The sky was grey, foggy, and miserable. It had snowed the day before, but more often it rained, no matter how cold it was. James had liked his old life back in his homeland, but his family would not have it. There was so much death all around them, a change of scenery would be good for them. James didn’t know much about it, but they were also pressed for money, and they longed to start a new life in the promised land. As such, James looked around the empty room that was to be his in the little apartment. They had moved to the dirtiest slum New York had to offer, but since there were only his parents and his grandmother left, he would get his own room. It was really just an oversized closet with a window on the wall. There was room only for the small bed, a wire construct with a dirty mattress atop, that could be folded up against the wall. Over the head of the bed hung an old cracked portrait of the Virgin Mother, and a little metal crucifix hung on a necklace from the corner of the bed.
He thought of his old window back in his room at their farm. Really it wasn’t his room. He shared it with his cousins Franz and Anya. Until they died. That window really was something. It displayed through its crystal clear frame the beautiful rolling hills of Ireland. They were brilliant green, dotted with grey fence lines, black sheep and white sheep, ducks in little ponds and mud puddles. He loved to stare out that window, at that beautiful blue sky. In the morning just before the sun came up, a layer of fog covered the land, glowing softly in the blue twilight. It was so still and quiet it seemed God Himself could not perturb it. It was timeless.
This window was nothing of the sort. The edges were clouded with fog and grime. Through the dirty glass he could see nothing but the decaying brick wall of the building next to theirs. They were on the third floor, and many clothes lines stretched from their building to the next, with wet sticky clothes hanging from the eaves. A pigeon lay curled up in a warm ball on the ledge just outside, which was covered in bird droppings, smeared with water and ice. Across the way, another window stood like a mirror to his. Through it he could see a bed against the far wall, and a desk next to the window with a little wooden chair pulled up next to it and a lamplight perched on the edge. The room was empty, and he wondered who lived in it.
James set his bag down on the bed, which creaked in protest and let off a cloud of dust. He sat down on it and curled into a ball, rocking back and forth. The wallpaper was peeling a bit in the corners, revealing rotted yellow walls behind. In the very bottom corner across from the door, a little black hole signaled the home of a mouse. There were black droppings swept up against the bottoms of the walls around it. There was a rack behind the door to lay clothes on top of, and hang below. A curtain hung from the ceiling in front of it, and a little wooden cabinet sat at the very bottom for shoes. James bent down and opened it. It was empty. He pulled out the drawer at the top. In it sat the Holy Bible, clean and shimmering like new, resting on a bed of dust. He left the cabinet opened, peering into it, as he backed away, sitting once again at the bed. He looked up at the ceiling, which contained a single light bulb hanging down on a wire. There were cobwebs in the corners, but no spiders. He sat still all afternoon, looking out the window.
James’ parents put him in the local Catholic school for boys, where he sat in his first class on his first day. He was eight years old, in the third grade. The desks were rickety at best, many of which broken. The room was heated by a little wood-burning stove in the teacher’s corner. James sat in the back next to the window. The other kids commiserated in little groups, blowing bubbles with their gum, flipping yoyos about, tossing playing cards on the desks in little groups of coin gamblers.
“What’s your name, newbie?” one of them asked him.
“What’s your poison, Jimmy?”
“I said James.”
He laughed. “Get this prim little prick. He ain’t no Jimmy, he a prim and proper James.” He took no offense, and seemed rather good-natured, albeit irreverent. “They call me Blackjack, but that ain’t my Christian name. I’m a regular silver hand in the game o’ Blackjack. That’s why they call me Blackjack. But that ain’t my Christian name. My Christian name’s George, George Sebastian Petty. My granddad was Sir Holcombe Petty, a naval cadet. What was your granddad?”
“My granddad’s dead.”
“But what was he before he was dead?”
“I don’t know. A factory worker, I think.”
“That’s some job, don’t you think? Workin’ with your hands all day. Workin’ with machines all day. Workin’ in the dark all day. That’s some job. Ain’t that some job, Jimmy?”
“Call me James, please.”
“But ain’t that some kinda job? You gotta think it’s some kinda job or it ain’t. I’m just a sayin’ it is. Don’t ya think so?”
“Damn right it is, Jimmy. It’s some kinda job alright, that’s damn straight.”
A new kid joined in. “For Christ’s everlovin’ sake, Blackjack, can’t you call the man James like he says?”
“Watch that mouth, Benny. Jesus everlovin’ Christ ain’t got nothin’ to do with this discussion and needn’t be mentioned in business that ain’t His. Don’t pay any mind to Benny. He’s the fat kid in the school. You know every school’s got a fat kid in it, whose only job is to run his mouth and stay fat. Well, that’s Benny there. He’s our fat kid. And he knows it too. He don’t mind a bit. Don’t pay any mind to him though, you hear?”
James looked at the kid. He was pretty big, though nothing to scoff at. He had a round face with puffy cheeks, and his belly came to the edge of the desk, though they were awfully small. “Pleased to meet you.”
“I ain’t the one who runs my mouth,” Benny defended, gesturing to Blackjack.
“Shut up, fatty. Ain’t a guy got a right to talk to the new kid? Don’t pay any mind to Benny there. That’s the fat kid’s job to sit there and have everybody pay no mind to him. Where you from, newbie?”
“Well, we all from the old Land of the Ire, kid. I meant, where you movin’ from?”
“I ain’t from Ireland, Blackjack,” Benny protested.
“Yes you are, Benny. You just too dumb to know it. You the Irest of us all.”
The teacher walked in, a tall man in a black priest’s suit, carrying a Bible, a textbook, some notebooks, and in the other hand a few sticks of chalk. All the kids that weren’t at their desks put away their playthings and scampered to their seats respectfully.
“Okay boys. Time for work. For the new student, James Denison, I’m Father Thomas, and I’ll be your teacher for what remains of this year. Now, let’s review what we did yesterday…”
He proceeded to open his textbook and notebooks and scrawl some things on the blackboard, white chalk squeaking against the flat board, clicking and giving off a cloud of dust, and coating the teacher’s hands white.
James turned and gawked out the window.
That night James sat on his bed bent over the new textbook they gave him at the school. He read through some of the parts he was supposed to know already, and tried doing some of the problems the teacher had talked about that day. Whenever he felt puzzled or bored he gazed offhandedly out the window. One such time he looked out the window and through the opposite window saw the occupant of the room across the way. She was beautiful. She was a teenager, at least fifteen, with dark, nearly black hair and red lips and brown eyes. She sat behind her desk, lamplight illuminating her face. Her hair was swept behind one ear, eyes fixed on whatever problem lay on the desk below her. James watched her, watched her fingers move the pencil across the desk, watched her eyes dart about, taking in the information on the desk, watched her hair fall over her eyes and her hand sweep it back in its rightful place. He was entranced by the girl, unable to look away.
She glanced up and caught James’ eye, and looked at him. He quickly looked away, back at his textbook, pretending not to see her. But after a moment, he looked at her to check if she had noticed. She had. She still sat watching, little smile on her face, leaning back in her chair with her arms crossed. When he mustered the strength to stare back, her little smile became a big smile, lighting up the room. Her eyes captured him, refusing to let him go. For many long moments they just stared at each other, smiling. Finally she returned to her task at hand, but the smile of self-consciousness remained. James returned to his textbook as well, but every few seconds, their eyes would leap away from their respective tasks to the window, and once every couple of leaps they would both land in synchrony for a moment of blissful eye contact. James knew she knew he was watching her. Every sweep of her hair, biting her lip, every sigh, licking her lips, closing her eyes to shake her hair back, was planned. It was all for him now. She knew he saw her. She wanted him to see her. She did everything as if he didn’t see her, but she knew he did and it gave both of them a rush. He didn’t read another word that night. His eyes skimmed over the words dryly, and just before they could register in his mind, he looked up at the brunette beauty and she washed all the words right out of his head.
“This is Sam. Don’t call him Sammy now, it’s Sam.”
“There now, Blackjack. Why do you call James Jimmy and you won’t call Sam Sammy?”
“Shut up, fatty. Nobody gives a rat’s white ass why I call somebody the way I call them. Don’t mind Benny. He’s the fat kid. Don’t nobody gotta pay no mind to the fat kid.”
They were playing street hockey in the dirty street outside Sam’s house. Some of them used sticks but others just used their feet. There were a few other kids playing too. Benny was the goalie. His job was to stand at one end of the street with his legs spread, and if you got the ball under his legs, you scored a point. If you missed, or if Benny slapped the ball away, you didn’t get your point. More often than not, the ball would go sailing perfectly through Benny’s legs, and he would grapple about for it until he fell on his ass, then have to get up and chase it down the street for the next round.
“Hi James. I gotta crook in my leg on account o’ bein’ dropped off a second story balcony as a baby. That’s why my momma spends more time in the confessional than St. Pius. She ain’t never got over that guilt, but I don’t mind all that much. I can’t run worth a damn, but I got a good head on my shoulders, that’s what my daddy says. Ain’t nobody gotta be runnin’ worth a damn if they got a good head on they shoulders. That’s what my daddy says.”
“Don’t nobody give a damn about yo daddy, Sam. And don’t nobody give a goddamn about yo gimpy-ass leg. Quit yappin’ and watch the ball.”
“It’s my street, Blackjack. I’ll yap all I want on my own street. We play the hockey on your street, I’ll be quiet as a mouse, but on my street, I’ll yap all I please.”
“Here it comes!” Blackjack warned, and slammed the ball with his stick in Sam’s direction. Sam caught it expertly and sent it sailing over Blackjack’s head back toward Benny the goalpost. Another kid tried to stop it but accidentally tipped it and caused it to go under the goal where before it would not have.
“Damnit, Valentine! Ain’t you got sense enough to send a ball where it ought to be sent? That’s the third time them rickety’s got a point and we just barely got started.”
Lot’s of what Blackjack said started with “Damnit.” That’s how James learned everybody’s names. Whoever did something to earn one of Blackjack’s “Damnit!“s got a nice and proper introduction bellowed out across the street.
“Valentine ain’t his Christian name,” Blackjack informed James. “We just call him that on account o’ he’s good with the ladies. That’s a nice thing to be, good with the ladies, that is, so my daddy says. I ain’t never tried myself. They piss the hell out o’ me. They don’t talk about sensible things. Ever anybody ever piss the hell out o’ you by talkin’ ‘bout nothin’ all the time, Jimmy?”
“Damn straight. Well that’s what them ladies do to me, and I can’t stand ‘em. Say, why you so damn quiet all the time? I ain’t never met nobody so quiet as you before. You scared o’ talkin’?”
“Don’t no matter if a man likes not to talk, Blackjack,” Sam defended. “You oughta try it sometime.”
“Oh shut up, Sam. A man’s got a right to talk. I’m just tryin’ to get to know the new kid - hey, where you going?”
James turned. “I gotta go home.”
“But we just started playing. What in hell do you have at home that needs doing?”
“I just gotta go.”
“Aw, come on. At least finish the game with us.”
“Give it a rest Blackjack,” Sam interjected. “A man’s gotta right to go home. I’ll walk with ya.”
