Open Window
Dianne McKnight
Dorsal Winner

I am an old woman. I live alone except for a dog and two cats, my companions for years. The dog license names me “owner.” Animal lovers say “guardian” is the kinder word but it can be a bad word, a ruthless one.

Five people on my street have been taken since spring. A smiling man and woman have come in broad daylight and taken them. Yesterday when they knocked on my neighbor’s door I stood at an open window watching from behind a moving curtain. I heard the man say “guardian.” I saw the woman point to my window. “It’s awfully hot for a window to be open,” she said and the man nodded.

These past months I’ve been careful not to make any mistakes: not to take the wrong pill, not to let my dog loose, not to fall, not to pay a bill late, not to burn anything on the stove or in the oven, not to sit in the evening with the lights off, not to walk stooped, not to walk too slowly. But an open window on a hot day is a mistake I didn’t think of.

I don’t have children but it wouldn’t matter if I did. Guardians don’t care. They say all children are greedy and undeserving. When families of the taken come to my door I tell them I know nothing, I’ve seen nothing. They are desperate but still I lie.

Rituals calm me. On Sunday nights I arrange a week’s worth of pills in their little compartments. I check and recheck to make sure they’re right: two blue, one yellow, two white. I hold on to the bar when I step in the shower. I’m careful not to bend to wash my legs and feet. At bedtime I put my glasses in the nightstand drawer. I stay awake on hot summer nights wondering if death is the same unconsciousness as sleep, wondering if the only hard part left to get through is dying.

Mornings I make sure my clothes match. I put blush on my cheeks, trying to look younger. When I finish the daily crossword I leave the paper open to it like a stage prop.

Today I sit through a long afternoon with my cats and dog, petting them and worrying about who will touch them next. “Remember someone loved you like this,” I say and think of my mother. I remember her face so clearly. I hum her favorite song, one about a guardian angel and true love. Beyond the picture window I watch monarchs in the garden. They fly straight up between visits to zinnias like an unseen hand is tossing them lightly from flower to flower.

First published: August 2018
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