The Window in the Sky

By Jim Meirose

Light came in Martin’s open eyes, and he knew he was awake, and he started waiting, as he always needed to wait each morning since the one they told him was his new brother David came all at once into the house from noplace and nowhere. Before brother David came, Mother always came in Martin’s room first thing, but now, no more. Mother went to new small brother David first, down the hall in his bright new room, after each and every day break. Martin tried to ask her where brother David had come from, he did the best he could to ask her, but she just smiled at him, and said, That’s a good boy, trying to talk. Mommy’s very proud of you trying to talk; soon you will be a big boy, yes; but that was all she said. So Martin didn’t know for many years, where brother David had really come from; and when you don’t know where something’s really come from, it might as well have come from no place at all. Father began coming in to Martin in the morning after David came. Though Martin really didn’t understand what a Father was, it felt important and right that he was there. Father came large into the bedroom door, shutting off Mother’s voice softly coming down the hall from David, and as Father stepped in closer to Martin, the door he’d come through disappeared behind him. Father came leaning, and reaching, and smiling out of his great bushy beard, saying, Martin, son, good morning—you’re awake, don’t pretend. Open those eyes. It’s time for all the children everyplace to rise and shine. Do you understand, Martin? Who gives us all the days, Martin? Who hands us one sunny day after the next all our long lives through? Who? You know who. I know, I know you don’t know now—but someday you will, when you’re big enough to understand. Yes you will—

—Eli! called out Mother, through the invisible door behind Father. Eli, I can’t find a single diaper in David’s nursery. Did you move them someplace? Where did you put them?  Can you hear me what are you doing where are you?

I’ll be right there! I’m with Martin! Father yelled out to the hall, turning. His hand came away from stroking Martin’s hair, causing Martin to notice for the first time it had been there.

Hold on Martin, Father said, softly, stepping back. I’ll be right back.

Father turned rushing out of the room, away from Martin suddenly oh suddenly, expanding the room with the empty pressure of the fear that Father always left behind. No fear when he’s right there, no, none; but when he left, a vacuum formed filling up fast and tight with fear come from Father’s fading smell, making the walls start moving away in all directions, slowly at first, but faster and faster out toward the forever. Martin’s hair stood on end; something in him that had no words knew that when the walls got to the forever, and smashed through and past the forever, then the nothing surrounding everything, that was being held back by the forever, would be free to rush in to come and get him and burn him to ashes. Martin pushed back the covers and sprang from the bed and toddled toward the door after Father, to escape. Martin reached the door just as Father’s back disappeared into David’s nursery door down the hall, and the hall walls began moving away rushing toward the forever, and Martin jolted and toddled and chased after Father so he could get out of the all before it all filled with nothing just like his room was; if the nothing got to the door before him, it would gather together into a huge slab of hot rock, and he would be blocked, and never would have been and would be gone forever. Yes life was dangerous so very dangerous, but there never was time to really feel afraid, because Martin had to push forward rushing faster than he could think, to beat the nothing coming fast to get him, until at last he hopped up and over the threshold and into the bright nursery; and Mother saw him hop  in, and rush to her; and she reached down and tore his smile away and pasted it on her own face, and turned from Martin to use it to look at the new small naked David, saying, Look, look David, look, your big brother has come! Look at him dancing, he’s so happy for you, he’s dancing and dancing!  Look, yes, I tickle you while he dances and dances! Laugh, laugh. I could tickle and tickle and tickle you forever—yes, and this; see, this is his face; I took his face and put it on to use to laugh at you—

Martin turned to the side seeing Father saying, Pauline, the diapers are here, right here—see them? Here on the window seat! Martin filled with the sound of the plastic wrapper around the tight packed diapers crinkling and crushing and ripping as Father tore at it, saying again, Why couldn’t you see them, they were right on the window seat? God damn this package damn this—he said damn over damn until one pulled free, and the sound drained out of Martin as Father’s pure voice said thinly, here’s a diaper, Pauline! Here’s one! Take it!

