We Lived in the Gaps between the Stories

From below, from the driveway, comes the sound of the car being started. It’s quiet in this area, there isn’t a lot of traffic, you can hear things like that very clearly: car motors, lawn mowers, the clipping of a hedge, the slam of a door. You could hear a shout clearly, or a shot, if such noises were ever made here. Sometimes there are distant sirens.

I go to the window and sit on the window seat, which is too narrow for comfort. There’s a hard little cushion on it, with a petit-point cover: FAITH, in square print, surrounded by a wreath of lilies. FAITH is a faded blue, the leaves of the lilies a dingy green. This is a cushion once used elsewhere, worn but not enough to throw out. Somehow it’s been overlooked.

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I can spend minutes, tens of minutes, running my eyes over the print: FAITH. It’s the only thing they’ve given me to read. If I were caught doing it, would it count? I didn’t put the cushion here myself.

The motor turns, and I lean forward, pulling the white curtain across my face, like a veil. It’s semi-sheer, I can see through it. If I press my forehead against the glass and look down, I can see the back half of the Whirlwind. Nobody is there, but as I watch I see Nick come around to the back door of the car, open it, stand stiffly beside it. His cap is straight now and his sleeves rolled down and buttoned. I can’t see his face because I’m looking down on him.

Now the Commander is coming out. I glimpse him only for an instant, foreshortened, walking to the car. He doesn’t have his hat on, so it’s not a formal event he’s going to. His hair is grey. Silver, you might call it if you were being kind. I don’t feel like being kind. The one before this was bald, so I suppose he’s an improvement.

If I could spit, out the window, or throw something, the cushion for instance, I might be able to hit him.

Moira and I, with paper bags filled with water. Water bombs, they were called. Leaning out my dorm window, dropping them on the heads of the boys below. It was Moira’s idea. What were they trying to do? Climb a ladder, for something. For our underwear.

That dormitory had once been co-educational, there were still urinals in one of the washrooms on our floor. But by the time I’d got there they’d put the men and women back the way they were.

The Commander stoops, gets into the car, disappears, and Nick shuts the door. A moment later the car moves backwards, down the driveway and onto the street, and vanishes behind the hedge.

I ought to feel hatred for this man. I know I ought to feel it, but it isn’t what I do feel. What I feel is more complicated than that. I don’t know what to call it. It isn’t love.