Four panes of glass stare back at me. Their faces are darkened with rain splatters and mud from passing cars. They judge me. Judge my navy blue sweater, my grey trackpants with the coffee stains that won’t wash out. I don’t want them to.
They remind me of my grandma, the way she used to slurp instant coffee from that yellow mug my brother bought her for her 86th birthday. I remember watching as quick rivers of diluted brown dodged the long white hairs on her wizened chin. I would laugh quietly as she caught the stray liquid in a bib that was tied around her throat. I’d tell her she needed a straw. “Pfft, a straw?!” she’d exclaim each time, and I’d laugh harder.
She died four years ago today. And so the coffee stains stay. And the windows continue their scrutiny.
That panel of wood watches me, cocks its flat timber head and dares me to turn its brass knob. Come forth, Lillian, there is a world at your fingertips. Be brave. The door tells me in wooden whispers I decipher over the frenzied hiss and splash of the cars that race past. The lives that race past. Lives so different to mine. Do I even know how to live?
I feel small suddenly, insignificant, and the house holds me together as my pieces threaten to fall apart on the crumb-dusted carpet. There are fragments of me left all about, shards of me too thin, too broken for this house to put back together. One day there will be nothing left for this house to mend.
What am I doing?
I glance at the red gumboots sitting neatly by the door, the bright yellow umbrella that smiles at me from its hook by my overcoat, pleading that after all these years I finally take her out into the rain. Do I dare?
My fingers twist together in tight, tight knots that squeeze at my throat and threaten to strangle me from the inside out. Do I dare?
A wall touches my back, it hears my frantic gasps, it touches me with cool solidarity that I cannot bear to leave. Everyone says the walls can hear, but these walls can see. They watch me constantly, from room to room. They watch me with silent concern, unlike the windows that mock me, that constantly judge those coffee stains I’ve grown to love.
The rain lessens to a dull sprinkle, pattering off the flowers I didn’t plant in the small 2x2 garden just beyond the door. I wonder what the air outside smells like. I only know the smell of mildew and packet mac and cheese, and that peculiar waft from the lowest shelf of the fridge I haven’t dared to explore.
I glance over my shoulder, I see the fridge in all its glory, and my eyes pause on a lime green sticky note plastered beside an old photograph of Sebastian, Grandma and me – back when I knew how to smile, how to live.
Flowers Lillian. It has been four years. She deserves to hear from you.
I can’t remember writing those words. Perhaps it was the walls. I take in a breath.
My heart won’t quiet it’s racing.
I picture myself, stepping out that door, dodging muddied rainwater tossed up carelessly by passing cars as I take a right, a left, another left and then a right. I can do this. I need to.
My hand trembles, aching like the windows are attacking me with glass words, their edges so jagged I'm left bleeding out on the floor.
I sew blood back into my veins as they judge me still, but I judge them back, arguing that my coffee stains have meaning, contain memories whilst their grubby faces hold no excuse.
The doorknob winks at me.
Take it. Freedom awaits you, Lillian. The door again whispers it’s wooden words and my heart feels both hollow and choked.
Four panes of glass.
Two feet slipping into two red boots.
One hand reaching for that winking brass knob.
I wonder if I’ve died.
Cool air washes over me, cooler than anything I’ve felt in a while. It is as though the clouds themselves reach down from the sky to cup my face and kiss my cheeks until they are stained red, like a blush perpetually dancing across my nose.
Three steps. I take them one at a time. One boot splashes into a puddle and suddenly I’m six again, laughing, screaming, splashing as Grandma watches with a smile and holds Sebastian’s hand as he timidly tips a green gumbooted toe into a shallow puddle.
Except, I’m not six, I’m thirty-seven and I’m afraid of everything. And if anyone listened close enough they’d hear me screaming. I can’t stop.
One right, two lefts and another right.
Flowers of every kind watch me cheerfully, their sunny faces freckled with sky tears, and they wave at me from colourful planters. An older woman peeks past the wood and corrugated iron façade that is the storefront and waves. “Come in out of the rain, deary.”
