A short story by Annest Gwilym “Windows”

Rain Stoppers, Water, Window Pane, Drip


April 2020

Window One. Rain streaks make it hard for me to see, so I grab the binocs and catch a glimpse of Amelia Jones’ bright red overcoat as she leaves the building and turns right at the road junction. She’s probably going to the shops. I can almost hear the tap tap tap of her high heels on the pavement, shouting for attention. Her roots are starting to show, an inch or so of brunette before the blonde. Her hairdresser must be closed.

1983. Laura’s red shoes, just like the ones in Let’s Dance, pace the pavement. Always a step or two ahead of me. When we get to the pub she insists we speak to each other in French, so people think we are, as she says, ‘exotic’. I am embarrassed but comply. Her steps receding after I told her she shouldn’t have said that my first boyfriend had really preferred her. The relief but strange emptiness that followed, as if a light had gone out…

                 There he goes, that Danny, cigarette in hand. Probably on his way to get more fags and booze. He has a prowling, cautious walk, a bit like a tightrope walker. As if he may fall through the pavement any second.
                Window Two. He turns left – definitely on his way to the Off Licence. I have around thirty minutes.
                After quietly closing my door I pad across the foyer in my slippers to Jenny’s flat and gently knock.
              She cautiously peeks round the barely opened door before letting me in. She looks tired, her eyes dart to the window to check that Danny has gone and isn’t coming back. Her hand nervously tugs her jumper sleeve down, but I can’t help but notice the bruise around her wrist which is at the lurid yellow and purple stage. Little Ivy is asleep in her cot, making soft snuffling noises.
            Jenny makes us some tea, sipping hers while leaning on the window sill, keeping watch on the path. She has that squinty, myopic stare of someone who should really wear glasses. She tells me that Ivy has just started standing up on her own, a shy smile lighting up her face. 

           I look at the plasterboard wall and notice there are more places where he’s punched through. At least it wasn’t her this time. We talk about the weather which has been unseasonably good for April – days and days of sunshine and clear skies. I don’t say anything about the strange, haunting wind I’ve noticed howling at night. It seems to empty the streets, curling down each road, path and damp alley. I imagine it sneaking through people’s letter boxes, and into their lives. 
         ‘Quick’, she says, ‘he’s coming back’.
        I say goodbye and shuffle stiff-legged back across the foyer to my flat. The council have let things go, bits of litter now crusting the edges of the stairway and lift.
        Back in my flat, I resume my watch at the windows. I sit in the swivel chair, so I can easily propel myself and slide along the laminate flooring I had fitted a couple of years ago, from one window to the other, binocs ready on Window One’s sill.

        I just catch him as he returns, goes through the main entrance, two carrier bags in hand. It looks like it’s going to be a heavy night. 
        Window Three. Car park – Mr Tresco’s red and blue van parks. The driver rings and brings three, four, five crates of food for somebody. Lots of cars start arriving now – those still working are coming home. Something comforting about car headlights in the dark, although it’s not really dark here, more of an orange haze.

1980. Waiting at the window for him to come home, the street lamps making the fog orange. The spaghetti bolognaise is overcooked and inedible. I dump it straight from the pan into the bin. I’m too wound up to wash the pans, so I leave them to soak in water. The flat is silent until the phone ringing suddenly jolts me out of my trance. When I answer, the caller puts the phone down. I open another bottle of wine.

      After a while the cars stop coming, night settles in. There is still the steady drone of traffic on the main road, more noticeable now there are fewer planes flying. 

1960. My bedroom is a ship, buffeted by westerlies that rush over the cliff to our house. The drone of the sea lulls me to sleep, busy coming in, or maybe going out. A distant lighthouse pierces the dark, steady and comforting. Its light searches the night, a bit like car headlights.

