The Window is a Mirror
— fiction by Michael Andreoni

            First thing Monday, Chessie— that’s really her stupid name—says get upstairs and check the windows in 403. I tell her get real; those windows are new, and I should know because I did the work since this cheap-ass company wouldn’t pop for installation. She gives me the look she’s so good at, that “I went to community college while you didn’t make it through high school, so shut the fuck up,” look, and asks if I’m happy with my raise. I have to say no ma’am, I am not happy with one percent, and Shelley my wife, who’s on her feet ten hours a night pushing drinks at Asia City, is also not happy, and let’s not forget Melissa, who barely sees mom and dad and didn’t get the bike she wanted for her birthday. She’s definitely not happy.

             I don’t know. It’s like I’m a mime. My mouth opens and closes, I flap my arms, but nobody understands. Boss-bitch shakes her head while shoving the work order over the counter. Maybe the raise had something to do with your attitude, she lays on me like I never heard that before. Maybe your attitude toward cheese had something to do with your weight problem, fat-ass, I’m dying to give her, except my performance review wasn’t the best. Why the fuck are there four grades if they’re only going to check “Must Improve”? Anyway, I clamp the work order on the clipboard and get out of the office before she takes back my stinking one percent.

            The thing I learned about working maintenance at luxury apartments is you need lip implants to fit in all the asses. We got PhDs who can’t figure out changing a halogen. I guess they need a grant for that, but it’s easier e-mailing Chessie to send over the monkey. Crown Heights Apartments, inc. loves putting you through webinars on kissing up to the tenants. I leave early. Let them try Angie’s List if they want somebody’s tongue up the tenants’ crack. I’m raising a kid on $11.62 an hour and the tips Shelley promotes by leaning over the bar in a low-cut top. They’re lucky I’m not taking hostages.

            So, up to the fourth floor with my steel box of tricks. Ring the buzzer; ring it twice, three, four times. Not a peep from the other side of the door. Check the work order in case the tenant gave the ok to enter with a master key. Nada. I write No Response all over the order because Chessie doesn’t like it. 8:20 and one job already completed. That’s a good start on a shitty-wet fall Monday after the weekend separated me from part of the rent money when the Lions won a game everyone said they couldn’t.

             Halfway down the hall to the elevator, and here’s what I should have done when I heard the door open  . . . what the hell, everyone knows what the idiot in a story like this should have done. Thing is, if I hadn’t turned around and gone back, the tenant could have complained to the office and there’s idiot me, Danny Girolomo, getting written up again for poor attitude.

            This little shit with a scraggle-beard is waiting in the doorway. Even worse, he’s looking at me, making eye contact. He’s not staring into his I-Phone, or whatever scraggle-beards are staring into this week. Months go by without a tenant looking at me. A woman answered the door last Thursday with a kid hanging on her, a Rottweiler’s ugly snout pushing between her legs trying to get me—and her eyes were stuck to a screen. I held up the toilet plunger and got a grunt that could have been from the dog.

            This is bad. They only see you when you fuck up. I’m already figuring what to say if his windows fell out of the frames. Telling the tenant I’m not licensed on window replacement is the same as begging the company to fire me. The factory! That’s it. The factory fucked up and delivered defective windows. No problem, sir, I’ll replace them immediately, and no, really, you don’t need to call Chessie. I’ll take care of that.

 The bastard’s smiling like he already knows everything. I give him my wage-slave grin even if I am scared. I need this job that doesn’t pay anything or my kid’s never getting that bike. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think.

“You’re Danny?”

Oh man, he’s already got my name. “Yes sir. I have an order here . . .  problem with your windows?”

“Come on in. Would you like something to drink . . .  some tea?”

Tea. I’m working this job two years. Nobody ever asked if I want tea. I check him out for real— black shirt with a gold dragon flying across the chest, tight jeans nobody could do any work in. He’s around my age except my hair is already going gray and his still black. Christ, I hate everyone with money. He must be new here because I don’t remember him from the window job.

“Sure. Whatever you got.”

“Go on through and make yourself comfortable.”

 He disappears down a hall. Sitting in a tenant’s apartment is against company policy, but screw it, I have to know how pissed he is about the windows. I go left from the entry into what the company calls the Great Room and what Shelley and I call the T.V. room, living room, screaming at each other when the rent’s late while Melissa tries to do homework room, in our three-room love nest. I open the blinds—officially, I’m supposed to say window treatments—and damn, the windows are ok, so I take a peek at what he’s done with the room. It’s way up there with the dream-house shows on T.V. Marble floor, crown moldings, granite fireplace, twenty-foot ceiling, the whole ruling class thing going on. There’s a giant leather couch; looks like it cost more than my whole apartment building. Feels like it too.  

