Clear Windows and Smoky Mirrors

When Victoria moved into the house on North Knox Avenue she was pleasantly surprised to find that it was of very new construction. The house had been part of a slum-elimination program initiated by a mayor under the stress of protesters. The windows were fine and new, the kitchen sparkling and modern, but surprisingly the bedrooms were very old-fashioned. Perhaps the previous owners were connoisseurs of antique furniture, for there were four poster beds with velvet canopies. And strangely enough there were no mirrors at all in that house, Victoria found one in the basement but it had turned grey. The unrefined silver had tarnished beyond repair. She resolved to buy some usable mirrors later that week.

Phillip had inquired about these peculiarities to the real estate agent with his characteristic suspicion. Apparently they were an old eccentric couple who had been too lazy to cart their four posters all the way to Santa Barbara to stay with their accomplished college boy. The mirrors however, bore no explanation. Everyone but wise Phillip shrugged it off to eccentricity and senility.

Victoria's room was a dream. A winding staircase led to a chamber whose roof was merely glass that welcomed sunlight like an old comrade. The room was privacy, and yet so open. She pondered on how to preserve her modesty while changing and discovered a pull curtain that screened off a large section of the room. Filled with a casual euphoria that made Victoria want to celebrate life with all other living beings in an immaculate fiesta, and a portable radio as her mood music she set her sentimental possessions around her bedroom. Though the number of her possessions could be ticked off with a set of fingers and toes, it would take her three glorious hours- until the sun set-to have the arrangements just right.

Phillip had of course, been the only one to consider human needs such as dinner, and had prepared sloppy joes for his family. Philip and his mother ate their 'meat by-product' sandwiches with unusual cheeriness in the rustic light of candles, surrounded by dusty shelves and unswept wood floors. Victoria declined, saying that she had dined in the Admiral's Club.

"Tomorrow, we're going to school, Vicky." "Yes, and I shall be an exalted junior whereas you, my foolish Phillip, shall be but a freshman." In an unprecedented feat of verbal ability, their mother spoke. "I'll drop you both off. Where's the school?" "It's Grover High School. It's down on 11th street northbound."

"No problem, kid," their mother managed to squeak out, and was overcome by the exhaustion of her words.

"Babe, to us?" said Phillip in a mock-debonair voice and raised his glass of suspiciously alcoholic apple juice.

"To us, the best people we know," she replied with equal drollery.

Their glasses clinked gaily, and drank to themselves, the future, and hope.

Wendy had lived in her childhood home for her entire seventeen years of life on North Knox Avenue. In late November she had decided to look up from the labor of love that was her calculus homework, and became the first to see that someone new had come to the campy streets of Chicago. With the manner of a gossipy housewife, she reached for her friend Luke's binoculars. Prying open the plastic blinds with one hand, she stuck the lenses through the gap.

It was a family that was moving into the old Warren place. A mother with a pallid expression-most definitely Vietnamese by her ao-dai dress. Oh-and two children. A boy and a girl. Both with their mother's black hair.

With Luke's powerful binoculars, Wendy tried not to consider why he required such high-power lenses, she observed the children, which were of much more interest. The boy had dark eyes: a common mud brown and the girl: fey-like lavender eyes.

Wendy felt no compunction, not in the least disgusted with her voyeurism, as she watched the girl put away her things in the glass attic. Wendy was intrigued, and could not wait for this fascinating stranger to walk through the halls of Grover High.

The girl called Wendy loved two things more than anything else in her bubble-world. The first thing she ever loved was the night. Every night at midnight, when her brothers and sisters were asleep, she crept out the brick fire escape to explore. The fire escape was a curious device, which consisted of a brick pit dug into the basement where Wendy slept with her sisters, and a ladder to scale the pit. Officially, it had only been used once before, when the previous owners had an encounter with a mad bulldog in the basement. But for little Wendy, it was the perfect means for her late-night explorations. When she was twelve, on the night of April the fifth, there was a cool rain which ground itself into pungent earth, and icy winds that made her frozen heart race. The dark was an eternal curiosity, an adventure for little Wendy. At night she could not see as she did in day, and she delighted in finding new paths through familiar roads turned strange. Little Wendy would wander for hours through the conservative suburbs of her neighborhood, gathering the flowers that bloomed in clandestine night. She watched the stars sometimes, wondering about the distracted minds of humans. Only humans could have built so much clutter: neon signs, brothels, and slums that stole eyes away from the peace of the cosmos.

