I watch him for a long time - just him and me in the night, fellow creatures on a dark and lonely planet

The man - fortyish, sallow-skinned, black haired, naked but for a towel wrapped around his dumpy waist, is standing in front of a mirror. It is clear from the inward intensity of his stare that he is alone. I watch, paralysed with curiosity, voyeur's blood coursing through my veins, as he observes himself.

After a minute or so of this, he suddenly strikes a pose, turns this way and that, clenches his fists and ripples his muscles in classic Charles Atlas style. He regards himself over his own shoulder - a show-off session in the privacy of his room.

Or so he thinks. But I'm sitting across the road dead level with him (two floors up, babysitting for our friends a few doors down. Their sitting- room is an airy, slope-ceilinged loft on the top floor).

So far, I've been discreet. I've drawn the blind on one of the two windows so as not to feel too exposed myself; the other I've left up - unwilling to surrender the sun-washed purple and tangerine sky, at 10 o'clock still alight with heat. I'm among the batik cushions on the sofa, positioned somewhere between the two windows. I can just see out, I don't know if he'd see me - if he tore himself away from his reflection.

I'll admit it's something of a thrill, peeking at a man performing, oblivious, to a mirror. We women pout, pull in our stomachs, flit secretly from mirror to mirror, glance furtively in darkly reflective shop windows. But men - oh, joy - flex their biceps, go "grrr", pretend they're toga'd in animal skin.

I'm aware that I'm blessed - this is a rare sighting, an enlightening treat, and it's just come right. I've finished the book I brought, I've found a copy of Harpers & Queen in the loo and read about bowel-cleansing and navy blue, and I've zapped through the channels and watched part of a made-for-TV movie about a man whose wife has hired a hit-man to kill his lover.

Just as I'm on the verge of submitting to the unreality of the ghastly, tabloid Ten O'Clock News, this vivid alternative show begins.

So far, I've only known that house from street level. Our own upper windows give on to muted lighting and Austrian blinds. But these, a few doors on, are rented rooms and I've seen a variety of people come and go with Asda bags and takeaways. One night, I was kept awake until 2am by the sound of hammering. Now I'm interested to see that there is indeed a kind of wooden structure in the centre of the room. Doorless wardrobe? Hangman's gibbet? S & M prop?

The man suddenly flops down from view, and the light goes out, except for the bluish flicker of a TV. Oh.

But no, the light's on and he's up again, still stripped to the waist, placing several pairs of trainers out on the window sill - a habit reminiscent of Australian students in the Italian hostels of my youth.

And then he spots me. Or, at least, he freezes with his face towards mine, towards my smug, snug, halogen-lit look-out post. He stands there, hands on towelled hips, gazing towards me. Has he seen me looking?

I keep my eyes on the TV, suddenly shamed, exposed. Then I have the most marvellous brainwave. I turn to the other part of the room, the part where the blind's drawn, the area he cannot see, and I laugh. I laugh for a bit and then I open my mouth and talk. Then I listen. Then I laugh again, wildly gesticulating. In other words, I pretend I'm not alone. Because if you're in company and you happen to glance up and see someone in the window opposite, then that's all it is. But if you're alone and you're watching them, you're just plain sad.

I keep up this pitiful charade while he stands there, and finally he goes back to his TV. Then I crawl over, below windowsill level, and draw the blind.

Much, much later, back at my house, in bed, I can't sleep. It's a thick, hot night, the pub has long ago emptied, the sky has darkened to aubergine. Everyone's asleep, mouths open, limbs flung out, rucked sheets. I switch on the light, read a few pages of Alison Lurie, switch it off, close my eyes.

At 3am, I'm almost falling, when a noise pulls me back. It's unlike anything I've ever heard: neither quite machine nor animal nor human - something, in fact, between a flooded engine, a bark and a fretting child. It continues for a few minutes before I recognise that I'm awake and it's in the street.

At the first window, I see nothing, but the noise continues plaintively, so I move over and lift the other blind. A huge fox is standing there, in the cool moonlight, in the middle of our street. Head erect and proud, he stares at the distance, uttering his eerie, distressing bark again and again, insistent, implacable. His coat is blue with dark, his feet firm and still on the purple asphalt, his head whipping round now and then.

I watch him for what seems a very long time - just him and me in the middle of the night, fellow creatures on a dark and lonely planet.

And just when I think I can watch him no longer, when nothing else is happening and the moment is frozen forever in my head, there's a flick of movement at a high window and there's my mirror-man, forearms on the sill, watching me, watching the fox, each one of us apparently - mistakenly - alone.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power