The room was hers and no one else’s, an easily owned room. She could understand its quartet of blue walls, and the blister of a light bulb dangling from the ceiling, and the rainbow-aping clothes prettily scattered all over the floor. The room was comprehensive, and comprehensible.
The window was a whole other animal, (like a small glass cat that had curled up on the far wall, circular and contented.) It had appeared out of nowhere; an ambiguous, unconquerable geometrical territory between the given and the uncertain, between the certain and the endlessly questionable, between
THE IN (she was fine with THE IN)
She shivered in her dark habits and pressed her nose against the window. An act of intimacy, but prelude to the interrogation: “Where did you come from, little window? Are you an illness of the wall, or a soulful revelation? Are you some sort of architectural stigmata? What does it take to break you? An operatic yell, a burglar’s glass cutter, a boy’s errant baseball?”
The outside began to shape up into a white snowy expanse. Only a black splotch marred it. The splotch grew bigger and resolved itself into the hunch-backed shape of a marching ghost, shrouded in black. Black rags atop black rags, deep patches of night over blind pools of ink.
The window was unbearably cold; she shrank back from it, and shuddered at the sight of the wintry specter. Reflecting that she herself wore a mournfully dark bedrobe, she shrugged it off her shoulders, tried to dance herself out of its dreadful weight. Her shoulders came bare to the whiteness. Did the window look out onto some snow-capped cemetery?
She’d misunderstood: there was nothing dead coming along. It was a rather plump man in his sixties. He trampled through the snow in brown boots and a brown coat, and even though the coat had been luncheon for moths in several patches, it would be a stretch to call it rags. The old man kept one hand on the rim of a bowler hat left over from some other century, and the other hand plucked at a rebellious, disheveled white mustache. A bankrupt businessman perhaps, bereaved of his board game. But he leered as he crept toward her window, and she backed away from it with a deep discomfort at her own state of dishabille. He wouldn’t catch her disrobing; she would look professional.
There were, after all, heaps of clothes in the room, drowning a queenly mattress, disarrayed on the floor, draped over the back of an antique love-seat. That was part of what made the room so acceptable, so unlike a prison. She fished out a brown blazer from the pile, and a brown skirt to match it, and as she dressed she felt herself slipping into a new age of seriousness and propriety, where she would demand the old man’s respect by the virtue of her sartorial choices. The window would be a bank teller’s bulletproof glass shield, a place for – who knows? – financial transactions with – perhaps- a small hole at the bottom through which – maybe – a hand could slip in to deposit a check.
But by the time she returned to the window, the old man had gone and with him the white expanses. The world had shifted to some shimmering summer palette. The mysteries of chromatology revealed the obvious, the easily observable: the window did not look out upon snowy slopes but upon the pristine dunes of a white-sand beach. Now her brown blazer would not do. Not when a summer outfit could be easily assembled from the mess of fabric piled up right on the beach chair-
(How had she not noticed the beach chair?)
She settled on a denim top (“playful and all-American,” as a fashion blog had promised her). It went well with the lace skirt she’d bought at the resort’s duty-free shop, and she knew instinctively that the young man would like the skirt’s delicate sheerness, its shortness. She’d met him a few days before, whether at a ridiculous drum circle or at a badly-planned bonfire was not worth recalling. But he’d made night swimming fun, and now he was waiting on her. They’d probably made plans to have some drinks at a cabana nearby.
The young man tapped at the window, half in play half in impatience, mouthing something at her. She could guess she was being beckoned. She didn’t mind; she liked him and had been thinking of him. He was offering her a sunflower. One hand for tap-tapping, one hand for holding the sturdy stem. He wore a Panama hat, a guayabera, bagging Bermuda shorts, Beach Boy huaraches: he was absurd in his wide-ranging tropicalia, gathered from Punta Cana, Kauna’oa Bay, Praia do Genipabu. He pressed the sunflower’s deep brown core against the window.
This reminded her of her sunflower tattoo, the one she had over her left hip, a glowing yellow burst from a thick browned core, with the words “Always look for the light” haloing around the petals.
“Always look for the light.”
Was that the window’s purpose, then? A vessel for the natural heavenly light that tapped heatedly upon it?
The young man, exasperated, had already wandered off, swaying to outside rhythms she could only guess at. She ran after him to the window, although she had no certain methods of calling him back, of begging for more patience, of promising less boredom. She looked for a latch to open the window; her nails scraped against its sides; she printed her palms on it; she pushed. The window did not swing out, it was as stubborn as she herself had been once as a teenager.
In the mirroring surface she could guess at the memory of herself, at the unformed version of herself, suntanning out on a sand-speckled towel. Those were days when a maroon bikini and matching headphones seemed enough of a fashion statement, because her body was its own sort of fashionable display, the featured advertisement in some on-going catalog of her youth, even if this shamed her frequently.
Can somebody explain windows? Are they there so we can see? Or so we can be seen?
Now she struggled to find a bathing suit she could tolerate. She looked through the room for hours, judging every item; sometimes it made her so angry she wanted to scissor her way through everything that had ever been invented to hide the reality of who she was, or conversely, to tell the truth of who she thought she might be. She could never decide. That was the problem; she could never stick to one outfit long enough to decide. Naked on her room among discarded pasts and futures, she felt new eyes on her back, and quickly jerked her head toward the window to see the unlined face of a boy, nine or ten years old.
(He seemed as confused as she was about the window, and what it revealed to him. He grew red with excitement and fear, a tangle of shame and joy he would revisit that night and many nights after, as he tried to explain to himself with a lump on his throat what it was that he had seen through the window that had made him run away, abandoning his baby sister on a hilltop of sand.)
She saw the boy run escaping. He had left behind a panicked toddler, a cherubim of a sibling that sat dumbfounded and alone in sudden neglect, mouth endlessly open.
She’d had enough. She let go of everything she had ever worn. No more pressing at the window, no more gentle examinations, no more pushing, no more scraped fingernails. No more dressing for the show. She punched hard; she fought her way, destroying glass and bone in equal measure, ready for the winter and the summer and the fall and the spring and whatever else could come once the window, all windows, were broken through.
But that’s when she finally understood: The window had been there to keep out the screams.