I Have Been Lady Godiva
by Maria Petrova
“Peeping Tom, a nick name for a curious prying fellow.”
— Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1796
I don’t know how long it had been going on before I noticed it.
I was sitting on the couch in my unit, watching TV. That’s all I was doing, just watching TV. I wanted to finish the show and then I was going to go to bed. I thought I heard something. I looked towards the sound, which was coming from the window, but I didn’t see anything except the room reflected in the dark glass behind the loosely drawn curtains. I kept watching the show, but shortly I heard it again. A rustle, or a snap, barely audible above the TV din.
I wasn’t really scared. I live in a nice neighborhood; nothing bad happens here. And I have good security doors and windows, which are always locked. But I still wasn’t going to go outside to check, just in case. You never know. I did go to the window and press my face against the glass to see out. There was no one there. I figured it must’ve been a local cat. I finished the program and went to sleep.
When I was leaving for work the next morning, I’d already forgotten about hearing the strange sound. But I happened to glance down to the flowerbed under the window and saw that it was trampled, with boot prints distinctly pressed into the earth.
I must admit I did feel a little scared at that point. I stood there, looking at the prints. There was absolutely no one I could think of who would want to spy on me in secret. But it was daylight, and really, what could I do about it?
I went to work. When I came back home, I did my best to tidy the flower bed and brush away the footprints. I guess I was simply hoping it wouldn’t happen again. That night, I had the TV lower than usual, and kept straining to hear sounds outside. I heard nothing, and the next morning the flowerbed was undisturbed. I was ready to write the whole thing off as a strange incident. Perhaps a case of mistaken identity.
Two days later, I went out the back door to take the rubbish out in the morning. Well, you guessed it: these same boot prints were under the kitchen window. They didn’t look fresh though, much fainter than the earlier ones.
I went all around my house, checking the ground at the windows. The boot prints were outside my bedroom window, the lounge window, and the guest room. Some of these were barely discernible, such as the ones at the guest room. The ones outside my window were fresh.
At this stage I thought I should be scared and rang my friend Jenna to tell her what was happening. Jenna had an immediate answer: “It sounds like you’ve got yourself a Peeping Tom. You should call the police.”
I know it sounds unbelievable, but up until then I’d never heard of such a thing. After doing some research, I didn’t hurry to call the police. Strangely, I didn’t feel threatened by this new presence in my life. My observer was clearly keen to keep his presence secret, and besides, I trusted the security of my doors and windows to keep him out should he try to enter.
I continued living as normal, the only change was to keep the blinds tightly shut in my bedroom. To keep track of his visits, I used a small rake to even out the ground under my windows. He didn’t come every day, but close enough to it. Sometimes he wore heavy boots and sometimes sneakers, which left complicated patterns of circles and zig-zags in the dirt.
Gradually, the knowledge that I was being watched made me aware of the tediousness of my life at home. It revolved around brief forays into the kitchen and bathroom, occasional bursts of cleaning activity and the rest of the time spent sprawled on the couch, reading, or watching TV. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my Tom, as I came to think of him: how dull must his own life be, for him to find mine so interesting. I wondered why he chose me to be his Lady Godiva. I’ve never thought of myself as a smashing beauty, nor has experience suggested otherwise. Certainly it wouldn’t have hurt me to lose a few dress sizes, or to get a decent haircut and manicure. With nothing much to feast his eyes on, my life must have made for dreary entertainment.
And yet he kept visiting, leaving the tell-tale footprints on my garden beds. After a while I started feeling vaguely guilty, as if I was letting down his expectations of me. I found myself getting up from the couch more often, to perform tasks that I would not normally do, such as re-arranging the books on my shelves or doing some stretching exercises. Sometimes I’d simply wander aimlessly around the room, touching random objects, as if deep in thought. I even rubbed my chin to affect concentration. I felt doing something, anything, would be more interesting for him to watch than my immobile figure on the old couch.
One day, on the way home from work, I found myself stepping into a hairdressing salon. I asked for a stylish new haircut, and had them colour my hair a screaming red. I was a little aghast at the new, bright person staring at me from the salon window. That night I felt some trepidation as I went about my evening routine. I wondered what my Tom would think of the new look. I realized I was nervous at the thought he might not like it. To make a better impression, I went into my bedroom and emerged in one of my nicer dresses. I wandered around the room, trying to look graceful and feminine.
The next few mornings I anxiously checked for footprints outside the window, worried that my new appearance might have scared him off. To my relief, they were still there.
