The Only God on the Windowsill
Kaylee woke up, finding herself face to face with the glowing eyes of her alarm clock. 4:36 stared at her in digital. Groaning, she turned away and buried her face in her pillow. The fabric was warm, like the sheets and the mattress. It wasn't a sweltering summer night, but it was warmer than Michigan. She burrowed deeper into the pillow, feeling for a cold spot. Nothing.
Disentangling her hands from the covers, she flipped it over. There was a soft whumph of settling fluff, and then silence. Even the crickets were still. They had abandoned their pulpit by the window, deciding to take the gospel of the night to other places. The quiet roared louder than noise.
Kaylee laid her cheek against the pillow, checking the temperature. It was slightly cooler. She sighed and closed her eyes. Calm. Quiet. The baleful glare of the alarm clock on the back of her neck.
With a snort of irritation, she sat up and reached across to her bedside table. The clock watched as her fingers closed over its cord. She glared back, and tugged the black cable from the wall. The light died without protest. "I'll reconnect you in the morning, if you promise to behave," She whispered.
"You're a little old to be talking to things that can't talk back," A warm dusty tenor came from the foot of her bed. Kaylee sat bolt upright, pulling her blankets around her. They hung in sodden folds, clinging to her arms and sides. Unbidden, one hand shot to the alarm clock. It was solid and heavy.
"What are you doing in here?" It came out as a hiss. Her other hand crept across the covers to the clock, closing on the cord. Maybe she could swing it like a mace…
"I'm not in there. I'm out here. You asked me not to disturb your privacy." The voice sounded reproachful, like the whine of a dog with an empty bowl.
"I'd say that this counts as disturbing my privacy." At the foot of her bed, the plain, white wall broke into a window. The wooden shutters were closed over it, slanting narrow bars of moonlight onto the carpeted floor. Behind them, the window was open. That left only a thin screen between her, the night, and the mosquitoes. And the owner of the voice.
She rolled out of bed, feeling the carpet squelch under bare feet. Keeping the clock clenched in one hand, she managed to wind the sheet around herself. It hung in a sweat-stained robe as she tip-toed to the window. With her right hand, she eased the shutters open. Her left hung by her side, ready to swing.
"Did you miss me?" The man sat just beyond the screen, his feet perched on the narrow lip of the sill. He might have been eighteen, or seventeen, or twenty three. A cowboy hat was perched on his head, the top of it ringed with beadwork. Men and dogs chased each other in an infinite circuit around it. There wasn't a trace of stubble on his chin, but two symmetrical dirty blonde sideburns painted his cheeks. His eyes were blue, even in the moonlight
"What…what are you doing here?"
"I've got nowhere better to be?" It was a statement, but also a question. He asked it with a half-grin and a slight shrug. The mace hung forgotten in Kaylee's left hand.
"I didn't think you'd be here when I came back. I thought I imagined you." She walked back to the edge of the bed and sat down, smoothing the sheets with the clock.
"That's funny. I was beginning to think the same thing." A rare breeze drifted by, passing the window. The man's hair rustled, flying out around the cowboy hat. Kaylee was reminded of how narrow the sill was, and the steep drop onto the white roses below. She got up again, and started for the screen.
"Hang on for a second. I'll open the screen." She reached out and the man held up a hand, forestalling her.
"I'll be alright out here." To illustrate his point, the man put his back to the screen and threw his feet over the edge, letting them dangle above the rose bushes. The window sill was only a few inches wide. Kaylee started forward, expecting him to go tilting out into the night. When he glanced back over his shoulder, she was inches from the screen. "Honestly, I like sitting on the ledge. It's halfway between the house and the wild. People spend their lives going from one to the other, and never pause in the places in between." His eyes smiled. "How much have you forgotten?"
She stood motionless, aware of the fact that she was right next to the window and the cowboy who scorned gravity. After a moment, the breath she'd been holding huffed from her, and she returned to her seat on the bed. It was slightly cooler, now. "I went away to learn."
"You told me that. What did you forget for it?" His feet kicked lazily in the dark air, ten feet above white blooms.
"I don't know."
"Maybe that's it, then. You forgot what you forget in order to learn."
"Were conversations with you always this confusing?"
"Maybe you forgot a little of that, too."
The both paused, letting the absence of the crickets slide between them.
"I'm not back for good, just for the weekend."
The cowboy hat bobbed a nod.
"I mean, there are a few things I needed to be back here to sort out."
