Essay -- 1st Place 

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There is nothing better than a warm spot by a window. Adjacent to the window in our kitchen, through the hallway and into the living room, another window provided refuge. As a child I would sit on the arm of our couch, sturdy because it was scratchy, ugly because it was sturdy: all elements that gave the couch its invincible nature. I remember the small patch of sun coming in, situating me, and shifting me as its warmth turned. I would sit there for hours watching slow cars pass, dogs walk and stay-at-home moms keeping themselves and their minds busy with afternoon walks and visits. I loved the feel of silent observation, watching the past that I so often walked, followed by other people. I watched small drops of morning dew or sprinkler residue (it depended on the time of day) collapse the leaves with their weight. I watched the small clump of raspberries growing in a small space of quiet suburbia. Most importantly and enjoyably, I watched the light change and the shadows shift, wanting to see the sun sink behind roofs and road, only knowing it in color as it traveled beyond my perception. In the innocence of my childhood and the open hours of contemplation, I wanted to swallow every drip of sunlight, not knowing its essence or my own, just breathing it in. Now … bleeding, breathing and hurting; inside flesh, inside walls and inside time, (realizations of clouded maturity) I search for the window that gives me a vision of eternal and continual presence and the warmth of an everyday sunrise.

I’m reminded of my weakness time and time again as the exhaustion of my body overrides my ambition, defeated every time as my eyes close and my body collapses onto a bed of soft vulnerability. And yet rhythm continues in blood, sun and seasons and … THIS BODY DREAMS.

My grandparent’s old house contains the only other window that I’ve felt an affinity comparable to the tow in the small brown house of my childhood. Stray cats would come up and sit on the ledge outside the window, waiting for the leftover scraps, trying to look disinterested. They were like runaway children grown old, peering into a world they could no longer inhabit but could taste if they begged for it. Collected pieces of twine and broken cages never worked to trap them and neither did tempting the small kittens out from underneath the shed; their protective mothers warning them of the luring, bouncing string. But we could touch them through glass.

I would watch the wheat fields blow, admiring the way the space danced and moved from where I stood, sheltered and comfortable. At night when the dark of the basement was too much, I would find a path of stairs leading me out from the terror that creeps into a child’s imagination, opening the door that kept me there, to a window that was always unadorned. I would watch the trains pass in the night and loved the comfort of the moonlight coming in. Concentrated and intensified through a box of glass, it beckoned me to come out and play with the colors that were few and scattered about the farmland. While my family was sleeping, colors were passing on trains in the night and I was standing to watch them.

When we stood inside the kitchen, an intermission between sitting meals, catching cats, riding tractors, turning the cobwebbed key of a dead engine and doing chores, my grandmother would hand my sister and me old binoculars. They felt heavy with time, lacking the lightness of evolved technology as we would try and find my grandfather fishing. I tried to look for him towards the creek, past the railroad tracks where the trail ended. My grandma trusted I might find him outside the window as I clumsily held magnification, but I think it only exaggerated my boundaries and I kept from looking so far off. Instead, I focussed my eyes, glass through glass through glass, on a bird in a tree, or would try to find from comfortable distance what was slithering in the grass. Two small hands exaggerated the small things of the small world I knew and smoked: the combination of curious hands, light and magnification, recognized the burning of my intensity.

The window of my grandmother’s kitchen, as kitchens are always maternally possessed, was like a piece of art still breathing. Colors of light were changing and altering the masterpiece into something it will never be again. Framed by simple wallpaper and almost bare walls, it held embroidered wall hangings of Scripture passages. The dullness of the kitchen forced your eyes to the rectangular perfection of the window, moving them outside to the wheat void in front of you, up the vertical line of the tree, over and down to the shed, back to four lines, bare walls and a soft request from my grandmother to play the piano. With the sun still in my eyes, circles of yellow, green and red exploding on the keys, I watched my rough hands try and find the notes of a melody. I can see her reclined, eyes closed with arms relaxed and thick nylon legs elevated on the foot rest, trying to follow with her tired voice the scattered notes of me that missed the target most times.

I barely remember seeing cows or piled haystacks outside the window. As my grandparents became older, the workload dissipated and became quiet. I don’t think the trains even run there anymore. More houses came in and penetrated the soothing, swaying emptiness of the wheat field. The road outside the front door widened and erased the once existing creek with stagnant concrete to allow more cars to pass, faster. My grandparents eventually sold the farm and moved into a cookie-cutter house with too much space and windows incomparable to the one I enjoyed. The house is nice, but sometimes it feels colder than the dark basement of the previous one. It’s the air that is missing: countless loaves of bread, fresh batches of laundry, fish splashing on a hot skillet, the scent of farm work attached to the exhausted bodies of my grandfather, father and uncles coming through the back door. It is the music of clumsy fingers from grandchildren at the piano, trying to follow the patient hum of Grandma. It’s the air of years circulating that hits you in the face once you walk in the door and tells you you’re home. It’s the window that no longer remains.

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Deborah Ricks

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