Windows / by Christina Rosalie

I have been noticing windows this week. Squares and rectangles with light pouring in, raw and bright, the way that new spring light does.

I’ve been noticing the way windows frame a view, just so: six small squares of pine and red maple sprouting tiny buds through the glass in the solid cherry wood of the front door; a triptych of blue mountains and bluer sky where my four orchids sit in clay pots on the sill, some blossoms dry now, like ghosts still clinging to sapling slender stems.

Today the afternoon light splashes through glass. It makes the walls yellower and my mood softer, even without enough sleep. Where I am sitting I can see the mountains from the window, but not the meadow where surly, possibly, a white-tailed doe is standing on slight legs, her warm nostrils flaring, among a mess of winter-dead grass.

We are always looking through windows, always seeing a view.

Two days ago, DH had a down day. He read the charts and made the wrong call and all afternoon he was tossed upside down in a bucket of hope, and I could hear him thudding his fist with frustration into his glass-topped desk, expletives filtering through the wall like parentheses, and I watched a squirrel scrabbling uselessly at the dining room window. The squirrel was trying to climb the slick glass to reach the bird feeder where fat sunflower seeds tempt nuthatches and grosbeaks. Eventually, after much commotion, it fell to the ground; forced to nibble at the fallen shells and millet seeds the birds had scattered and pecked.

Two days ago I spent the day indoors, looking out of windows and feeling listless and limited by the smallness of Sprout and the amount of effort it takes to bundle him into tiny warm things: woolen socks and a hand knit blue hat, and a fleece jumpsuit into which I must stuff his arms and legs like small sausages. I’d spent the day inadvertently waiting for something to happen, waiting for the view to change, for something sweet, for delight to find me here in this house were the walls sometimes feel very close and the rooms very small. And when DH came out of his office I turned to him like a little girl, my face wide-open, grinning like he was maybe holding a billowing cloud of cotton candy on a stick. And he just looked at me.

He looked at me in a distressed, tight-jawed way, and said “Right.” And “Mmm” absently to whatever I said and I knew he had every intention of spending the rest of the afternoon pacing in the dark rooms of his mind analyzing whatever it was he had missed or done wrong at work, curtains drawn. And I bit my quivering lip and rinsed the dish I was holding.

Disappointment, if it could have a taste, would be the taste you get at the back of your throat when you jump into a pool, expecting the splash and the plunge, but forgetting to hold your nose. Or it would taste like burnt toast; or getting the popcorn flavored jellybean instead of the lemon one when you pick a yellow one out of the bag. Whatever its taste, disappointment was there on my tongue with the many bitter words I didn’t say and swallowed instead.

It was arranged civilly: he would work out while I would continue to watch the boys; then I would be free to go on a run, solo. We used the fewest words possible, as if they were heavy things we did not have the strength to hoist about. We looked in opposite directions, my ponytail to his cheek; the back of his muscled calves running up the stairs as I turned to face him.

Under the imaginary table in my head I was kicking myself for doing it again: for expecting something, unnamed and remarkable from him at the end of a day.

Do you ever do this? Expect the world from the one you love, when the world is already right here, and you are already in it?

I could feel tears at the back of my eyes. They spring up now, often and unbidden, a symptom of the tiredness that has begun to inhabit my body, making the skin under my eyes transparent and dark, and my heart quick to ache.

But, after much clattering of plates and flatware I realized that the only thing I could change was my view. I desperately needed to get out of the house. Right then. Right that minute when the sun was still high and the breeze would bring the scent of warm mud and possibly skunk cabbages in thawing boggy places.

So I sent the little guy down to the basement gym with a collection of Matchbox cars to hang with his Daddy, and I patiently nursed Sprout and then burped him and dressed him in the multiple small layers of fleece and bootie and hat, and then pulled on rubber boots and a jacket and strapped the baby to my chest.

Of course he cried. Of course there were those two minutes that felt like a hundred hours when I tried to get him into his fleece jumpsuit and all of his limbs were like rubber and his face was squished into a wail of discontent, and my body was suddenly awash with heat. But we both survived and I made it out the door, suddenly furious at everyone and everything and muttering under my breath. But then, looking down at my shadow, backlit by bright sun, I could see heat waves rising up around my shoulders and head, and I had to throw my head back and laugh. This is the crazy I am right now. Heatwaves. Out loud muttering. Mud boots. Mood swings.

And instead of just going to collect the mail as I had intended, I kept walking. I climbed the neighbor’s stile and jumped down onto the springy earth on the other side, and then walked down the trail through muddy places and over a small stream and then up, up into the woods along a creek bed where the snowmelt babbles and sings. Along the trail coyotes had gone before me, leaving their unmistakable canine prints in the mud, and a piece of sheepskin snagged on the bark of a hickory. The neighbor’s lambs are born every February, and one or two almost always end up being carried off despite the barbed wire and the barn doors and the three fierce lamas who stare anyone down and chomp impatiently at the air with their buckteeth.

