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- Windowgazer - SECOND SECOND DRAFT
- My mother generally worked two jobs to support my father and I. She somehow still found time to leave me Tupperware dinners in the fridge. My dad, on the other hand, was quick, quiet, ever lurking. He would always introduce himself to company as a magician, though I do not believe he’d worked a day in his life. He could disappear small objects and reappear them (or not, if he chose). He would show up just as the work finished, and deftly vanish when an argument started. He was there, watching, when he appeared absent, and always absent when he seemed to be there. I sometimes wondered whether mother knew he inhabited the house with us.
- So many memories I have begin as though I had stepped out of a fog, and so many more that cut short at some pivotal point. My mother shouting at me to clean my room, I stand on the stairs and shout back down at her and then…hours later I’m sitting at the end of my bed wondering who had cleaned my room. Another memory, me working in the garden my mother asked my father to care for. I put down the trowel just as the task is complete and wonder why I did this, when had I started?
- And for a long time I blamed these half-gone thoughts, my history of absent-mindedness, on some genetic aberration or a sign that I had never truly been all the way there. But then I found her swinging to and fro in the garden shed and before screaming, before the initial shock of my mother, dead, I had a different and competing horror take root in my brain. My stomach clenched and for a few moments before the tears came, I remembered something that I realized had always been there, a memory in my head that had gone unnoticed until now. A swinging pendulum, held by a strangling, masculine pair of fingers. It dangled down before my face, swinging to and fro much like my sweet, dead mom. That image represented to me a dissolve, a loss of memory, a trance and a taking of my faculties.
- My father was in and out for the days leading up to the funeral, spurred to action with a red nose and heavy bags beneath his eyes, speaking on the phone to relatives and funeral directors and flower shops and directing the delivery man on where to set this basket or that box and in those brief moments where we shared the same room I heard him speak more than I think I had in my entire life. I did not say much, nor was I able to look him in the eyes. I got the sense he did not much want that either. Instead I sat on the couch, laid in my bed, sprawled across the back porch, welcoming in the gnawing emptiness.
- And then the funeral and then we’re home again and it’s night outside and I don’t remember how I got into my room but I see a pair of red eyes staring at me out my window and that sparks some memory of…of what? I look again to the window, trying to hold onto that fleeting image, but it is gone and there was never any red eyes looking through that window anyway. The window was open, though, and I had not done that. I stood and crossed the room to shut it and thought I glimpsed a small something crossing the lawn down below.
- Yes, the red eyes. I had nightmares as a child of some thing with an impossibly long neck staring at me through my window on the second floor of our home. This dream happened quite often and was always this same image, glimpsed from my bed, appearing and disappearing as quick in the middle of the night. And now here I was, sitting in bed, peering through the window of my mind at this child version of myself, watching hungrily, searching for some sort of answer.
- I charge my phone and stash it outside, leaning beside a bush lining the shed. I start recording and then return to my room. It takes me hours to sleep and I keep watching the window expectantly but nothing appears and I sleep dreamlessly and five hours later the sun is up and I return to find my phone still running.
- Skimming the footage, I watch hours pass with no activity. The trees shift rapidly in the wind. A rabbit hops across the frame and back again. And then my father walks from the house to the shed. Minutes, an hour passes and a long-necked black thing stands outside my window. Wait. Back up. My father carrying this thing. Setting it up. Stretching its neck up and up and up. A video camera. It peers into my room with a red, REC eye. He stands beside the camera while time passes, and then a few minutes later he breaks the camera down and hauls it back to the shed. I swear he glances right at my phone as he does this.
- I begin to sweat from my scalp and down along my spine. A horrible feeling sets in as I desperately wrack my brain for some intention. I search for a reason why. A meaning. I fall short. I need answers. Righteous indignation replaces my fear and I shove the phone in my pocket.
- Where is he? I open the door to the shed despite every ounce of me not wanting to return to the scene of my dreadful discovery. I try to slow my breathing as I scan the shelves and the walls for this monstrous recording device, but I can only find my mother’s gardening equipment, her mower, her terracotta and her bird seed. It had to be here somewhere. He had to be here somewhere. But I found nothing. Eventually I find myself staring through the window of my mind at the last time I stood in this room. My mother, swinging. The pendulum swinging. A thought occurs to me and I walk over to peer at the items on the shelf beside the mower. I’m looking for something and I find it.