Oh, thanks, thank you—I was afraid we had no diapers, she said, her hands a blur around David’s tiny kicking punching and yelling writhing midsection; David was moving always moving, slithering and snapping and seeking to suckle just like Martin had always sought to suckle and to find the nipple, but not now, no more—and as Mother fought to diaper David, she said loudly to Father, I got to get over to Martha’s by eight-thirty. If I’d had to go get diapers I would for sure have been late, but thanks Eli, thanks. Everything’s under control now. You take Martin, wash him up, get him dressed, and I’ll dress David, and I’ll feed him and we’ll all grab a bite and then we can all run and be on time! Thanks Eli—

Okay, Father said slowly—but, do you remember what I told you about going to Martha’s every Friday and meeting up with Mary and then doing what you do. You know I don’t really approve. Where are you with that? Have you thought about that?

No, to tell you the truth, I haven’t had time—here—here throw this away please?

As Father took the dirty diaper from Mother, he said more loudly, Pauline, I’m sorry, but you keep deflecting this question away. I bring it up every Friday, but you never listen. So I’ll say it again. I have to. Our Babies should not go with you and your friends every Friday, they shouldn’t see and hear what goes on there. Plus, I am worried sick that I will come home one Friday and find you have been arrested and that the children have been taken, because you know that what you are doing is breaking the law.

Please, Eli, please don’t start in on that again. Maybe tomorrow we can talk. Right now I’ve got no time—

Pauline, you’ll find you’ve got plenty of time once you’re sitting in a cell—

The voices rose around Martin, back and forth, and as always the words became mist boiling up over the ceiling, making the window in the sky come once more way up past the ceiling and the roof and only Martin could see it in the sky above the house and yes, Mother, Father, keep the words coming; keep the window steady there so the old woman in the window all covered with wrinkles and with white hair pulled back could continue her shouting and pleading down, saying, Please! Lord, yes, I must find my son! I will come again and come again and yell out to you a million times if I have to, until you’ve answered my prayer, and you and your Mother and your Father in heaven will have got me through this again, because I know you will find my son whose name has faded from me, and who I barely remember, or think of as real anymore, since all the time that’s streamed by since he’s gone—when will you answer when will you when will you answer? Will you answer at all, my Lord?

The window snapped shut, gone, because Mother and Father had fallen silent, and now, Martin sat in a high chair by the kitchen table, plates were set out full of food, and David’s head shook and twisted suckling at Mother’s breast, and Mother forked food to her mouth with her free hand, and Father swallowed hard and tapped his plate with his fork to get more egg, but before he got more egg, again he spoke to Mother.

Listen, Pauline, this breakfast is great. Hey listen, I got an idea. My workload is light today. It’s that time of year. A lot of people are off on Friday when the weather’s nice—how about I call in sick and you call your friends and say you can’t make it today. We’ll spend the day at the park with the boys instead—Martin! Hey, son—how’d you like that Martin? You hear that, Martin? A day at the park. Right, park. You know the park—

Yes. The park. Martin knew—the walls went away gone and the park came around, all rolling lawns, bright spring flowered perfectly shaped trees, fresh spring breeze flowing over the playground, and Martin ran to the slide and slid and came around and went back up and slid again and went around and around all laughing, and all the dogs ran wild around playing, and Martin cried out from the seat of the swing, trying to say push me Dad, push harder, push me harder Dad, come on; Dad knew what he meant and Martin went harder and harder and higher and higher—but Mother’s words flowed over the scene, tearing it aside, as a curtain is torn aside to show the reality of whatever’s really behind;  Mother’s words saying no, no, not today, came from behind, and Father’s louder voice answering again, and back and forth again raising the mist and forming the window and forcing Martin’s eyes up, to the window in the sky open again above with the painfully old grey woman yelling down blotting up Mother and Father’s argument like some sponge come down on a blot of filth, saying and begging and pleading, My son, my son, where, where, what, or whatever, have you taken him, God? Don’t tell me you have forsaken me. I do not hear your voice. Where is your voice? It can’t be I can’t hear your voice because you are dead and gone, because, you have always been here before—but the blot of filth grew and thickened and words tangled with the old woman’s words, and dark came up in Martin’s hands, covering over his face. Things happened faster and faster and the noise of the words jammed tight all around, and he just stayed safe with his hands up to protect his eyes and face from whatever whatever—and it all rushed away when a sudden sharp knock on a door brought down his hands, and light flooded his face, and he stood with Mother and David at the front door of a brown house with a brown-clad woman standing in the door facing them,  smiling, reaching out her hand past Martin and over him, seeking Mother’s.