Further up the hill, I saw the rest of the sheep’s wool, along side the stream: a soft blanket of death and feasting. No lamb after all. This was a full-sized sheep, carried here on one of those full moon nights when I woke to hear the yapping and felt the familiar prickle of goosebumps on my arms.

As I hiked I found the answers, scattered like last year’s fallen beech leaves on the snow. I realized that what happens with us is something that must happen to many people who fall in love first, then become parents, preoccupied with the sudden demands of need and responsibility.

It’s easy to forget that once we were each other’s only only, and while we are not now, our hearts still long for this.

Once we gave each other full attention, French kisses, boxes with small gifts and colored ribbon, handfuls of wildflowers, photographs, mixed tapes, late night movies at the theater, sandwiches, new books, back rubs, curiosity. Now, the hours in the day are not enough and like the coyotes, we’re both hungry for our share of time. Without intending, it’s easy to become absent, distracted, distant, disheartened. And so there we are. There I am.

I realized I was not mad at him for his dark mood or his down day or for having to watch the baby after I had already done that all day long, or for the dishes in the sink. I was not mad at all, I found, when I opened and closed the many crammed drawers of my heart.

Instead all I found was a kind of loneliness. A hunger. Not for just anyone. For him. For us the way we were, before this. Shit. It’s so easy to let it slip. You blink, you have a baby, you dig into the present of your life, the clock’s hands go round and round, and zip, it’s gone.

An hour later I was back. The rhythm of my body had long ago lulled Sprout into a deep grunting sleep, and the rhythm of climbing and stumbling through almost knee-deep snow on the North-West side of the mountain left me newly bright eyed. But they were gone.

I could see his blue truck was missing from the drive as I crested the hill above our house and for a minute I felt the disappointment flip flop about in my ribcage the way a stunned bird does when you scoop it in your palms and hold it, after it has flown unexpectedly into a windowpane.

“You deserved it,” I whispered. “You were the one who left without saying where you were going.” And it was true, I had, and I did. And it wasn’t really his fault I expected him to be my moon and stars that afternoon. It was mine.

But then there he was in the driveway—the boys had been driving up and down the road looking for me. On both of their faces smiles bloomed like sunflowers when they saw me at the door.

“Let’s go into town and get dinner,” he said.

Time spent moving, sweating, had had the same affect on him.

So we went for pizza at a little hole in the wall place where kids in hugely baggy pants were playing pool and a juke-box was mounted on the wall and the pizza crust was thin and crispy. I had root beer, and we sat by the windows, and Bean was preoccupied with watching the fire trucks and hatchbacks and delivery trucks that passed by on the street. And so, unexpectedly, DH and I had time to talk.

“A friend of mine at work is getting a divorce,” he said, holding the pizza like a taco, folded, pepperoni and cheese dripping out the side.

“He said it’s partly the job, and partly they’ve just grown apart. They’re taking a week apart to think it over, but I told him he should really taking the week with her, without the kids, to remember what they had in the first place.”

Next to us a family of four had almost finished dinner. The father got up and left the restaurant at a run. His family waved to him as he ran by the glass, on a mission to get something. Grinning.

When the mother and two girls finished eating they cleared their paper plates and walked out into the night.

I could see them through my reflection in the glass, lit by the yellow streetlamps, looking in the direction the man went. Then after some deliberation they walked the other way.

DH said, “It’s so damn easy to forget, to get distracted. Like you said the other day, you really can loose it all like that, without really noticing.”

The man came back. He burst into the restaurant panting, expectant. Saw the empty table where they had sat, then turned slowly to leave. Outside on the corner he stood for a moment, looking up and down the street. Then walked off.

“It really is,” I nodded.

We kept talking. The baby slept in the crook of my knee. I licked cheese from my fingers and shared sips of root beer with Bean who found a new love: calzones. He was busy dipping pieces of cheesy dough into marinara, a saucy smile spreading ear to ear.

The lady and the girls came back to the corner outside the restaurant. They looked up the street again, then stood there, shifting in their jackets, saying words I couldn’t hear through the glass. Finally they turned and walked in the same direction the man had gone, and I caught myself hoping desperately that they would find each other and laugh instead of being bitter or snapping at one another in the dark beside their parked car.

“Oh! They missed each other twice,” I said.

DH turned to look, then smiled and reached across the table for my hand. "You're always noticing that stuff," he said.

And I couldn’t help but grin. Because somehow, right then, we had exactly the same view.