Knock Three Times

Submitted into Contest #97 in response to: Start your story with an unexpected knock on a window.... view prompt

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Creative Nonfiction

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

   While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.”

~ Edgar Allan Poe

Many’s the time I’ve recited these lines to myself, for good reason or not. Probably it’s the way the poet hits you with ‘a midnight dreary’ in the first five words. That and the way the speaker, the raven, the verses and we, the readers, are immediately swept into the pulse of the clock as it drawls out the hours.

I recall crawling inside the lines, pulling the verbs apart and questioning more than one adjective. I knew exactly how the individual in the chamber felt. We had so many things in common. When the sound by the window commenced, I reacted in the same manner: calmly, making observations. Perturbed rather than frightened, by the interruption.

It's likely that Poe has forever ruined us as far as rapping on windows is concerned. It's that napping and rapping and tapping of an obsessive, solitary individual. Progressing from the -apping to -oor, as in door and before and core and yore and wore and shore and floor, ending with the ominous nevermore, the tortured poet gives us the impression he invented agony and its muted lament for the lost Lenore.

Don't get me wrong; I loved Poe, his poetry, and his twisted, clinging-to-life melancholy. I read everything he wrote by the time I was fifteen and declared him to be my favorite author. I didn't know why, but I loved his misery. In a way, I still do, but because I am no longer fifteen, I derive no pleasure from pondering the loss of loved ones to the grave. After losing more than one, I have chosen to look in another direction. Survival.

Note that I am aware of the fact that the rapping of Poe's raven visitor was on the door to the speaker's chamber, not on the window. It still came to mind when there was an actual rapping in my place of residence. So I had to do the honors to Edgar, but am now going to portray my own experience when I was alone and heard someone or something calling to me. My story is very different, because, first of all, it has no Lenore in it...

Early summer, very early morning, and something raps on my bedroom window, the one to the left of my bed.

Still early, drinking coffee that I have just made and is my favorite “Last Dollar Dark” brand from local roasters, there comes a tapping on the large front window.only that, and nothing more.

Stop it, Edgar, I threaten out loud. Well, not really threaten; it’s more like a plea.

Around noon, working in my studio, I hear a tap on the newly installed window. It’s the one where I’ve hung some chili lights, just for fun, but they’re not on now since it’s daytime. I ignore it, because I have wet paint laid out on the surface before me and don’t want it to dry. Printing is a lot about timing.

It’s been hot and sticky today, but the wildlife community is still active. I’m standing now in the room we call the library, looking out the large window at the bird feeders. Rappity-rap-rap on the window behind me, one of the other two, the ones that look out onto the deck.

Standing once more in my small kitchen, this time without coffee, I am certain I hear a thunk. It seems to have been caused by something colliding with the pane of the door that opens onto a small porch. I hate the stories about birds flying into glass and getting hurt. I hurry to the door, but there is no dazed bird around, so I am relieved, but worried there is an invisible bird nearby, in pain.

Lying in bed, there is a twitching, a flick of something against the pane. It is the feather of a thought, and I think of One of my favorite poets and some of her lines:

A Deed knocks first at Thought

And then — it knocks at Will —

That is the manufacturing spot

And Will at Home and well

It then goes out an Act

Or is entombed so still

That only to the ear of God

Its Doom is audible —

Now Emily has joined Edgar, I think, and I am faced with sorting out her poem. His I already understand, because he’s always got morbid on the mind.

Well, obviously, someone replies, it’s about how a thought comes, then becomes the will to act and turns into a deed. Otherwise, the thought dies, buried inside us.

I would stop to wonder where that voice came from, but decide not to. If it’s coming from inside my head, I’m in trouble. I thought maybe reading some poetry by Louise Glück might help distract me from the window, or from what could be going on in my head. It wasn’t easy to choose a book, because I have everything she’s ever written and even have printed off reviews, like one from the New York Times by Nicholas Christopher. I use the copied review as a bookmark, but until now it has never come back to haunt me. I read his observation that Glück is

“tapping the wellsprings of myth, collective and personal, to fuel [her] imagination and, with hard-earned clarity and subtle music, to struggle with some of our oldest, most intractable fears—isolation and oblivion, the dissolution of love, the failure of memory, the breakdown of the body and destruction of the spirit.”

Should I be worried? That could be - forget about literary critics - what Louise herself is suggesting:

Tonight I saw myself in the dark window as the image of my father, whose life was spent like this, thinking of death, to the exclusion of other sensual matters, so in the end that life was easy to give up, since it contained nothing: even my mother's voice couldn't make him change or turn back as he believed that once you can't love another human being you have no place in the world.

I don't know about Ms. Glück's father or her mother, or if this quote is anything remotely autobiographical. 

This is getting darker by the minute and it needs to stop. Go rap on other windows, raven! Go think of death somewhere else, father!

Clearly I need to concentrate on my own windows. Worrying about what others have written or thought is driving me crazy. I am definitely not crazy, despite my unrequited love for Edgar. He was my lover, my husband, in a grave beside the sea, when I was fourteen or fifteen, and much loved. Not alone, as I am now.