Sam threw an arm around his shoulders and they walked off. “You know, when they took me to the hospital afterwards - I don’t remember any of this by the way, I was only a buck and a half when all this happened - the doctors said I wouldn’t never walk again, on account of my legs gettin’ all gimped up. But they put me with the proper rebahilitation, braces on my legs and all - this part I remember, I wore me braces on my legs until I was five - and with that proper care I was walkable again. My left leg actually healed up pretty good. It’s the right one that never set back the way it was supposed to, no matter how hard they tried. The brace on my left leg got took off when I was two and a half. It’s the right one that they had me wearin’ till I was five. Once when I was six I fell out of a tree - don’t ask why I was climbin’ it with a gimped up leg in the first place - and I fell, but God was with me that day, that’s what my momma said. Just a few bruises. She thought for sure I’d gimp up my legs for good that day - say, didn’t you say you moved from Ireland?”
“Yeah. Just a week ago. By boat.”
“Huh. Well, anyhow, like I was sayin’ my momma thought my legs would get messed up again, but God had sent his angels down from Heaven right then and they did a good job catchin’ me before I hit the ground, that’s what my momma said. I don’t know if that’s true though, it still hurt like hell. Seems to me if God was gonna help you out, and send His angels down from Heaven to catch you, they’d have the sense to lay you down on the ground a bit gentler than they did me. If I were God, that’s what I’da done. Them angels coulda done a better job, by me anyway. But it is what it is, and I hadn’t messed ‘em up anymore since that.” He went on and on, hobbling his way down the block. He asked a few questions for James along the way, but didn’t seem too interested in the answers. They made it to James’ apartment and he gestured to the one next door.
“Do you know who lives in that building?”
“That one? Let’s see. Can’t say I do. One building past that there’s an old lady on the first floor with a million billion cats. Next block a kid named Scotty lives with his parents and aunts and uncles and a dozen or so cousins.”
“But you don’t know who lives in this one? It’s a pretty brunette girl, a teenager, on the third floor.”
“Hmm, let’s see. I don’t know nobody like that. Oh, wait, I think I do know who you’re talking about. There’s this one girl my brother told me about, I think she lives right here, name of, um, damn what is it? Mary, I think. No, Beatrice. That’s it. Might be Mary though. But I think it’s Beatrice. Why?”
When James was ready to go to sleep that night he ventured a look out the window and saw a breathtaking sight. The girl was kneeled over the bed, back to him, saying her evening prayers, naked as the day she was born. James walked over to the window and peered out. Sure enough, her head bowed down over her bed, dark brown hair rippling over her shoulders. Beneath which a perfect white back arched downward to a slender waist, and the most perfect smooth white ass he’d ever seen. Not a tattoo or a mole or anything to stain God’s handiwork. He stared for many minutes while she spoke to the Lord in her most natural form, an elegant pale beauty between the dirty red brick beyond the dirty grey sky. James prayed that she would turn around, show him more of her form.
When she was finished speaking to the Lord, she stood up and walked outside the window’s view. Her sideways profile flashed through the window for an instant, revealing a moment’s worth of breast and the utterly perfect curve of her body, from her neck to her feet. When she reentered the window she was clad in pajamas, and crawled in bed, under the covers. She caught James’ eye and smiled and gave a little wave, then turned out the lights. The room went dark. James continued to watch the little black square for a long time, seeing the nothing beyond that really was anything but nothing. He stared as long as he could until sleep took him.
When he woke up the next morning, the window was still dark. It was very early on a Sunday morning. James got up to take his Sunday bath before anyone else got the bathroom. He took his bath and put on his Sunday clothes and combed his hair and polished his shoes and returned to his room, just as the rest of the house was waking up. He spent the morning watching the window, which was not dark any longer, but now empty. For the hour or two before his family was ready to go, he just sat on his bed staring.
“James, honey, you have to wake up now,” his mother called, coming in through his door. Seeing him fully dressed on the bed, she corrected herself. “Oh, how nice, you’re ready to go. Wait by the door and entertain your grandmother.” She left as quickly and inconsequentially as she’d come in. James took one last look out the window, and hopped down and made his way to the door.
His grandmother, a withered old statue, sat in a chair by the door, fully dressed and ready to go.
“Good morning, grandma.”
She didn’t respond, or even notice he had spoken. She sat still and silent in her chair, hands folded across her lap, eyes fixed on some point on the wall across from her. Her eyes were like the icy waters of the North Atlantic they had crossed. They contained nothing, only an endless plane of cold void. She had lost too. Children. Grandchildren. Husbands. They had all lost, but she was the matriarch. It was no wonder all she could do was sit in one place, melt down to nothing until the Lord took her as well.
James paced by the door, watching his statue of a grandmother, until his mother and father came in their best wardrobes and ushered them out the door. His father took him around the shoulders, and his mother helped grandma to her feet. They made their way down the stairs and out into the biting chill of dawn. Grey clouds hung in the sky, and a light misty rain graced their six block walk to the church. His father kept his big hand on James’ shoulder all the way, but didn’t find anything to say. He, like his father before him, was too a factory worker. Those hands made their life here possible. It would probably be James’ fate as well. His father’s stone blue eyes stared ahead, deep in thought, or deep in the effort of avoiding the inevitable thoughts that haunted him. He too was a statue, of the will to keep his family alive.
They sat in the magnificent cathedral at Mass, graced by beautiful stained glass windows and ceilings high enough for God’s angels to perch if they wished, and watch the worshippers below. And of course the King Himself perched over them in the front, watching them from His cross, eternal pain and sadness carved into stone. At His feet, the royal priest stood among his golden candles and goblets of wine and wafers of bread on silver plates. His words echoed mightily through the great chamber, ringing loud in the bowed ears of the faithful.
