Stay Away From Windows

Alli ParRett

Letty and I drive north, away from the city. Last week she asked if we could spend a weekend at my parents’ cabin at the lake. “I need a break,” she told me.

A break sounded nice.

My current discomfort with life is nothing extraordinary. Everyone in their late-twenties and early-thirties hits a point where they are unsure about where they live, work, who they live and work with. I fight with myself often about whether to blow up the averageness of my life. Some days I contemplate about how I might do it. It seems so simple. I could move and change my number. Get a new email. I wouldn’t tell anyone. Other times the task seems tedious, like a hundred different breakups for no good reason other than I feel like it.

A break is nice.

Coming here is muscle memory. We unload our bags and a cooler. I turn on the water to the house, run the faucets for a bit, vacuum up the spider webs, sit down and take a load off.

Letty paces by the bay window looking over the lake.

“Berit, I need to ask you something.”

“Okay.” She is never so direct or nervous.

“Would you consider being a surrogate for me and Finn?”

It feels like my eyebrows are at the top of my forehead. I sit on the rocking chair with a tattered seat cushion.

“I know it’s asking a lot,” Letty says. Her hands twist around one another like snakes. “We’ve tried for so long.”

She goes on for a bit about IUI versus IVF and what does and doesn’t feel right for them. I try to sort out how long they’ve actually been trying. Long is relative, I suppose, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been abnormally long. Not ask-your-friend-to-be-a-surrogate long.

“I thought you wanted to relax this weekend. You said you needed a break.”

“I needed a break from trying.”

“This feels like a different form of trying.”

“Berit, I’m sorry. But how else are you supposed to ask these sorts of questions?”

I don’t want her to ask this question at all.

For a while, we are silent. I wonder if she and Finn talked about asking me this weekend, if the plan was that she asked alone. Finn is thoughtful and kind. If he could tangibly give Letty the world, I think he would. It’s nauseating.

I can feel Letty staring at me. “Do you need an answer now?”

“Not this instant, no,” she said, her voice trails off at the end.

Of course, who asks a big question like this without hoping for an immediate answer? “I need to think.” I take a bottle of wine from the cooler and walk downstairs. I grab the tackle box and a rod and head out towards the water.

The lake is quiet, like it is mid-morning even though we’re well into the afternoon. The surface looks like the glass bricks people used to put in their bathrooms. Little ripples course through the water.

It’s been almost a decade since I fished. I attach a lure and a bobber to my line like I’m ten again. Truthfully, I wish I had a fresh container of worms. I remember how my mom taught me to rip them into smaller bits so I could catch more fish with fewer worms. A small savage act. A means to more ends. I could have stopped at the bait shop on the way in, but I hadn’t anticipated fishing this weekend. Fishing is not a relaxing activity for me. The red and white orb bounces in the small waves and I take a long pull from the bottle. I feel my tongue grow a slight shade of purple.

I do not want children. Never have I wondered what it would feel like to be pregnant. Never longed for something small to grow inside of me and then come out of me and be around me for the rest of my life. I remind myself that this would not be my child.

I wonder if that’s why they chose to ask me—no risk of me growing attached to something that would not stay with me.

My bobber hasn’t dipped this whole time. I recast my line and take another pull from the bottle. Nine months with no alcohol is a lot to ask of a friend.

From the shore, the sky is saturated with thick, even greyness. The air around me is heavy and cloying. There is no wind. I walk out onto the pier, boards loose beneath my feet.

Curious that the boats are tucked away so early in the day.

The door slides open. I hear Letty walk out onto the deck. I don’t want to face her yet, but I feel my body turn towards her nonetheless.

Over the roof, a stark line divides the sky—one side grey and the other a strange, deep shade of green, almost black.

I point to the sky behind her. I reel in my line, hook the hook onto the pole, and scurry back up to the house. I hand Letty the bottle.

Our schoolteacher’s voices echo in my head. Stay away from windows. Protect your neck. Seek safe shelter. They never said what to do in a house that is mostly windows.

The safest room is the basement bathroom. A cinderblock foundation and tucked in the ground, it is the safest place in the house, but still has a small window near the top of one wall. We do not stay in the bathroom.

We watch the storm out of the sliding glass door that we’re not supposed to stand near. We watch the sky in front of us turn black-green. Trees rustle until all of the leaves and branches blow in the same direction. Small branches snap from trunks. We’re surrounded by sturdy oaks, but what is sturdy when Mother Nature demands attention?

Outside there is only chaos. The wind is so strong, water lifts from the lake. It mixes with the rain in the air. It’s hard to tell where the sky ends and earth begins. For now, they are one. Through the cloud of water and wind, shadows fly. Loud cracks echo through the distance yet we cannot see the destruction. Not until it’s close.

At the bottom of our sloped land, straddling the property line, is a two-century willow tree. The branches whip-crack through the air until the whole truck gives way. It topples left instead of right and crushes the neighbor’s boat like a beer can. The plastic lawn chair not ten feet from the tree hasn’t moved an inch.

We stand there, in front of the window that we’re supposed to avoid, mouths agape.

All at once, the wind stills. The water settles from sky to the surface. The air is clear and crisp like autumn even though it’s midsummer. The clouds pull destruction and disorder away, leaving behind a solemn calm. All my life, people spoke of the calm before the storm but never of the stillness that comes after.

The water is stiff and the air silent. Nature is still tucked away while we humans poke our heads out of our shelters and assess the wreckage. Debris crunches under our feet like fallen leaves. Each step is careful.

We are the lucky ones. Only small branches decorate our land. None breeched our walls or roof. The boat is still secure in the lift. We lower it into the water and ease away from the shore to check on our neighbors.

Our house and some others are tucked away on an inlet and look the same as they always have. Where the land juts out, we see the power of the storm.

Trees as thick as cars protrude out of windows, leaving pits in the earth. Others split in half but are still rooted. Boat lifts are upturned with the boats still inside, now capsized in the water. Amidst the havoc, the world looks pristine as though Mother Nature needed to get something out of her system. Now she glows. It’s unsettling.

I guide us back to the house and park the boat back into the lift. Letty gets out and I crank the boat up out of the water.

We walk back up to the house with muffled steps, as though not to disturb the earth any further this evening. When we get to the door I put my hand on her arm.

“I’ll be your surrogate.”

“Just like that?”

A break sounds nice.

ALLI PARRETT is a prose writer with a Masters in Creative Writing from University of Glasgow. Her work is featured in Crab Fat Magazine, The Bookends Review, The Daily Drunk Mag, and others. Alli was accepted to the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop Summer 2021. As well as writing, she spends her time making wheel-thrown pottery, reading, and drinking whisky—her favorite is Jura 10 year. She lives in Seattle with her spouse and two dogs.