Dragon boy pops in with two bottles of something yellow. “Here you go,” he smiles and swigs. “Thanks,” I give him back and do the same. Holy fucking shit. I get it swallowed only because he’s watching. It’s piss in a bottle. I read the label . . . “Kom . . .boo . . .”

“Kombucha tea with goji berry juice.” Dragon piss boy swigs again. “I buy the Kombucha and add a little goji. It’s full of antioxidants.”

He’s actually proud of it. “Really . . . good,” I gurgle through the gallon of spit trying to bust out of my mouth. The price tag on the bottle says six-fuck me-fifty. I hate him for making me say I like expensive piss.

“I’m Phil,” he says, holding his hand out. That’s another first— me shaking a tenant’s hand. “I just moved in.”

The damn webinars are always spouting how we’re representatives for Crown Heights with the Community Members, so all right—“We’re really happy to have you. How’s everything going?”  

He runs a finger along the arm of the couch with a little smile. “This place is definitely rockin’ it. I came from New York. Amazing how far your money goes in Michigan.”

Yeah, that’s a friendly little service we been providing rich fucks since the recession “That’s great,” I give him, because what else is there to say? “So what’s going on with your windows?”

Dragon boy gets comfy in a nifty twisted-metal chair. He gives me this look. Shit, here it comes, but he only looks, and after awhile he smiles. No way I’m saying any more until he does, so I smile, and we’re smiling like long-lost brothers re-united after winning the Powerball jackpot.

“Do you know you’re a perfect type?” he says after another swig of yellow death.

 No idea what he’s babbling. I nod like when I’m going around the guy who sleeps in the alley behind my apartment and is always screaming “The snakes! The snakes!”

 “Yeah, I get that from everyone.”

“Do you!” He leans toward me, eyes all shiny. “It’s really true! I’ve been noticing you around the building since I moved in. Danny, you own maintenance man.”

All right, he’s gay. I get it. No problems with that. I never did a guy, but if the money’s right . . . maybe daddy makes the rent plus Melissa gets a mountain bike.

“Thanks. I aim to be professional.”

“You’re way beyond professional, Danny. You’re perfect.”

He leans back in the chair as if it’s my turn to say something nice to him. I just watch the patterns in the marble floor. Things are moving a little fast. I’m not real clear about the mechanics of boy on boy. It feels like my first week of Intro to Boiler Maintenance. The great thing about that class was by week three the instructor was telling everyone I’m a natural. This is probably the same thing. I’ll start out slow . . . maybe say I like the beard—

“Could I photograph you, Danny? Just a few stills of you fixing the bedroom windows.”

Aww hell, so I did fuck up the windows. Now there’s no choice. I can’t have him complaining to Chessie. I swear my clothes aren’t coming off until we talk money.

“I don’t know about that. If the office finds out—”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re just working on the windows, right?”

“I guess . . .”

“And I’ll pay you.” A hand feels around in a pocket, comes up with enough cash to keep the Girolomo clan pain-free for months. My new best boyfriend plucks three, hundred dollar bills off the top like they’re lint balls he can’t get rid of fast enough. “Is that enough to start?”

It’s enough to start a riot in my neighborhood. Man, I love the rich.

“Yeah, sure,” I sing out while grabbing the bills from his soft hand.

He jumps up. “Great! Why don’t we get set up in the bedroom. Go ahead and bring your tea.”

Hell yeah I’ll bring the tea. I’ll even take another swig—Christ! At least the rent gets paid this month. Shelley doesn’t have to know about the Lions taking me down. That’s one ass-kicking saved. Anything more is all profit.

My place would almost fit in the bedroom.  King bed with eight white pillows spread on an acre of blue blanket, or comforter, or . . . they got a lot of names for blankets around here.  I try to picture myself under the covers with Phil. Might as well get used to calling him that. There’s like, a bunch of laptops sitting on top of a dresser almost as tall as me. Looks like he’s into . . . shit, I don’t know what he’s into.

He’s rooting around somewhere in the walk-in closet and that means it’s a perfect time to inspect the windows. Five of them and they’re all new and beautiful. I open and close the big one —no problems, so yeah, this was his scheme to get me in here. I smile. Long as the money’s good.

“Here we go,” Phil comes out with a camera on a stand. He looks me over real hard—kind of a weird feeling getting stared at like that, but I pretend not to notice. He’s paying for it.

“Where’s your tool box? Need it in the shot.”