James noticed in the next row of pews near the very front the familiar dark brown hair of the girl in the window. He couldn’t tell for sure until she turned in just the right way and he could make out the profile of her face. He knew it was her by the shape of her chin, her lips, her nose, without seeing the whole. She was clad in a black dress, hair collected respectfully in an elegant formation behind her head, so as not to offend the Lord by its all too sexual freeform.
Before they left, James waited in the line for the confessional. He was near the back, but up ahead he saw her nearer the front. He wondered if she intended to confess herself a seducer, or if she kept it for herself. James knew he must confess temptation and perhaps carnal knowledge, though he might well keep that for himself. That one was accidental after all. He wondered if he ought to mention impure thoughts, but he honestly couldn’t remember a single thought in his head while he was watching her. When his eyes were in that window, there was nothing in his mind but her. There was no room for thought. Nonetheless, he decided to mention it just to make sure, and to help make up for carnal knowledge. After the line was exhausted he told the priest of his sins and was issued a small penance and forgiven. Strange that James didn’t feel relieved as he should have. Important though he knew it was, he didn’t feel much like being forgiven. It seemed to dampen the magic he felt from the window.
Just that very night he looked out the window and there she was, nude, standing at the window in full view. She had her feet crossed, throwing one hip aside asymmetrically, head turned down to the ground, one hand running about between her breasts. They were so perfect, like a statue of a Greek goddess. Her hair flowed like a waterfall down her shoulders. Her bright eyes and lips were like jewels on this pearl beauty. He saw the way her neck descended and spread into her body, separated into perfect round breasts, the line running down her navel, down into the hair between her legs, down into oblivion that was anything but oblivion. All this sheer statuesque beauty supported on two slender legs arcing gracefully to the ground. But no, her legs did not need to carry the great weight of perfection; rather they were there to anchor her to the ground, for surely the rest of her would take off soaring to Heaven were it not held firmly to the earth.
James stared for the long minutes that she just stood there, bearing every inch of beauty God had blessed her with. Finally she met his eyes and smiled, mouthed the words “good night,” and disappeared into darkness. James slept soundly all night long, the window comforting him like a warm blanket in this cold world.
“Damnit, Roger! Are you just dumb or what? There ain’t been no witches in these parts since Salem and that was a couple hundred years ago. That’s Roger, Roger Avery. He likes playing games and pretending things are about that really aren’t. That’s just ’cause he’s two years younger than all of us. Two years ago we were all probably dumb and fantastical as him, but now we got some sense in us.”
“No, Blackjack. I saw her! I swear to God, she lives in that old rickety house in the bog.”
“Damn, Roger, ain’t we be needin’ to be swearin’ on God, now. ‘Specially regardin’ something silly as this. You needa swear on something, swear on your cat, or your left foot or something like that. Don’t we be needin’ to swear on the Good Lord on issues ridiculous as this.”
“Alright, then I swear on my left foot, but I ain’t got no cat to swear on. There’s a little graveyard behind her house and I saw her sittin’ on one of the graves - she had herself turned into a black cat, see - and when she saw me, her eyes glowed bright green like the fires o’ Hell, and she ran off. After that she disappeared so I couldn’t chase after her.”
“Roger, your ass is so dumb I could beat it in a game o’ checkers, and I can’t play checkers worth a damn.”
“It’s true, I tell ya, I’d swear it on my left foot!”
“Oh, take your left foot and shove it up your ass. There ain’t no such thing as witches, and there ain’t no such thing as disappearin’ cats. They just smarter than you. If somethin’s smarter than you it can escape from your sight if it wants.”
“Well, come on and I’ll prove it to you. Let’s all go over to the bog and we’ll just see!”
“I ain’t hikin’ my ass two miles to no bog to see some shit that ain’t there.”
“Yeah, that’s just ‘cause you a chicken, that’s why. You a yellow turkey too scared o’ seein’ a witch. You shakin’ in your boots. You’ll do anything not to go over to that bog.”
“Aw, damnit Roger. Now why’d you have to go sayin’ something like that? Jimmy? What do you make of all this?”
“I don’t believe in witches.”
“See there? Jimmy don’t believe in witches either.”
“Two miles is a bit rough on my legs,” Sam interjected.
“Yeah, I don’t wanna be hikin’ two miles. Hell then we’d just have to hike it right back after we done,” Benny agreed.
“Aw, your fat ass wouldn’t hike two miles to see the homecoming queen’s pussy.”
“I would so, Blackjack! But you said so yourself you wouldn’t hike two miles to see some damn cat.”
“Fine, screw all you guys,” Roger Avery cried. “I’ll hike it my damn self and bring back proof!”
“Okay, fine,” Blackjack agreed. “That’s fair. Now, every witch I ever heard of has a crystal ball, or pearl or something, which she uses to spy on folks and see the future. You come back with that, and we’ll believe you.”
“I will so!” he exclaimed, and scampered off.
“What a dumb ass. Hey Benny, I betcha ten cents I beat you to that bridge, even after a ten second head start.”
“You’re on!” he yelled and sprinted off toward the bridge. Blackjack called out to him his count and on ten, sprinted after him.
Sam watched them and laughed. “You ever seen a homecoming queen’s pussy, James?”
“I don’t know any homecoming queens.”
“Well, hell, they’re the teenagers that go to other schools, the pagan kind. Every year they give the prettiest one a crown and call her the queen for a year. Seein’ as she’s the prettiest one, figures that she’s got the prettiest pussy, so folks all try to get a look. I ain’t seen one myself, but I seen homecoming queens before, and man, they sure right about the pretty part.”
