Behind the Window

Short story

By Giorgia Rifaldi / Staff Writer

Selene didn’t know what the sun looked like. She’d forgotten about its blinding royal light, about the warmth of its rays on her faded skin. How long had it been since she last saw the fire in the sky? She couldn’t remember its color, but the fire crackling in the dusty brick wall in front of her was a storm of crimson, ruby and scarlet. That was her little sun. 

Hiding from the world had been her favorite occupation for the last four years. Trapped inside that suffocating room there was little else she could do.  

“The world out there is scary,” her mother would say. “But you’re safe in here, peanut.” 

Selene had never tasted a peanut. The first time Mother had called her that peculiar name, Selene had asked what that meant. 

“Peanuts are a special kind of nut,” Mother explained.

“Like the ones I eat on my birthday?” Mother always gave Selene those big, round nuts for her birthday. They tasted like bitter dreams, hidden under the layer of dust that covered the walls of her tower.

“I’m afraid the taste is quite different.”  

The girl shrank into sadness. She’d rather be a walnut than an alien peanut.  

Whatever dangers mother thought lurked in the world, Selene didn’t care. She wanted to see the sun. She wanted to feel the wind blow so strongly she could be swept by it, floating around the globe and closer, closer to the sun.  

There was a window in her room. Its wooden bars so old, that the touch of her finger could have shattered them to dust. Old, sandy wood was the only thing standing between her and the sun. She could have fled, could have jumped out into the world to forget about this room, forget about Mother. Eyes were the reason she would never dare to do that. The eyes of other humans that saw her. Judged her. Were always thinking about her. But if she didn’t know about the world, if she never saw the sun, the eyes would never look for her.

It started when she was seven, alive barely enough for the world to notice her. Little Selene had a friend, her name was Hailey and she had hair that flamed brighter than the sun. The two had known each other since birth, neither of them could remember a life the other wasn’t in. Except the life after. The life Selene spent in a dusty room, wondering about the brightest star.  

One day Hailey’s mom was driving the girls to the park. She hit a cat. Selene cried for hours, as the image of the cat’s lifeless, copper coat failed to leave her mind. Hailey told her to stop, “it was just a cat, Selene, just a cat.” Then she ran away, to play in the twisting paths between the tall oak trees while Selene sat alone. On a bench. Crying. The cat.  

Hailey came back two hours later, she was holding a kitty in her arms. The little creature purred as Hailey caressed its head, its back, its tail. Selene raised her head, her swollen eyes were a turquoise frosty ring in a black tempest. 

“Is that a cat?” 

“It’s just a cat,” Hailey said as she kept on patting the cat. “I found him in the park.” 

“Have you been looking for a cat this whole time?” Selene rubbed her palms against her eyes.  

“It’s just a cat,” Hailey repeated, turning her back to her friend. Selene looked at her as she rummaged in the pocket of her gently worn blue jeans. Suddenly, she was holding it in her hands. A beam of light hit the blade of the knife. It glimmered with alarming beauty, a pearl of silver, but Selene already saw it covered in red. Hailey turned around and handed Selene the knife.  

“Why do you have a knife, Hailey?” Selene asked, her voice full of horror. Didn’t Hailey know that carrying around a knife was dangerous?  

“It’s just a cat,” she said again, as if those were the only words she knew.

“What do you mean–” Before Selene could finish, Hailey grabbed her hand and pressed the knife into her palm. Selene’s eyes widened as Hailey’s true intentions hit her like a shard of broken glass.

“You can do it.” Her words were an atrocious pain. Sweet Hailey, with hair made of fire, why would she say that? 

“Do it.” Hailey covered her ears, the knife falling at her feet. 

It’s just a cat. Selene wasn’t sure if Hailey was speaking or if she was just imagining her voice. The knife was in her hands again as Hailey gently put the kitty on Selene’s lap, making sure it wouldn’t run away. 

Do it. 

To stop Hailey’s voice, the voice in her brain, Selene did it. 

Sometimes Selene wished that day could be erased from her life or, at least, erased from her memory. But the eyes had judged her ever since. They never forgot, and she couldn’t look at them without seeing her own awful actions. She couldn’t forget. 

Guilty. The voice in her head repeated. You did it.  

She’s been hiding from the sun, from the fire of Hailey’s hair, for so long. She hadn’t seen the sun in years. Her little room and her mother were her only world. But the sun, that day she wanted to see the sun. She wanted to remember what it felt like. Selene had grown tired of walnuts, she was ready to be a peanut.  

As soon as Mother left her room, Selene ran to the window. Her paperwhite hands tearing down the dry, dusty wood.

There was the world, right outside her room. She could see the sky. Where was the sun? 

She opened the window. Stared at the moon. The eyes immediately fell on her.