Are We Decent People?

Are We Decent People?

I was sleeping on the couch when my wife started screaming. She hollered from our bedroom so loudly I thought she was on fire. I jumped up and ran, trying not to roll an ankle or fall flat on my face and already fearing the worst. I’d been on the couch all week, and between the August heat and the lumpy cushions, I’d never gotten into that deep, heavy slumber, so every sound worked its way into my dreams. She was still screeching and covering her face with her hands when I got there.

“A man was outside the window,” she said, her voice cracking a bit. “Someone was watching me.”

I peeked through the blinds but didn’t see anyone. Our bedroom window didn’t have much of a view, just the alley between our little house and the neighbor’s, a few trashcans, some struggling weeds, and a series of potholes. The streetlamp at the corner gave everything a rusted hue.

“Well, he’s gone now,” I said.

“He was watching me, Finn. He saw me without my clothes. I feel so gross.”

She had a towel wrapped around her, and her hair was damp and dripping. Showering before bed had always been her routine; it kept the sheets clean, she said. She trembled and kept brushing her hair behind her ears. She paced around and wouldn’t look up.

“I’ll go out there,” I said.

“Finn, don’t. He might be dangerous.”

I went back to the living room, yanked on my jeans and tennis shoes as fast as I could and stomped out into the blasted heat. Even at night it stayed hot and mean like an atmosphere of lava without mercy. Cicadas buzzed in the distance, but other than that it was quiet. I marched down the alley and back and around the block, not sure what I expected to find. The air smelled of smoke and cedar and garbage, and I wondered where the little pervert ran to.

My wife, Mavis, is a strong woman, so it was strange and upsetting to see her so rattled. I told her whoever had been peeping was long gone. She’d pulled on her flannel robe, which she wore only during the winter cold fronts, and had tied the belt into a big, tight knot. She must have been burning up under it all. She sat at the breakfast nook with her arms blocking her chest like a weak prizefighter. She kept shaking her head, too.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “He saw everything, Finn. How could I be so stupid to leave the blinds open like that? This is a nice town. Now he’s probably out there thinking about me. It’s so sick.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

Mavis looked up at me as if I’d insulted her. A look I’d been receiving a lot lately. I shrugged, and suggested calling the cops, but she didn’t like that idea. I reached toward her, hoping to comfort her some, but she slapped my hand away as if it reeked of wet dog shit.

“You wouldn’t understand,” she said. “Why didn’t you do anything?”

“I went outside,” I said. “I didn’t see anyone.”

“Probably didn’t look that hard.”


“Just have another beer, Finn. I’m going to bed.”

“Do you want me to stay with you? I mean will you feel safer if I—”

“No. You’re on the couch. Stay there.”

She got up and went to our bedroom and shut the door gently. I heard her lock it, too. She was super pissed, and I knew I just bought myself a few more nights on the couch. I kicked off my shoes, peeled off my Wranglers, and plopped back down on the sofa, but I couldn’t sleep or even rest comfortably.

I didn’t know who got his rocks off by peeking on my wife, but I imagined finding him and kicking his butt up and down the street for everyone to see. I wondered what he looked like. Mavis couldn’t describe him either. She said it happened too quickly, too shocking. Maybe he was a dirty old man, a homeless guy who’d wandered into the neighborhood, or maybe it was just a horny teen hoping to get his first view of some titties or a bit of bush. Either way, I wish I had found him. And, deep down, I think Mavis was wishing I had, too.

The next evening, the guy struck again, but this time he peeped on a lady a few houses down. Mavis and I didn’t know her well, but we’d seen her and her husband walking their dog, mowing their lawn. They were a younger couple, still in their twenties and probably right out of college. I guess the husband saw the perv in the act because about a little before midnight, Mavis and I woke up to him yelling and hollering as he ran down the sidewalk.

“Motherfucker, you dickless creep.”

I rose from the couch and stepped outside, still in my shorts. Mavis emerged from the bedroom. She wore her pajamas, which was odd for the season. She rubbed her eyes and asked me what was going on. I told her I didn’t know and gazed down the road. I saw a long shadow race and blur under the glow of the streetlamp. The lady’s husband was running barefoot in just boxers and an Astros t-shirt. Eventually, the poor guy stopped and bent over, catching his breath. He saw me, nodded, and spat to the side.

