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George & Martha
(urban fiction)

A dark tale about an apartment dwelling couple who has not turned off their TV for thirty years.


A strange but addicting narrative tale.
Enter the world of city dwellers whose lives are connected by airshafts (scant "courtyards" if you prefer), glimpses through nine-inch openings beneath drawn shades, and mutterings heard through slightly open windows. The fertile minds of our featured couple try to imagine the true lives of the neighbors whose window faces them across the airshaft--a pastime that can be a source of benign amusement, or a curiosity that leads them to a place they'd wish they hadn't gone. —Weaver of Words

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George and Martha

Their TV had been on since 1963, since the day after Jack Ruby shot Oswald right there in front of everybody— everybody but them. George had probably lugged it up the stairs himse lf, an old black-and-white model; three long hard flights up to that tiny apartment in Queens. He hadn’t quite hooked it up yet. They were still in love that particular November— and they had missed it.
Over the years, Martha made up for this particular failing with a vengeance. She took up chain-smoking, and made a solemn vow that she’d never miss another broadcast-of-a-lifetime. Not a moon landing, a televised war, or god forbid, another assassination. Only an accountant could actually figure out how many viewing hours she had racked up since.
We met them six TVs later in 1999. I could only guess that their love, now a kind of cynical affection, had devolved over time. What caused that change was largely a matter of conjecture. My theory? It was their mutual immersion in the mundane, a slow erosion of expectations, and the painful measure between intent and deed. My evidence? Only that which came from a nearby window.
My girlfriend and I moved into the city in late summer. We first met George and Martha in the early fall. Meet isn’t the right word but I’m too lazy to find a better one. When autumn nights first offer up a fresh breeze, pleasant and cooling, most people shut down their air conditioners and open their windows. George and Martha were no exception, nor were we. They introduced themselves one such evening through exactly that: an open window— Martha, really, and with a sharp piercing cackle— her raucous reply to the giant glowing thing. And there was that peculiar odor that wafted in as well: a sweet, sickening disinfectant smell that masked something acrid, and perhaps something onerous.
We came to know George and Martha through a nine inch visor into their existence. Not that we could ever really know them. We could just figure out bits of them, bits of their lives as told through their responses to, well, that big glowing box. They lived across from our modest bedroom, directly across, from what’s off-handedly called a courtyard. It was anything but— it was a ten by ten shaft, open to the sky. I imagined it clumsily built by architectural trolls long ago, when three-storied railroad flats of jagged brick-face were all the rage.
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