“You remember that girl I was telling you about? The one that lives next to me?”
“Yeah, Mary right?”
“I don’t know her name.”
“I told you. My brother told me about her. It’s Mary.”
“You said it was Beatrice.”
“Oh, yeah. It might be.”
“Well, anyhow, whatever her name is, every night she takes off her clothes and lets me watch her in the window.”
“No shit? That’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
“Guess nothin’! That’s pretty damn cool.”
“Yes it is.”
“You think I can come over sometime?”
“No, I don’t think she’d like that. I’m not sure why, but she seems to be doing it just for me.”
“You ain’t full of shit, are you?”
“No. I’m telling the truth.”
“Alright, how many moles she got on her?”
“Huh. Why you think she’s doing that for you? You think she’s just screwing with you?”
“Maybe. Wait a minute, how would you know how many moles she has?”
“I don’t. But most folks if they were lyin’ would say two. It’s always two. Ask some kid who says he got drunk with his older brother how many shots he did, he’ll say two. Ask a kid who says he got attacked by a man-eatin’ dog how many times he got bit, he’ll say twice. Ask a kid who says he got the Red Death how many weeks he was sick, he’ll say two. You see? Anyone who says two is full of shit.”
“Didn’t you say you fell out of a second story balcony to mess up your legs?”
“The second story?”
“Oh, ha, that’s pretty good. I’ll have to remember that one. But that’s actually true. You can ask my momma. Anyway, why you think she’s doing this for you?”
“I don’t know. Haven’t given so much thought to it. I’m too busy enjoying it to think about it.”
“Well you better think about it. Chicks like that always want something. Ain’t no chick that’ll show you her wits just for the hell of it. ’Specially no Christian chicks.”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
That night at the window, he saw the girl lying on the bed, nude, feet toward him. She ran her hands all along her body, letting one hand stop at her pussy. She spread her legs at the window and moved her hand up and down along it, opening it up for him. He saw everything. It was fascinating. He watched as her face changed, eyes closed all along. He watched her mouth open and close. He watched her head loll back and forth. He watched her breasts move about with the motion. He watched her get faster and faster until her mouth opened all the way and her eyes squinted shut, and her other hand gripped the sheets into a fist. Then everything slowed down. She continued heaving about slowly and sensually, breathing deep breaths, stroking her hand softly. She opened her eyes and looked at James, right into his eyes, and did not let him go this time. She watched him for minutes upon minutes, time compounding on itself until it didn’t even exist anymore. He stared right back until the lights went out.
He sat still through the night watching the dark hole in the building across the way, knowing what alluring secrets it held. It gave him so much comfort, so much excitement, he couldn’t even comprehend. It was beyond his age, he knew, but he wondered if it was beyond his very existence. Something caught his eye from the floor. He darted his head down to it. It was a little mouse, crawling out of the hole in the corner. He watched it, sniffing about, as if it was looking for something it had lost. James reached into his pocket and found some crackers. He took one and broke a few pieces off. He knelt down cautiously to the ground and sprinkled them along the floor. The mouse scurried nervously over to them and consumed each one, very slowly and meticulously. James watched, and put one cracker in the palm of his hand and lay on the floor with his arm outstretched, beckoning. The mouse very cautiously sniffed at his fingers, afraid of the unknown, but brave. He climbed into James’ hand and went to work on a corner of the cracker.
It took him a long time to get through the whole thing, and in the meantime James wiggled his fingers a bit, so to acclimate his new friend to his harmless intent. When it was finished, James had no more crackers to give it, so he let him walk from one hand to the next playfully. After a while, sleep filled James’ eyes and surely the mouse was tired from the activity. He let him down to the floor and he scurried off to his hole. But when he got there, he turned around, pointing his body back at his new friend, as if saying something. He just sat there for several moments before retiring to his little black hole of a home. Perhaps he was inviting James to follow him. After all, it was only a friendly gesture, to invite a new friend into your home to repay a kindness, as an act of good will. He beckoned and disappeared. But James could not follow. He couldn’t do it. He just stared at the void, at the unknown, wishing he could follow, and in time sleep took his mind into darkness.
In the middle of the night, James woke up, and for no particular reason, decided to sneak out of the house and go to the church. It was cold and wet outside, but he bundled himself up in a jacket, and pushed the heavy church door open. It was warm and dark in here, lit only by the moon and lamps illuminating the majestic stained glass windows, and hundreds of little candles scattered all about the walls. He liked it better with no people. It was more peaceful. He looked up at the King, hanging on the wall for all to see, hanging there for all time even when there were none to see. He walked up the aisles in between the pews and stood at His feet. He was so great and majestic, like no man. James reached out a hand and touched his Lord’s foot, trying to feel His suffering all those centuries ago.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” a voice echoed from behind.
James turned around to see a girl hidden in a dark corner on one of the pews. His girl. The girl from the window.
“Yes it is.”
He walked over to her and sat down in the pew in front of her, leaning over the back to talk to her.
“What’s your name?”
“Funny thing, pleasure. Touchy subject with God. Ever wonder why?”
“Then you’ve never had the right kind of pleasure.” She laughed.
He looked at her for a long time, and she looked down at the ground, not uncomfortable from the silence. “What do you want from me?” he asked.
“I want you to watch.”
“What am I looking for?”
She smiled. “You’ll see. You’d be surprised how many people would turn away. They’d call it goodness. I call it blindness. The refusal to see is as good as the inability, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then you’re not ready.”
“Ready for what?”
She giggled. “Keep watching.” With that she left. James watched her make her way to the door and outside in the cold without looking back.
