Wall of Glass
She sits in a rocking chair. Alone. Trying to thread a butter knife with a shoelace. On her lap sits a brown stuffed rabbit. She tries to understand what it might be doing there.
In the past months, objects in her world have shifted, evolved—a chair has moved from one corner to another, a comb has grown teeth. A bowl melts into a dog’s bark. Sometimes the changes are sharp. Sometimes subtle. Sly. Letters in the alphabet no longer worthy of trust. A j could be a q for instance. In disguise as a y.
She rocks back and forth, the butter knife held up to the light in one hand, the shoelace in the other. She must solve this—on her own. If she takes the plastic cap off the string, maybe then it will fit?
Was a time it would fit—but in a larger thing than a needle, boxier, like a small car with no wheels. A thing she used to wear and would lace up herself without her mother’s help. And she did it, too!
Where is her mother now? Why isn’t she here to help her—at least to move the bed and the chairs and the dresser back to where they belong.
She rocks faster, holding the butter knife and the shoelace. She looks from one to the other, then puts them down on a small table beside her chair. The table, the chair, the butter knife, the shoelace—all shrink into themselves and slink away. Thieves in the blight, slipping away into another room.
Her mother should be here.
There’s that colour in the hanging things—like the ones in her bedroom.
And the light is screaming in through the wall, a diffuse light—too bright—a fog and a thickening murk of light seeping in. This light rambunctious to say the least.
This bed in the wrong place, and not hers; nor this chair, nor that picture on the wall—that picture of—a square thing and a yelling roundness that glows all over a floor of glass—no, not quite glass—
It is—outside the room when she looks out before going into the kitchen where her mother is making breakfast—toast and jam—that’s it—that glass out there on the ground after a good rain, looks—and she can hear minnows singing or—canaries, and—what is that sound—like a sound at school. Keep an eye on the door. It’s closed—must get ready to escape—in case.
That sound, not a school sound—more like—she is eight and having her tonsils out, that bing bong sound down the hall and—
The walls the same colour as the walls in this room, but not the picture—
The picture of glass.
She can’t smell any toast. Heart beats fast—this bed—this bed is not hers, was never hers, will never be hers.
She is—she must be—visiting her friend Katrina and her mother in their little apartment on the Rose Valley Road—that’s it. This bed is Katrina’s bed. But where is Katrina? And her tennis racket is not here either, so how can they play tennis with no rackets?
She’s waiting for her father to pick her up, and Katrina—she’s gone for a swim—that’s it. Lake water, pool water, that colour is: qua qua qua aqua—
Duck and cover! Don’t panic, children! If the bomb drops you must hide under your desk and curl up into a very small ball, and the desk will protect you in the event of a nuclear blast. Miss McGarrick, is that so? Are we safe? For God’s sake, Miss McGarrick—please tell us! Are we safe?
But where is her father? He must be coming to pick her up now. For this chair not hers—this bed not hers and that picture on the wall—of glass.
The light too strong—draw the skirts across the wind. Light is hurting—oh.
That time on the lake in the boat—oh, the sun dazzled on the water and tossed up handfuls of d… of dy… of dying mountains—each one a treasure. The calm, the quiet of the lake and the call of a canary or a crow or no—a seacall. A seacall cries. Carries a fish.
And her mother on the shore waiting for her to come in with the wind—cover the wind—oh! Waves! So she can make breakfast for her. But where is breakfast? She can’t smell any toast, she’s hungry, and this bed not hers—it must be—heart beats fast—Katrina’s?
That bing bong sound. Grade six. Recite: “When I was wandering as a crowd…” Duck and cover, children. Now! Are we safe? The bell—but no—this is not that sound. It is vanilla ice cream and a sore throat.
Katrina. That must be her bed—but where is she? She’s gone for a swim in the pool. That colour—that aqua aqua aqua qua qua qua—
Duck! Hands on your head. It is, after all, the end of the world, but your school desks will protect you, children.
“Four crows on a pond. A grass bank beyond.”
That’s it! Grass. The picture—that colour is—grass is green.
The light pouring in now—all lost under the blind sun. Streaking of light—scalding light. Burns.
Here is a small long thing on the table and a rope to go in it. Who left it here? And this piece of shaggy thing with ears.
And where is her mother? Or father, who is coming to pick her up.
No! We are not safe! Draw up the—cribbage. The castle, the feudal system, the serf and the Lord’s manor and all the knights—those pictures—on horses. Grade seven. Mr. Taylor. He has a beard. Kind.
Ice cream and a sore throat and Mummy standing beside the hospital bed and—no.
This bed not hers—whose, then, whose? And ginger ale with a plastic straw in a grass full of—sip it in, you’ll feel better—where is her mother now? Is she alright? Is she?
It is—this room—this bed not hers—this chair not hers—that picture on the wall of glass—or no. Not glass.
The light frothing now like waves of the sea—a dense feeling of singing or concussion of light of brightness from the round yelling blind thing in the sky—that—like a baby face or a spoon or the Owl and the Pussycat or no. It was a cow jumped over it.
This rabbit—that’s it—not hers—must belong to Katrina—oh God! Where is Katrina? Is she alright? She’s been so long away, too long away—she’s been swimming in the pool—is she—is she alright? That colour that qua qua qua—
That—“I wandered lonely as a crowd…” Mushroom crowd—how do we make ourselves small, Miss McGarrick? How do we make ourselves small enough?
Her father is late now and her mother will be waiting for her, breakfast prepared. But she can’t smell any toast—not yet. She’s hungry.
And what is this—this silver pen and this cotton thread which is as thick as a snake.
The light is a flood now, the ceiling a river, the floor a capsized boat, the bed not hers—a sunken wreck of a boat—eels creeping through like snakes, this rust of light. The chair is a tiger, the picture is a wall of glass and her father—is late. Where is he—is he on the way? Is he?
And the door opens and it is—it is—no. It is not her father, not her mother, not Katrina. It is not Miss McGarrick or Mr. Taylor. It is someone she has never seen before, standing there and staring at her, saying “It’s me,” over and over. Standing there, still. With the ocean on her face.
Are we safe?
Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. She began writing short fiction six years ago, and since then her stories have appeared in journals in Canada, the UK, and the USA, including Filling Station, Litro UK, Fairlight Books, the Chiron Review, Into the Void, and Fiction International. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions.