Jennifer McFarland

Jeni McFarland

This window feels like inevitability, like there’s no way of keeping the world out. But no, that’s not quite right. It feels more like there are things going on inside the room, things which I can’t wrap my mind around, and so I stare out the window instead, focusing on the grass, the sunlight. Inside the room, there’s something that terrifies me, repels me; there’s a charge to this space. The heat, the overlarge bed that fills too much of the room, the dark wallpaper and wood floor. The room is dark, made darker by the fact that I’m staring out the open window into the bright sunlight. I stare until the room grows indistinct and disappears.

It’s hot outside; I can feel a warm breeze, I can smell the dry grass. I am alone in the room. There’s a bathroom door, closed, at the other end of the room, adjacent to the window, and the sunlight looks shiny on the white paint of the door. The door is heavy wood, and it has been painted over time and again so the paint is thick and streaked. And I’m waiting for the door to open. I’m dreading it. I should leave, I know it, I should escape this room while there’s still time, before the door opens and he comes out, but I can’t make myself move, I can’t take my eyes off the shiny paint of the door, and the window.

His bed isn’t just wide, it’s also tall. Like a child, I’d have to slide off it to leave. The bed posts are rounded dark wood. There’s a vanity against the wall, next to the doorway that leads into the rest of the house. I could escape through that doorway, I could run into the living room, out the front door. The mirror of the vanity is old, with dark spots behind the glass. The wood floor is a little scuffed. There’s a small rug on the floor. The ceiling slants so that the room seems to shrink in towards the bed. Everything in the room pulls towards that one dominant force, that obstacle.

I realize this is a memory, but I can’t shake this room, can’t erase the sheen of the bathroom door, the bright, warm window, can’t pull my mind from that bed, and so I do the only thing I can do. I make the room metamorphose.


I change the circumstances of the room. I change myself. The man who will enter from the bathroom door, I make what I want of him, someone who will occupy the space, stand sentinel, lest a more sinister figure should edge in. If I think about him hard enough, if I meditate on him, I can see him. He starts out fuzzy—he’s just a tall figure, dark clothing, pale skin. But if I focus, really focus, he solidifies. I can see his hair, not just the cut and color of it, but the individual strands, the sunlight shining on it, through it, the dust motes in the sun. I can see his skin, the creases around his mouth, the variegated colors of his eyes, the length of his eyelashes. I can see the mole on his neck. And if I really strain, I can feel the warmth of him. Smell the earthy smell of him. Then he’s real. For a fraction of a second, he’s real, he’s in the room with me, and the space expands. The ceiling shifts, slanting down towards the small window now, to the light and warmth coming from the window. The room is no longer cramped or stifling; it no longer has an odor of sweat and something else, thick, pungent. It smells like lavender and warm dry grass. There’s a breeze sifting through the screen of the bright window that stretches, opens like a yawn.

And when he moves towards me, so close, he’s touching me, when he moves with me, the room becomes lovely.


This room, this fantastic room, with its vivid window, sometimes works like a portal. In TV and movies, the visual portrayal of portals has become standard: the air will rip open, rippling visibly, and an oval will open in the air. Someone will reach first a hand into the oval, then an arm, then they will step inside. And they’re gone. If I’m not careful, the room might waver and change, the true memory resurfacing. Before I know it, I’m gone.

I’m inside the room. I want to go to the window, crawl through it, but fear immobilizes me. What’s out there in that light? I can’t hear anything through the window. For all I know, the world outside is silent. The ceiling angles, sloping away from the bed, opening, expanding, to provide the window, that gateway, that opening.

It’s just after lunch, probably around one p.m., and the inhabitants of the house are all fed, satiated, sedate. Most of them, at any rate. I am afforded no rest.

The room is stifling. The only light comes from the one small closed window, its curtains drawn. Why, on such a hot day, is the window closed? There is no breeze in the room, the air is stagnant, sweat forms like dew, or tears, or a wound, unstaunchable. Sweat lingers because the humid air cannot contain it. There is a smell, something I don’t know how to identify, like damp mushrooms, like musty earth, only it isn’t earth. It’s human. I am two years old. My eyes fixate on the matte paint of the bathroom door, its dull sheen slips as the door opens and he enters the room. I should get out. I should slide from this bed and run. But where can I go?

