Literature : Word Choice

Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Window,” a short story by J. Robert Lennon, selected by Fiction Editor Rosie Parker.


Zoe Crosher, LAX Sea Breeze Inn, 2002. Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. © Zoe Crosher.

After the absent father, after the diabetic mother with her motorized chair and velvet Chivas Regal bag of weed, after the high school boyfriend with the knife collection, after the drunk driving without a license, after the best friend’s suicide, after the only remaining friend’s betrayal, after the dropping out, after the flight to the city, after the failed attempt at prostitution, after the vagrancy and solicitation charges, the commuted sentence, the halfway house, the social worker, the job-skills exam, the placement, the train to the suburbs, the motel maid job; after the Craigslist ad, after the meeting in the public library reading room, and then the strange friendship, the speech, the plan, the sourcing of materials, the setting of the date, the preparation of the spaces, the scheduling, the promise, she calls him at the agreed-upon time and he answers with the words “I am very proud of you now, Juliet, very proud.”

“I don’t know.”

“You called. You called when you said you’d call, that’s something to be proud of. Do you have everything ready? Are you ready?”

“No. Yes. I mean, it’s all here. I’m scared.”

“There’s nothing to be frightened of.”

“That’s crazy.”

“There’s nothing to be frightened of. Everything that has come before, that was frightening. Not this.”

“Well, I’m still scared.”

“Tell me what you’re scared of, Juliet.”

“What if it doesn’t work.”

“Of course it will work.”

“If I do it wrong.”

“You’ve been over it a hundred times, Juliet. Trust yourself, just this once.”

“I don’t know.”

“…”

“…”

“Are you there?”

“I’m here.”

“Describe the space you’ve created.”

“Umm, it’s in the motel. It’s this room that’s half the size of the other rooms that only gets rented for the bass fishing contest. I come down here to smoke. There’s a radio and a cot but it’s too small for a TV. It smells kind of moldy but at the same time kind of good. Like earthy. Like the carpet’s actually dirt. I mean, it is dirty, but like it’s actually dirt. And I’ve got a candle lit and there’s incense that I stole from Heather’s car. It’s peaceful. I’m lying on the cot. The stuff is on a little folding TV tray next to me. It’s peaceful.”

“That’s very good. You’re at peace?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what that feels like. But it’s peaceful in here.”

“Have you forgiven your parents? Sarah? Mitch?”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“I think you have. That’s why you feel peace. You’ve let it all go. You’re almost there.”

“I guess.”

“…”

“Mr. Harris? Where are you?”

“Outdoors.”

“Where outdoors?”

“Near water. Tall grasses are all around. The sky is clear.”

“It was cloudy when I got here an hour ago.”

“I’m not near you.”

“Really? Where are you then?”

“I’m in a place where I won’t be found for a long time. It doesn’t matter. The sky is clear and the stars are bright. I can make out the tops of fir trees all around me, and if I sit very still I can see them moving in a barely perceptible breeze. My body is cold, but it’s good to feel.”

“…”

“Are you naked, Juliet?”

“Umm, mostly.”

“I am naked, as we agreed.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s time to be naked. It’s time to start.”

“Okay. Hold on.”

“…”

“…”

“Juliet?”

“Yeah, I’m here. I don’t have anything on. It’s kind of weird. Funny to say that. Being as I’m alone.”

“There is nothing weird about this state. It’s the state you were born in.”

“Ha. Hardly. I was born crying.”

“Are you sad, Juliet? Do you feel sadness?”

“I don’t feel anything, really. Except being scared.”

“You shouldn’t be frightened. It’s time now. It’s time to let go of your fear. Let’s begin. Will you begin with me, Juliet?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s time. You’re ready. You’ve prepared everything as we discussed?”

“It’s all right here.”

“So let’s begin together. Do you have it in your hand?”

“…”

“Juliet?”

“Yeah, it’s here. I have it.”

“On three, then. One, two…three.”

“Oh—”

“Are you all right? Is it in?”

“Yeah. It’s in.”

“Good. And now the tape. You have it ready?”

“It’s already on. It’s all good. I did it.”

“Good. We’re halfway there, then. How do you feel?”

“Scared. Uncomfortable. I’m a little cold. Even with the heat up.”

“It’s cold where I am, the night breeze is cold, but I don’t feel it. I feel it as an intellectual truth, but my body rejects it.”

“Well, I’m just kind of cold.”

“What is it that you’re really scared of, Juliet? Is it pain? There will be no pain.”

“No, not that.”

“Then what?”

“…”

“What lies beyond?”

