant in this argument. At this point, she is three feet away from the woman, at most, but the woman is too distraught to pay any attention to her. Logan crouches down and slowly backs away from the window. She can still hear the husband breaking things, the woman screaming, and the little boy crying. She doesn’t know this couple—they’re about thirty houses up the street—but she thinks they are probably Mormon, and they will probably be back in church on Sunday, happily united, if only for a few hours. She thinks of the secrets we all have; the things we do in the privacy of our homes, when we think no one is watching.
Logan returned home somewhat carelessly, prancing through backyards, not being too careful to not be seen. She was getting bolder—she was learning that people were mostly preoccupied with their own problems, not looking out the window. Besides, she was wearing black. It occurred to her that if she were caught, she might be mistaken for a burglar, and wondered what her alibi should be if she were nabbed in someone’s backyard in the middle of the night. Just going for a walk—wearing all black and going through people’s backyards. An absurd excuse, but she had no plans on getting caught. She got back to her house, without taking too much care with the door, letting it slam a little, and went to her room.
Her mother abruptly opened the door.
“Were you outside?”
Logan had rehearsed the answer. “Yes, I went for a walk.”
“At two in the morning?”
Her mother frowned. “There’s a bunch of weirdos out at this time of night. You had better be careful. I don’t think you should be going for walks at two in the morning.”
“Mom, I’m 23 years old.”
“Living in my house.”
“Fine.” Logan sighed.
“Why are you wearing all black?” Her mother asked. “I’ve never seen you wear all black.”
“It’s what I sleep in nowadays.”
Logan’s mother looked at her, utterly frustrated . “Good night. Don’t wake me up.” She closed the door.
Logan wasn’t thinking about her mother. She was wondering if she should call in a domestic violence report to the police about the arguing couple. Bad idea—the only way she could have had known was by peeping in their window. Maybe she could do it anonymously. Maybe she could write a letter to the police station. Of course, her fingerprints would be on it. She decided it was foolish. She wasn’t a caped crusader. She herself was a criminal, after all, looking for some cheap thrills.
As the summer drew to a close, Logan began taking more and more voyeuristic risks. She didn’t bother to slink through the grass, and she didn’t even go through backyards. She walked along the street, and if a car came, she acted casually, as if it were completely normal for a 23-year-old blonde girl to be walking around at two in the morning. Over the preceding weeks, she had watched an obese woman trying on bras in her bedroom, two elderly couples playing bridge, a housewife working on a giant jigsaw puzzle, and dozens of people watching late-night TV. She had a hobby. Different from making model airplanes, but a hobby nonetheless. She was interested in the lives of others. Her own life consisted of reading books and breathing secondhand smoke. The lives of others were uniquely uninteresting as well, but they were different. Nobody in her house stayed up after ten o’clock.
On the final night before she was scheduled to move back to campus, she thought about the above-ground pool she had passed weeks ago, thinking she might go for a swim. This time, she did—she took off her T-shirt, shorts, and underwear at the edge of the pool, put her hands on the edge, and lowered herself carefully into the water so as not to make a splash. By this point in the summer, the weather had cooled off a bit, and the water was exceedingly cold, but invigorating. It occurred to her that she had never swam naked. She thought she would like to make a lot of money someday and have her own pool, surrounded by landscaping, so she could swim naked all the time in privacy. She stayed in the pool a good thirty minutes, sinking down so that the water was at her lips, making motorboat sounds. After a time, she climbed out, and suddenly remembered she should have brought a towel. She dried herself off with her clothes, and then decided not to put them back on—she carried them with her for a spell and stashed them beside a tree.
There was a house that she had always skipped on her nightly runs, because the lights were always off. Tonight, they were on. Fully nude, Logan slid up to the side of the house and peeked in the living room window. There was a stout woman in her 50s, doing a crossword puzzle with a pencil. Likely she was suffering from a bout of insomnia, and was trying to relax so she could return to sleep. Logan focused on her for a moment, thinking she had seen her before. She recognized her as one of the fourth-grade teachers from her old school—not her teacher, but the one for the other section. Logan thought it best not to get spotted by someone she knew, and quickly stepped away from the window and back towards the street.
At that moment, the headlights of a car appeared around the bend. She quickly hid behind a tree, half-expecting the car to stop suddenly and for someone to get out and accost her. This was the most thrilled she had been in the last two months, the idea that someone might see her, catch a glimpse of her in the nude. But the car kept going.
She felt herself drawn to the house of the masturbator for a second time—she jogged through the darkness, feeling the cool air surround her naked body. When she got to the house, she stood on her tiptoes once again, expecting to see the man masturbating again. The light was on, but the TV was off, and nobody was there. She waited a while, to see if he would come out. The bushes scratched the tops of her bare legs.
She headed up the road a bit, trying to find a more suitable target. There was a house she had bypassed several times before, as the windows were too high and the lights were always off. This time, they were on, and so were the outside lights, illuminating the entire front yard. Logan dismissed her concerns and strode up to the house, grasped the windowsill, and heaved herself up, her breasts resting on the window.
Inside was a young girl of three with an enormous collection of Barbie dolls arranged in front of her. Some of them were sitting at a table, drinking tea, some of them were in a Barbie house, and others littered the floor in an array of contortions. There were no adults present, and the TV was off. Abruptly, the girl looked out the window and made eye contact with Logan.
Their gazes locked for what seemed an eternity—but could not have been longer than a few seconds. She fully expected the child to cry out for her parents, but instead she took one of the Barbie dolls and held it up for Logan to see. The doll was wearing a business suit—much like an economist, Logan thought. Logan smiled awkwardly.
Suddenly, she heard a car screech to a halt behind her. On the side of the car was emblazoned “PROVO POLICE.” She turned to face the car. The driver flashed a spotlight on her—body glowing in the light, hair and nipples for all to see, blue eyes flashing wildly. A policeman sprang from the car and yelled “Stop!”
She froze. And then she ran.
Logan ran as fast as she could, sprinting so fast she couldn’t feel her legs, leading the cops on a chase through two dozen front yards. Logan had the advantage, completely unencumbered, while the cops were weighed down by guns, and handcuffs, and batons. She leaped over bushes and fences, with the cops falling behind. She knows she will be caught—she is headed straight for home, and they will find her there. She runs there anyway.
She runs to escape, she runs to freedom, to a world that makes sense. She knows that when she is caught, she will be sentenced to a lifetime of mediocrity.
Things will be different, and the same.