She welcomes me with outstretched arms and all I can think of is the coffee stains on my pants and this feeling in my chest that is so foreign yet so familiar. And I kinda, sorta want to cry.
I move towards her as the sky weeps for me, its tears keep bouncing off my sunny umbrella who can’t stop smiling and puddling in small swirls around my feet as if whispering. We are proud of you Lillian. Look how far you’ve come.
“I'm Daisy,” the woman says, “Here, let me get that for you.” She takes my smiling umbrella, shakes her off deftly and leaves her hanging upside down on a hook. I count the drips falling from her yellow face. One, two, thr–
“So tell me deary, what can I get for you?”
Me. She’s talking to me.
“Uh–.” My voice wavers like a leaf in the wind, tossed about this room that is more plants and flowers than air to breathe.
I glance around, I think of Grandma, I forget me.
“Those.” I whisper with a pointed finger and Daisy’s face lights up with joy.
“Daffodils! How glorious!” She clings to my arm, and suddenly I realise it has been four years since a living thing has touched my skin. My heart is out on the footpath, trampled by careless shoes and frenzied souls so desperate to get on with the lives they are living – too busy to stand still and to see that the sky is painted gold and crimson and shining with unshed tears.
“A wonderful choice my dear.” Daisy says, seeming to not notice the glass in my eyes and the footprints on my heart. She bustles about, drawing daffodils so sunny, so yellow – so like that mug Sebastian bought Grandma on her 86th birthday. The mug she drank instant coffee from so quickly it ran in quick rivers of diluted brown down her chin. ‘You need a straw.’
“Is this enough, deary?” Daisy asks, holding up a sizable bunch of too happy flowers with that permanent soft smile on her lips that makes me crave a hug. What is happening to me?
“Yes. . . please.” I can’t say more. My mouth is dusted with flour and my tongue is hiding in my stomach.
I cannot bear to look into her kind brown eyes and see her soft, soft smile that hurts my heart. It makes me long for Grandma, for a life that isn’t mine – that once was mine. Where are the walls when I need them? I’m dropping pieces of me all over this linoleum floor, and the house isn’t here to hold me up.
“That’ll be eleven dollars, honey.” Daisy says, producing with a flourish the bouquet wrapped in beige parchment paper and tied in a bow with thin twine.
I scramble through my pockets, pulling coins from nowhere and everywhere and somehow managing to produce the money I need.
“You enjoy your day now sweetie. And mind you don’t slip in the rain.” Daisy smiles again, and I can’t possibly imagine her upset. I don’t want to.
“Thank you.” I whisper and gather the flowers in my arms.
She pats my hand, and for a moment I think she understands. “What’s your name, deary.”
“Lillian.” It’s been too long since I uttered my name aloud. It tastes bittersweet on my tongue, nostalgic almost. Like the first day of preschool and I'm made to introduce myself.
“A beautiful name.”
“Thank you.” And for the first time in four years I wish I could stay, I wish my voice would not waver past my lips, and my skin would not tremble as it keeps my organs from spilling out at Daisy’s feet.
She says my name. She says it how Grandma used to say it. Softly, as though I might break with one small fright; she says it like she knows me, like she loves me. And oh, it’s been the longest time since I’ve felt love.
“Goodbye.” I reply, and my breath catches on a lilac hydrangea as I stumble to the door. The umbrella cries to me, saying Don’t forget me Lillian, take me to the rain. I grab her and shelter my heavy shoulders and these yellow daffodils that burn me with a happiness I long to claim as my own.
The clouds weep for me. Sending fat tears tumbling from the sky, crying that they understand, they feel what I feel.
Another piece of me is left broken, forgotten on the footpath behind me. I do not pick it up.
Four miles of cold air and hard cobblestones; I miss the windows that judge me. I long for the walls that see me, that hold me up with hands so firm yet gentle, so concerned and kind.
