The Crack in the Window | by Rebecca Harrison

     Theodora woke to snow hush. Her bedroom felt as cold as mountain echoes. She burrowed deeper beneath her blankets, warm in the wool smells, and listened to the winter dawn. She’d always called that white silence ‘snow song’. Thinking of bare trees and bright fields, breath puffs and sinking steps, she heaved off the bed covers. She wanted her footprints to be the first on the snow. Chill floorboards stung her feet as she darted to the window. Pulling open the curtains, she peered through frost-patterned glass: white fields glittered like comet trails; low sun hazed the pale sky. The black shapes of distant trees seemed the letters of an unknown language. Stillness lit the air.

     After scrambling into her clothes, she inched from her room. Ice light slid through the windows, sharpening the silence. Her breath looked like cloud ghosts. She paused at the top of the stairs, feet itching from her thick socks, and listened for her parents’ movements in the rooms below – hearing nothing, she crept down, avoiding the creaking stair steps. She thought of fairy tales of sleeping spells and imagined her parents slumbering until the ice melted. Longing for weeks alone with the snow and silence, she tip toed through shadows that smelled of closed curtains. The house felt full of waiting noise. In the kitchen, she stole cheese from the pantry, then struggled into her boots and took stiff steps to the back door. The key’s turn was loud.

     Frost scent swept over her. Icy gusts snipped the air. The sky was like a frozen breath. Feeling full of hush and glow, she trekked across the field, steps crunching. When she was little, she’d watched snow sparkling and imagined old stars crumbled into snowfall; on wintry nights, she’d studied skies for missing glints. Hands tight in her pockets, she trod new paths across the fields until the house shrank and vanished. Sometimes, her home seemed weighted with her family’s history and she imagined returning to find her grandmother as a child in the rooms where she’d once played. Robins huddled by holly bushes. She stood still and let them hop close.

     “Theo!” a voice burst. A snowball thudded by her feet. She turned: her friend Gwen strode up, eyes wide as space winds. “We’re the only ones out,” she said, bending to gather handfuls of snow. “Ours can be the first snowman.” She squeezed the handfuls into a ball and began rolling it.

     “If school’s shut all week, we could fill the fields with them,” Theo said.

     “And the village, too.” Gwen knelt, scooped snow and pressed it onto the ball.           

     “We could sneak out when everyone’s asleep and then they’d wake up and go downstairs and find snowmen peering in their windows.” Her laughter was like bell shadows. Theo stared in the direction of the village, scrunching her eyes to make the steeple less sharp: the sky became glacier blur; she imagined a sky of ice mountains that shifted with the seasons.

     “Are you going to help?” Gwen said. Crouching, Theo hauled up armfuls of snow.

     “We should call him Hector,” she said, as they pushed the ball over the field. The air smelled icicle sharp. Hands numbed, they patted the ball into a snowman shape. Gwen yanked her hat off and dropped it on his head. 

     “It was itching me anyway,” she shrugged.

     “I’ll get coals for eyes.” Theo darted away, returned clutching coals and pressed them onto the snowman’s face. They were the colour of night rustlings.  

     “He looks sad, like he knows he’s going to melt soon and the only chance he’s got is if he finds some magical charm that’ll make winter last forever and he’ll never have it in time,” Gwen said. Theo drew a smile with her finger. 

     “Better?” She shook her ice-clogged gloves.

     “Let’s do another one right next to him so he isn’t lonely,” Gwen said, kneeling and piling snow into a heap. Wondering how many snowmen stood alone in faraway gardens, Theo spun to gaze across the empty fields. Spying a group of children trudging through the white sweeps, she nudged Gwen.

     “It’s the others!” She snatched handfuls of snow. “Come on.”

     The morning whirled with shouts. Feet numb, Theo hurtled through drifts, her steps the shape of smashed snow. The air raced. She ducked behind a hedge and peered out: Gwen cowered as the other children hurled snowballs at her. Their laughter was like candy floss tangles. Scrabbling at the drift, Theo formed snowballs and filled her arms. Her heart was as fast as popped balloons as she hurried behind the group. Her breath felt like ice clots. They didn’t hear her. She threw a ball and watched it smack a tall girl. Elbowing her way through, she seized Gwen’s hand.

     “Quick.” They ran. The fields blurred into white seas; the kicked snow looked like wave foam. Behind them, the others were a jumble of sounds. Theo felt a snowball hit her back. “We’re almost there,” she grinned as her home neared. She ran harder until her legs ached. The others were close; their laughter was bright as boiled sweets. She saw them alongside, overtaking. Her home became castle-wide. Yanking Gwen’s arm, Theo pulled her towards the back door. The others blocked the way. Theo and Gwen turned and pressed against the wall. It smelled of locks. Theo shut her eyes tight as snowballs pummelled down. She heard a crack.

     Eyes bolted open, Theo spun round: across the kitchen window stretched a crack the shape of lightning paths. She felt like a dropped wind. She didn’t hear the others fleeing.