Everybody at work commented on the flattering new haircut, and Jenna liked it, too. Over one of our lunch catch-ups, she asked me if the police ever found my Peeping Tom. It never occurred to her that I didn’t call the police, and I didn’t dissuade her. I simply said he never turned up again. But over the course of our conversation she said something that caused me to later go around my house again, this time carefully inspecting the walls around the windows. I found no suspicious white splotches.
However, instead of relief, I felt a little offended. If other voyeurs masturbated as they watched the objects of their interest, why didn’t mine? After all, if I was attractive enough for him to pick me to watch so regularly, was I not sexy enough to arouse him? Or perhaps he brought a tissue? I found myself wishing it was the latter explanation. Nonetheless, I started thinking of ways to spice things up a little.
That weekend, I bought a new dress. Well, it wasn’t a real dress as such. I got it at Adult World on High St, and it wasn’t much more than a glorified negligee. It barely covered my behind, while the built-in bustier pushed my chest almost as high as my chin, or so it felt. I already had a pair of high heels from a wedding I attended earlier that year, and I put two bottles of cheap champagne in the fridge.
Coming home, I felt nervous and excited, as if I was getting ready for a first date. I didn’t allow myself to think about the craziness of my actions, and to help keep those thoughts at bay, I cracked open the first bottle. As I sipped it, I carefully applied my makeup, and changed into my new outfit and heels. Then I threw on my old, over-sized dressing gown. It wrapped right around me, and came down almost to my feet, hiding the whole get-up. I poured another glass and settled down on the couch to wait for nightfall.
By the time it was dark, the first bottle was nearly empty. I was feeling the buzz, and my stomach was flipping butterflies in anticipation of what I was about to do. I got off the couch, and trying to act my usual boring self, casually wandered to the kitchen to refill my glass. Then, instead of flopping back on the couch, I turned off the TV, and switched on the stereo: loud enough to just be heard outside, but not so loud as to annoy the neighbours.
After some agonizing that morning, I had chosem The Best of Madonna, and it was already loaded into the player. At first, I just stood there, swaying and bopping to the tune, clicking my fingers and dreamily closing my eyes. I felt a little self-conscious, but the drink in my other hand was taking care of that.
I started dancing around the room, keeping my movements small for now, doing little twists and twirls. I kept the gown drawn firmly around me. Finally, I put my glass down and stood in the middle of the room, right opposite the window. As the crescent of the melody swelled up, I threw open the dressing gown with as much drama as I could muster and let it fall down to reveal my outré outfit, as I struck an effective pose. The next moment I continued dancing, with growing confidence, imitating the sexy moves I’ve seen on music channels, now and then refilling my glass.
It wasn’t long before I was stumbling around more than I was actually dancing, but by that stage I didn’t care. To be honest, I almost forgot about being watched and was pretending I was on a stage, entertaining a stadium of adoring fans. At the end, as a final flourish, I did a triumphant run through house, switching off all the lights and sinking it into darkness.
Of course, the next morning I felt dreadful. But between fits of vomiting and clutching my aching head, I still managed to crawl outside to check. The sight of my thoroughly trampled garden bed instantly made me feel better. And though there was nothing out of place on the walls, I assured myself it was due to my Tom’s consideration and tidiness.
Naturally, having put on a show like this, I felt I couldn’t simply leave things at that, and regress back into the drab monotony of my past evenings. I felt a follow-up was in order, and I didn’t want to disappoint. I put a lot of thought into what to do next. With such a dramatic, and perhaps over-the-top introduction, I wanted my next show to be a little more subdued, with more class and style. That’s how I eventually came to think of these evenings as my shows.
I spent the week planning and preparing. As the weekend neared, I felt much less nervous than the first time, but just as excited. During the day, I got ready by putting red tea candles on every possible surface in the living room. There were almost a hundred of them, little red stubs everywhere. I set the dining table for one, a most elaborate setting. I looked up on the Internet the way fine-dining restaurants set their tables and copied the setup exactly. It looked rather impressive. This time waiting for me in the stereo was Ravel’s Bolero, which I thought was suitably majestic and uplifting, while not completely overwhelming.
As the evening came, I dimmed the lights in the living room and disappeared into my bedroom. I changed and waited another half an hour, building up tension. Finally I emerged into the living room. I was wearing a floor-length silk gown in cream, with a plunging neckline and a long train, which I thought made me look like an old-time movie star. I found it in one of the op-shops in the city, and close-up you could see faded stains and moth nibbles, but I hoped that from the window it looked as stunning as it once was.
