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Between the Blinds

Between the Blinds

– Fiction by Nicole Rashter

Featured in issue 15 of Dreamers Magazine

She doesn’t look older than forty, which is surprising. In a neighbourhood popular with senior residents, she is certainly a black sheep.

I lift the blind higher, peering out at her standing in the shadow of the sycamore tree, crimson leaves falling all around her. I note her chocolate-brown hair, her tanned legs, the abundance of colourful rope bracelets adorning her slender wrists.

I don’t remember seeing her before. She must’ve moved here recently.

Before I can satisfy my curiosity, the bus swerves onto the street and whisks her away. Checking the time, I let go of the blind and turn away from the window.

I wonder if she’ll be here again tomorrow.

I can hear the kettle boiling in the kitchen as I shuffle down the hallway, a worn towel on my shoulder. Bending down, I wipe my finger along the rim of a stray Tupperware container and frown at the collected dust.

I open the bathroom door. Draping the towel on the stained sink rim, I turn on the tap and squeeze paste onto a toothbrush.

My thoughts return to the stranger from the bus stop. I smile while I brush my teeth, remembering how the wind had played with her hair. Spitting out the foam, I raise my head and wink.

I don’t know if my reflection answers me. The mirror is covered by a worn sheet.

That’s alright. I’m used to brushing my teeth blindly.

I’m bored, Roger texts me that evening.

That’s understandable,
I reply.

I’m very, very bored. I feel like cutting a window in the wall. That’s how bored I am.

I don’t think a window will help
, I type, smirking.

My kitchen’s too gloomy.

You live in a basement.

A moment of hesitation before a new message appears. You spoilsport. I chuckle.

You need a housemate, I text, surprising myself.

I have Ichador. Ichador is Roger’s iguana.

I shake my head. You need someone to look after.

After a second, I add: Someone human.

This time, Roger doesn’t respond for three minutes.

So, a speech bubble finally asks, you’re suggesting I find myself a date?

Perhaps, I say.

You must be joking, Roger replies. I don’t know the first thing about them. Women are too complicated. They want to feel loved.

They always need attention. I’ve been single for five years now. I’m not ready to disturb my routine. What if she… gasps

What? I ask.

What if she doesn’t like to eat Kraft Dinner for breakfast?

When I look outside my window the next morning, the mysterious woman is standing dutifully beside the sycamore tree. I see her there the next day. And the next day. And the next. Soon, I start winding the clocks to her arrival. She arrives precisely at 8:51 every morning, tapping her feet restlessly for a couple of minutes before the bus takes her away.

I grow to like her silent company. When I notice that she returns home as promptly in the evening, I start greeting her every time by the window. From watching her, I learn that she hates itchy sweaters, likes buying Starbucks lattes, shivers with pleasure upon signs of snow, and whistles as she walks home on sunny days.

I wonder what her voice sounds like.

After a month of hard work, I finally finish dusting the second floor of the house. Now’s the time to bring out the vacuum cleaner, if I can find it in the cluttered living room. Mostly, I feel like lying on the grimy carpet, pretending I have vision powerful enough to see the spiders spinning their cobwebs across the ceiling.

The coffee machine breaks, and I carefully carry it down the rickety stairs to the basement. Placing the beast beside five of its damaged siblings, I smile as it glistens in the darkness.

Only once do I find myself standing still in front of the attic window, blankly watching a neighbour hose down their driveway. My hands hold the broom like they were trained to, although they yearn to be holding that hose. Unsettled by my muscle memory, I place the broom in a corner and walk away.

The bathroom door stays closed.

A while ago, I responded to one of those suspicious ads persistently appearing in my tabs. Instead of contracting a virus (like I expected), I got a Zen magazine subscription, which now periodically sends its wisdom to my inbox. Every day that I receive their email is a good day for me.

“The noble-minded are calm and steady. Little people are forever fussing and fretting.” — Confucius

This quote reminds me of peace. If you have no future, you don’t need to fret.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands.” — Robert M. Pirsig

This quote is about healing. I can’t move on until I am well.

And my favourite: “You are exactly where you need to be.” —Unknown

This quote makes me feel safe.

She could be a nurse, I muse, sipping the morning coffee. The blind is secured tightly to the one above it with a pair of zip ties.

