Inside Tiny Windows

There's a fly caught in the window above the kitchen sink. He's beating himself against the screen and glass. That’s a problem for him, of course, but more so for me because Sandy’s talking again but I’m not listening.

"You're an asshole," she says. Her eyes are narrow and her teeth are bared. She knows I haven't been paying attention.

I grab my sweatshirt and pull it over my head as I walk for the door. "Sorry," I mumble.

"Where you going?"

I slip my arms through the sleeves of the sweatshirt and stop at the door. "I need to grab some fresh air." I pause and then, "Want to come?" The invitation's clumsy.

"I'm going to bed."

"I'll be back in about fifteen minutes."

Outside the air stings my cheeks and the tip of my nose. I've always loved the fall. It's a shame that it has to be followed by the winter. I pass a couple holding hands. They're laughing about something that probably isn't funny. She's holding his blazer closed around her neck. It looks like a cape as the wind plays with it. Do they realize at some point they will take their last steps together? I'm sure they don't. If they did, they wouldn't be walking so slow without any purpose. Or maybe they would.

I have no intention of being gone only fifteen minutes. I want to leave forever but I know I won't do that either. I don't have the courage. I'd like to say I'm too strong to leave or that I have too much honor or some bullshit like that, but why lie to myself? After holding my dying five year old in my arms, I realize there is no longer any point in playing silly games.

I hail a cab and take it to Alexander Avenue. People come here to either get stoned or to get laid. Why the hell should I be any different?

"You got a smoke?" I ask.

"Is that your line?" the whore says.

"You don't need a line for me."

"Maybe I really want a smoke." I'm trying to keep my voice steady. I'm trying to sound cool.

"There's a gas station down the street," she says.

She's wearing too much eye liner and mascara. It makes her look like she's sporting a villain's mask. Still, there's a light coming from behind her brown eyes. They shouldn't look that way. Doesn't she know that? She's too skinny but her legs are nice.

"How much?" I ask. My voice is that of a boy just entering puberty.

"I don't know. I don't smoke."

"No," I laugh. "I mean for you?"

She smiles a pretty smile. It seems too genuine to me. "Fifty bucks gets you a maximum of forty-five minutes," she says. "Anything you want."

"Why not an hour?" 

"Even working girls get a break."

I take my wallet out. "I've only got thirty-three dollars."

She grabs the money before I can completely remove it from my wallet. "This will get you thirty minutes, okay?"

Before I can agree she turns around and enters the apartment building that was behind her. I follow her up to her second floor apartment.

Her place looks a lot like where Sandy and I now call home but it's smaller and a little more run down. There's an old wooden rocking chair with a stack of TV Guides piled high on the seat. Beside the rocker is a white couch with several dark stains on the cushion. An old television with the screen missing sits across the room from both of them.
"Do you prefer the bed or the couch or what?" she asks.

"The bed," I reply before she can take back the question.
She has thick, dark black hair. I think she must have some Native American blood in her or maybe Asian or Pacific. Something opulent.  In another place at another time I might think she is exotic.   I might even sit down and share a beer with her.

In another place. At another time.

While I walk the three miles back home, the air turns from crisp to cold. My t-shirt is not nearly enough to keep me warm. It turned out that I only needed to spend sixteen minutes with Ginger (she told me her name while I was getting dressed - I didn't ask). I left there as quickly as possible. I forgot my sweatshirt but I don't care. I wish I left all my clothes. For a few minutes, Ginger took me far away but it was in the wrong direction. She didn't make me feel like I did before my Tommy's death and she didn't make me forget about him either.

The sky is full of stars, some of them brighter then the others. Perhaps they are planets or maybe even meteors or something. I don’t know. But they know nothing of me or this street I’m walking. Nor do they know about the apartment I call home or the strange woman that sleeps in my bed.

If I had never met Sandy then I would’ve never lost my Tommy. It’s just that simple really. And of course if Lisa had never left me then none of this would’ve happened either.

Lisa. My first real love. The most beautiful woman I ever knew. Why is it there are only two images that ever come to mind when I think of her? Lisa turning to me showing one of her eight different smiles that day long ago at the ocean, and Lisa riding on top of me that last time we ever made love?

Why is it the only image I ever see when I think of Sandy is a little boy dressed in a suit looking like he’s sleeping with his favorite teddy bear wrapped in his lifeless arms?

The apartment is quiet as I lock the door and head into the kitchen for a drink of water. I open the cupboard and reach into the back for the blue sippy cup that's hiding behind the beer mugs. I take it out and fill it halfway with water. Sandy would think I was silly if she saw me like this – shivering in my t-shirt, drinking out of one of my son's old sippy cups. But at least I'm not using the top. Not anymore.

I shake the last drops of water into the sink and place the sippy cup back where I always hide it. For a second my eyes settle on that fly again. He's not hitting his hollow body against the window anymore. He's just walking around in the paint chips on the sill. 

After my shower I trip on Tommy's toy chest as I walk through the darkness in the bedroom. The fact that it is pulled away from the wall tells me that Sandy has been looking through it again. I think to wake her as I climb into bed but the alternative is easier so I let her sleep. Even after my shower I can still smell a mixture of raspberries, coffee, and cigarettes. It's the scent of Ginger. At least her body glitter slipped safely down the shower drain.

Looking out at the nothingness surrounding our bed, my mind drops back to that same hackneyed place: 

I remember Tommy running around the backyard chasing his Sponge Bob Square Pants beach ball - his curly hair bouncing atop his head, his sharp knees rising and falling in an almost perfect march. He would beg me to play soccer with him and I sometimes would, for a few minutes. But then I'd grow tired and bored and I would sit on the patio and watch him and read a book. He would ask me several more times to play with him but I would refuse and eventually lecture him about how he needed to learn how to play on his own. And away he would go and I would watch his hair bouncing for just a couple seconds and wish that his mother would let me get him a hair cut. Then my book's words would take my mind far away again.

When nothing else seemed to be working, I wanted to take Tommy all over the country to try and find a doctor that could save him. Just before the end Sandy told me to stop holding onto false hope. She told me to let our son die in peace. She also said that it was for my own selfish reasons that I wanted to take Tommy to every hematologist in America. I think she may have been right. But why did she have to be so damn self-righteous about it?

"Daddy?" Tommy said.

His hair was gone then. It began its exodus by clinging to his pillow and then it started falling out in chunks - on the slide at the park, in the shopping cart at Wal-Mart, into his pizza at the dinner table. Eventually, I bought a pair of clippers and buzzed it all off. I still have a couple locks stored in a sandwich bag in the armoire beside Tommy's toy chest.
"Yes?" I asked my son.
"Are you sad?"
"A little."
"You look sad."
"I guess I am a little bit," I said.
"I'm fine, sweetheart. Don't you worry about Daddy."
"But will you always be sad?"
"No, of course not."

I knew I was lying to him but I can’t remember if I was lying to myself.

Charles Rose is a former English teacher turned freelance writer. He has one nonfiction book, Inspect Before You Buy, that was published in 2007.
In 2009 his work will appear in Cantaraville and Shoots and Vines. He lives in New York with his wife and 2 kids.


Copyright 2009