Pauline! said the woman in a loud but oddly brittle voice. Oh, I am so glad you could come! Come in, we need to wait for Mary—ah, but look, you have brought the children. How cute they are, so good to see them—

She slid a finger over tiny David’s face, making his bright toothless smile open at her, and Martin was made to smile next, with a light pat on the head fit for a tiny dog, and with words come down around him saying,How is my big boy Martin, today? Give a smile to Auntie Martha, Martin. Give that big smile.

Martin smiled the smile, and it slid atop the smile that had come from David, which had slid atop Mother’s smile, and, at the very bottom, Martha’s smile lay, crushed flat, and almost, but not quite, dead.  The raft of smiles floated them into the house, onto hard iron chairs, at a stone topped table. The women talked softly, pleasantly; the words meant nothing; Martin gazed through the words at the ceiling. The old woman in the sky window wasn’t there now. She came, and she went, that was how she was, but he always felt her, he did.  The way everybody always feels everything they’ve ever experienced, but just don’t know because it gets all buried by the new stuff flooding in and smothering over everything all the time; the new stuff coming now were a jabber of light fast words from a third woman, Mary, who must have entered while Martin had been staring at the ceiling wishing for the window.

—so Martha, said Mary—is the good stuff we’ll be giving to today’s bunch of boys they’re bringing from the prison to kill out in the hills all mixed up, and good, and ready?

Oh, yes! And it’s damned good; strong, very strong.

Martin stared at Mary, hating her though he did not know it, because the window in the sky should have come instead of her and all her words. The women chattered moving miles away with every word and the nothing that always waited under Martin to free itself and come up smothering over him began to show through the layers of words from the women, the words grew more and more tattered the more miles they moved away and when the edge of the word flow came under him—holes showed the nothing waiting under the floor—but a hand touched him on the shoulder, what’s this hand what—

Martin, said Mother—are you all right? You’re just sitting there, all blank, you know the way you get that I worry about if you’re all right. What is wrong, Honey?

Almost he was calmed like the window in the sky could; but just almost. Not quite; but it was all right, because without his knowing it, his hand had slipped under his pants and his finger gently rubbed his peepee, calmly, very warm, very calmly.

Oh, said Martha loudly—kids, Pauline. He’s just thinking, they’re always thinking.

Yes, I suppose.

The finger moved but no one knew, not even Martin. The voices of the women drifted about him, calmly.

Hey Martha, said Mary.


What’d you mix the stuff up with this time?

Oh, nothing much. A little this, a little that. You know.

So then, said Mary, looking around abruptly—where are the cups?

In the kitchen. We need three. There’s three set to die today.


Mary went to the kitchen and swiftly came back with three robin’s egg blue cups in her fine boned hands, and her hair, yes; the way it flowed and floated, swinging by Martin, warmed his finger more, and he pressed down harder in the dark of his pants and he was safe from the nothing and to be safe is so warm—

Here, said Mary. One for Martha, one for me, and one for Pauline—here—

A large metal flask came from the folds of Martha’s gown and poured black liquid up to each of the three cups’ brims. The women raised the cups, toasted, and drained them completely in one three-ply, razor-sharp swallow.