“You okay?”

“Some geek was jacking it in the alley, watching my wife change for bed.”

Obviously, I knew what he was talking about. I felt a type of camaraderie with him dealing with this deviant sex-fiend, this gawker getting his jollies watching our closest and dearest. My neighbor looked like he was in good shape, so I wondered if our local sex-fiend was some type of sprinter. Out of all the peeping toms out there and we had Jesse Owens on our hands.

I waved him over and went inside to grab my jeans. I didn’t want to talk about the depraved while not wearing pants. I got half dressed and stepped back outside. My neighbor said his name was Kabe and that he’d been brushing his teeth when his wife spotted the sleazeball. I nodded as I listened and told him how we’d experienced the same thing.

“Did you get a good look at him?” said Kabe.

“No, not at all. He could have been George Clooney for all I know.”

“I doubt that’s the case.”

“We need to tell other folks. Sounds like this scumbucket has got himself a taste.”


We spoke a little more, but Kabe said he had to get back to his wife who was probably hiding under the bed. We shook and said goodbye. He wandered away in the night, hot and endless.

“Who was that?” said Mavis.

I hadn’t heard her sneak up on me. She could be quiet as a cat’s shadow when she wanted to be. Her voice gave me a shiver.

“Kabe, the young guy down the street,” I said. “They had a visit from our buddy tonight.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Mavis. “He should call the cops.”

“The slimeball got away.”

“Still, they should file a report.”

“Why? We didn’t.”

“That’s different,” said Mavis. “I thought we were a one-time occurrence. Now he’s frightening everybody. A damn menace.”

She turned and shuffled back to our bedroom. I started to follow her, but she closed the door and locked it again on me. I wanted to knock and ask her to talk with me, but I decided against it. I wasn’t tired enough to go back to sleep; I was too wired from Kabe’s hollering, so I got myself a bottle of Lone Star from the fridge and drank it as I stood by the front window, looking out, keeping watch from the safety and coolness of my beloved central air. I didn’t see anybody sneaking around, no mustached masturbators slinking around the hedges. I didn’t see anyone at all.

That summer had been turning into one of the worst of all time. The heat had been brutal, which was expected, but we’d been hitting record highs, all in the triple digits, and Mavis and I struggled to function. We’d basically stopped talking. I kept waiting for one fine morning when things got back to normal, but each day was another endless inferno. No relief in sight. The sun raged until after nine, and we had months to go before things eventually cooled. Every year the summer lasted a little longer. Now some peeping tom terrorized us like a boogeyman in a trench coat.

It didn’t seem real. For some reason I never thought of guys like that being in Central Texas—of course I’m not sure where guys who got a boner sneaking through the roses and catching a peek of some lady slipping off her panties would live. I couldn’t imagine what was in the jerk’s mind. He could find hardcore porno on his phone, so what compelled him to spy on his neighbors? There had to be an aspect I didn’t understand. Whoever he was, he had to be a rat-faced lowlife who deserved to have his nose ripped off and shoved deep in his bowels. Mavis was already mad with me, but now she wouldn’t even look me in the eye, as if I were the one responsible.

We kept our blinds shut. The curtains were always drawn. Mavis stayed in the bedroom. I had free reign over the rest of the house, but it felt smaller, emptier than before. When I came home from work, there wasn’t much for me to do now besides drink a few Lone Stars and watch the Astros or the Rangers or reruns of some stupid sitcom that didn’t make me laugh. But at the end of the week, Kabe knocked on my door. He wore khakis and a blue polo shirt, so I assumed he’d just knocked off work. Another guy, older than Kabe but younger than me, stood sheepishly behind him. He had thinning hair, glasses, and a short-sleeve button up.

“We need to talk,” said Kabe. “May we come inside?”

I glanced at our bedroom, unsure what Mavis would say. She’d been looking for any reason to bitch at me, and I didn’t want to add to that list. I asked the guys to stay on the porch, and I grabbed us some beer. We huddled on my porch, in the shade of the live oak.

“Drink ’em up,” I said. “I’ve got plenty, so don’t be shy.”

