The Children’s Window

A new short story by Tobin Dalrymple


“There is a man out there,” she said.

It had been like this with her once before, but this was the first time he saw it. She had told him when the relationship started, when she had fallen in love with him, and when he had stopped looking for others. He had known about it, about the visions, the same way a smoker knows he will get cancer. They could come back any day and they probably would. But not now, honey. Kiss me, baby. Let’s not think. That was three years ago, before the baby.

“It’s OK, little rabbit, it’s OK.”

He sat up in the bed to join her. He could see her eyes wide open, cat eyes, and her gaze fixed over at the window. They were in a child’s bed.

“It’s just the wind, just the tree out there, and the wind knocking it against the … you’re just not used to it, that’s all. It’s nothing.”

“Turn on the light,” she said. “I saw him. I’m not crazy.”

“Honey –

“Please just turn the fuckng light.”

He reached over and turned on the lamp beside the bed. The room was pink, and there was an empty cradle beneath the window. The window held on its pane toys, plastic and wooden, and everything was brand new and never touched. She was sitting all the way up now and her belly was round and out and he placed a hand on it, feeling the umbellical protruding beneath his palm.

He stood up, turning his back to her. He walked to the window. When he looked back she had clenched the blankets, and hunched up her neck into her shoulders, waiting for his move. He sighed. Turning back to the window he shut the glass over the screen pane, hearing her gasp slightly, and he turned the clasp.

“It’s too hot in here,” he said. “I’m getting the fan.”

“No…”

“It’s that or the window open.” He didn’t wait for her to answer. When he walked out the room he felt his blood drop below his throat and he thought a second to really make sure no one was outside, but he was sure there wasn’t, but it was his guilt, of a sudden, that had him feel the fear she had. When he got to the room at the end of the hall he turned on the light. It was a much larger room. Inside a fan was whirring, oscillating its face across at a wall shining from fresh paint. The king sized bed was covered in a white sheet and there were other sheets, white and golden brown paint speckled in parts, covering their armoire, and you couldn’t see the photo frames, the two of them, the town hall wedding portrait, her family, or her jewellery box beneath the cover. The room was an abandoned room that didn’t have the feeling of being aged, or of the dust settling, or it was a crime scene, just before the murder, if the psycho was the planning type; it was a room under construction. He saw the clock was getting late and he knew he wouldn’t sleep well and then morning would be bad. He unplugged the fan, a five foot tall, round headed one, with the steel ribbed cage. It would probably be another night now, at least, without the fan clearing the air, for the walls to dry. He wanted to know what made him think painting in the midle of a heat wave would make sense and he cursed himself for not doing it in the spring like he planned, but work was in the way, and the baby’s room. He felt the sweat pooling in his lower back as he grapled the appliance across the carpeted hallway in both hands.

Back in the children’s bedroom — that’s what they were calling it already, though it was still empty , never used as anything but an office — he found her in the same edgy position as when he had left. She followed him with her eyes. They were big eyes. God how he loved those eyes, sometimes, but then, he only saw her as you’d see a child, worried about the boogeyman, the father wishing only for sleep, the girl, what, nine years old now, she should know better; that is how he saw his wife, his lover with the big, brown, green eyes, doll’s eyes, the doddling, eye-lash wipped, innocent globules of glass and fright.

He was thinking of the clock.

“Don’t!” she said abruptly has his hand swung under the lampshade, “can’t we just not. Did you check outside?”

“Fuck,” he said. He flicked off the light. He turned his back as he lay in bed. It was silent. Though his eyes were closed he could see her, because he felt her, that she hadn’t sat down, hadn’t resumed her spot in the covers. She was still up, looking at that window, he could feel it. It was no use closing his eyes for sleep wouldn’t come now.

The rain started then. It was very fast and in the distance it was thundering already. The wind had picked up and the tree now, outside the window, was making more trouble than before. There was a slam. She gasped. He couldn’t believe it, he opened his mouth and brought in some air to his lungs to shout, but he stopped himself.

“We need to do something about this, bunny. In the morning,” he inhaled, pausing, speaking through the anger and making it come out softly, “let’s call that doctor, again. You think, I think, I think we should give him another chance. No?”

“I know,” she said. She looked away from the window, and he had turned, and she was above him, now looking down. She placed a hand over where his chest was. He grabbed it and placed it against his cheeks.

“I’m such a mess,” she said. “I’m a terrible wife. How did you get so unlucky. I’m just awful.”

He closed his eyes then with the hand on his cheek. He dug inside and he looked around his soul for the light that he knew was in there somewhere. He knew it was bad to be angry and that it would be easier if they connected now. He knew it was his job to show her he cared. Again he wrapped his arm around her protruding belly. He edged closer and now his head was under her arm and she played with his hair. He felt himself falling into sleep and he knew he didn’t have to apologize because he hadn’t said any of the nasty things.

Then the rain really started and the wind came on like a bull. It wasn’t very long until the tree out the children’s window announced itself with a terrible knock and she jumped, removing her hand from his cheek, and bringing it to the side of her face, in the most basic formula of the terrified child. Hush, hush, he tried soothing her, now his eyes were open, hush, hush, only the wind, he tried, he hoped, but she didn’t return her hand to his cheek, only the wind, but she stayed upright, it’s a goddamned storm, he grumbled, when she wouldn’t slacken, it’s fucking rain is all, and that was it for him, he turned around in a sudden impulse, his back to her, and now he was far, and now the dark stuff flowed in his veins just as much and it didn’t matter she was just a scared child, he wanted her to embrace him. He too was like a child in that way.

It wasn’t very long but he left her in the lamp lit room — after she had snuck over his unasleep closed eyes and flicked it on herself, again — and he went out into the living room. There were large windows and the skyline was on fire with lightning and the shadows of trees were like strange old hags dancing, like the witches of Macbeth, swaying in the dark with their hunchbacks and black magic. The thunder came every now and then and it was approaching and there is nothing louder than thunder right beside you, close enough to kill you. The thunder was incredible. Much of it came from the bottom up and traced the fissures in the sky as if they had always been there and the lava of light shot upwards filling in the creases. But all so quickly, who could tell where it went and why. He wouldn’t go back, although he knew she was scared. He stayed on the couch, and she stayed alone, in the room with the light on.

He wondered if she would come for him, comfort him, console and repent and apologize, for he had to work in the morning, for she knew she was being silly, didn’t she, and who could blame him, and his job wasn’t the best thing, and what do you expect, three nights now, in this heat, the children’s bedroom, and no sleep, and she wouldn’t call the damn doctor so it’s not like he hadn’t tried to help and she wouldn’t take the help.

But she didn’t come. He slept with his teeth locked tight.

In the morning she was already awake, making loud noises in the kitchen, which was attached to the living room where he slept in the small condominium near the waterfront in Toronto. He left for work and he saw her eyes were heavy as he kissd her goodbye. She used to walk him to the door and kiss him there, but now she had heavy eyes, and she said goodbye to him in the kitchen and he had to walk alone to the door, and she wouldn’t smile, or say “have a good day handsome”, like she used to. They had a baby coming now. The paint would dry soon and they’d be back in their own room and things would be back to normal.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.