I go get the damn tool box. Phil has the camera pointed across the bed at the windows by the time I’m back.  

“Let’s see how pretty you are. Kneel to the right of the big window and open the box. That’s great. Now look at it like you’re deciding which tool you want. Good, good. Hold that.”

He clicks away. I’m still in my clothes, which I wasn’t expecting. I guess what we’re doing is getting in the mood.

“Ok, great.  You have a drill in there? Ooh, that’s a big one! All right, stand up, and you’re drilling . . .  you’re drilling . . .  whatever you drill on a window.”

I jam the drill up against the wood trim. Phil gets the shot, swivels the camera, shoots again; he’s having a great time. “These are good,” he’s says real quiet to himself, and clicks another. “This can work.”

He sits on the bed. Shit, here we go. Maybe three hundred isn’t enough.

“Do you watch television, Danny?”

 Stupid fucking question. Like we can afford to do much else.


“Have you ever seen Turf Pros?”

Gotta say I didn’t see it coming. Who would figure someone like him even knowing about Turf Pros?

“Hell yeah; love that show.”

He gives me this grin. “That’s my show, Danny. I developed Turf Pros.

“Whoa. No way.”

“That’s what I do. I come up with ideas for new shows.”

I almost forget he’s a tenant: “So why are you in Michigan if you’re this big T.V. guy?”

“I was tired of New York. Michigan is real.

“Shit yeah, it’s real all right.” I just don’t know if he’s real.

“All right Phil, last week on Turf Pros, they’re rushing around getting the course ready for Tiger Woods and the PGA Tournament, right? Davey’s son, Travis, gets busted for drugs. Tiffany gets assaulted on the number three fairway by that nerd caddy, Norman, and half the golf carts come up missing. How’s it end?”

Phil claps his hands like my kid. “Ha! You do watch it. I thought you were being polite. The PGA episode is my favorite from season two. Let me think, oh sure . . . the cops flip Travis to get the location of the Meth lab. Norman’s been selling the golf carts on Craig’s List. He’s also a registered sex offender and the golf club could be liable for hiring him. Tiger Woods is a no-show because he’s invited to the White House for dinner. I’ll tell you a secret. We wrote Tiger into the script before we knew how much he gets for appearances. We don’t have that kind of budget on a cable show so we wrote a Waiting for Godot ending.”

“Waiting for what?”

“It’s not important. What is important is the new concept I’m developing: Apartment Pros. I’ve been looking for an archetype, someone who embodies the entire apartment maintenance genre. You’re that guy, Danny. I want you.

My boyfriend sure likes talking about stuff that doesn’t matter. He knows Turf Pros all right . . . and he’s got money. That’s all I want to know.

“You want me to be this ark—something?”

“Star, Danny. I want you to be a star.”

Gotta say that sounds pretty good. “We doing the show in . . . like, California?”  I always wanted to see those tar pits.

He shakes his head no. “Right here, Danny. This is where it’s real.”

Fuck. “It’s your thing, Phil, but don’t you think maybe it’s too real?”

The door buzzes. Phil jumps off the bed. “You want to meet your co-star? Be right back.”

And I didn’t want to come in this morning. Man, this is sweet!  Not even nine and I’m a T.V. star with three hundred bucks in my pocket. Even get a co-star. Got to be female, that’s how they do it.  How gorgeous is she? I love that Tiffany on Turf Pros. If I ever got her alone on the third fairway . . . .

 Phil’s voice comes down the hall, then a woman’s, and that turns me around because I know it. I heard it too many times— shit!

“Hey lover. Phil clue you in? I’m supposed to have a secret crush on you.”

It’s like I’m flying up by the ceiling looking down on myself. “No way,” I hear myself say.

Chessie’s filling up the doorway, in green pants that make me glad she’s usually behind the counter. I get the famous fuck-you look and a bonus: “I want extra for working with a moron.”

 I’m shaking my head at Phil. “No way. She’s like, four thousand pounds.”

 My ex-boyfriend spreads his arms out like come over here for a hug. “Guys, this is going to be killer! I’ve been checking you out since I moved in. Each of you has wonderful chemistry. Let’s get some shots and see if you’re magic together.”

I sit on the bed. It’s so springy I almost topple over. “How much is this show paying?”

Phil gets a face like I kicked him. “It’s Reality T.V. There isn’t a lot of money.”

 I point to the bed, and dresser. “Looks like someone’s doing o.k.”

“You’ll get union scale for the time you work. But the way to visualize this is you’ll be famous! Danny, for the rest of your life people will see you and think maintenance man.”

