Church Windows
Isobel McQueen
Break
"You'll know us by the windows," she says to the man whom she suspects is half-listening. "That time of evening, they'll be shimmering like copper."
His terse reply blunts their conversation like unkempt nails, torn edges stripped to the flesh, on elegant fingers. But this man's skill will be evident in his handling of his tools, so she overlooks his abruptness; she doesn't want him to feel that he has to apologize.
And he won't, because there will be something about the way he drives up to the house— heavy forearm resting on the truck's window frame, hand grazing the steering wheel as it vibrates beneath his fingers— that announces his confidence in being the right man for the job.
"Lead the way," he tells her, as he scuffs his boots on the doormat. But it is the battered toolbox, and not his brashness, that urges her forward.
As she glides through the house she becomes her mother, known only from her father's recollections: sashaying ahead and raising her chin when passing each room, as if to highlight structural features she would have approved of, had she not walked out before the walls rose high enough to hold her." And here we are," she says, when they reach the staircase. Her flouncing culminates in a spin which takes advantage of her glinting strands of hair in the russet light flooding through the glass. She presumes that when the repairman rounded the driveway the windows' sleek patina exposed some intimate memory of his own, so she feels no guilt for her vanity.
He's indifferent to the way she is standing with her hand on her hip. Her painted nails are smooth against the rippled fabric sheathing curves which now represent a different kind of shame, but his interest lies in the beige chair. He needs to touch it, in the same way as she reaches for the hem of her clinging blouse to pull it away from her body. When he inspects the chair's track up the staircase with uninhibited veneration, she feels vindicated in demanding that the lift be repaired today.
"It happens a lot with the older models," he tells her. His facial muscles agitate; the craftsmanship in their construction worthy of her jaw-chattering excitement during Sunday sermons.
"It was years ago that my father stopped walking," she replies, the explanation thick on her tongue.
When he says he understands, she realizes his relationship with chair lifts extends only to the sacred parts he invades. The way he labors with his head bowed, she understands, is representative of his work ethic and not his faith.
So she perches on the sofa sipping the sweet tea the man had refused and focuses on the windows, thinking about the ornate curves and peaks of the glass her father had relied upon to protect them in this house of worship. Surely what was revealed then wasn't the reflection of himself on his knees as he built the stairs, only to end up skimming above them like dead weight.
He can't have imagined when he salvaged the windows from the old church that a highway would eventually run past the house and threaten the souls inside. "The Good Lord must have known we'd need the windows," he'd whispered to her once from behind the front door as a nervous boy waited outside, "To protect us from those trying to get in." And those who made it out, she now appreciates.
The man must have asked several times for her signature before she takes the pen, because whatever is powering his face seems to have come to a grinding halt. The fading day has stripped more than sunlight from the windows; he seems self-assured in confronting their sacredness with his offering: "Your father can get moving again."
When the repairman's truck joins the roadway's procession of taillights, she climbs into the chair's lap. She realizes now that she should have asked her father if it also felt to him like a mechanical substitute. Holding onto the seat beneath thighs that spill over— in the glassy watch of windows that have previously witnessed a traveler caught in this purgatory— she begins her ascension.
Isobel McQueen is a Scottish writer now living in Dallas. Her writing has been widely published, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Isobel is currently completing her MFA in fiction and working on a collection of short stories centering on a coal mining community.