Wow, said Mary, lifting her face with a bleary-eyed gaze. That stuff is hot as shit. So hot, I think if I couldn’t have it unless I was walking toward death like the guys we’ll see later, I would volunteer for condemnation, just to have such a magnificent drink before I die. I swear to God, I would!

Soft softly soft cushiony words wafting—

Yes, this is quite magnificent, said Martha—and she looked up, and closed her eyes, and looked out at the unknown place beyond the closed lids, saying, God, let this powerful drink work its wonders on us, and let us see today’s condemned men not as the walking corpses that they are, but of strong young manly robust glories of your creation. Let them drink fully of the drink we will offer, so that at the end after they’re sent up to you, you’ll will top them off with whatever final mix of justice that only you can decide, and send them where you will—

Yes, to die without such a drug inside you would be truly unthinkable, said Mary, tossing her head, eyes closed, hair flowing fine soft and smooth.

The finger pushed harder.

Quite true, said Martha—here—pour us another round there, Mary. Yes go on.

Mary poured, and once more they drained their cups; and, a third time. And a fourth—yes, the holy narcotic flowed freely, and Martha had made plenty enough. Their words still came, but fewer, then fewer still, and then were all gone. Martin saw them all around lounging with eyes almost closed, and Mother actually seemed fully asleep. Now that there were no words, maybe where the words had been would be filled by the window and the old woman. Nothing ever stays empty. Everything’s always filled; first with this, then that, then the next, and on. He kept watching; his finger kept pressing.

God told Pauline from the drink in her belly, Eli is right you know. Yes this will be the last time. What we do each week is much too dangerous.

Martin watched. Small worm David slept at sleeping Mother’s breast. Sleep rolled on in the room deepening unnoticed by the sleepers.

You can quit after this time.

Martin watched for the window, finger pressing.

You will quit.

Square blank came where the window would come; he pressed harder.

But, no. You will not quit.

Window frame came around the square blank; he pressed harder.

Oh, but yes; last time is coming, then quit.

The blank square lit; a blank face. He pressed harder.


Nothing; so he pressed harder and harder and all at once a wash of flowing hair brushed over him and the window came alive; the old woman appeared; and she began—

What? What! exclaimed Mother—I fell asleep! My God, what time is it? What?

And though Martin pressed harder and harder, Mother’s voice swallowed the old woman down gone inside her, snatched her from Martin, with a pop.

Pauline, awake now, looked around, saying, My children, where are they? What time is it? Where am I? Have we missed the procession?

The others laughed and pointed.

Oh, Pauline, Your children are fine. Just fine. We were pretty mellowed out, but you conked out all the way; my God, do you snore! came Martha’s words, peppered with titters from Mary, as slowly, Pauline came fully back to life.

Jesus sweet Jesus what happened to me—

I think you ought to go a bit lighter on the hard stuff, Pauline—don’t you think so Mary?

Oh, yeah, for sure—but guess what. The procession from the prison’s started. We got to go.

They all rose, and David roused from sleep also, and immediately sought to claw away the cloth from Pauline’s breast, seeking to suckle again. Yes it was time. Yes, it’s always time to suckle, when you are so new. Pauline moved toward the door holding Martin’s hand, and with the other cradling tiny suckling David. Out the door, the sun came, and Martin clutched her hand as they walked the dusty dry dirt road, watching the great brown crickets that always came in the summer leap out before them in the rising dust. Martin walked counting the crickets; he did not know really where Mother was leading him but counting the crickets made him know it was real and they would end up someplace; they walked into town, there were more and more houses, and fewer and fewer crickets, and voices came from nothing in the distance, many voices of all kinds mixing; but they were not close enough to the voices to see whose they were; like you know from the smoke rising there’s a ship past the horizon, but for a long time the ship’s still invisible, slowly, slowly, making its way, as Martin and David and the women made their way. Martin remembered from last time and the time before that, to watch the empty sky out behind the voices; the voices grew angry and shrill as they came closer. Martin watched the empty sky as they came still closer, and the angry voices grew shrill and the sound of whips cracking and of tormented voices crying out, made the window in the sky rise from the horizon as they mounted it and everything going on beyond it came clearly into view. The grey haired ancient woman in the window in the sky pointed down and pointed down yelling at the crowds lining the streets, with the procession of soldiers whipping and driving three condemned men along toward the place they would die.  The old woman screamed down; Martin’s eyes kept on her.

