I installed windows inside people’s homes. Well, not so much ‘installed’ as ‘fitted.’ Our company made these plastic storm windows with foam and tubing all around them that could be shoved inside your ‘classic, original’ windows. When they didn’t fit right, we snuck a razor blade out of the kit and whittled them down while you weren’t looking. Randy liked to use spit to brush the rubber crumbs away. I preferred to use a white Sharpie to erase any smudges or extra glue.
Most of the job was making the windows. The circular saws screamed constantly, and the super glue wafted around the warehouse, blown by mega fans at every station. Once I accidentally fried my breakfast eggs in marijuana butter, then danced a choreography around my table, the classical music in my ears making me cry. But that’s a different story. Occasionally we left the warehouse on installation runs. This was the best part, because Hilary and I were friends and could talk and listen to music in the car. Mostly it was sunny. Mostly it was golden in the way you imagine Portland in the summer.
What did I see on these trips? I saw your sex dungeons and your peeping tom bathrooms. I saw your pictures of what appeared to be Thai sex workers on a boat, plastered on your walls. I saw the way you hoarded magazines and refused to change your kitty litter. I saw your spotless sewing rooms, moldy basements, french presses, ancient swords. I saw your newborn babies in your wives’ arms.
I shouldn’t have made Hillary climb those ladders, but I was afraid of heights.
One day we had to go up to the West hills, to a rich person’s house. Not rich like the young executives I used to serve coffee to. Rich-rich. There was a gate, and then another gate. Finally we made it to the house, where a young woman let us inside. Now this was architecture. The walls soared up to the ceiling at strange angles. It’s not like I knew much about it, but it had a Japanese aesthetic. And lots of windows, good god. Beneath the visual harmony rolled a deep, florid smell. He finally appeared in the room like white smoke, bent horizontal to the floor. He was wearing a nice sweater.
We made the usual talk: where were the windows, did he want the extra features, and how long all that would take. Finally he cleared his throat.
You know who I am, right? Hillary and I glanced at each other. Things were taking a weird turn.
We shook our heads.
I’m an inventor. You know what I invented?
Again we shook our heads.
The touch-tone keypad! He swept one shaking finger toward a phone on his desk.
Ah, Hillary said. I think I smiled.
Anyhow. The windows are in the back….
Afterwards, Hillary and I sat in the Window Wagon. I reached out the window and grabbed the magnetic sign. We agreed it was mildly embarrassing to drive through downtown with that sign on the car. Hillary gently pried open her tupperware lid and began to eat some lasagna. I pulled out a cigarette.
Well, that was a new one, she said. I nodded, making sure to blow the smoke all the way out the window.
I was already anticipating the next drama. Perhaps a young couple fighting, the woman in tears. Piles of flowers out the back windows, never planted. A pure white interior with a grand piano in the corner, white as snow. A 70s house, wood-paneled, with macrame plants. A rental with gum on the walls and a bedroom still reeking of sex.
Maybe it was because I already felt empty, after my boyfriend poisoned me so I’d miscarry. Or maybe I’d retreated deep inside myself after my friend was hit with a freight train and lived. It was the living part that scared me. But everything that summer moved through me and through me and never settled. I was not tired of anyone else’s life, just my own.
What time’s our next one? I said, watching the smoke curl up until it disappeared.
Becca Yenser graduated from Wichita State University with an MFA in Creative Writing. They are the author of the CNF collection, The Grief Lottery (forthcoming, ELJ Editions, 2021). Recent writing appears in Hobart, Bending Genres, Tiny Molecules, Fanzine, and Heavy Feather Review. They live in New Mexico with their cat, NJ.