Pulling the stool closer to the window, I squint at the woman as she checks her watch in annoyance. No, she’s probably a teacher, I correct myself after inspecting the backpack weighing down on her shoulders. Judging by the salt-eaten fabric and the mud splattered pockets, my stranger seemingly doesn’t care about the bag’s contents.

I wonder if she’s happy with her job, or if she resents waking up every morning. What are her hopes and dreams? Would I be able to understand them?

How does one start a conversation like that?

The bus whizzes by my window. I blink at the suddenly empty front lawn. I didn’t even notice my stranger leaving.

“Carl and Steve were asking about you the other day.” Roger mumbles into the phone, chewing on something. In the background, I can hear the nostalgic sound of mighty engines running.

I try to remember what Carl or Steve look like. “It’s supposed to be Steve’s birthday in December, right?”

“His birthday was back in June, but close enough.”

I cringe at the dirty dishes in the sink. “Well, give them my regards,” I say as I scrub another plate. “I’m fine.”

Later, I rummage through the boxes for the photo where Steve, Carl, and I are smiling together. After hours of fruitless scavenging, I sit down on a lawn chair and bite my lip.

“Why are we bored, lonely and lazy? Because we don’t have the will to totally open our hearts to others.” — Lama Yeshe

I adjust the knob on an old radio. It sits on a pile of outdated car catalogs in the living room. Besides trying to find a station that doesn’t broadcast white noise, I’m also wondering whether today’s Zen quote is true. I admit,

I’m slightly offset by the authority in Yeshe’s statement. What if someone’s not ready to open their hearts to others? What if hearts are meant to be locked until a proper key is found? What if someone isolates themselves only because they need time to construct that perfect key?

Does that necessarily mean they’ll become desolate or unmotivated?

Who even decides these things?

The radio sputters and jazz flows quietly out of its speakers. The dust mites twirl in the air, as if dancing to the music. Content, I grab a laser pointer from a rusty canister full of glue sticks and watch the light flit between the empty pizza boxes on the table and the unopened packages of socks on the floor.

Maybe I should get a cat.

When the bus pulls up to the curb at precisely 5:30 pm, I’m already seated in front of the window. The shuttered doors yawn and an elderly couple hobbles out. The wrinkled man carefully helps his equally wrinkled wife maneuver down onto the pavement with her walking stick.

My back relaxes when I see my mystery nurse/teacher step onto the driveway after them. Instead of walking away, she stares longingly at the two withered hands locked together in their embrace. I, in turn, study the emotions playing discreetly across her freckled face.


Shaking her head, the woman pulls on the straps of her knapsack. She strides away from me through the snow.

I wonder whether one day she’ll glance up and find me staring back through the window. Perhaps then I’ll wave at her. Perhaps she’ll smile. Perhaps…I’ll even invite her to come in.

Aha, I roll my eyes, right into the neighbourhood’s largest indoor junkyard.

Still, it would be nice to have someone in my kitchen, to listen to their story as I pour them tea into one of the mismatched cups. I am almost concerned with how good the fantasy makes me feel.

“I just wish I could talk to someone.” Roger says over the speakerphone. I turn my head towards the landline and behead a carrot.

“You’re talking to me.” I mumble.

“You know what I mean.” He sighs, his voice distorted by the buzzing on the line.

I spill the last of the carrots into a bowl and start on the cabbage.

“There are always dating sites,” I offer. “Maybe you can find someone there.” Over the months, he has warmed up to my original suggestion.

“Yeah, maybe,” Roger grumbles. “Anyways, enough about me. When are you planning to crawl out of your fortress?”

I tense, forcing myself to keep cutting. “I went for a jog today.” I lie.

“Yeah right. I know you better than that.”

I sigh and reach for the grater.

“Glenn, you should stop hiding.”

“I’m not hiding. I am simply allergic to the sun.”

“Cut the sarcasm, mate. I know it’s not the sun you’re hiding from. You should stop hiding from yourself.”

I glare at the receiver. “What gives you the right to talk?” In my mind, I can see Roger massaging his eyes. “I was there, remember? I saw what happened. I understand how you feel. Glenn, if only you’d…”

The rest of his words are eaten up by the inferno suddenly roaring in my ears. Its blistering heat claws at my skin and I clench my jaw against a memory I’ve spent months trying to suppress.

Damn you, Roger.