“Stay here,” he told me, before he went into the bathroom. “If you move, you’ll get a lickin’.”

I’ve indulged the memory long enough. Nobody needs to know any of this. But the room is still there, when I close my eyes, it metastasizes, riding on my blood, hiding in my marrow. I need to excise it. Once removed, once contained within a safe space, a Petri dish, a jar of formaldehyde, only then can it be analyzed.

The room changes again. Memory is funny like that. When written, it can take any shape I want it to. Words are malleable.


I replace myself, and the room becomes someone else’s story. The room is stifling and dark, the only light, the only breeze coming from one small window, its curtains thrown back, the summer air creeping in through the screen. She swears she can hear the floral wallpaper curling in the heat, peeling away from the wall like birch bark. The house is silent, allowing in all the sounds of summer, the cicadas in the woods, the hushed sifting of wind through brown grass, the sway of Queen Anne’s lace. She checks her watch. One eighteen. Her mother is strict about afternoon lie-downs. A body must rest from one to two every day. It would be unseemly for her to be found outside of her room at this time of day, even if she were only to venture out in search of a glass of water.

How did she ever manage this when she was a teenager? She had certainly been better at entertaining herself. She’d been a master of disengaging, of living inside her head, removing herself from this room, transporting herself into the world beyond. Perhaps she could use this skill to escape this room, its heat. She needs a place to escape to.

She tries to conjure thoughts of fall. She thinks of fields covered in frost, and of the hay rides she attended as a girl. She imagines steaming mugs of apple cider and ears of roasted corn and the look of the frozen ponds at her best friend’s farm, covered in delicate etchings of frost, with little bubbles and a liquid center pressed beneath the ice. Those same ponds would be just about dry now, there would be little more remaining than muddy water, perhaps with algae growing on the surface. She thinks of the way cows still try to drink at such mud holes, and again finds herself wishing she could go out and pump a glass of water.

She can see the well from her bedroom window. It would pump cold and clean. She can almost taste it. She pushes her damp bangs off her forehead with her dress sleeve. Try as she might, she can’t keep her eyes from straying out the window, to the dry grass, the wildflowers dotted white along the field, the baled cylinders of hay drying in the sun, the dusty pine trees, the splash of blue sky just visible above the treetops. She wants to go to the window, to climb through, out into the sunlight, to run across that filed, to escape into the cool forests beyond.

There’s a knock on her door. She springs from her bed, wondering why she’s so jumpy. Who could it be on the other side of the door? Has the clock tolled two? Did she miss it while she was daydreaming?


Who else could be on the other side of the door, other than him? Even my story, my altered reality, my beautified version of that bright window clouds, darkens, grows grotesque. But the window itself is not ugly. It is only a small window, with a white windowsill and glass streaked with dust and cigarette smoke. It stands at the other end of the room, hazed with sunlight. I could have gone to the window, pushed the screen out, pulled myself up onto the windowsill, dropped down into the warm grass outside. I could have escaped before he ever opened the bathroom door. But I didn’t. I stayed where I was told to stay. On that bed, the covers thrown back, the pillow hot, my body dry and hollow, a hallowed vessel, a chalice. And then he steps inside. My mind is blank. Once he finishes, leaves, I lay there still, sweat drying on my skin, his sweat, on my body so young it doesn’t even know how to sweat properly. I stare at that small bright window; it warps, stretches, grows in my vision, and something in the atmosphere of my brain shifts so that I will forever perceive pain as beauty and love as fear, and the window, that pervasive window, its streaked glass and hot wind and the dust on the windowsill, all of it is magnified and unbearably bright. The window wavers, blurs as if by rain, and, quite suddenly, extinguishes. The room around me evaporates.

1 Comment

  1. Wow. What a haunting story. The atmosphere in this piece is palpable.

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