Sunday, January 29, 2023


A new short story 

    It was a plain little building with a small yard in front. She had discovered it one day as she was walking in the woods near her home. It looked like it had been unoccupied for some time, as the path to it was overgrown with grass and there were decaying leaves covering the front step. The walls were weathered but looked intact. Curious, she walked up to it and tried the door; it was unlocked. She opened it carefully and looked inside.

   It was just one room, with a window in the center of the other three walls. There was no furniture, no rug, no curtains, nothing at all except the door and the windows. She stepped in slowly, in case the wooden floor wasn’t safe--but as it felt quite solid underfoot, she crossed to the window opposite the door and looked out.

   A meadow lay behind and a bit below the little house. It was deserted. Grasses bent and swayed in the wind and myriads of brightly colored wildflowers trembled as the breezes passed over them. The branches of the encircling fir trees moved endlessly. That’s strange, she thought. The air had been quite still when she walked into the building. But the wind was undoubtedly blowing now; it caused long ripples to roll across a pond which was in the middle of the meadow. The wind must have come up quickly.

   She wanted to get a better look at the pretty wildflowers, so she went outside and walked around the side of the house toward the back—and then stopped dead in her tracks. Behind the building there was nothing but a small, weed-covered yard, surrounded by a hedge of bramble bushes in front of some scraggly trees. The air was completely still, as it had been before she entered the little house. There was no grassy meadow, no flowers, no pond, no wind. She looked back at the house—there wasn’t even a window to be seen; nothing but a blank wooden wall covered with peeling paint. She slowly circled the entire structure and realized that although there were windows in the side walls, there was no opening in the back wall at all.

   She re-entered the house and looked through the side windows; all she saw was what she had just walked through. But the back window—which seemed not to exist in external reality!—still looked out over a meadow with a pond in the middle.

   How could this be? She didn’t know what to think. As she stood, completely mystified, her thoughts were interrupted by something unexpected. Emerging from the trees was a person carrying a bucket. This person—it was a man—walked around the pond, filled his bucket, and then turned to water a small sapling she hadn’t noticed at first, which was planted to the right of the pond. It seemed to be a different sort of tree than the others around the clearing; she supposed that the man had planted it there himself, perhaps.

   After giving the small tree a few bucketsful of water, he stood for a while, looking at it, and then started to walk back the way he came. She rushed out of the little house to see if, by chance, there was anyone behind it—but she saw only the yard with weeds, as before. She turned and ran back around the house and through the front door to the far window, to catch only a glimpse of the man as he disappeared into the forest the way he came.

   She stood at the window for a long time, thinking. After a while, she examined it closely to see how it opened. It was an old-fashioned, sash-type window—the kind where the lower pane slides up and stays up until it is pulled down again. She raised the lower pane and was instantly struck in the face by fresh air blowing into the room, filled with all kinds of forest meadow scents. And there was something else, too: a subtle sound, just over the edge of her hearing, as of music barely heard. Soothing music, beautiful music. She tried to quiet her thoughts in order to hear it better, but too many questions and speculations were circling around in her mind.

   She put her arm out the window and touched the outside walls. They felt normal to her, just as she would have expected the little house’s ordinary wooden walls to feel. Leaning out the window slightly, she looked straight down. From that vantage point, she could see that there was no backyard at all. The house was at the edge of a rise and a slope led down towards the meadow; a faint path led to and around the pond.

   She wondered, could the man see the house when he was in the meadow, or was it as invisible to him as the clearing was to her when she was outside the house in its tiny backyard? It was too complex a question for her to pursue.

   Quite some time passed as she waited by the window, looking out over the pond and the meadow and the trees. Would the man come back? But the only movements she saw were those of a few birds flying low, and the wind-caused ripples on the pond.

   The light began to fade; reluctantly she pulled down the sash and left the little house. She had a lot to think about on her way home….


   Although the mysterious little house had puzzled her quite a bit, she was too busy to visit it again until several days had passed. She had her job and other tasks and responsibilities which occupied her time. Still, she found herself thinking about it, and about the man, at odd moments; it was certainly too strange to forget. Finally, she found the time to return.

   It was a very warm day. As she approached the house, she hoped it would be cooler inside. I should have worn a hat, she thought, Then I wouldn’t be sweating so much.

   She walked up to the door. But instead of entering right away, she veered off to the side to take a quick look around the back. It looked exactly as before—a weedy yard with a brambly hedge. And it was even hotter there, due to the sun’s heat reflecting off the blank wooden wall. She looked at the unbroken expanse. “Where are you, window?” she asked out loud, with amusement. Because of the heat, however, she hurried to retrace her steps and go into the house.

   She walked straight across the room to the back window and threw it open—only to be hit in the face by a few windblown raindrops. She was startled for a moment and then laughed out loud. I should have guessed that it wouldn’t be the same weather! she thought to herself. I wonder if it is ever the same? I’ll bet not.

   There was no sign of the man. Maybe the rain was keeping him at home--wherever that home was. She leaned on the windowsill, enjoying the cool, damp air and the occasional raindrops. The coolness revived her and the rain caused the grasses and flowers to look even brighter and more inviting than ever. She had a moment of intense longing and then realized that she needed to go home. She closed the window reluctantly, and left in the heat of the day.


