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But I am always drawn to that tiny window, hung almost too high up in the brick steeple, dirty pane set in off-white frame set in crumbling grout and blackened coal-smoke stain. As I levelled out the paving around the pool, only the proud, awkward roof strayed above the conifers and the square little window.
They boy slinks in through the arch cut back into the trees, pale and sallow-skinned in his bathing suit. His house and mother both disappeared under the weight of bitter bombs - one narrow, happy residence removed completely from the street during the night. Either side, not even a fallen roof tile.
Swimming seems his last wish - no doubt Cara, Ms. Whitting, has sent him out so she can follow on to check on me, by way of checking on the boy. But he slides into the tinted water nonetheless, turning onto his back and drifting towards the far end, his red-rimmed eyes gazing up at the window as I.
Yes, here she comes, just as I tap the last grey-stone slab back into line, her bleeding heels staking pin-*****s through the squares of turf along the drive-way. She stands under the arch, tight round eyes spearing me in place, as her stilettos keep the fallen leaves in order - her head faces towards the shy, silent boy, but her eyes are all for me. A gift she will not relinquish.
She carries a small rectangular box in one hand. The off-white cardboard is crisp, corners sharp, and the black type ostentatious in its clear-cut uniformity. She hurriedly folds up her arms, tight across her chest, tucking the box back behind her arm. Her stare slices off, wanders out over the hills and conscripted checkerboard fields, shaking her head by fractions of inches in a slow, desperate motion.
The next time I look, Cara is gone – silent, muffled down by history when she requires. My eyes, failing to find their indented resting place, drift back round and onto the boy - lying motionless on top of the water, he still gazes up at the window, with a resolute intent mirrored only inside of me.
Sunlight rips through the grey-scale cloud, fanning sheaves of gold onto and past the glass - lighting the flat, featureless ceiling into polished squares. We both saw the strange, twisted illusion - window pane reflecting the worlds inside and out, projecting sheets of translucent colour that the light caught as dust-motes in the air. A chalk dust, blown tenderly from the final copy, spiked in rainbow shades - the tiny fragile fragments floating, red, green and pink shivered out through the reflection into the conflicted air, hanging above the grounds and gravel. Yellow, orange and blue clinging, caught between the dead white window frame, the black coal-stain brick and the nothing beyond. Purple streams from the soul - twisting out past the enclosed, level pool and paving, stretching comfort out to torn blitz-town and fallen silhouettes.
And through it all, with it all, from it all, thousands of circles danced on the ceiling. Twisted from the pastel shades and sweated tears, each with a perfect, solid dot of white in the centre - drawing it all back in again.
The clouds roll back over - the air chills, and his teeth rattle between swollen lips. We share up the vivid illusion between us, swapping the tiny parts we missed - he gives over one memory: a bolted, white heel through the banisters.
The window is only, innocently that again - just a small, dirty, secret piece of glass.
Now revealing a pale, tired face behind. Ms. Whitting sweeps a fallen twist of black back behind her ear - all as it should be. Good work.
She stands at the top of her house, holding the rectangular box to her chest and again staring out over the country. It’s hard to tell under the veiled light, flat reflections, but she is crying - or bleeding? Something glistens down her cheeks, dropping, wetting the perfect cardboard.
She places the box down, turns - nothing but mirror sheen and memories.
The banisters match up - sitting on the third-floor stairs, cleaning the tread-joints out (to ensure a silent climb into the attics), the two images shivered out, swept by each other, then merged. Perfect.
I see the boy again as he turned awkwardly in the pool and started back the other way - regarding me nervously, but with sharp intent. Do something. Do something. Again the shared memory forced itself into my mind - the pale heel, and another of his:- a new box of chalk pastels, sitting neatly on the small telephone table in the hall.
Don’t let it happen again. Please.
The house isn’t that old - it just assumed the position of a former, forgotten building. But it’s old enough to carry and keep sounds between the walls. The metal rasping could have been a multitude of things - the pipes relaxing after Cara’s bath; the undersupplied cook sending a cascade of pots into the sink; the missing men returned, fencing down the dining hall; the memorial pealing of a fractured bell.
But, to me, it came - could only have come - from one place: up. And I climb the silent stairs - level now with the window I often strain to see - the last, undiscussed addition into the structure.
The door opens easily and the sun threatens to break through again - as it did, back down by the pool, a day seeming far, far away - and I only see the girl. She is hunched back into one corner, the roof sloped down tight, knifing at her head. Legs, too pale, angled too strangely around, stick from a thin cotton shift into the chill attic.
A heap of metal - rods, screws and bolts, is strewn across the room, as thrown. Some of the bolts are crusted over with dry, angry blood mirrored in the round, hard-clotted, infected wounds at her knees and ankles. She spies my tools and her tight, dazed eyes wring their way further back into her head, black hair matted back against the wall.