The second thing Wendy loved was the boy named Andrew. When she told Luke the object of her affections, he was stunned, but did not discourage her love. She met him in sophomore year, and he was the most brilliant mathematician she had ever met. Intelligent and attractive, the Indian boy had infatuated her. Wendy was no fool; she knew his habit, but she was in love. Wendy loved his faults and virtues, his bristled lip, his shapely knees, and red-rimmed eyes from studying too much. She liked smart boys, and this was the cause of her suffering, for the child was blessed with an average intellect that was the bane of her ambitions. As such, she would forever be envious and angry at the people she admired and adored most. Therefore, it is safe to say that Wendy loved Andrew as much as she hated him.

Never before had she felt such love for a human, and fantasized the sexual dreams of the very young adolescent. She found herself to be very turned- on by his facial hair. Wendy normally hated moustaches, but it was a symbol of sexual maturity, and perhaps, the capability of lusty love. When he referred to it, she would blush a little from the naughty thoughts running through her mind. And then there was the time he talked of his dream for family. Again, she was aroused, for to have children would require intercourse, and she considered the prospect of herself as his wife. True, she despised small children, but she was not opposed to making love to Andrew.

She had never experienced honest love, the type that was a common phenomenon among the bolder students at Grover High. Wendy despised those happy, smug, souls with the casual, open, warm love that wasn't in the least fantasy nor unrequited. For a year and a half, Wendy tried to tell the object of her affection, but found herself too cowardly. Thus, for a year and a half, Wendy indulged in the world's guiltiest pleasure- unrequited love: the mix of hate, desire, and blaming everyone else for one's inner cancers.

There was once an island in Chicago, a small neighborhood oasis cut out from the twisted iron skyscrapers. In two hundred years those five-and-a- half blocks between North Knox Avenue and Wright Avenue would give way to government housing for the poor under a new socialistic regime, but for now, it was a play land of privileged children. With each generation, the children would live an easier life than their predecessors, and know less of life's sobering hardships. Occasionally, a child might be driven to suicide or meet some other tragic end due to the jarring presence of Reality, but on the whole those privileged children would grow up uncorrupted, attend a respectable university, marry for money, and die old and rich. In fact, Wendy was such a child. She lived her life in the way that the privileged children alone knew how, never questioning the system and destiny she had come to enjoy.

But sometimes, in the war of Reality and Naïveté, Reality was named victor and the casualties of that battle could not follow the pre-approved path of life. No one knew what happened to those children, but occasionally a privileged child might walk the streets of Chicago hand-in-hand with a doting parent. There in the shadows, the innocent child might spy wretched bent forms, curling blue smoke, and horrible laughter from a stinking alleyway, before their guardian would snatch them away to safer shores.

Everyone, that is to say teachers, parents, and friends lived for the children. Their duties were as follows: to keep the children healthy, educate their provincial minds, and ensure that the proper bigotries of their parents would be passed on for posterity. As such, a proper school house had been built to accommodate the privileged children of high school age. Grover High School was built on the junction of Wright Avenue and 12th, quite near the Charleston Train Station. It was an institution founded on respect, talent, and determination, and could not associate its fine name with anyone other than the finest educators of the country. On schooldays, the sulking teenagers of elitist families flocked through its heavy fire doors to get to class on time. The old red-brick building was quite something to behold, and its poor heating was quite something to endure in winter.

The building was quite a throwback to the past. An ancient school bell still heralded the fire-proof metal doors to the main hall, although the bell system had long since become electronic. The fire escapes were outdated, old twisted iron things located at the four corners of the school. Enter the main doors, and one would find themselves in a broad hallway where the administrative office stood to the left with poster upon poster of the pro-academic messages.

"READ to SUCCEED."

"DETERMINATION+TALENT=SUCCESS.

"ASK QUESTIONS TO LEARN."

To the right stood the counselor's office, and the teacher's lounge. Students avoided walking past the teacher's lounge at all costs. Rumor had it that the floors were slimy from teachers smoking and spitting their phlegm onto the floor. In truth, a large-scale plumbing error had flooded the lounge, permanently rendering the floors suspiciously slick. Going forward, the hall split into two staircases going one floor up. At this point, the crowds of students diverged into their separate years. The upperclassmen went up the left stair case, and the lowerclassmen turned right. But at this point, reader, we are most concerned with the upstairs, for in two days time, Monday the seventeenth of November, that was the destination of Ms. Victoria Vanguard.