The View

November 17, 2011
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So much had been done, yet nothing. Dishes sat in stacks in the dark wooden cabinets, purged of any sticky crumbs; the rigid floor had been thoroughly swept and mopped, until she could see her reflection in the gleaming tile. And of course the windows, scrubbed and scrubbed with earnest conviction, offered an unimpeded view of the bustling city around her. She had chosen this apartment for the large, transparent windows. When the realtor, a crisp man with the bright smell of money lingering on his dry-cleaned suit, had ushered she and Chris through the doorway six years earlier, she couldn’t stop herself from peering at the vast windows in obvious admiration. “Don’t ever play poker,” Chris had teased her. His laugh was a loud breath, a short staccato note dissipating in the hollow air. “With that face you might as well play with an open hand!” Sure enough, they had to pay above asking price for the apartment in the center of Chicago, but once she saw the endless, clear sky stretched in front of her, she had to possess it.

Cardboard boxes had been loaded into Chris’s sleek automobile the day they received the fresh set of keys in the mail. On the long drive into the city she had leaned tiredly against Chris’s firm shoulder as daylight faded into indigo darkness. “We’re home,” he had whispered in her ear as they reached the apartment building. His light breath tickled her weary face. Carrying the loaded boxes up the steep staircase was a struggle, but once they reached the third floor and fumbled with the unfamiliar lock, Chris threw open the mahogany door and they raced into the empty space. Again the windows had transfixed her, even in the darkness. “It’s so black,” she had said before thinking, then quickly felt foolish. Ebony, endless, infinite, heart-wrenchingly beautiful on this day when she had finally gotten away from small-town Wisconsin—but still simply black. “It is,” was all Chris had said, and she had felt him smile.

Six years had evaporated like dewdrops from new morning grass pierced by the sun. She could swear she felt the time condensed in clouds around her, making her perception of the present foggy. The items in the apartment bore the imprint of time; a few moments had drenched them, but the hours had dried them again, leaving behind only a faint watermark. The Renaissance painting hanging above a wooden desk reminded her of the winter’s day when she and Chris had taken refuge from biting snow in an art museum. “She looks like you,” he had exclaimed to her about the woman in the painting. “The pensive expression is almost a perfect match—but of course you’re more beautiful.” She had laughed self-consciously, thinking of the old women behind her, mumbling into their handkerchiefs about “young people these days.”

The painting would stay, she decided. The wooden desk…perhaps it would go well with the old-fashioned décor in the New York apartment. Yes, the desk would come with her. “Almost done,” she said to herself loudly. As if to prove her right, her voice echoed through the void of the empty apartment, bouncing off of the barren walls. This, the living room, was her final challenge. Cardboard boxes sat by the door, ready to be driven to the east coast, but this last corner of her life remained intact, untouched. She had already decided to leave the table, chairs, and painting, along with the large mirror that covered an entire wall of the cramped room. She had never liked the mirror, but they had not gotten around to selling it before the war began. Afterwards she hated that it prevented her from ignoring how grief had transformed her, but couldn’t muster the energy to throw it out. Here she was again, getting lost in the past. That was her reason for leaving the apartment; she had to flee from the heavy sludge of memories. With that thought, she turned to face the object she had been carefully avoiding. The emerald green land, dotted with browns and reds, mountains and deserts, had taunted her everyday since she had kissed Chris good-bye at the train station, naively hopeful and recklessly confident that he would return from war unscathed.

That morning the sun had mocked them. Rising high in the sky at dawn, it floated on clouds of soft pink and blazing orange, as though welcoming another innocent day. In the apartment, she and Chris stood next to the globe, his rough palm covering her hand on the splintery surface of the desk. Just as he had done many times before, Chris spun the globe, creating a web of fleeting colors before their eyes. “Here!” He abruptly stopped the sphere with his finger, placed on the green tip of Italy. “That’s where we’ll go when I come back,” he said softly. She nodded as she always did when they played this little game, and tried to smile. Maybe, she sometimes thought when she remembered that day, she had known then, that horrible instant when she realized that they truly might never see the world together, that he was not coming back. In the war, he had seen France, where they had often talked about visiting. The poison gas he had inhaled in some hellish corner of the country had torn him from her. He must have coughed and gasped grotesquely, struggling with his gas mask until it was too late and he collapsed in the blood running over the muddy hills. That is what happened.
But in her mind, she liked to imagine him roaming in a field of lilacs, smelling the sweetness he had described to her late at night when they sat at the living room table and watched the weary city. Now she sat in the same place, and surveyed late- afternoon city life going on around her. She would take the globe, she determined. If only she could take the windows.

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