“Dumb-shit is what they’ll think,” Chessie mumbles.

“I heard that. Hippo is what they already think of you.”

“See, that’s the trope I’m going for!” Phil lets out, all excited-like. “You can’t stand each other, but secretly you love him, Chessie. You give him the easiest jobs, bake him cookies, but he doesn’t see the beautiful you because of your weight. So we’ll have you doing the Weight Watchers thing, maybe we’ll shoot an intervention thing, then the gastric bypass thing. Oh yeah, and we’ll do a challenge thing. Every ten pounds you lose, Danny has to read a book.”

“Screw that thing.  I already read a book on boilers.”

“Well, see? You have a head start. Now . . . I’d like both of you in front of the big window. Danny, you’re holding the drill, and looking at where Chessie is pointing as though she’s telling you what to do. Got it? Chessie, you point to the window and look at Danny like you want to eat him up, all right?”

“I think she already ate enough.”

“Just look at the window and leave the thinking to me.”

 We do it. He has us switch around to different angles every few shots. I keep my eyes on the window so I don’t get sick when Chessie wants to eat me.

“Beautiful. Now I just need a few of you together in bed. Danny, we’ll have you on that side, and Chess—“

“Excuse me?” The problem with rich boyfriends is they get the idea they own you. “No way I’m getting in that bed with her.”

“I told you he’s a moron.” Chessie’s already climbing into bed, stuffing a pillow under her pumpkin head.

Phil makes this sound like a tire with a nail stuck in it. He comes over and puts an arm around me. “Look, you know how these shows work. We need some resolution. Our viewers want every detail of every question answered.

“Just imagine. Chessie’s tried everything, but you’re still clueless. She can’t live without you. She gets a bottle of prescription sleeping pills. She calls you to an apartment to fix a window. She’s there in bed, barely conscious. She tells you everything, her love for you, the sleeping pills. You’re devastated. You realize you’ve always loved her. The bottle of pills is empty. Did she really take them? You call for the ambulance, and then jump in the bed and hold her tight. Does she make it? Tune in next week. That’s how you make quality television.”

“Wow,” Chessie breathes. I don’t even care about the money. This is Art. People need to see this.”

“That’s why I get the big—er, an adequate salary,” says Phil, and gives us a little bow.

But I smell a screwing and you have to pay me for that. “How much is this union scale?”

He gets that pained face again. “I don’t know. I’m sure it’s a . . . good amount. What do you make now?”

I tell him. His eyes get big. “But that’s terrible! How do you live on it? Danny, we have to write that into the show! You’re a victim! The company’s taking advantage. We’ll do an episode where the employees stage a sit-in. Chessie sneaks information to you on how management is planning to replace you, and—“

“I don’t give a shit about that!”  I’m waving the drill around and he’s backing away quick. “That’s not real! I want to know how much I’m gonna get for being the star of this show.”

Phil ends up by the door. He gives Chessie a look like why aren’t you helping? She waggles her head like she always does. “I told you he’s too stupid for the part.” 

My rich boyfriend shrugs. “I’m not the money guy. I can get you a phone number for the studio. You have to join the actor’s union . . . there’s a fee . . .”

I knew it. I have to pay before I even know how much they’re paying me? I slam the drill down on the bed. It bounces out of my hand up into the air, right into the window, which cracks in a million places. We watch bits of glass rain down over the sill onto the carpet.

“You’ll pay for that,” comes from the bed. “That’s two grand.”

I take off. “My boyfriend’s good for it.” are my last words on that job. I drop the master key on the marble floor of the entry.

Down the elevator one last time; I’m not worried anymore. The great thing about making nothing is you can go anywhere and get the same. At the bus stop I pull out my bus pass and something else comes with it. It’s money! Freedom plus three hundred bucks—best deal I’ve had in a long time. I’m on the bus watching Crown Heights Apartments fade away and thinking about all this stuff that happened, when I remember it’s Monday. Turf Pros is on tonight, so there’s that going my way too. I always figured everyone on that show makes a ton, but I see what happens when Phil gets through with you. You just have to love the rich.

The Writer: Michael Andreoni's stories have appeared in U. of Chicago/Euphony, Pif, Iconoclast, Calliope, Defenestration, Ducts, and other publications. He lives near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Artist: Daniel Ayles is a Portland, Oregon-based artist whose work bridges the gap between the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. If you are interested in exploring his body of work further, you can see examples of his art in the 2012 August issue of The Horror Zine You may also view two collaborative pieces he did with Tiffany Luna in the 2012 November issue of The Horror Zine.