“This is Paul,” said Kabe.

The other guy gave a flat smile and shook my hand. He was a little short and skinny but with a paunch. He sipped his beer, held the bottle with both hands. He reminded me of a mouse with his glasses, small and wireframed.

“Paul’s wife got a visit from our favorite freak last night,” said Kabe.

“That so?” I said.

Paul nodded. He kept his sight down, perhaps out of embarrassment or just a social awkwardness.

“Go on,” said Kabe, “tell him.”

Paul sighed. Sweat gushed from his hairline and down his brow. He kept wiping his forehead with the back of his wrist.

“My wife,” he said. “I wasn’t home, and I should have been home, but I was working late. When I got back, she was completely distraught. She was shaking. My wife is a bigger lady, she prefers the term ‘fluffy,’ and she doesn’t get upset like that; she knows she can handle herself.”

“Paul, did she get peeped on?”

Paul nodded. He tried to sip his beer but raised the bottle too fast, so the suds spilled over his lips and chin.

“Not just that,” he said. “This guy snuck in and watched her pee.”


“I wasn’t there,” said Paul, “but my wife, Bev, she was on the toilet… and I guess the door was open a crack, she was home alone, and she saw someone. She freaked out, but this guy… he wore a mask.”

“What type of mask?”

“A ski mask.”

“That couldn’t be comfortable in August.”

“She chased him out, but she’s still pretty hysterical.”

“Jesus,” I said. “Did you call the cops?”

“Yes, she called the police and then me.”

“It has to be the same guy,” said Kabe.

“Probably,” I said, “but that’s one quick jump from peeping to breaking and entering.”

“Still spying on women,” said Kabe.

“It’s escalation,” said Paul. “A lot of time a peeping tom turns into something worse.”

“What did the cops say?”

“Not much. Keep the doors locked. Stuff like that.”

“You should go home,” I said. “Be with your wife.”

Paul nodded again. We spoke a little more, but by that point it was all small talk and salutations. Paul thanked me for the beer and wandered away. Kabe stuck around. He titled his head to the side and cracked his neck.

“We need to do something.”

“Like what?” I said with a guff.

“A neighborhood watch, form a patrol. This is a nice neighborhood.”

“I’m not a detective,” I said.

“Think about it,” said Kabe. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Later that night, I stayed up on the couch and watched the news and The Tonight Show, but I didn’t pay much attention to it either. It was just noise and distraction. I kept thinking about the peeping tom and how much I wanted to destroy him. It didn’t seem right that somebody could harass a bunch of folks and get away with it. I finished off the Lone Stars I had in the fridge and fell asleep in my jeans.

A few days passed but I didn’t hear any reports about the sicko getting a lookey-loo on women undressing or taking a piss. Maybe he moved on. Maybe he got frightened and decided to disappear. Maybe he got arrested in another part of town and was making new friends in county lockup. There was no way to know. But then, at the end of the month, when the heat baked everything to a dry blond ember, the son-of-a-bitch poked his head up and scarred the hell out of a nineteen-year-old girl one street over.

That day started off normal: hot, bright, and without a cloud in the sky. People went about their business, drove to work, ran errands, ate lunch, sat in traffic, and waited for Friday to kickstart the weekend. I was still sleeping on the couch, and Mavis still wasn’t talking to me. I found myself eating dinner at sports bars a lot that summer; I could munch on nachos, watch the Astros, and drink a few mugs of cheap beer before I had to meander back to a place that no longer felt like home.

Mavis practically jumped on me when I straggled through the door. Her eyes scrunched up, and her lips pursed as she stepped up so close her face almost touched my chest. She poked me in the sternum with a finger and growled.

“Your daughter called,” she said.

“Uh huh.”

“You bastard, you canceled her credit card.”

“She wants to be a big girl, she can pay her bills herself.”

“She’s not an adult, she’s a kid and she needs our help. How is she going to survive?”

“She’s smart, she’ll manage.”

“Damn it, Finn, you un-cancel her card tomorrow, you hear me?”

“What happened? Did that two-time loser dump her as soon as they got to Portland?”

“No,” said Mavis, “she left him.”

