Spectacle - Stephanie Haas
21" x 42" x 2"
There once was a woman who framed herself behind a window she carried wherever she went. The window was a double-paned Palladian—a storm window, the salesman called it—trimmed in natural pine. The salesman asked if she needed any caulk. He was an expert on the subject of caulk. The woman thought about attaching a curtain rod to the window, but then she figured she would have to match the fabric each day to her shoes and handbag. She opted for elegant simplicity.
Sometimes people asked her about the window. She would pull a paper towel and a bottle of Windex from her purse and clean the inside of the glass. I see, came the customary response. She didn't begrudge anyone.
Occasionally she ran into a smart-ass. Mama told me not to come, sang the man in the flat cap, sitting behind her on the bus. That ain’t no way to have fun—No! He hid his face behind his newspaper, as if that made any difference. Open up that window sucker, let me catch my breath!
One time a girl approached her at a party. Attention-whore, the girl said, spraying spittle mixed with gin against the glass. Fortunately, on her way home, the woman spotted a homeless man offering his service as a cleaner of windshields. He squeegeed away the debris. Thoroughly. Twice. The woman unlatched the locking mechanism and raised the window's lower panel. She handed the man a fifty-dollar bill. They both had tears in their eyes.
She never got used to the weight of the window or the painful grooves it cut into her hands. Hours after she tucked the window into her bed for the night, her hands remained cupped, like memory foam. She slept sitting up, her arms in a position of rigid supplication. By morning, her fingers were once again pliant enough to wield a mascara wand.
One day, an elderly lady approached the woman as she rested on a park bench. She tapped the woman’s window with the tip of her walking stick. When the woman looked up, the other woman’s face—bright eyes shining behind thick cat eye frames—was perfectly centered in the top right pane. Around her stooped neck hung a heavy, articulated bicycle chain. Attached to the chain was a red metal flag—a flag she’d filched from someone’s mailbox.
“Xwklbntlv?” the elderly lady asked.
“*,” she replied.
“Rhubarb,” the elderly lady said.
“Exactly.” The two women smiled. Hopeful. It felt so good to be heard.