Take a long, hard look

"Show me the name!" Shelly yells.
I raise the phone book, my index finger never leaving the spot I dropped it on. She's tugging on it, trying to see.
"Take it easy, I'll lose it!" I say.
She looks around, finds a magic marker on the desk and marks the name. It's Evelyn Harvey. The address is 1280 Berellyn Road.
"I think I know where that is, somewhere in the south", Shelly says. "You take the map, I'll go on the net."
"Why can't I go on the net?" I ask.
"Because I surf more than you", she says.

"You were right", I say. "She does live in the south."
"She's a checkout girl at the neighborhood supermarket", Shelly says. "Well, girl. She's 49. She made Employee of the Month."
"So, do we go check her out, this checkout girl?" I ask.
But she's already out the door and can't hear me.

"Hello, Evelyn", I say, grinning like an idiot as I pretend to check out her name tag. She's blond, fat, and not in the mood for these kinds of jokes. She looks at me with the nervous suspicion that older people reserve for twentysomethings like Shelly and me, in constant fear of being the butt of some postmodern joke. She goes through our groceries at breakneck speed, leaving us with no time to study her some more.
We go to sit on the sidewalk across the street and start unpacking. We've bought stuff to make sandwiches, and using my trusted Swiss army knife, I start to make a big sandwich for Shelly.
"To tell you the truth," I say, glancing at the supermarket entrance, "I have to admit to being slightly disappointed."
"This is her at work," Shelly says. "Everybody's boring at work. Besides, to a true stalker, it's all in the projection. The mere following constitutes an obsession all of its own."
"We're not stalking, we're playing private detective."
"Whatever. As if a private dick doesn't get off on following people around. I'm telling you, they're all cops who were dishonorably discharged for voyeurism."
"So remind me again how we are less creepy than either a stalker or a private detective."
"First of all," Shelly says, taking a bite out of her sandwich, "it's an experiment. Second, it's a social thing. Learning everything about a random person will provide us with insight into areas of society we otherwise wouldn't, nay couldn't explore. This meat is really disgusting, look at it."
"And we don't interfere."
"That's right, it's like that, what's it called, Prime Directive from Star Trek. We're like cultural anthropologists; we can look, but we can't touch."
"Look, she's coming out", I say.

She's wearing a blue raincoat, even though the sun is out. Under it, a white old-fashioned blouse and a knee-high skirt. She walks fast, as if she's uncomfortable being around people. She stands alone at the bus stop. We wait for some more people to arrive so we can blend in. She doesn't notice us. The bus takes ages to arrive. Shelly and I are silent and nervous. The only subject that's on our mind is standing within earshot. We board the bus silently and sit behind her, at the back.
"Is she married?" I ask.
"I don't know --we'll find out."
She definitely hasn't spotted us. She's sitting silently, gazing into space. And she stays like this for the entire ride.
When she gets off, she enters a twenty-story apartment block. We hesitate, follow her from some distance, and just catch her getting into the elevator. Shelly manages to catch the number of the button she pushes. We walk around the building and discover a fire escape staircase at the back. The first few flights rattle like bones. But we get used to it and by the time we reach eleven, we're quiet.
We peek in, one after the other, and we're happy to find her sitting with her back toward us. "This is it-- here comes the best part of this thing", Shelly whispers. Evelyn goes into the kitchen. We watch her make a dinner. She's cooking, but it's little more than throwing food in a frying pan. She has deep-frozen fries and a hamburger that looks grey. She puts the whole thing on a big plate and goes back to the living room. She switches on the TV and starts watching these sitcoms. As soon as one sitcom is finished, she'll surf to the next one. This lasts for several hours. And never once, at any time, does she laugh at anything. Not even a chuckle.

And suddenly, I feel sick. I start to feel the cramps in my legs from standing bent at the knees.
"Let's get out of here", I whisper to Shelly.
"No way!" she says, "we haven't even begun yet."
"You haven't, maybe, but I'm done."
I walk down the stairs quietly. I stand at the foot of the high building and I gasp for air, as if I'd just run a mile. I look around at the ugly architecture closing in on me. I don't know how much time passes.
Finally, Shelly comes down, too.
"She's gone to bed", she says. "What the fuck was that all about?"
"I don't like what's happening here. I don't like the fact that nothing's happening here."
"What do you mean? Everything is perfect, we can see the whole thing."
"But it's, I didn't expect it to be like this."
"Like what? How can you know you don't like it when we're only scratching the surface? Jeez, don't you know what a great catch we have here? We can come here every night."
"I don't want to come here every night. Any night."
"She won't see us. People don't see you if they don't expect to see you. She'll see right through us."
"It's not that."
"Well, what the fuck is it then?"
"I can't, if you, if you don't see that, then I really don't know where you're coming from."
"Jesus! Mr Dramatic, would you like to thank the members of the Academy?"
"Don't do that."
"Oh, please let's just drop this."
She said this, thinking that we were having one of our little fights again, and that all would be well again the next day. But it wasn't; in fact, the next day I moved out. I've been living alone for a month now, doing nothing but watching TV. I talked to Shelly after a few days, but she felt like a different person.