The ripple and splash of rain on the blurred glass / Seemed that it briefly said, as I walked by, / Something I should have liked to say to you, / Something … / . . . while the wintry rain / (Unspeakable, the distance in the mind!) / Runs on the standing windows and away. “ – Howard Nemerov, “Storm Windows”
Sean went back only once after his mother died. The factory was still there, the rain steaming up the windows like it always did in the middle of winter. He used to stand and stare at the blurred glass when he was a child, waiting for his parents to finish the work that never seemed to end, shivering in the cold drafts of this part of Ireland, where it felt like the sun never shone, or if it did, it shone only on others. It was hard being the only son, the only child, and when all the other children at school had huge families, throngs of siblings, he was the only one in his family, and when he grew older he could sometimes see the sorrow in his mother’s eyes when he looked for it, and the hardened emotion in his father’s frown. He could feel the pain of omission in the gut of their family life, as his parents worked harder and harder each year to make the factory remain solvent, and to know that each year the way did not improve, but only became more desperate, until his mother had shut it down after his father’s heart attack and passing. And now his mother was gone, too. As he stood in the factory behind the streaming glass windows Sean thought of how he might have come back after college, how he might have lived in the village and helped with the work in his parent’s business. But as soon as the thought came to him, as quickly as light travels, he knew he could never have come back, and as quickly as light travels he knew it had broken their hearts. But it was not a thing to be undone, not even if he’d wanted to, now that his mother and his father, too, were in their graves out beside the old church. No, his life was saved by the instinct not to stay, even if his heart, too, had been lost.
So many windows. Bridget imagined the people who worked behind the windows, the diplomats and their staff who ranged along hallways and in and out of offices. She thought about the desks, the copy machines and computers, the phones and cell phones that could make you smarter, or just feel that way. The frenzied meetings, the brokered deals from one sovereign nation to another Trade agreements. Mutual protection pacts.
If only there were such arrangements for her marriage. She could use a good solid trade agreement. She could use a mutual protection pact.
Such things would come in handy. But now Rob didn’t want the divorce, and that made it even harder on her. She was just trying to live her life. A trade agreement might have assured his affection after he stopped saying I love you. A mutual protection pact might have prevented his hurling those terrible words at her in argument after argument.
But they were no diplomats. Behind those windows lay a world of brokered agreements. She and Rob had only the bond of marriage, which was not enough, as it turned out.
Something went wrong, says the empty house. I still remember the bright birthday parties in the parlor, the warm holiday meals at the dining room table, the sock mending around the kitchen stove. I remember the mother calling her children in from play. I remember the husband speaking tenderly to his wife.
It was the parson’s fault, whispered the tall grass. Out here on Saturday nights with his long black coat and his poisonous thoughts. The eyes he could not keep to himself. The plastery fingers on his sweat-stained felt hat.
It was too late, grumbled the tire tracks that cut through the amber grass to the front porch. By the time we knew, it was too late. It was already too late.
We could have saved her, the tin chimney top chirped. We could have saved her.
But the empty windows knew better. She was already lost, they chattered. She was already lost before we knew of the parson’s ugly heart.
The open doorway whistled. It’s no good, it said. We can only sit here. Sit here and wait.
She stands in the doorway, ghosted and cold-boned. She stands and waits.