     “Come on.” Gwen tugged at her sleeve. A face appeared at the window.

 

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     Theo pulled her school shoes off and shuffled into the kitchen; it smelled of garden corners. Her mother was peeling potatoes at the sink. The spring sunlight was as soft as buttercups swaying.

     “I thought we were getting a new window today,” Theo said, glancing at the jagged line on the glass.

     “They replaced the pane,” her mother said. “But somehow, when they were putting it in, they managed to crack it. We’ve got to wait until next week for them to sort it out.”

     “It looks exactly the same.” Theo heaved herself up onto the work surfaces, reached out and ran her fingers on the window: the line felt like glacier splinters.

     “Come down from there and give me a hand.” Her mother nodded towards a pile of unpeeled carrots.

     Spring brimmed into summer, and every morning, Theo woke to a sky bright with swallow flight. The grass was wading-deep and the flowers were the colour of startled jewels. Dawdling her way to school, she crammed her pockets with lavender, hoping bumble bees would follow her into class, but summer stayed outside the cool corridors. In her lessons, time became treacle-slow. She watched clock hands and tried not to hear the teacher’s words. At home, by her mother’s side, she hurried through kitchen chores, glancing at the cracked window. Then, she rushed outside to play in winds the shade of butter scent.

     In the Autumn, Theo wandered below archways of copper leaves, gathering conkers. Her steps crunched. The woodland colours were as warm as baked cinnamon. When the days chilled, she curled by her window, while outside the fields dimmed into rain roar. She settled acorns on her bookcase. The school walk became a trek through fog thick as dragon’s breath; she held Gwen’s hand past trees looming in cruel shapes. Her hair was damp with mist. In the fields, as she munched toffee apples under bonfire light, she glanced at the jagged glint of the crack on the window. 

     Years flowed past. Theo wandered daisy paths, but imagined the fields were unmapped seas. She curled at her window and read about faraway lands – the stories felt like tower tops. The village began to seem small. In the streets, while Gwen chattered, Theo stared at the shadows of shops and cottages, longing for castle heights. She gathered old books, tore out pages and covered her bedside wall with pictures of cities beneath foreign skies. She didn’t notice when her parents stopped replacing the window.  

     Theo leaned against the oak; her hair caught on the bark. She gazed upwards through leaves the shade of summer ends. The winds felt like sleep hush. Closing her eyes, she tried to imagine a city unfolding on the wood’s edge: shops as cathedrals of jewellery and chatter, theatres as furnaces of stories and songs.    

     “A whole week to go until the village dance,” Gwen said. “At least, my dress is looking better now I’ve sewn flowers over those tears. I was looking like a scarecrow’s bride. I think if I went like that, I’d have all the farmers’ scarecrows fighting to dance with me.” She mimed a floppy waltz. “What about you? What are you wearing?”

     “My yellow dress, probably,” Theo said, trying not to think of the cramped hall.

     On the evening of the dance, Theo plodded through the streets, feeling like a dimmed lamp beside Gwen. The village hall was as tight as outgrown clothes and smelled of stale punch. She lingered by the doorway to catch gusts of night air. While music jolted and burst, she tried to listen for the whistles of distant trains, but heard only fiddles and stamping feet. She scanned the hall: a crowd clung to a young woman with hair dark as bat paths – she had just returned after a year in the city. Theo moved close; the woman’s voice was like treasure maps and stage paint. Theo listened to her tales of stores like caverns and streets like ships. Later, as she lay in bed, she whispered the names of the city places until she fell asleep.   

     Clutching her bag, Theo stared across the fields: lark song greened the bare woods; clouds glided in the thin sky. The air was like frost melt.

     “Come on, Theo. You don’t want to miss your train,” her father said, putting his hand on her arm.

     “It’s not too late to change your mind.” Her mother’s words were full of fireside evenings and kitchen warmth. “Are you sure you’ll be ok there?”

     “Yes,” Theo said, her voice candle-ash soft, but as she gazed at her home she felt like wind- blown thistle down. She hugged her parents. Her father carried her bag. She thought she could already hear the train.  

     Theo’s journey was a rush of metal clamour. Outside her window, the world became a blur of fields and rain. Reaching into her coat pocket, she unfolded a piece of paper and read her new address over and again until the words carved a room from shop gleam and footsteps. When the train halted, she was swept along by the crowd into a station of palace shapes. Her heart was loud but she could only hear the din. When she asked for directions, her voice seemed as quiet as falling leaves. The department store was like a sky-cutting cliff. Her breath felt white as she moved towards the doorway. Windows gleamed with the colours of lost treasures. She clutched her bag tighter as she stepped inside.