He spent some more time admiring the King, who after all had been privy to their conversation, and their behavior. James wondered what He was thinking. But all His face conveyed was the sorrow that had been borne upon him thousands of years ago. He was out of date. James wished He could explain Himself, though he knew he couldn’t understand. God had a Plan, he knew, and it was not his place to question.
“Guys! Guys!” Roger Avery yelled. “It really is a witch. I’ve got proof.”
“Bullshit,” Blackjack jeered.
“Alright then, smartass, let’s see it.”
“I don’t have it.”
“What? Alright then, let’s have that left foot then. What do you think of that?”
“No, see, it was just as you said. I went on down to the bog and there was the house she lived in. I snuck in the back and I could tell it was a witch’s house. There were skulls hanging on the walls, and a little table with a big black pearl sitting on it for soothsayin’ just like you said. I grabbed it but just as I did there she was, standing in the doorway. I tucked it under my arm and high-tailed it out of there, but she sent her minions after me, little nasty-looking goblins with teeth and claws. Anyway, I ran as fast as I could, but they were gaining on me. I knew they’d catch up eventually and I’d be meat, so I had to let the pearl go. I dropped it on the ground and the goblins stopped chasing me. They grabbed the pearl and ran off and let me be. So see? She really was a witch.”
“That is the stupidest thing I ever heard,” Blackjack exclaimed. “You don’t expect us to believe that shit do you?”
“But you said there was a pearl and there was. You said if I saw a pearl then it was a witch. I swore you my left foot and laid my hand on her pearl.”
“That ain’t no kinda proof, you idiot! We have to see the pearl to believe you.”
“But I told you those goblins took it. How could I show it to you if the goblins got it?”
“How many goblins did you say chased after you?” Sam asked.
“Well, there were two of them, mean nasty ugly snarling things.”
“Ha! See what I mean?” he asked James. “You fulla shit. You completely full of bull’s ripe shit!”
“Says you crooks!”
“What’d you call me asshole?”
Roger Avery took off and Sam hobbled after him, but could never catch him, so Blackjack chipped in, barreling after the little liar. They all three disappeared over the hill. James and Valentine stayed behind laughing their asses off. They didn’t return for a while, so James made conversation.
“Say, Valentine, they tell me you’re good with the ladies.”
“They tell you right.”
“Well, why do you suppose they do the things that they do with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, how do you figure out what a chick wants?”
“That, my friend, is an ancient riddle. You ain’t never gonna figure that out. If you want her to talk to you, you gotta get her to like you, then you gotta listen to the type o’ things she talks about. Once you do that, then she’s more open to the idea of sneakin’ around, kissin’ and spoonin’ and playin’ and stuff like that. You want her to kiss you, you gotta tell her you love her. That’s usually the way to do it. Now, if you wanna see her pussy, that takes a little more work. First you gotta do somethin’ really nice for her. Then you gotta swing it so she thinks if she don’t show you her pussy then you gettin’ ripped off. It’s a very tedious process of givin’ and takin’ and givin’ some more and takin’ some more.”
“But what if I’ve already seen her pussy?”
“Well, what do you need me for?”
“I’m trying to figure out why she’s doing all this.”
“Well, what you been doing for her?”
“Not a damn thing.”
“Well, that don’t figure right. You had to done something to earn pussy-lookin’ rights.”
“Well I ain’t never heard o’ that before. She must be crazy or something.”
“I think she’s trying to tell me something.”
“By showing you her pussy? Usually she’s trying to tell you she wants you to stay with her.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, like I said before, you gotta swing it so she’s gotta show you her pussy, or you won’t be doing nice things for her anymore. Seeing as how you hadn’t done nothing for her, she must be trying to get you to do something.”
“Haven’t the foggiest. Like I said I ain’t never heard of a chick showin’ you her pussy for nothing. She’s gotta want something.”
“But how do I figure out what?”
“Did you ask her?”
“She says I’m not ready.”
“Well, keep watching I guess.”
“That’s what she told me.”
“Well, do that I guess. But be careful. She’s gonna want something sooner or later. Don’t no chicks show you their pussy for nothing.”
Late in the afternoon, James sat watching the window. She was sitting on her bed, watching her door, smiling, as if anticipating something. James wondered what it was but she didn’t look at him. He looked over to the hole in the wall where his mouse lived. He hadn’t seen him since the first time, and wondered where he could be. Maybe he had eaten so much that he didn’t need to do anything but sleep for a few days. What was on the other side of that hole was unknowable. This thought tugged at James’ mind for some reason. He couldn’t cross over. He couldn’t take the leap. It was forever a mystery. The mouse was gone, swallowed up by mystery, and he could not follow.
In the window the door opened. A boy walked in, another teenager. They talked for a few minutes, then sat on the bed. She reached over to him and kissed him. They kissed for many long minutes, touching each other. Then she took one hand and got his pants off, moved her head down in his lap. James watched carefully, wary that the boy didn’t see him. She stopped and took the boy’s shirt off. Then she kneeled over him and took her clothes off, one article at a time. Once nude, she sat on his lap, moving up and down slowly. The boy went faster and faster, and her face got tighter and tighter, until at once it was all over. They stopped and she lay her head down on the sheets. He stood up quickly and put on his clothes. She lay back on the bed, talking to him, but he threw on his shirt, tied his shoes, and went to the door. She tried talking to him but he patted her on the head and walked out.