But I am here. Where I am supposed to be.
A small iron fence decorated with sky tears and damp cobwebs is the only thing that separates me from her. I can see her, feel her.
She is sitting cross legged with her spine pressed against a granite marker, there is writing on the marker, but I don’t read it. She looks younger now. Less tarnished by the weight of the world and the rain that pillages from the sky. She glances at me, and her features soften, she beckons to me with hands that can’t touch, and I tumble through the iron gate.
My name is spoken on the lips of the wind, it presses those seven letters against my cheek before swirling through dried leaves and a discarded newspaper with yesterday’s date on it.
Grandma reaches for me, an embrace with I crave with every atom in my body. I fall into her. But she doesn’t catch me.
I am nothing.
I can hear the house screaming as shards of me splinter the damp earth. This time I cannot be fixed. Nor do I want to be. Daffodils kiss the soil with snapped necks and dirty petals. I could not care for them; I couldn’t save them. Just like Grandma.
The sky can’t stop crying, and neither can I. Our tears collide on my cheeks, drowning me as I lie where my grandmother had sat. She’s not coming back.
Four hours. My body knows nothing but tears and a cold that is more buried in my bones than it is on my skin.
I take my leave.
The windows tut their disapproval when they see my disarray and the door welcomes me home with its timber timbre. The walls draw me into them, their eyes rove over the twigs and dirt on my sweater and my damp socks and they weep for me.
The one daffodil I kept hits the floor, stolen from my weak grasp and dragged down by the very same thing that sent an apple falling towards Newton’s balding head. I don’t pick it up.
The walls guide me to the laundry, I strip from the coffee stained pants I wear too often, and the navy blue sweater tarnished with mud. These walls don’t judge me, they press pieces of me back into place, and push blankets under my back as I crumple to the floor.
Tiles don’t hurt me like they used to. They cradle me.
The sun is kissing me, I feel it through the windows that are pretending they like me. I haven’t moved from my place on the laundry floor where I lie on a pile of bed sheets and towels I’ve forgotten to wash. It’s morning, the walls whisper, time to rise, Lillian.
Coffee beckons me from the pot in the kitchen, and I pad my way there in little more than my underwear and a pair of odd socks I found on the floor. The dryer hasn’t finished with my coffee stained pants.
Dry bread, I think as I bite into toast and jam. It’s time to order more. Before yesterday I hadn’t left this house in four years, the furthest I’d gone was as far as opening the front door to snatch groceries off the porch. I hadn’t spoken to a person in two years.
Today I feel different, so I push open a window and ignore it’s screams of rage as fresh air slips through the gap. I feel the walls smiling at me, and I caress their whitewashed faces with outstretched fingertips as I wander back to the beeping dryer.
My grey pants smell of lavender and honeysuckle and my grandma with her yellow mug. I hold them up, and the sky doesn’t cry with me.
The window watches me and whispers, it’s okay, sometimes stains just go away. The walls hug me as my heart breaks and breaks and my emotions puddle amongst the dirty sheets and odd socks and forgotten pegs that never quite made it to the clothesline.
Four minutes pass and the coffee machine beeps, the dry toast in my belly is forgotten. The sunlit sky whispers that today we can be happy. You and I, Lillian, today we don’t have to cry.
Today we don’t have to cry.
I drink bitter coffee from a bright yellow mug – not instant coffee – and slip into these grey sweatpants that somehow no longer hold stains. I pull on a pink knit sweater with C’est la vie scrawled across the front in silver letters; ironic.
I stare at the window in the kitchen, now silent as the breeze plays gently with my hair. My heart heals as I look at the photograph on the fridge, by the sticky note I don’t remember writing. Grandma is gone, but I’m not. My life is now, and I will learn how to live again.
I draw in a breath, smile at the windows that have quietened their gossiping and the walls that have collected my pieces. The sky is right, today I don’t have to cry. No, I think I need a houseplant.
And I know just where to find one.