“…it wasn’t your fault.” His voice goes on. “There was nothing you could do…” Before the screams can possess me, I slam the landline into its base, cutting the conversation in half.

I can barely sleep with Roger’s words tumbling through my mind. Mixed in with his voice are images of ashes blowing in the wind, coiled hoses arranged in neat rows, and the matchbook I keep locked in the attic cupboard for when I’m finally ready.

Finally, I sit up in the lumpy bed and my hands curl into fists. I shuffle down the corridor, opening the bathroom door before I can stop myself.

My heart pounds in my chest as I stare at the soiled sheet. This sheet has kept me sane for so long by concealing from me what I so greatly dread.

But maybe Roger’s right. Perhaps it’s time to stop hiding.

I grip the edge of the fabric and pull. The cloth detaches its claws from the mirror’s edge and spills itself with a moaning gasp onto the counter.

I gape at the monster in front of me.

Eyebrows singed off, the skin blistered, broiled and discoloured in places touched by the fire. The peeling lips and the yellowed teeth. And the eyes—those cowardly eyes still reeling from the nightmare they’ve witnessed. My nose picks up that horrifying stench of grilling flesh.

I scramble away from the mirror, stumbling over the mountains of scotch tape, dictionaries, umbrellas, and glass vases. Only when I reach the bedroom do I draw a breath.

I’ll have to use the bathroom on the third floor. There, at least, I had the common sense to break the mirror in the first place.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Louis B. Smedes

I’m sorry, Roger texts me, I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

Then, a couple minutes later: Come to Jack Aster’s tonight with me. My treat?

I’ve read his message three hours ago, but I still can’t bring myself to reply.

The next time the bus approaches the curb, I’m jittery and tense, pacing before the window. When my stranger stumbles out, grocery bags pulling down against her grip, I grit my teeth.

Wiping her brow, she hobbles down the street, away from view. I follow her, up the stairs, pushing aside a carton of golf balls. Finally,

I press myself against the attic window, searching the streets. I exhale when I see her heading towards a row of dilapidated condo buildings, where she disappears into the brown crumbled stone.

For at least an hour, I stare after her.

Eventually, the sky darkens, yet the scene doesn’t change.

The static on the TV screen hums, reflecting the disorder in my mind. I bring the beer can to my mouth and swallow as I stare at the article spread across my knee.

“Blazing fire destroys hotel; 45 killed, 1 firefighter injured.”

I don’t need to read the rest. I know the text by heart.

Turning on my phone, I reread Roger’s most recent message. Seeing the date when it was sent, I grimace and rub my chin in thought. I think about grocery bags, how heavy they must be when carried alone.

Looking at the towers of junk around me, I bitterly shake my head.

There was something I could do. And there’s something I can do now.

My fingers start texting before I can change my mind.

“Sometimes, all it takes is saying ‘hi’.” — Me

She stares down the street, impatiently waiting for the bus.

I stare between the blinds, impatiently waiting for change.

Glancing back at the row of ticking clocks above the doorway, I scowl. Biting into a stale granola bar, I resume my rigid watch.

Change is running late.

Finally, my stranger glances with surprise behind her and my knees sag with relief.

My only friend strides up to her, holding a briefcase that I know he has dug up just for this purpose. He looks tanner than the last time

I’ve seen him, with a slightly bigger belly hidden behind his tweed coat. But he has the same eyes. I remember how excited those eyes were on Roger’s first day at the fire station.

God, I miss him.

I watch as Roger inspects a crack in the sidewalk, while ‘accidentally’ bumping into her. My stranger glares at him, and he raises his hands in apology.

She smiles and his figure relaxes. I can almost hear him cracking out a joke, the one about three men in a bar.

I bet her laughter is making the nearby birds sing.

When Roger and my mysterious beauty shake hands, I pull out the pliers and cut through the zip ties. The blind shuts just as they board the bus.

About the Author – Nicole Rashter

Anna Fouks

Nicole Rashter is an Ontario-based writer. She has been exploring the craft for more than a decade, experimenting in a wide variety of genres and styles. Her stories have been previously published with Polar Expressions Publishing in six anthologies, and have received recognition in the yearly NYC Midnight writing contests.

Did you like this story by Nicole Rashter? Then you might also like: 

Someone to Watch My Back
Pieces of You


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