She lay on the bed with her eyes closed, taking a little nap for James to see. He couldn’t figure out what she was trying to tell him. Certainly something. Girls didn’t do this if they didn’t want something. There was absolutely nothing for her to gain by this arrangement. An open window meant nothing. But it had to. James was just certain that she had a plan, but he was not able to understand it. He wondered if he was supposed to understand it, or if it was merely meant to tug at his mind until he died. She did have a plan, there was no doubt. She wanted something from him. But he wasn’t ready. What did he have to do? What was she intending to do? There was no doubt she was doing something, she was going somewhere with this. And she wanted James to come along. He looked at the mouse hole in the corner. He couldn’t follow. He wasn’t ready.
“You’ll never believe what my brother told me,” Sam told James the next day.
“What?” Blackjack asked.
“Butt out, you nosy bastard,” he told him, then turned back to James. “My brother scored a date with your girlfriend, Mary.”
“Her name’s Beatrice.”
“What? Who told you that?”
“You did. She did. It’s her name. Not Mary.”
“Well, whatever her name is, my brother scored with her. You were right. She is a wildcat.”
“Yeah I know.”
“No way. You saw?”
“Saw what?” Blackjack asked.
“My brother’s girl likes to undress in front of James, here.”
“No shit, Jimmy. So that’s why you always in such a hurry to go home.” Blackjack started laughing.
“Shut up, Blackjack. Let the man speak. So, what do you think she’s doing?”
“I still don’t know. I think she wants me to go with her.”
“I don’t know. She said I’m not ready to go yet. What do you think that means?”
“Beats me. She really said that?”
“So you’re not ready now, but after watching her suck on a willy you are ready?” Now Sam started laughing.
“She wants me to see something that I’m not seeing. I’m too fixated on the surface. I have to see through.”
“You’re looking too deep already. She’s screwing with you. She’s playing mind games. She just wants to drive you nuts.”
“No. She has a plan. I may not know what it is, but I have to believe in it.”
“A plan? About what?”
“Pleasure. Pain. God.”
“Give it up, man. She’s gonna screw you up. You should stop and think about what you’re doing.”
Blackjack continued laughing in the background, hollering like a hyena.
That night, Sam’s brother came again. They talked again. But it wasn’t so peaceful this time. They had a disagreement. They started yelling at each other. Sam’s brother stood over her, tried to touch her, but she pulled away. He grabbed her head in his hands and kissed her but she struggled and pushed him away, stood up and backed away from him. The yells now carried across the gap between the buildings. He grabbed her and threw her onto the bed. She spit in his face and he slapped her across the cheek. He wiped the spit away and grabbed her head in his hands, squeezing it in his fist. He brought a fist up in the air and plowed it into her eye. He rose again and brought it down on her cheek. Then he stood up, nursing his hand, and made his way to the door. She curled up in a little ball on the bed crying. He smacked her across the face one last time and stomped out the door, rubbing his hand.
Beatrice lay there like a baby, crying and bleeding silently in this soundless slideshow the window contained. She threw her head against her pillow and put a hand on her forehead. She delicately touched the bruise on her eye and on her cheek, each time bursting into tears again at the notion. She mustered the strength to stand and went over to the desk and produced a little mirror. Her reflection made her cry again. She took the corner of her shirt and carefully wiped the blood away, under the guidance of the mirror. But when she was finished, there was nothing more she could do for the bruises. The beautiful creature was cursed with these stains upon her beauty. There was nothing she could do about it. God gave her this beauty and God took it away from her, if only for a short while. It was a part of His plan, and there was nothing she could do about it. She made eye contact with James, eyes containing the most uncontrollable sorrow and torment that eyes are capable of containing. She marched to the window and pulled the shades.
James nearly convulsed with shock. The window was closed. He couldn’t see in. She had never done this before. The window was indeed a magical creation. It held inside its frame such a beautiful creature, like a bird in a cage. It showed him the best of the world God had made, His greatest creations, the jewels in this horrible world. But the window was no liar. It was only a portal into what was real and true. And thus it was merciless. It would show the destruction of this beauty all the same. It was not sympathetic. The window was only a messenger. It was only a middleman between them. The slideshow it displayed was an enthralling picture of perfection, but it was also a harrowing look at wickedness. And now the slideshow was over.
That night James went to the church again. It was empty, so he sat in the dark corner in one of the pews. He wondered if there really were angels up in the rafters, looking down on him, but he did not look up. After a while the heavy door opened and Beatrice came in. Her head was wrapped in a shawl. She shuffled up to the King without noticing James, kneeled down and cried at His feet. She pleaded with Him, bowed to Him, and prayed to Him, but He did not move. He did not respond. He sat up there on His high perch and watched. After her crying was over, she stood up and walked toward Him. She placed a hand on His foot and bowed her head.
“Horrible, isn’t it?”
She looked back at James sitting in the shadows. “Yes it is.”
When James awoke the next morning, he looked out the window, but it was clouded with condensation. He wiped it clean and saw the window across the way. In the condensation on hers were scrawled the words “ARE YOU READY?” She even went to the trouble of writing it backwards so he could read it from his side, though she had messed up the first “R”. The room was empty. All that was left was this one last question, “Are you ready?” James wondered if he was. He still did not know what she wanted, where she was going, what he was supposed to do, but he was letting go of the notion of figuring that out.
“You wanna tell us what’s got you so damn blue?” Blackjack asked him in school.
“His girlfriend got beat up yesterday,” Sam told him. James looked at him. “My brother told me about it. I’m sorry, man. If it makes any difference, he said she was being a real cunt.”
James glowered at him, but focused his attention on the grain in the wood of his desk.
“Well, play with matches,” Blackjack responded, “you get burned.”
“Christ, Blackjack,” Benny whined.