“…”

“I have something to tell you, Juliet—I’ve received another sign. Do you want to hear about it?”

“Okay.”

“There was a robin, flinging itself against the window of my room, right before I was to leave for my departure location. Such a loud sound from such a small body—I could hear its tiny bones crunching against one another. It woke me, and I got out of bed and pressed my ear against the glass. And after a while the bird calmed, and it stood on the sill opposite my ear, and it began to talk to me.”

“Oh.”

“It spoke to me in the voice of The Great Manifestation about our journey. It told me that our accommodations were waiting. It spoke of simple riches, eternal satisfaction in absence. The bird, it was like us, Juliet, before we chose this path—it could see the beyond but could not pass through the barrier. Because, though it is beautiful, it is soulless. Do you see?”

“I guess.”

“And so there’s nothing to fear.

“…”

“…”

“I don’t think that’s what I’m afraid of. After, I mean—that isn’t it.”

“What, then, Juliet?”

“Well, my mom. I’m worried about her. She doesn’t have anyone.”

“But she has no one now, either.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I know. It’s just…I don’t know if I can. Because of her. Because maybe she thinks I’ll be back someday. And that’s what’s keeping her going.”

“These are earthly concerns, and beyond our influence now. You can do it. I believe in you, Juliet. I have always believed in you. The moment I heard your voice. And even more so, when I saw you. I know you, Juliet. No one has ever known you as I know you. You believe in the rightness of this action. This answer.”

“I know.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“Juliet, I want you to put your hand on the valve now.”

“Mr. Harris, I just don’t know.”

“My hand is on it. On mine. I want you to do the same.”

“…”

“…”

“Okay. I’ve got my fingers on it.”

“Good. We’re going to open it slowly. For a smooth transition. I won’t count down this time. Just start now. Start opening it very slowly. As slow as you can. Are you opening it now?”

“I’m…I will. I’m trying.”

“That’s good. Try.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“Is there anything you want to say to me, Juliet? While there’s time?”

“…”

“…”

“Just…I’m glad you listened to me. I’m glad you respect the way I feel.”

“Of course.”

“I don’t want to let you down.”

“You won’t let me down. Slowly, now. Open further.”

“Mr. Harris, I don’t know. I don’t know if I can.”

“Do you feel different?”

“Mr. Harris—is there anything you want to say? To tell me? You always asked me the questions. I appreciate that, I really do, but what about you? Tell me something. Please?”

“Dilferent.”

“What?

“…”

“Mr Harris, please. Say something. Tell me something you never told me before. I’m sorry. I don’t think I can do it. I’m not doing it yet. I’m sorry. I promised, but I can’t yet. Mr. Harris?”

“…”

“…”

“Yes, Juliet.”

“Are you going to tell me something?”

“I neff. Neffernt. Fen.”

“What?”

“Fendent. Fen. Fen.”

“I can’t hear you, Mr. Harris. I’m sorry. I can’t make out what you’re saying.”

“…”

“I’m not doing it, Mr. Harris. I know I promised. I’m sorry but I can’t. My mom. And Mrs. Frankel, coming to clean up the room. I can’t.”

“…”

“I’m taking the thing out. I’m sorry. I knew I couldn’t. Mr. Harris, say something, please? Tell me what you were going to tell me?”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“Oh, God, I’m sorry. I couldn’t. Mr. Harris? Nathan?”

“…”

“I’m so sorry. If you can hear me—I’m sorry. Good luck. I’ve taken it out. I’ll think of you. I’m hanging up. I’m hanging up now. It wasn’t a mistake. It’s just that I couldn’t.”

“…”

“Goodbye. I’m sorry. Goodbye.”

“…”


Alone now, in the room, there is nothing to do but put on her clothes. She puts on her clothes. She sits on the cot and it feels hot in the room, but she doesn’t want to leave. She could turn the heat down, but the window is closer. So she opens the window. Now she can hear the rain. It’s raining. She sits close to the window and smokes a cigarette and wonders what she should feel. She thinks about him. She thinks about her mother. Her arm hurts where the needle went in and came back out. She’ll get up soon. She’ll gather the equipment and carry it to the dumpster and dump it in. She’ll put on her shoes and walk the two miles in the rain back to her trailer. She’ll listen to the radio. It’s summer. She has failed, but it’s a new kind of failure, and that’s something.

J. Robert Lennon is the author of a story collection, Pieces For The Left Hand, and seven novels, including Mailman, Castle, and Familiar. He teaches writing at Cornell University. Learn more at jrobertlennon.com.

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