That is not true. I have always been alone. Have wanted to be. 

Please leave me alone and let me think about my windows.

Legend and urban myth have it that a knock on a window is either a sign of someone’s demise or a notice that something good can happen. Either very good or very bad. Either we look into the nothingness or it looks deep inside us. Either we fear nothing, or the nothingness, or it brings us news when we were expecting nothing.

Despite my morbid tendencies - in part due to Edgar, but in part to my mother - I am quite drawn to the fortuitous, the happy possibilities of chance. Maybe that’s why Emily’s statement that she dwelled in possibilities struck home with me. Not knowing, not being able to identify, does not have to create fear in us. On the contrary, not knowing is freeing, it denies limits. It certain does not give much credence to a slender glass barrier between worlds - the inner and the outer.

I am thankfully done with my philosophizing and can leave the other three with their significant windows. I have another window and that is what this story is about because it is the only one I know how to tell.

THE REAL WINDOW, THE ONE THAT IS MINE

It is an average-sized, perfect-sized rectangle. It is sometimes in my bedroom, other times in my studio or the library. It keeps out the cold when it’s necessary. It also keeps out the heat. (Less often.) It does what it is supposed to do.

I sit by the window, which is something not enough people do. Sit by a good window and do something beside it, and also sit and look out. We do far too few things with our hands while sitting, but we also spend far too little time looking out of a window. Looking at our past and our future simultaneously. We need to focus past and future, though, or we get dizzy, ill. Fearful.

Nearer to the glass, I disappear and it does also. I feel I am one with the window. We both provide access to the world. I can choose the angle and range of the world that is offered to me. I can sometimes choose what I can offer to others who might want it. That never stops me from looking nor from trying.

My right hand slipslides over the invisibility that separates me from the grass. From the grass and the azaleas. From all of those things, plus the rhododendron, the ferns, the hostas, and the young ginkgoes. It is a tunnel view, but animal sounds send their notes to accompany it. The tunnel ends in a brook running low this time of year. The book tells me not to worry, that it will always be there. It crosses the window pane.

I want to be sad when by this window because it seems to look onto such limitations of space and life. My error. Still, I move to the front of the house to see the street life. Broader view, but maybe not better. Light angle varies. Bigger window, yes. Bigger world? One wonders.

Now I turn to another rectangle that provides a view toward the brook in the back without actually revealing the brook itself. Light angles varies, which goes without sating. An animal that is not a cat or a dog appears, lured by the food left by a concerned person. Is this the right thing to do? Feed the wildlife? Watch the animals like voyeurs as they come to feed? Upset the natural habits? 

The only option left is to circle back to the bedroom window, having encountered a crow or two but no ravens, having heard no more of Emily’s knockings, having failed to glimpse my father’s reflection. Now that I am here once more, my window is paling, its light descending into evening. The darkness is a comfort, and my window becomes my ear. It extends to the main street where vehicles must be passing, but does not let them disturb me. It tells me there are hardy heuchera and a late lilac blooming just beyond the stiff film some call glass. It reminds me to avoid the deadly caterpillars whose bristles provoke severe reactions in some people (I am one of them and appreciate this).

I have decided this is enough about windows and rappings - even though we could say so much more, if we were to consider the Spiritualists and such - and will end all of our stories here. There are several birds chirping in the final light of a cool day and I’d like to concentrate on that. In any event, every window is what you, I, or anybody makes of it. The important thing, is to make it something real.

June 11, 2021 23:59

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5 comments

Jay Stormer
00:25 Jun 12, 2021

The way you bring in references to Edgar, Emily, and Louise together with your own relationship to windows is very interesting.

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Kathleen March
16:16 Jun 15, 2021

Thank you. They just showed up on the page, asking to sit at my window. I had to invite them to join me.

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Ruth Porritt
04:33 Jun 14, 2021

Hello Kathleen, Wow!:) I am so glad I found your work. You too? I thought I was the only one who read all of Poe's work as a teen. Great to meet you. (Today, in 2021, I try not to tell people that I am a huge Poe fan. In the past when I mentioned this, people looked at me like I'd said that I was a fan of horseless carriages. Or something like that.) At my small university, back in the day, I would take a (1920's?) volume of his poetry and prose up to the graveyard behind my dorm. Then, I would prop myself up against an old tombstone and...

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Kathleen March
16:20 Jun 15, 2021

Your kind comments are so appreciated. I can't recall if Edgar ever went with me to a graveyard, but I love those spots, always have. I don't think it's being morbid and plan to write on wny it isn't. There are layers in the story, like there are layers in our lives. I am focused in general on working with the layers that life has given me. Let's stay in touch.

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Ruth Porritt
05:01 Jun 19, 2021

Hello Kathleen, My apologies; I just noticed that I never replied to your message. (Sorry about this.) Thank you for your kind words, and I can't wait to see what you write, next. I agree; I never think it's morbid to seek out places that are quiet and tranquil. (I would love to live in an English cottage/converted church that is across from a graveyard.) Yes, let's keep in touch, and hope the weather is nice in your part of the world. (It is raining, where I live, but it is a soothing kind of rain.)

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