The Other Side of the Window
By Shawn R. Jones
On my side of the window, I was the “stay at home Kool-aid and oatmeal cookie” mom who went to the local university part-time while her husband worked sixty hours a week. With that one degree, I educated myself, my family, and a neighborhood full of children on the porch of the century old brownstone my husband renovated a couple years before we met. Twelve foot ceilings, a marble fireplace, and a second stairwell off the breakfast room were a few amenities that added to the elegance of our first home in the inner-city. Even though the media often reminded us that we lived in one of the most dangerous cities in the country, we were proud of our “castle.”
We turned dollars into diamonds by purchasing second-hand furniture from antique flea markets. An elderly gentleman in an old storefront reupholstered each piece as he sat on a footstool with his thin body hanger-bent as his dark fingers moved skillfully across silk fabric. Each time we stopped by to check on his progress, he promised he would “be done real soon.” I don’t remember his face because he spoke as he worked, looking down and balancing a lit cigarette between his chapped lips. As a result, our sofa, ottomans, and chairs smelled like smoke. It was a problem we fixed with a cool breeze, two metal fans, and a loud-mouth window.
On the other side of the window, an occasional body was found and the swat team tiptoed through our backyard as quietly as black ants on moist soil. Gun fire was more common than birds singing and the Fourth of July was more nerve wrecking than fun because you could not tell the difference between fireworks and firearms. But we stayed even when we could afford to leave because there was something spellbinding about that city.
Maybe it was Miss Joyce who warned of headless demons hopping between the walls of our row homes or Light-Eyed Mr. Leroy who wore velour tracksuits and complimented all the women through his gold-toothed smile. Or maybe it was Tanya, Mr. Leroy’s sharp-shooter wife whose veins popped beneath dark skin when she pulled the trigger or Miss Pat who listened to our fights with her ear pressed on the bottom of a drinking glass against her aged plastered wall. Or it may have been the two little Johnson girls who mourned their hamster after they threw him down a flight of stairs or the twitchy addict on the corner who still managed to brighten my day with a funny comment and a smile.
Whatever it was, it kept my family on that block for ten years. Big houses, quiet streets, and competing green lawns could never replace it, and I later discovered similar problems creep through larger homes down wider streets. Demons don’t need connected walls to travel, and the “Stepford Wives” don’t need drinking glasses to spread gossip. The scorned wife doesn’t have to be a sharp shooter to pull the trigger and the twitchy addict doesn’t stand on the corner with a witty line and a smile. Yet, everything that plagues the city, plagues the suburbs in decorated packages. I have lived in both places, and one of the most horrific tragedies has made me realize that the mother who weeps in her mansion over the loss of her 20-year-old-heroin addicted son does not weep with any less grief. Botox lifts her skin, but not her pain.
By Shawn R. Jones
Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames http://t.co/BxiNwWRG
and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain,
*This is an excerpt from my next book. This is a working title.