—my son! You, yes you there, you need to help me find my son, please stop so I can pray to you, stand still for God’s sake stand still and look at me and listen—

—stop yelling, dead man—

Okay, said Mary. We’re here—fill the cups. All the way. To the top.

Terrible bloody cruel things went on below, but there was nothing for Martin but the old woman up above that he didn’t know that only he could see, crying out drowning everything.

—it’s always the same. I have a son, things are fine, and then I have none again and the time all goes and the son never was and I have to bear him in my womb again, all from scratch—

Martha—you give the drink to the big naked one over there—Pauline, here—you take the one who still has clothes. You have the children. It’s good you do the one still wearing clothes.

—bear a child from scratch, from scratch, I can’t do it any more I can’t do it again—

—Lord God, my feet. Please, please stop a minute, let me rest my feet. They’re all blood—

—poor baby, said a soldier—feet bleeding on the stones? Oh, that’s nothing like how they will bleed when we get there and lay you down and drive in the nails—

—please, please, let us stop and rest—

Martin heard nothing but the voice of the old woman—something about her something about him—

—my son, I can’t bear my son again. I need him where is he you have seen him you—

—help me, please don’t, I cannot die this way. No please not this way—

—please at least prove to me somehow that I do have a son, and that he is still alive—

—shut up and face death like a man! Here, this whip may help you—

—ahhhhh! I am innocent—

Officer—officer, said Mary. Can we give some ease to these men, like each week? Can you pause and let us give them each a cup of strong drink?

—please tell me where my son has gone—

Yes, we will, lady. We will. Everyone needs a minute to rest anyway. We really shouldn’t stop for you, but hey listen. I respect what you’re trying to do.

Oh thank you, sir. Thank you.

The officer raised an arm and turned and shouted, Men! Men, halt! A break! The sun is hot!

Yes sir!

The soldiers and prisoners stumbled to a halt, and the women moved quickly to give the narcotic drink to each of the three blood-drenched and exhausted condemned men. Martin looked away from the window in the sky, watching the rough cobbles come underfoot so that he would not trip. Mother held little David in one arm, and the cup of narcotic in the other. She did not have a free hand to guide Martin, so he held a grip on her dress and followed slowly, but the woman in the window gave a shriek, crying, My son, my son, my son, my son where are you—

Martin turned his head to look up again to the window in the sky, while Pauline busily gave the robed man his drink. Everything around, the bloody prisoners, the shouting crowd lining the street, turned slowly to something unreal and long gone in some museum that didn't exist yet but that someday will. Only the woman in the window somehow kept Martin from seeing any of it. She was much too pitiful, too panicked, in her own right, for any of the rest to be real.

My son! My son! Tell me I have a son! Please! I can't tell if I ever had a son or not, I might have just dreamed him isn't it awful when you love something and then it all dissolves into only having been a dream all along-

Martin's eyes felt tears; he did not know what her words meant, but he knew her tone brought up tears. And, from somewhere Martin was not allowed to hear, a voice spoke softly to his Mother, who had been joined by Martha and Mary, whose cups were discarded and empty.

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!

Martin only listened and watched the pleading woman above, for some reason his face streaming with tears.

-my son Lord God I want my son I must have him where is he come to me-

Pauline, Martha, and Mary stood rapt, listening. Then they will begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do this when the wood is green-

-my son, dear Lord, bring me my Son!