- I return to the house and open my mouth to shout for my dad, demanding he appear before me, but stop myself short. He is there. In the doorway. I am a full foot taller than him, and he permanently has his shoulders set forward, decreasing his stature even further. He has no hair on his head and little more than stubble on his unshaven face. His eyes are red and beady and he has long strips of sagging skin which droop down across his cheeks as though he has not slept in years. He is wearing white gloves and black trousers and a belt with a brass buckle and his lips move but I cannot hear him because I have an earplug pressed firmly into each of my ears.
- “What happened to her?” I demand. His lips move in response but I hear nothing. I think I see him form the words “better to not remember” but I am unsure. He appears on the verge of tears. He takes a step toward me, opening his arms, but I straighten my back and he gets the point.
- I see his lips form the words, “Let’s take a moment and breathe” and I recognize these words as something I’ve heard a thousand times. He reaches into his breast pocket and produces a golden watch on a silver chain. He dangles it in front of my face and I watch, unafraid. My eyes begin to droop and he motions for me to sit in the chair beside the front door. I do so obediently, not quite sure whether this action is of my own accord or not. He smiles sadly at me and urges me to keep watching the body swinging by the rope, back and forth, my mother in the garden shed, her tongue fat and her eyes bulging and a crimson bruise across her neck. He stops and I feel dumb. My eyes swim in my head. He opens the watch face and inside is a small strip of metal. He produces another implement from his pocket. A small silver hammer. He strikes the strip of metal. I realize now I am supposed to be gone. My mind wiped clean. But I do not hear the sound and this realization brings me from the edge of my stupor and I instead play along, lying back in the chair. He smiles at me. I’m not sure whether to close my eyes, and so I do. I breathe evenly, attempting to hide my quivering fury. I want to stand and strangle this pathetic man. But I don’t. I wait.
- Minutes pass before I open my eyes again. A video camera is staring at me with its red, REC eye. It’s set up so very close to my face. What purpose could this serve? I remove my earplugs and listen carefully for any sound, any indication he might be nearby. I hear nothing. I peer through the camera’s viewfinder and it is indeed recording the now-empty chair before it. I hit stop, and then rewind. Minutes of my fake sleep. And then the scene jumps and I am asleep in my bed. Last night. And then it jumps again and there I am, sleeping. And again. And then the frame changes and I am staring my sleeping mother in the face and I have to force myself to swallow. To take a breath. This must have been in the nights leading up to her death. She looks exhausted, though she sleeps. And on and on this footage crawls backward, revealing the same scene, the same event, the same characters, over and over and over again. I back away from the viewfinder.
- Somewhere beyond the house I hear a deep and guttural moaning. It rises shrilly and then dies. I step outside and glance around. The shed door swings in the wind. I walk up to the building yet again and take a deep breath. I step inside. My father is not here, but one of the crates along the back wall has been hastily shoved to one side. I inspect the area and find a cellar door I had never noticed before. My mother was in this building almost every day. She had to have known it was here. Or could she simply have overlooked it, just like me?
- I pull open the door and climb down the poorly made ladder. I have to crouch to follow along the tunnel at the bottom. It leads into a gray, monochrome darkness. I place my hands out and step forward carefully, trying to mask the sound of my breathing and my footfalls. Eventually I find a corner and beyond that, a dim, flickering light and a buzzing sound.
- My father moans again up ahead.
- The tunnel opens up into a small, dusty room with two chairs and a crate between them. He is sitting in one of the chairs and as I stand he makes no move to acknowledge me. He is peering instead at the wall, across which light dances, forming an image. A window and a sleeping woman. My mother. His wife.
- Part of me desperately wants to leave. I am beyond processing any of this. I step around the chair to confront my father, to look him in the face.
- I recoil in horror.
- His red, REC eyes mimic the light of a recording device. His Adam's apple undulates in time with the dancing light before him. Every so often a deep, mournful sob escapes that throat but is choked off quickly by whatever inhuman task his body is performing.
- And the light. It streams from his puckered lips. They form a small hole through which the the recording escapes out of him and onto the wall, as though he is vomiting up these memories for an audience of one.
- I speak his name and he does not respond. His eyes do not or cannot tear away from the wall. I shake him and find his body to be solid, as though it is unmovable. I realize I must wait for him to finish if I’m to speak with him, and so I do. I sit in the chair beside him. I don’t want to watch, I don’t want to look at my sleeping mother, his secret recording, but I do.
- My father continues to weep beside me. His tears shimmer in the red of his eyes. My beautiful mother sleeps soundlessly. She’s not in her bed, I realize, but somewhere else entirely. A dark, ill-defined place. Somewhere I have never seen before. And she looks peaceful. She is smiling, I understand now, and all of this is too much and I begin to cry along with my father as we sit, gazing upon the flickering light of the woman we both love.
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