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“Pass the ketchup,” she said softly.

The words caused me to break my stare at the pavement two levels below us, but not to search for the bottle of sauced tomato. That I could easily do, grasping the bottle by its fat plastic neck without a glance in its direction. No, when I looked away, it was to laugh at her.

“Why are you whispering? They can’t hear us,” I said as I passed the Heinz 57 from its spot on the windowsill into Stella’s open hand. She sat framed in light from the tiny bulbs lining the window. They made her look like she was glowing, bringing out the red in the auburn strands sticking out of her messy bun, shining a golden haze down on her. Ethereal.

Stella held her finger up to her smirking lips and shushed me.

“If we’re supposed to be having a sneaky stakeout, then we have to act sneaky. That means being quiet.” Popping the lid off the bottle, she squirted the ketchup onto her plate, making a weird half bubbling/half zipping noise.

I raised an eyebrow and held my finger up. “Shh.”

“I can’t be held accountable for the sounds of the ketchup,” she whisper-yelled and set the bottle between us on the ottoman we’d pulled over to sit on in front of the window. Stella and I  looked back to the street, where her neighbors were in another fight on the stoop.

They moved into the building a couple months after she did, and at least once a week, they’d have blow-up fights. For weeks, she’d tell me stories, until I got to see it in the flesh.

Now, as soon as I heard the boom of a yell, I sprinted over to the window to watch with Stella, usually bringing food along. What can I say? Entertainment wasn’t cheap here, and we took it where we could get it.

Even over the beeps of cabs and trills of bicycle bells, we could hear their loud conversation.

This time, the fight was about messed up plans. Down the alley, a cat meowed loudly, as if asking them to settle down.

“You know, I don’t know whether I’d call this a stakeout or reality TV,” I said, obeying her hushed voices rule.

“Hmm.” Stella dipped a fry in the ketchup, rolling it in the red blob so it’s not just dipped but coated. “I think it can be both. Like an episode of Cops, but with two aspiring actors auditioning to get a spin-off instead of mid-level criminals trying not to be arrested.”

We both laughed, while below us, the guy’s hands flew into the air in frustration. In response, the girl whipped her braid over her shoulder so quickly I think she could’ve used it as a weapon.

“I think they could get one.”

“I’d watch,” Stella said. “Obviously.”

Just like we’d been doing from here in the window, we’d be sure to tune in each week to watch their drama play out. But a portion of the show would have to be dedicated to Stella. It makes sound like I was some creepy guy, but it was the truth. Half the excitement that came from watching this all play out was seeing her reaction to it.

Like how she rolled her eyes at a dramatic stomp off. How she leaned close to the glass as the tension built like she was a kid pressed up to a toy store window, wanting to soak up every inch of it. How she smiled at me when I made a quip and how her voice got a sarcastic lilt to it when she returned it. Watching Stella was just as good as, if not better than, the show on the pavement.

After a few minutes, their mouths stopped moving from shouting to start moving on each other’s, making the bird’s-eye view less appealing.

“If this was a show, this would be the time to cue credits or rain,” I said.

“I’m thinking credits. They’re one step from using the stoop as a bed, and I don’t need that burned into my mind.” Stella kneeled on the ottoman and reached up to draw the curtains. “You know, I wonder what it’s like to have such a rollercoaster of a relationship. Like, is it passionate? Or is it toxic?”

“Public fighting like that? I’d say both,” I said, picking up our plates, but before I could carry them over to them away, she took one last fry to mouse-nibble on.

“Maybe we should say that to them next time we see them?”

“What? That we’ve been watching them and have some notes?”

“Exactly,” she said, aiming a finger gun in my direction as I slide over to the sink, the smoothness of my sock a perfect pairing for her wood floors.

“They’d think we’re crazy.”

“We are, just a different kind than them.” Stretching up from the ottoman, she scooted it back in front the TV, and then plopped down on the sofa cushion behind it. “The couple that snoops together stays together.”

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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