My hair was in a classic chignon which I had learnt how to do earlier that week, and a simple string of fake pearls adorned my neck. I was sure that I looked a picture of class and glamour, especially in the dim light. Trying to move in time with Ravel’s rising rhythms, I gracefully moved around the room, lighting the candles with long matches. Slowly the room was filled with the shimmering red glow of dozens of candles. I did a few slow turns, letting the dress lazily spin around me, its silk reflecting the glimmering light. I hoped that I looked as heavenly as I felt.
After some time gracefully spinning and swaying around to the music, I sat down at the table and commenced to slowly eat my dinner. For simplicity’s sake, it was just a slab of cold meatloaf, but I didn’t think you could tell from the window. I kept my back very straight, as I daintily sawed off tiny pieces of loaf and elegantly brought the fork to my mouth. I chewed each bit with my eyes closed, as if savouring an exquisite delicacy. Every now and then, I’d sip from a goblet of red wine which I poured from a glass decanter. The wine was originally from a discount cask, but in the decanter it looked rich and fine.
A few weeks later, I did a sexy retro sketch, donning a sweet, fifties style polka-dot bikini and cute blue heels with bows on them. Wiggling my bum around to Elvis’ early tunes, I dusted and vacuumed and wiped the room clean. Another time I put on a Jane Fonda exercise video and attempted the whole routine wearing a Playboy bunny outfit which I ordered through a special website. I tried really hard to keep up with Jane, and was drenched with sweat at the end of it, but I don’t think you could see such details from afar. When I did a Japanese geisha show, in a hired kimono, I was devastated not to find the footprints outside my window the next morning. I couldn’t bear to think that my Tom would miss out on the adorable way I shuffled around the room and poured tea using a real Japanese tea set I got at the markets. So I repeated the whole routine the next evening, and was delighted to see the familiar boot prints in the morning, testifying to the fact that my performance had an audience.
Over the ensuing months, my house filled up with all sorts of odd objects, such as the aforementioned tea set, a twister mat, a studded dog leash, seventies-style door beads, or my favourite, the spinning red high-stool I got in a secondhand-furniture store. Not to mention my wardrobe, which was suddenly overflowing with colourful, lacy, sparkly, outrageous garments that were destined to never see the world outside my home.
After just over a year, he stopped coming. At first, I refused to believe he might be gone for good. Not finding the footprints for four days in a row, I thought perhaps he had fallen unwell, or had a family emergency that was keeping him away. I didn’t worry too much and kept planning for the next show.
After a week of absence, I started to feel the first pangs of anxiety, wondering if a real misfortune had befallen him, an accident or an illness. After several weeks, I started wondering if it was me. Had I done something to turn him off? Was I no longer attractive, or entertaining?
He never returned. The intensity of my grief at his loss surprised me. I had to invent a family tragedy to explain my depression to work colleagues and friends, as I could not hide my devastation. At home, I wandered around the house aimlessly, or went through my colourful acquisitions of the past year, crying and drinking. Every morning, I rushed out to check the ground outside the windows, only to return inside in tears again. I even spent a weekend furtively scouting the neighbourhood houses, checking the flowerbeds and gardens around them for the familiar boot prints.
Should I have thought more about him? Should I have, perhaps, found a way to discover his likes and dislikes, and accommodate him a little more? But how could I? He left me nothing, not even a stain on the wall. Aside from his foot prints, there was no sign, no cigarette butt, no finger mark on the glass, nothing. I am certain, to this day, that he was not aware of the treacherous dirt underneath his feet, recording each of his visits.
Was he delighted at my outrageous performances, or did he keep coming back despite them, for the nights when I lay prostrate on the couch for hours on end, absorbed in a book or movie in front of me? Was he aware of his presence being known, and catered for, or did he simply think me a crazed eccentric? None of these questions entered my mind at the time. I was absorbed in the game that he started, conveniently forgetting that he was a key player.
There was no longer any point in playing my secret game, no audience for my creativity. Eventually, I packed up all the outfits, the shoes and the accessories into cardboard boxes and stowed them away in the garage.
After all these years, a few items still remain around the house. The tea set, of course. And the spinning stool. Every now and then, I sit on it, and spin around wildly, remembering the first night I did so, to a soundtrack of African drums, with sheer gold and black scarves draped around me, trailing behind my outstretched arms and legs. My husband shakes his head and carries on reading his paper.
Copyright © 2012 by Maria Petrova