-what will happen when it is dry?

Martha spoke to Pauline, pointing at the full cup she still held in her hand.

What, Mary? Won't he drink? He has not drunk. Give him to drink! Come on-

His eyes repeated to Pauline; she did not hear Martha or Mary; just the eyes.

-blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck-hear me woman-go while you still can and be saved-

Pauline dropped the cup. She gripped Martin's hand hard, grabbed David closer to her, and said nothing to Martha and Mary, as she swiftly melted into the crowd and was gone.

Pauline! shouted Martha-where are you going-you gave this poor man no drink-

Yes Pauline, said Mary. Come back-

Mary moved to go after Pauline and Martha stooped to get the cup to see if any droplets even were left to give the poor doomed man-what was the matter with Pauline, she thought-she has left us here alone-she had lost her nerve-what on earth has made her lose her nerve-

But her movement, her thought, her everything stopped; hands gripped the two women's arms from behind, as the Commander shouted, Break over! Forward! and everyone started to move again, and the whips cracked and the shouting and mocking began, but the hands held Martha and Mary where they stood, cold as ice; rough voices came over them saying, All right, you two, we are cracking down on your nonsense. You are both under arrest! It is against the law to give comfort to the prisoners. It is against the law to stop the procession. Come, now, with us! Come on, walk-I said walk!

No, no, they shouted, resisting, writhing, and dragging their feet-we have been doing this for years, the soldiers always looked the other way, why is it wrong now where are we going? This is our ministry, this is holy.

Your so-called holy ministry has always been against the law. You've been humored until now, but-well, to tell you the truth, we've got one complaint too many. So this is over.

No! No, it can't be-please let us go, we-

You belong to the system now, ladies. You have brought this on yourselves. Kiss your old lives goodbye. Now come, don't drag back, keep moving, don't resist.

The street emptied as the procession had passed, and the drink Pauline spilled slowly evaporated under the sun, and Mary and Martha were taken away to be punished, and were never seen again. Several streets away, Martin tripped and stumbled but had to keep moving as Mother pulled him faster than ever back up the dirt road out of town toward home. There were more and more crickets and more and more dust the closer they got to home, until, at last, they were there and went in and Mother locked the door behind them. Mother let go Martin's hand in the front room, and took David up and put him roughly down in his crib. The terrified baby immediately filled the house from top to bottom with shrill crying like nothing Martin had heard before. Pauline left him crying and struggled to her room, escaping the clutching and pulling of David's crying, collapsed face down on her large bed, and completely lost consciousness. The crying rose and rose packing the house tight from top to bottom, until there was no room in the house for anything, not even for Martin. The crying was drying and setting and threatening to seal him in and smother him like cement turned to stone forever; so he ran out the front door; and at the instant he went through, he knew he had run into the old woman's window in the sky, that had stretched and changed into a door to escape through, and he came face to face with the old woman who had, somehow, become his Mother. He rushed into her arms, as she cried out, Son, you have come. Where have you been, honey? Oh I wish you could tell me. I know you wish you could too-I was pleading to God for you to come back I thought I lost you-Eli! Look! Martin is here! Martin, come. In my lap, here! Time to eat now; here.

She pulled open her dress and Martin pressed his face down and began to suckle, and things were as they had been before and there was no David but Martin didn't know that because there had never been a David yet because he, Martin, had just come to Pauline and Eli like always from no place, and , and who knew? Who knew? There might not ever be a David.

As her milk flowed Pauline sighed toward the other room, Eli! Eli. See our new son!

One minute, not now, too busy, be right there, called out Eli, from the other darker room where he sat lancing a great boil on his arm with a knife, bringing all sticky white ooze flowing down, and Father squeezed and squeezed where the boil had been and more and more ooze came and dripped and dripped and dripped, like some liquid spilled on rough cobbles that would go to waste and be gone and forgotten forever in the heat coming down from the sun.