          20.57, 20.58, 20.59, 21.00. I wonder whether it’s too early to go to bed. Another cup of tea. I make it as slowly as I can, to pass more time. 
          Suddenly, a man shouts, a woman screams. A door on my floor slams. I rush to the windows.
           Window One. There he goes, that Danny, his cautious walk looser now. Talking away to a mobile phone in one hand, cigarette in the other, he takes a right at the main road.
           I quickly put my dressing gown on over my nightie and pad over to Jenny’s, my tartan slippers muffling the sound.
           There is no answer when I knock. I try again.
            ‘It’s me’, I say quietly. She opens the door and lets me in. She lights a cigarette and blows the smoke through an open window. Her fingers tremble slightly. There are empty cider cans strewn on the coffee table, and an unpleasant, acrid smell. 
           Jenny’s eyes are red. She doesn’t make eye contact. Ivy is grizzling, but she just ignores her. I go over, pick her up and rock her gently until she falls asleep.
          ‘Jenny, what’s wrong?’
          ‘He was angry because Ivy wouldn’t stop crying, and he didn’t like what I made him for tea. Says we’ve ruined his life.’
         ‘You know that’s not true. He’s lucky to have the two of you. And you know you can call me anytime.’
          ‘I can’t, he takes my phone whenever he goes out. And doesn’t let me call anyone when he’s in.’
          ‘This is no life for you, Jenny. You don’t have to put up with this.’
          ‘He says no-one else would want me anyway, especially with a baby.’
          ‘Quick,’ she says after a while, ‘I think he’s coming back’.
          21.57, 21.58, 21.59, 22.00. Definitely time for bed. I put the binocs back in their place on Window One’s sill. Despite the warm days, the nights are still chilly so I put an extra blanket on my bed and pull it up under my chin.

1963. The nights were cold then, the bedroom unheated. Roast yourself by the living room fire before bedtime then rush upstairs to bed, the heat still clinging to you like a warm jacket. Then dreading my father’s return from the pub, drunk and angry. Raised voices from downstairs, my mother crying. Hoping that if I stayed quiet he wouldn’t come into my room. I pull the covers up high, under my chin.

      5.57, 5.58, 5.59, 6.00. I wonder whether it’s too early to get up. If I just lie here I may doze off again. Time has become a glutton, difficult to fill. Think of something that makes me feel tired.

1975. I didn’t realise Galway was so far from Dublin. On the coach back, miles and miles of farmland, so green you could drown in it. The night before I’d been drunk, went back to the wrong B & B. Did a tour of the place before a man calmly smoking a pipe in the lounge said that Mrs Noone’s was three houses down the road. Tiredness finally hit me on the ferry, the kind of tiredness that is beyond sleep. 

         Window Three. Excitement of the day – bin collection. After they’ve finished, the wind makes bits of stray litter dance around the car park in a mad, improvised polka. A rental van parks and Danny comes out. I watch as he starts loading the van with suitcases and black bin bags. He throws the last one in, then drives off.
        I pad over the foyer to Jenny’s. She lets me in and goes to stand by the window.
        ‘He’s gone’, she says shakily. ‘The final straw was when I told him I was pregnant again. Said he’d had enough of me and didn’t want another screaming brat.’
         She strokes her belly softly with her hand, although there is no bump yet on her thin frame.
         She moves away from the window and we have tea on the sofas. There is a key to the flat on the coffee table.
         Window One. Back in my flat, I see Jenny leave the building with Ivy in her pushchair, the first time I’ve ever seen her go out on her own with the child.

Bio: Author of two books of poetry: Surfacing (2018) and What the Owl Taught Me (2020), both published by Lapwing Poetry. What the Owl Taught Me was Poetry Kit’s Book of the Month in June 2020 and one of North of Oxford’s summer reading recommendations in 2020. Annest has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, both online and in print, and placed in several writing competitions, winning one. She was the editor of the webzine Nine Muses Poetry from 2018-2020. She is a nominee for Best of the Net 2021. Twitter: @AnnestGwilym

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