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My name is Brenda, I am six, and I have never been outside. I live in a house that is like a box, with smaller boxes for rooms. The walls are white, the floor is white, and the ceiling is white. Sometimes I hate that color. I like the colors I can see outside … but I have never been outside.
Our house has big squares of glass in the walls, so lonely children can look out. I have to be sneaky when I peek behind the curtain, though, because they don’t like it. They are my father and mother.
Once, Daddy caught me looking outside, and he grabbed my arm and yanked me away. He yelled until I covered my ears. It was worse when Mum came, though. She squeezed me and made funny little noises; tears trickled out of her eyes and slid down her face. Now, when I look outside I make sure they don’t catch me. I am scared, but I can’t help it. I have to look.
Outside is like a fairy tale. Down is a fuzzy green carpet. Up and far away is the happy golden balloon that scrapes along against the blue ceiling. Sometimes I wish I could hold that beautiful yellow balloon; I know it wishes the same, because it blows me kisses. When I press my face against the cool glass, I can feel the balloon’s kisses crowded on the other side, trying to get in and brush my cheek, warm my cold fingers, and fill my eyes with their glowing light.
But they never get in. It makes me so sad – I hate this stupid glass! Sometimes I cry. Sometimes the balloon throws a white blanket over its head and cries with me; fat tears splatter the outside of the window while mine splatter the inside, and they trail down together, never touching.
But that’s only on sad days. On happy days, I like to wave at my friends, the girls. My parents say they are only trees, but I know better: they are little girls, like me. They stand in a row outside the window of my bedroom-box. Their skinny bodies and arms are draped with bead necklaces and feathery boas, all red and white and pink. They play dress-up just like me. When I stand at the window, it’s like we’re together, almost. Whenever they see me watching them, they giggle and smile and wave. The jewels on their rings flash in the light of my friend, the balloon.
Outside is scary too. In the dining room is a window where I can see a wall made of wood, and a lion lives behind it. Between the pieces of wood I see its yellow coat as it paces back and forth. Once, the lion escaped. It leapt over the fence, ran to the window, and jumped up, trying to eat me. Lions eat little girls. I saw its pointy teeth, and its red tongue drooled all over the glass. I screamed, and Daddy chased the lion away with a stick. Mum locked me in her arms until I stopped screaming.
I used to think that maybe that was why I couldn’t go outside: because of the lion. But I don’t think that anymore. Today I saw children outside my parents’ bedroom window. A boy and a girl. They were running and screaming, only I think they were screaming for fun because they were smiling. Seeing them made me want to go outside.
So I’m going. Today I’m going outside. I don’t care about the lion. I walk down the long white hall, and down the white, squeaky stairs. No one hears me. I go to the window where I visit my friend the balloon. Today she is floating up by the blue ceiling of outside. When I touch the glass, I can feel her kisses crowding to touch me. They’ll be so happy when I let them in. Quietly, so the grown-ups do not hear, I unlock the window and pull it up – it is stiff from never being opened. Before I can think, I crawl out and drop onto the green carpet outside. Outside!
All at once I feel a hundred different kinds of love. I feel the sun’s heat on my skin, and the warm summer breeze rifling through my hair. I look up and realize there is no roof on outside, just the bright blue sky that reaches as far as I can see. The air is thicker and fresher than inside, which smells white. This smells like my mother’s perfume, my old baby pajamas, and purple soap.
I can put out my arms and spin around and I don’t hit anything. Underneath my bare feet, the grass blades tickle. When I step on them they bow down but then spring back when my foot is gone. Everything outside is so alive!
I run around the house, which looks less like a box on the outside, and more like a fairy-tale castle. I can see my friends, the girls. I run to hug them, but they don’t hug back. My parents are right; they are just trees. But I don’t stop loving them. Their bark is smooth and looks like paper from a thousand years ago. I plunge my hands into the dirt in their bed. It’s soft and moist, and I squeeze it in my fingers and squish it between my toes.
I hear a sound, and I spin around, because I recognize it. I thought it was a lion, but now I see I was wrong. I go up to the fence, and peek through. Its tongue is hanging out, and its tail is wagging. My father told me once that means happiness. Maybe he likes me too.
If I’m not in danger from the sky or the trees or the dog next door, why am I not allowed to go outside?
“Brenda!” the front door flies open, and Daddy and Mum run out. Before I can protest, they scoop me up and put me in the car. The car is white, like our house, but somehow I don’t mind the white so much anymore. Or the white smell. I can close my eyes and remember the sweet smell of outside.
“Baby, what were you doing?” Mum sobs, holding me and covering me with kisses, “Don’t you know you can’t go outside? You’re allergic to sunlight!” Her soft brown hair brushes against my cheek, reminding me of the tickling grass. It smells like cherry blossoms.
Daddy starts the car and pulls down the driveway. I know without asking that we are going to the hospital, another white place.
Now I know that it is the sun, my best friend, who is the real danger. Somehow, though, I know she doesn’t mean it. The sun is still my friend, as are the sky, the grass, the dirt, the dog, and the cherry trees. The scent of air and earth clings to me. It’s a part of me now, a part that I never want to forget.
“Baby, thank God you’re all right,” Daddy says. I know now that when he yells, it is because he is trying to keep the fear out of his voice. His rough hand reaches back to squeeze my leg, and his skin feels like the bark of the trees.
I am happy to be alive too. However, I would not have traded my trip outside for anything. Now that I’ve seen it, walked in it, breathed it in, I’ll never be the same again. And I want to go back, despite the sun. I’ll go back again and again and again.
Because my name is Brenda, I am six, and I have been outside.