When James returned home that afternoon, it was hardly home any longer. There was a hearse outside. Inside there were a few neighbors, a doctor, and a priest. James pushed his way through them to find his parents. He came upon his grandmother’s room and his mother caught him at the door and hugged him.
“Don’t go in there, sweetheart.”
Through the crook in his mother’s arm, through the crack in the door, he could see the foot of a black coffin and hear his father’s sobs from inside. His mother led him to the couch and explained to him that it was her time to go, and that she would be safe and happy in the Kingdom of God. A priest clarified the details for him, and they all bowed their heads in prayer.
It came time to bring the coffin out, carried by the two morgue workers, the doctor, and his stone-eyed father. They carried it out the door and down the stairs to the hearse, followed by James, his mother, and the priest. The men carted her away and the family all followed on foot. They followed it all the way to the cemetery, where the coffin was unloaded onto the ground. The morgue workers busied themselves digging a hole in the ground for her while the priest said a few hymns from the Good Book. During the entire procession, a single thought was busily growing inside his head. It was hazy at first, then took form. By the time the funeral was over, it rang loud in James’ thoughts.
“I AM READY” he wrote in the condensation of his window, backwards as best as he could visualize it, with all the letters flipped in mirror script. He wrote it as soon as he got home and spent the rest of the day watching the window, the empty room beyond, wondering what she was going to do. He knew he was ready, but ready for what, he did not yet know. Anything was better than this.
The next morning her window was open. He was not sure the significance of that. The room was empty just as before. On the upper pane was scrawled another string of letters, “FOLLOW ME,” again in mirror script so that he could read it. He stared at it for a while, wondering what it all meant, then saw what he was supposed to see. He opened his window and stuck his head out. Down on the ground, in the alleyway, stood the same morgue workers, along with a few people and a priest. On the ground was the body of Beatrice, spilled across the street, hair fanned out like a halo, blood streaming from her like the tail of a kite in the wind. The two workers were lifting her up and placing her in the coffin. James could hear the screams of her mother, consoled in the arms of her father, with the priest reading hymns in the background. One worker closed the coffin lid while the other poured a bucket of water on the blood in the street and scrubbed it with a long brush.
James looked back up at the window, through the window, into the nothingness of the room beyond. He made eye contact with the nothingness, and the nothingness made eye contact with him. A ghost in the room would have seen this poor boy, saddened face, tear rolling down his cheek, through the panes of cold morning glass, with the senseless words “EM WOLLOF” inscribed in the condensation, with all the letters reversed.
“Look, man, I’m really sorry,” Sam consoled at school that day. “I didn’t mean what I said yesterday. I know I came off harsh, and it’s not what I meant. I wanna be a good friend and good friends don’t say shit like that. So I’m sorry about that. You gonna be okay?”
He didn’t respond, only stared at the grain in the wood of his desk.
“Guess she didn’t feel much like goin’ along with God’s plan.”
He looked up.
Early the next morning, before the sun came up, James sat on the edge of his bed, watching the window. She wasn’t there. She never would be again. God’s greatest creation was gone, nevermore. She had passed on to the unknown, and he could not follow her. James looked at the little mouse hole. No, he would follow this time.
He walked to the window and opened it. Very carefully he crawled out into the chilling air. He stood on the slippery little ledge outside the window. He gripped the brick with his arms and back as well as he could. He didn’t like heights. He was shaking and afraid. God and all His angels were watching him, wondering if he would really do it. Beatrice, wherever she was, watched him, hoping he could muster the courage to follow her.
James closed his eyes to block out the frightening sensations of the ledge. He thought about his homeland. He thought about the bright green grass and the cows. He thought about running and playing with Franz and Anya just like there was nothing bad in the whole world. He saw their smiles. He saw his grandfather sanding a little shoe cabinet he had built out of part of the great oak tree they had cut down. He saw Beatrice running carelessly along the crest of the greenest, highest hill of all. He saw the sun glint off her smiling face.
James’ fear became happiness. His muscles relaxed and his body toppled over the ledge, down to the street below.
The same damn mortuary workers cleaned him off the alleyway as before, parents crying in each other’s arms. He was buried right next to Beatrice, though neither she, nor his grandmother before them had been made headstones yet.
“I know all of you are confused and saddened by the suicide of your classmate, James Denison,” Father Thomas addressed his class. “God does not always let us know His reasons for things, but we must nonetheless trust in Him to guide us to the path of salvation.”
Benny was teary-eyed. Valentine was contemplative. Sam was mournful.
“We will miss James, but we cannot reclaim him from God’s Realm any longer. We will always wonder the reasons behind such sudden and desperate decisions, especially when committed by children. James did something that we cannot understand, for reasons beyond our capacity to - excuse me, Mr. Petty, is something the matter?”
Blackjack was snickering, though trying to hold it back. “No.”
“Would you mind having a little respect for mortality? Your friend has just died. Is it too much to ask for a little reverence, even from you?”
He continued snickering. “I’m sorry, Father. It’s just that I can’t help finding this whole thing funny. The girl that undresses for him has died, so his life just can’t go on any longer!” he jeered with such sarcasm it sent him into a fit of laughter.
Sam glared at him, as did Benny and Valentine and the rest of the class.
“George Sebastian Petty! May God forgive your disgusting self!” Father Thomas marched over to him, lifted him out of his desk, and dragged him out of the classroom. He collapsed to the ground and the teacher, in a flurry of rage, grabbed him by the ankles and dragged him across the floor on down the hall. The rest of the boys didn’t watch, just stared stone-faced and motionless at the chalkboard. But he couldn’t stop laughing. He kept on and on like a hyena, more ferocious every time he thought about it. He couldn’t help himself. It was just so goddamn funny.
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