Curtains

It’s not everyday that she walks to school alone. Well, she walks by herself, but usually there are birds, or clouds, or cars trickling by on the quiet suburban street. Occasionally, she’ll pass another person, but they are just as alone as she is. Quiet footsteps on the other side of the street match hers for a while and when they leave, turning off onto another street or into a house with window boxes full of wilting flowers or trashcans standing stationary at the curb like an armed guard, they only add to the quietness, like a siren punctuating morning fog. The echoing remains of sound make the quiet seem suffocating. But she doesn’t really mind the quiet when she walks to school as long as there are birds, or clouds, or cars. Today is different.
He is jogging down his street, upset with himself for being late. He missed his friends as they passed his house, loud and anxious, walking together like a pack of frenzied dogs. Their silly curses, their rambunctious pushing and shoving make them seem hostile, but to him they are a litter of puppies. Most of the time he doesn’t mind walking in-between paws and sneakers. He likes how they trot after him and in front of him and he feels at home. But today he walks by himself. And today is different.
They both look out the window, at the thin sliver of street visible through the heavy lace curtains that neither of them move. It had been this way for quite some time, though neither of them know exactly how long. But that doesn’t bother them so much. He has his paper and she has her tea and they sit in their old armchairs in front of the window where they can only see a crescent moon sidewalk. But the little piece of their street is fascinating, and the couple spends their mornings watching the birds, and the clouds, and the cars oozing past on their little suburban street. Sometimes they watch the pack of rowdy boys on their way to school. After they pass, he would look at her, and she at him, and they would share a small grin, maybe a little laugh like they always did for quite some time in their old armchairs in front of their old lace curtains. But today the lace is open wide, like curtains on a stage, revealing a full moon of sidewalk. Today is different.

She is walking with her head down, looking at the concrete, when she bumps into him. He had stopped to tie his shoe. She is taken aback. There is usually no one on her side of the street. And definitely no one who, when they stand up, is taller than her, even though he looks like he is about the same age. She stares. She knows him from school, they’ve been neighbors for a while, she’s shared a few pleasantries with him, but not much else. She doesn’t know his name.
He stands up from his tangled laces and looks at her, her small frame and short hair. He realizes that he has seen her before, once or twice, and that they’ve said “hello” as they pass each other, like fish in the ocean. He smiles, hoping that he can erase the shock painted on her face and replace it with recognition. She smiles back. Then he remembers he doesn’t know her name.
In the armchairs, they try to adjust to the open curtains and familiarize themselves with the play that is happening on stage. Two people on the street are looking at each other similar to the way he looks at her, and the way she looks at him. On stage the boy and girl smile, and so does the couple in the audience. As the boy and the girl walk away side by side, the man in the armchair gets up and shuts the curtain so the only person he can see is his wife sitting in the other.
The girl and the boy talk, they fall into the same step, and soon they are at their destination, surprised that the walk is already over. As they separate, the girl realizes that walking alone isn’t as nice as walking with someone else and the boy realizes that walking with a partner is better than walking in a pack. They still don’t know each other’s names. Or they can’t remember. But it doesn’t really matter because today was different.
And they all appreciate it.





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half.note said...
Mar. 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm
I wish I was an octopus so I could give you eight thumbs up (I know they don't even have thumbs, but don't let that lessen the compliment).  This was fantastic! Good writing.  Good plot.  Good message.  Those all combine to make a great story!  Beautifully done.
 
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