And all around us, thousands and thousands of circles. Scratched out in chalk pastels - vivid colours, the taste of light and air, dust and flame, bleeding round into each other. Worked deep into the wooden floorboards, fanned out from her corner; trails of perfect colour snaking up the walls, as far as she can reach on broken legs. Endless sheets of rough, thick paper are consumed by circle after circle - shattered blue round to the façade of calm green. Sunlight gold to life-blood red, strung through with sharp purple bruises. And at the centre of each - a pure, untouched whorl of white - shining gently through the confused colours.
“It’s okay - don’t be ... don’t-”
I reach round to unbuckle my tool belt to set it aside, away from the metal frame, but at the movement her body convulses back into the corner, shaking.
Realising she can go no further back, she drags herself sideways, rainbow fingernails pulling on the floorboard cracks - across the stained screws and somehow up onto the heavy desk set in front of the window using only her arms. Frantic hands work at the window frame, pushing, pulling, scratching - I can only stand and watch this tiny, secret girl work through too adult emotions.
She writhes on the desk, chalk pastels new and old smearing her colourless skin the sickly, vivid shades of life. The neat, rectangular box is nowhere to be seen.
The window springs open and a lazy zephyr sweeps in, rousing the fallen chalk dust in great, storm-laced clouds. All I can see through the lucid pastel shades is a frail shape hunched up on the window sill, then nothing but a small, dirty square of blue sky shimmering through a powdered, screaming spectrum
From the window I can see it all – Cara stood under the arch, her skeletal arms folded neatly over each other. She moves out from the shadows, a needle heel of her shoes piercing through the centre of a paper-carved circle fallen with the girl, a toe resting gently on her nothing-skull. The blood bleeds up the red leather, to the white, fresh scars at her knees and the rutted rod-lines slipping from her white-hemmed dress.
She carries a small rectangular box in one hand. The corners are torn, cardboard worn into smooth grey fabric and the faces scratched and stained with red and black. She lifts it up to the air, standing on tiptoes on the hidden girl’s head. Her finger work at the lid, pushing it up for me, her lips trembling. I strain to see down, my hands resting on the brand new pastels scattered on the desk.
A muffled, liquid cry drifts from the pool – the only sound to register in my mind for hours, and it carries on through, deep down into my chest, filling up my lungs.
She steps down and turns – eyes throwing me a relief, a favour, a promise.
The boy is there, floating on his back and staring up with a fallen gaze ringed in deep black-satin failure. Acid eyes curse me, curse my still hands and my perfect, unused legs. His shared memories are snatched back as he dips quietly under the surface, resigned that things will always be like this. Another chance wasted.
But Cara is there, her ration-thinned arms reaching down into the water, straining to grab something of the grief-swollen guest. The tattered box set down beside her, she drags him up onto the level paving and a choking, unrealised breath fills our lungs together.
Framed perfectly on three sides by the tall conifers, and with the open fields beyond, Ms. Whitting stands and turns back – stroking a hand over the boy’s clammy forehead. She gives me a last exhausted look: see, see how simple it was. And her fingers tap against her folded arms, a tiny, secret, weary wave.
At this angle, the trees tops obscure her from view as she walks back towards the house – but she does not appear again under the arch. One final click of proud high-heels curls up through the window, driven down through straight, tended legs. Then there is nothing.
An hour or more I lean heavily on the desk, lungs working heavy through the seared-off moisture. The crumbling, antique pastels rub away into my palms as I stare out over the pool where the boy lies, quiet as ever, living with the sky and the memories he kept back.
He stands, unsure and sad, and gently plucks the worn, loved box from the poolside where she left it. Out through the arch, he kneels down besides the girl – split open across the gravel, struck sharply from the earth beneath. He lays a kiss on her one remaining cheek and wraps the box in her fingers, slowly falling into the future, deep into the blank void. The scattered sheets of paper stir around them: two small, empty, under-dressed children sitting in the breeze.
Her legs he tucks up underneath her, leaving the harsh streaks of chalk to be washed away by rain and crystal tears. Inside, the circles close tighter around the pure white centre. Brown curves through the primary shades – but he whispers back his thanks and steps away with the years.
The house shifts and settles back down under the recursive weight.
Each one of the circles is broken up and slowly worn back into the walls, the pool drains, the paving cracks, and the blood works down through the covered soil.
> did this story win on gameaday!
Me not know what that mean...
Everything makes sense to me.
Most new members have to concentrate so hard on not drooling on the keyboard they can't read anything longer than 2 lines.
I take it you'll be writing as well as reading? Fresh blood is always good.
[S]I also take it that you were listening to ambient music rather than reading the sound straight from the air
I also take it
*pops a partypopper*
I'll hire a stripper.
More thanks to everyone who read it.