A woman ponders the lure of an attic window.
|"…to always remember today from this window," my mother finished her memory, her hand tracing my braid down to the rubber band. Her long, long story stayed in the back of my mind; I thought about it every day for a couple months, and then I would recall it every few days, and even into my thirties. Every once in a while it would come up in the back of my brain and haunt me for hours, never stopping until I at last fell into sleep.
I told my wife about; my kids knew every word and would stop me and finish the story for me, all in the attitude of having heard enough of it. My grandchildren, when they came along, doted on it, urging to tell and retell the story every night before bedtime when they stayed with Martha and me. The dog, likewise, didn't tire of hearing it retold and rehashed. Or maybe it was the treat I gave him afterwards.
I don't think the mystery was ever solved—in my mind, at least. I had some pretty good ideas, but someone would always find some fault in the logic, some error in the timing, some fact that prevented a solution from being so.
It was the window in the attic, the one that faced the field where the horses were once kept, and then the corn and beans were planted. It was a dirty window, streaked with not only the grime from the dust of the farm but also from the atmosphere of the old house. For over a hundred years oily smoke from lanterns brought down the cobwebby dust, the shedded, dead skin of maybe four generations of my family who had lived and pranced and spun around in this house. It was the particulate matter of old disintegrating leather, of fraying wallpaper, the broken-down fibers of wool and cotton, the lost hairs of countless children who ventured into that upper-most cavern with its high ceiling topped by roof rafters stained by relentless rains and snows that penetrated between the shakes and the separations of the clapboards.
The window was so dirty it couldn't be washed. The glass was purplish in places and had that old wavering look with pits and peaks from when the molten silica dropped slowly from a steel roll.
She said, my mother did, when I was six or eight or nine or fourteen, "I want you to come up here often and just sit by this window," and this is where she would spit on her fingers to clear away a spot where we could look out, "and see out towards that tree in the back. That's where I'd tie up Belinda, that old plough horse that would let me ride her out to the crick. Sammy and I would fish down there… or pick flowers." It seemed she always trailed off when she mentioned Sammy's name. I caught her crying one day at that point in the story. As I got older and was beginning to discover romance, I conjured that Sammy was some childhood sweetheart, and I asked her that; I asked this during one of the very last sessions at that window, my mother dealing with middle-age and the health of my father, the waywardness of my two brothers. Her forehead wrinkled and her eyes tightened, and after a long pause she simply said, "He was a friend of mine." I never knew more than that, a fishing friend, the only child around who was her age, lonely like her for playmates.
Or Belinda, the horse who lay buried on the top of a little hill, not more than a bump on the hundred or so acres, a rotting board with faded lettering marking her place in the family's history. She was the big pet of my mother, who also had little pets—two dogs, some cats, a goat, and numerous calves that made it to market and never much older. Mother rode that gentle beast nearly every day, she said, her bare legs chafing from the coarse hair and sweaty lather of its broad chest and back.
Then, too, there was the expanse of it all, the distance you could look without seeing anything human or mechanical, no smoke—until winter—no field hands most of the time. Just the far reaches of meadows and trees and brooks until you could see the top of a faraway barn and the silo behind it. That must have been where Sammy lived. She said, once, that she would run up to the attic to see if he was coming, how far he had got, whether he was running or just walking, and she would point to a clearer spot on the top of one of the panes that was scratched with sandpaper in a futile attempt to clean it. That's where she would look for him, the roughness of the glass making him look fuzzy and warped, and she would laugh about it—and say no more.
Whatever drew her to that window drew me, too. Many times, when I was little and often when I was a teenager and until I got married and moved away from the farm, I would steal up to the window to sit in the old kitchen chair that had been painted many times and gaze out to see what my mother must have seen.
I never solved the mystery of that window, and it will never be solved since my brother removed it to replace it with a new Anderson double-hung, breaking and pulverizing the old casement and glass and leaving it as ashes in the burn pile.