   For weeks she visited and watched, or was it months? Oh, yes, it was months, and more than just a few—but how many? She couldn’t tell. Looking out the window at the big meadow became very important to her. At first. it happened only once in a while. Then more frequently, then regularly, until finally it was almost every day. Some of the time he wasn’t there, but she could see evidence of his presence: a book or a jacket, or fishing tackle left beside the pond. She stayed and watched a long time then, but he seldom returned for his belongings during the times she was there. On those days, she left the little house sadly.

   But sometimes he WAS there when she looked through the window, busy doing various things: scything the tall, green grasses in the meadow, clearing the paths, pruning dead branches from the trees. Sometimes he was just resting in the grass, watching a bird perched on the sapling across the pond or watching the clouds moving across the sky. She knew he had come to know that she was there, even though he was usually self-absorbed in what he was doing. Sometimes he waved at her; a few times he bowed in mock homage. That pleased her intensely. And under everything, when he was there, were the faint sounds of music—the most beautiful music she had ever heard.

   She continued to watch him through the round of window-seasons. Did it seem to be spring? He was tending to all the riotously colored flowers. Was it summer-warm? He often swam or fished in the pond. In autumn-like days, he cleared fallen leaves; in the snows of seeming winter, he scattered food for the animals. Occasionally he even threw snowballs at her window. She always ducked and laughed; she could almost see the mischievous expressions on his face. She was content to watch, and approve, and be entranced by his continuous activities.


   The seasons of watching rolled on, year after year. It was now an established part of her life, often seeming more real than the other things she did every day. She crossed the lines back and forth enough times that everything seemed to her to be connected, to be one reality instead of two.


   Finally, there came a day….

   In the world outside the window, it had snowed again. Even though the little house was warm enough, she breathed in crisp, cold air from the winter weather beyond and rubbed her arms. I’m not dressed for this… she thought with amusement.

   The pond was frozen, snow covered the ground, and the distant tree branches were frosted with white. A beautiful red bird perched on the sapling. Everything was calm and peaceful. Looking around, she noticed a trail of footprints in the snow, running from the tree line to the edge of the pond. She smiled, knowing that he had been there, but sorry that she had missed seeing him once again.

   She continued to gaze at the wintery scene, hoping he would come back. She had learned long ago that he didn’t seem to mind any kind of weather, even deep snow. But something started nagging at her, bothering her, worrying her. She looked carefully through the window, wondering what was wrong—and then all at once she knew: there was only one set of footprints. One set only, leading from the trees to the water. No footprints back or leading anywhere else. He had walked to the water’s edge and then—what? What did he do? Where did he go? Where was he? The footprints looked too perfect for him to have retraced his steps exactly, back to the trees. Could he have walked across the ice-covered pond? But there were no footprints leading away from it on any side. He had vanished. Where was he? Then she thought—had the water been frozen when he arrived at its edge? Or had it frozen….afterward?

   Fear and dread filled her. Where was he? Had he fallen into the water? She knew he could swim, but the water was surely too cold for swimming. Panic struck her all of a sudden. Was he at the bottom of the frozen-over pond? She couldn’t bear that thought. Without a moment’s hesitation, she climbed up onto the windowsill, swung her legs over, and pushed herself out and away from the wall…

   …and found herself falling, falling, falling into darkness and flashes of color and fragments of music. Falling endlessly, as she thought only of trying to reach him, to find him, to pull him back into life. If he was gone, how could she go on? There would be no light, no color, no music; nothing anymore—never again, never anymore. She had to find him.

…falling slowly and endlessly in darkness—a darkness that abruptly became extremely cold. And then she stopped falling because she had landed, feather-light, in his arms. Startled, she stared up at his face, taking in details she had never yet seen. He looked back at her, silently. Nothing else for a long time, while something crystallized in her heart.

   “Why are you here?” he asked, finally.

   “Where were you? I couldn’t see you.”

   “I was here.”

   “But there weren’t enough footprints—I didn’t know where you were—I was afraid for you…”

   “You don’t need to worry about me.” He smiled and carefully placed her on her feet, and then stepped back. She felt colder instantly—snow still lay all around them. She shivered a little.

   “Are you cold?” When she nodded, he said, “Get warmer,” and opened his arms. After a brief hesitation, she took a step forward—paused—and then moved into the embrace. The coldness receded and his warmth enveloped her. Nothing in her life had ever felt so right. She never wanted to move again.

   Too soon, though, he relaxed his hold on her and looked at her directly. “Your life is up there.” He gestured with a nod of his head toward the little house on the hill.

   She looked at the house for a moment and then back at him. “True,” she replied. The window was still there in that wall; she could climb back through it and go home.

   “Mine is here,” he stated briefly.

   After a moment, she said, “Is there room for anything more in your life?”

   He looked at her amusedly. “You don’t know anything at all about my life except this little piece of it.”

   “You are still you, wherever you are. Is there room?”

   There was a long silence. ““Maybe.”


   Silence again. “Maybe.”


Copyright 2023, Mary M. Isaacs

From a forthcoming book

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