“Hey, congratulations, our little girl has some brains after all.”

“You jerk. You’re her father, you’re one job is to protect her. I don’t understand. Help her.”

“I called it, I was right and both of you hate that. I’m not going to apologize for seeing the world for how it really is.”

“You always were a smug asshole, even in high school.”

“Smug enough for you,” I said.

“Shut up. You’re going to un-cancel that card tomorrow so she can come back home.”

“Like hell. She and that loser did nothing but smoke dope, and she wanted to run away with him. She got what she wanted. She’s not moving back here at the first hint of trouble.”

“She is our daughter.”

“And she’s old enough to make decisions, deal with consequences. We can’t just bail her out at every turn and support her all her life.”

“This is not a discussion, Finn. You un-cancel those cards or—”

“Or what?”

“She wants to come home, she wants to go back to school.”

“Oh, isn’t that convenient.”

“Finn, if you don’t help our baby, I swear I’ll—”

I don’t know what Mavis was going to say, but she didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence.

People yelling outside our house startled us, and we both gawked at the door and the window. At first I thought neighbors were shouting at us to shut up and keep it down, but I realized that wasn’t the case. I stepped onto our porch, into the heat and the dark blanket of humidity and the wall of cedar. Men ran in the street. Some of them carried baseball bats. A few shined big flashlights that glowed like angry ghosts. I couldn’t see their faces. I couldn’t understand what they were hollering.

“Baby, what’s happening?” said Mavis. Her voice came soft and small and afraid.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Stay here. Lock the door.”

I went to the sidewalk. Men and women rushed down the middle of the road. Some jogged while others strolled along to the side. There was a lot of noise. Women screamed. The men shouted and cursed.

Kabe almost dashed past me, but I stopped him and asked him what was happening. He wore wrinkled khakis and an undershirt. He was a little out of breath.

“What do you think?” said Kabe. “That pervert struck again, but we got him this time. We’re going to show him our hospitality. You want to join us? Time to have some fun.”

And then he was gone. He tore off with the others, leaving me standing on the sidewalk and just out of the light from the streetlamp’s glow. Mavis poked her head out from behind a curtain, staring at me from inside the house. Her face stayed calm but sad. She watched me for a bit but disappeared, letting the curtain sway in her absence. I rushed off and tried to catch up with the crowd.

Everyone raged. We moved forward as a sloppy parade. All noise and at different speeds. People chanted to “reap the peep” and to “serve the perv.” The streets funneled us past houses and towards the park. I shoved my way toward the front. Men already stood around him, hovering like vultures.

“You like spying on women?” said someone.

“We know how to fix you,” said a different voice.

I couldn’t get past the wall of shoulders and elbows. I needed to see his face. I needed to know what he looked like. Was he someone I knew? Someone I recognized? Was he a monster or just a confused boy? I had to know.

Men circled him. Some carried crowbars and baseball bats. They hunched over and cracked their knuckles and threatened him. I pushed them out of my way so I could see him.

He was young, but not a boy. He looked lanky and pale. He wore all black, and he had dark, silky hair, thin and a little long. He stayed on the ground, The man’s eyes twitched as he muttered. He had a long, sharp nose. He tried scooting back, but more men appeared and trapped him. I’d never see him before.

“Who are you?” said someone.

The guy started crying. His chin trembled. He looked like a starving dog. He didn’t sob. His tears came without sound. This little weasel had terrified our wives and girlfriends, and now we had a chance to do something about it. He flipped his head left to right and back again. He started to say something, he even held up his hands, but then someone spotted the ski mask. It had fallen out of his pocket and lay by his hip.

“I can explain,” he said, but it was too late.

I didn’t think about Mavis. I didn’t think about our daughter or the aggravation she’d put us through, all the worry, heartache, and the endless stress and fear. I didn’t think about right or wrong. That evening, the only thing that consumed me was a sense of violent redistribution. Someone had to pay.

The man started to scream, but we were already upon him.


About the Author

William Jensen is the author of the novel Cities of Men. His short fiction has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Tinge Magazine, The Texas Review, and elsewhere. He recently edited the anthology, Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers, Vol. 7.


Photo by Ismael Juan from Free Stock photos by Vecteezy