First Place Winner in The Fiction in Five contest sponsored by The Center for Writing Excellence. http://janiewrites.com/writing-contests/year-two-fiction-in-five-winners/february-2012-winners/
by Camas Baugh
City people feel safer behind hermetically sealed and securely locked windows. They can stand and gaze through the glass without being sullied by the outside world. Katie fancied herself a city girl. As she sat in her window seat, snuggled under her favorite red afghan, steam from her tea fogged up the cold pane, and she used her free hand to wipe it away. Droplets of water, leaving spider-webbed trails that looked like lace, trickled down to the sill. Katie’s eyes dropped to the bustling street eight floors below. She wondered how a city could be so full of life and yet so devoid of emotion. As she watched people scurry chaotically, her thoughts drifted back to a simpler time.
She grew up on a farm in rural Idaho, insulated, her parents would say, from the evils of the world. When Katie was young, she would lie on her bed and daydream of another life. Thumbing through the pages of magazines, she would picture herself wearing high heels and designer suits. She would walk briskly, with authority, stronger than the buildings that loomed over her. Inevitably, her reverie would be interrupted by her dad bellowing up the stairs about chores or some such thing, and she would tenderly set the magazine, and with it her dreams, under her bed for another day.
When finally Katie turned 18, she put her overfilled suitcase in the back of her Beetle and drove defiantly away from her parents. She had saved enough money from her summer jobs to start over in New York. When she arrived, the city was exactly as she’d imagined. She stood in downtown Manhattan, every sense alive for the first time. Horns and footsteps and sirens assaulted her ears; strangers brushed past her without realizing she was there; exhaust fumes and scented lotion wafted around her; she could taste the smoke from a nearby hot dog cart. Overwhelmed, she looked up at the skyscrapers encircling her, no longer imaginary. The clouds seemed farther away somehow as they drifted lazily along, completely unaffected by the madness swirling beneath them. Katie brought her gaze back down to street level and stepped easily into the rhythm of the city.
The phone rang and snapped her back to reality.
“Hi, Kit. What’s up?”
“Things aren’t going well with Dad. We need you home.”
Katie sighed. She had deadlines to meet. She couldn’t just up and leave.
“Listen, Kit, I can’t right now. Can I send some money?”
“Not this time. You need to come home.”
“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
Katie rested her head against the cool window. She knew she had to go. Her dad’s health had been declining for some time now, and her sister would call her periodically to ask for money to finance his stay in assisted living. She knew people thought she was taking the easy way out, and maybe she was, but she just wasn’t ready to deal with it. At least if she could support her dad, she didn’t have to live with the guilt of being away. She sighed, giving in, and shrugged the blanket from her shoulders.
She smirked to herself when the airport car rental agent pulled around with a brand new Volkswagen Jetta. As the agent put her weekender bag in the trunk, she mused at the humor life sometimes had. She’d come a long way since that day she left home. Despite her success, though, she sometimes thought her life was missing something. She had the dream – the high heels and power suits, the authoritative walk – but there was something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She shrugged it off, as always, and began the hour-long drive to her father’s cabin.
As urban sprawl gave way to pine trees and prairies, she started feeling uncomfortable. She shifted her shoulders against the seat and turned on the radio. Unable to find anything she liked, she switched it back off. She picked up her cell to check for messages, but there were none. Slowly, she began to realize that her discontent must be stemming from a sense of overexposure. Her skyscrapers weren’t there to protect her; she couldn’t lose herself in the crowd. She felt a little relief when she saw the mailbox at the end of the gravel drive. Maybe being home would give her some comfort.
Her heels crunched gravel and her heart sank as she gingerly stepped out of the car. The cabin she had eagerly left behind was now dilapidated and beyond repair. She stepped forward, no longer concerned about ruining her $800 shoes. The bare branches and blue sky reflected in the old window almost seemed like a faded painting. She looked up and noticed that the clouds seemed closer to the ground. Behind her, she heard a car approaching and instinctively knew it was her sister. She didn’t turn around. Instead, looking back down to the window, she used the heel of her hand to wipe the film obscuring her view. Her dad’s candy dish sat on the counter, a foil-wrapped chocolate heart sitting to the side. A mildewy towel rested on the stove burner. She realized now how difficult it must have been for Kit to be here dealing with everything. She felt bad for her distance.
Kit’s voice broke the silence. “I thought you might come here first.”
Without moving, Katie asked, “How do you live like this?”
“I moved across town.”
Turning around, Katie said, “That’s not what I mean. How do you live so exposed?” She touched the slightly opened window.
“It’s peaceful,” Kit said. “It’s safe.”
Katie looked around doubtfully. “How can you be safe with no one around?”
“Don’t you get it, Katie? The safety is in being able to leave your windows open.”