"If there's anything a man on the ledge of your window can do, just let me know."
Rolling onto his side, the man stretched out along the sill. "I can't promise anything, but I'm sure I could find one to help you out." He grinned, lips sweeping up off his teeth in a strangely canine way. Kaylee remembered the clock in her left hand. She got up again and walked to her bedside table. There, she dumped it in a mess of wire and plastic.
Hands free, she sat down on the edge of her bed. "Can you tell me a story?"
The man sighed in mock exasperation. "Once upon a time…"
"Not that kind of story."
"No? I thought that was the kind you were used to, now."
"That's the kind I want to write, not the kind I want to hear."
"Alright, then. Make yourself comfortable."
Kaylee flopped back onto the bed, dragging the warm pillow under her chin. She lay facing the window, and the words of the man on the ledge.
I was going along.
"You were going along?"
"Yes, I was going along. Do you always have to interrupt a man when he's telling stories?"
Kaylee grinned, the moonlight playing interesting patterns across her cheeks. "I beg your pardon. Please continue."
I was going along, a long while before 'once upon a time' had been invented. How can that be true, when I'm so young and handsome and the story is from so long ago? Well, maybe it was a cousin of mine. Or maybe it was a different me. Back before there were rules about who could be what and why, everyone was at least a few people.
Anyways, I was going along. Everything was dull and empty, because it was before trees and rocks and streams had been formed from the earth. We didn't need things like that to keep busy; we all had our multiple selves. So, when I found a tiny branch sticking out of the ground, boy, was I surprised.
I stood there for a long time, just watching it wiggle around. First the twigs would stretch and waggle, and then the branch itself would sway. After a while, I decided that it couldn't be a branch. It must be the paw of some poor creature stuck in the ground. So, I walked up to the branch and put my mouth right up to the dirt. "Hey," I yelled "If you're down there, wiggle your twigs."
The twigs started wiggling like crazy, so I started digging. The soil was dull and plain and heavy, and I wasn't making much progress. I called out to my two other selves, and asked them if they could help. One of them asked why he should have spend his time digging through the boring ground. I told him that there was a treasure buried there, and he could keep some of it if he helped unearth it.
All of my selves liked this idea, so we started digging. This time, it went twice as fast as before. Within moments, we uncovered the poor animal and pulled him up onto the earth. He lay there gasping, and I looked back into the hole.
The earth was only a few feet deep back then. No one had any reason to dig through it, so there never had to be much of it. When I looked through the hole, all I could see was an empty whiteness below me. An empty whiteness, and a huge tower of animals rising up from the nothing. Most of them looked like the animal we had unearthed, but some of them were shaped differently, or had different markings. They were all standing on each other's shoulders, straining up towards the hole in the earth. The top one was holding up its hands towards me.
"Let's help them," I said. My other selves looked at me incredulously.
"Help them? You promised us treasure. I'm going to have to take this one instead. Maybe he can serve me."
"Help them? They want me to do even more work for nothing? If they ever see me again, they'd better run."
I sighed, and looked at my two selves as they walked away. One was leading the creature. They were too wrapped up in their own concerns to even hear me.
Looking back into the hole, I called down "My other selves have abandoned me. I don't think I can help all of you up, but if the one on the top stands on its tip-toes, I think I can drag it up here. Some day, we'll come back for you."
The other creatures didn't seem to like this, but they straightened out, standing as tall as they could. The held up the one on top so that I could lean over the rim and grab its paws. I had to scrabble with my feet to keep from being dragged over the edge, but I was finally able to haul that animal up. It lay there on the boring ground for a moment, panting. Then it looked up at me and said something. Even though everyone could understand each other back in those days, I couldn't understand it. I couldn't understand her. She was the mate for the other creature I had dragged up, she told me without speaking, with only the light flashing in her eyes.
"Go to him," I said "The other me, the one whom I promised treasure has him, but I don't think he'd mind owning another." She looked at me as if she understood, and then she left. I looked down into the hole, at the tower of creatures. "I'm sorry. I can't help you yet. Be patient, and one day I'll come back for you."
They said nothing, so I tried again. This time I sang it to them, and this time they understood. When I left the hole in search of my other selves, they were still standing and swaying in the nothingness.
That's how they are today, and I'm still going along.
The man in the window closed his story with a smile. Kaylee was asleep, her arms wrapped under the pillow and a similar smile painted on her face. "Just like old times," The man whispered, setting his back to the screen and facing out into the night.