     The weeks became a dazzle of shop dash and city clatter. Her feet ached. During busy hours, the customers seemed like a surging forest, and she battled to keep pace with the other workers. In calmer moments, she sneaked glimpses at velvet gowns and emerald necklaces, and remembered the softness of dusk flowers. The city girls spoke with strange words and, among them, Theo’s voice jarred like farm smells. After work, in her small room, she practised their words until she couldn’t hear village corners when she spoke. But later, when she lay in her narrow bed, her room concrete cold and her blanket a worn shiver of wool, she tried to feel the glow of bonfires in the Autumn fields.   

     “Aren’t you ready, yet? Everyone’s outside,” Lizzy said, bustling through Theo’s doorway, her face coin-bright. Theo glanced at her and felt like a faded puddle. She tried to think of a quick excuse so she could stay behind. “It’s bloody freezing in here – you must have to sleep in your coat and boots,” Lizzy said, staring round at the plain walls. “You know, it’s not so bad. Not really. You should’ve seen my first place when I left home – blind spiders wouldn’t have slummed it there.” She grinned and snatched Theo’s gloves from the bedside table before darting out the door. “Come on.”

     Through the evening streets, the shop girls dashed, Theo half-running. The black sky flew faster over the chimney tops as their voices and footsteps twisted into hurry sounds. The darkness smelled of lamp glass. At the music-hall, squeezed by the crowds, they pressed past corners and into seats, and waiting for curtain up, nattered until their words were just muffled shapes. Theo felt slow against their gossip. She stopped trying to listen and stared at her lap, silently listing country sayings. The curtain lifted. A hush like smoke breath filled the theatre. She looked up. A woman walked onto the stage. Her clothes were the colours of greased jewels. She sang.

     During the interval, Lizzy introduced Theo to a young man with eyes as quick as matches sparking. His name was Charlie. Later, when the crowds billowed out into the dim streets, they walked together, lagging behind their friends. The fog clasped them like sea swells. He held her hand. She felt like star float. As they moved through cloaked paths, he pointed up to unseen heights.

     “Me and my brothers used to clamber out onto those rooftops and stay there all night until we reeked of chimney smoke. We didn’t half get a hiding when we went home, except Tommy –the little runt, he got away with murder.” They stood still, waiting for the fog to drift, wrapped in night scent and lamp seep. She wanted to tell him of her childhood: the woods and wild poppies, flocks and oak winds.  

     “Our kitchen window got cracked in a snowball fight, but no matter how many times my parents changed the glass, they couldn’t get rid of that crack,” she whispered.

     Theo and Charlie married in a small church on the city edge; it smelled of stone and hymns. Her dress rustled with her steps. She felt weighted by her days among the city streets and shadows. When her father gave his speech, she thought she could hear the wing beats of field crows. Her mother was quiet. After their honeymoon at the seaside, Theo and Charlie moved into a narrow house where each room sounded like evenings and the carpets were thinner than smoke wisps. In the city winters, they warmed their hands on bowls of stew while embers struggled in their fireplace. Her trek to work was as silent as mountain clouds, and watching children in the snow, she remembered her games in the frozen fields. Her hands hurt from the cold.

     After her son was born, she stopped work. Her days dragged and she pushed the pram past department store windows, feeling dull outside the bustle and glint. Her voice stretched until it sounded like city skies and she could no longer hear herself in her own words. In summer streets that smelled of baked dust, she watched her son play games. His chants were brittle. At night, she woke in the early hours and lay listening to city sounds. She didn’t visit the village. Her parents died and she sold their house.

     Years slipped by – her son grew up and left home. She sat silent evenings reading worn books while Charlie drank hours in pubs with his friends. She heard distant music but couldn’t name the songs. On her cramped walks, when she glimpsed starlings on rooftops, she remembered the shapes of flock swirls over the village fields. One day, she wanted to see her old home again.  

     Theo stood on the thin path, looking for glimpses of her old fields between the houses. The sunlight felt sore. Her bag was heavy. She saw only brick walls and pavements, blank windows and driveways, fences hiding square gardens. Her childhood home had gone. Standing on the edge of the garden where her home had once been, she felt suddenly misplaced and lost, like a faded page missing from an atlas of a gone away world. Her heart was leaden. Her feet hurt. She turned away from the windows, hoping no one had seen her. The air was quiet. She thought of her train ride back to the city and her house and husband, her life in those rooms that smelled of shuttered windows, her voice which hadn’t sounded her own for many years. She ached with tiredness. But then, from a corner of her eye, she glimpsed a jagged shimmer in the air. There, over the empty path, hung the old crack from the kitchen window. She stepped toward it, touched the sharp line, felt its chill, and then leaned close. Through the crack, she saw her old fields ice-stretched and still, a pale sky crisp with winds — and herself as a child boot-deep in the snow. She watched herself turn and walk over the white fields.

 

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Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and her best friend is a dog who can count. Through the WoMentoring Project, she was chosen by Kirsty Logan as her mentee. Rebecca’s been nominated for Best of the Net, and her stories can also be read at Maudlin House, Mirror Dance Magazine, and elsewhere.

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