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Some days, when the winds pick up from the west, and the daylight hours grow longer and the air grows warmer, I hear their loud, boisterous voices just outside my window, voices that rise up and over the great brick wall that divides my time from theirs, as I sit, day after night, night after day, quietly playing with my books, my solitary games, my tiny words and music box notes, wrapped as I am in the cottony blankets of silent searches and time passing.
Most days it is only a faint sound of screaming and laughter, of people chasing each other around and around and around in a world just beyond reach.
But on this boring Tuesday, as spring blossoms inside my mind and the balmy wind beckons, the voices grow louder, more boisterous and bright, and I look up from my book and turn my head towards their noise.
I go to the window and stare out at the wall beyond.
Why all this not knowing?
Why not know?
I turn from the window, pick up my cardigan from my old, spring-sprung chair, and tiptoe down the stairs, leaving through the back door of my stalwart house.
As quiet as a criminal, I tread down the dirt path to the wall, where I lean my back against its cool surface. The air is warm, the sun is shining, and words like intrepid come to me in gusts of wind.
I pull myself up on my toes, and then—suddenly, hungrily—scramble skyward, digging my toes in the gaps of bricks, moving myself up and up until I can see over the wall’s jagged edge.
And what I see is breathtaking.
A massive playground spreads before me, a playground unlike any I’ve ever seen before. It is sprawling, extends for miles and miles, leading into a horizon beyond human sight. Slides and swings and climbing frames dot a landscape as shiny and new as a photograph.
With a final clamber, I pull myself up and over and jump flat onto that playground, happy to land so squarely on my feet.
A boy whizzes past, bumps into me and runs off. A girl walks by, taps my shoulder with a you’re it, and skips off, giggling. I unbutton my cardigan and run to the swings to find her. She is nowhere to be seen.
No matter. For there are many more, so many more—hundreds—maybe thousands—ready to let me join in their games.
Another runs by and tosses me a ball. I throw it to another, who throws it to another. I watch the ball disappear into the distance.
A small girl I once knew as an infant, born in the same hospital as me (she excitedly exclaims), pulls me to the swing where a tall thin boy I once knew in college holds the chains and pushes me upward and upward, higher and higher. And when the swing just as quickly slows in its rhythm, I turn to thank him. But, like that, he is gone.
I surprise myself by dropping my cardigan in the dust (something my mother would have never allowed!) and jump from the swing.
And there I am, running to the slide, waving my bare arms in the air, my hair surely shining in the sun, and I laugh louder than I’ve ever laughed as I climb to the top of the slide, watching the faintly-familiar tennis shoes of another friend climbing a few rungs ahead of me.
As I watch the back of that person slide away, I reach the top. And what I see from the top of that slide is unbelievable. Stunningly bright and beautiful. They are everywhere, glimpses of the past, the future perhaps, and so many faces! Faces of people I had forgotten or never even knew at all. So many friends, so many things to look at, to think about, shout out to, convince others of!
Gaining nerve, I find myself standing up straight, there at the top of that slide. I am _______, I call out, loudly, clearly. And I have something to say!, I exclaim.
The faces on the playground turn toward me. A thousand eyes stare upward—at me!—and I so want them to like me, like me, like me.
And they do! They gather around me, near, nearer, talking all at once, scrambling up the slide to me and I am so excited I can hardly breathe.
And then I don’t. I feel myself gasping for air, desperate to pull oxygen deep inside my lungs, and I am suddenly tired, so bone-weary tired, so heavily, achingly tired, and something like a splinter is caught inside the frame of my chest. I slide down past the faces that line the sides of the slide and sway unsteadily in the dirt.
So many sad and happy and serious friends are looking at me, watching my movements with round, waiting eyes.
I move toward the swings, where they follow me, slowly gathering around me with something like question marks floating above their heads, and I begin to look here and there for my cardigan. I find it in under the swings trampled in the dirt.
I pick it up, pull it back on clumsily, and trip forward through the playground crowds.
I feel my feet gaining energy beneath me and I begin to run and I feel the collective breath from the many people around me as I leave the circle of their knowing. I feel sure they are watching my back as I run ahead of them, back toward the wall.
And, like that, I bump straight into the wall, surprised to find that it is so much closer than I thought, its bricks cool and reassuring under my hands.
As I catch my breath, I look behind me, to see from where I have come.
And what do I see? My new friends! All running straight toward me!
I turn quickly and begin to scramble upwards. I feel their cool, otherworldly hands there beneath me, reaching for my legs, their fingers pulling at my feet, and it is heartening and terrifying to know they are so near, so eager, so urgently kind.
I wriggle away from them and hoist myself over the top of the wall. I feel my feet drop heavily onto the dust path below—that path that leads towards home.
The noise continues over my shoulder as I make my way slowly home, panting a little, feeling sad, safe, and so alone.
I enter the back door of my stalwart house, climb the stairs to my room, and quietly close the door behind me. The loud, boisterous voices continue just outside my window as I sit down to my books, my solitary games, my tiny words and music box notes, wrapped as I am in the cottony blankets of silent searches and time passing.
And already I miss them.
But there is soup on the stove and my book lies open to a story not yet written, and an empty bowl with a large spoon waits at the old oak table in the kitchen below.
And so the days pass. Winter sets in.
But soon enough the days, the weeks, the months pass, and the daylight hours once again grow longer and the air again grows warmer, and on another boring Tuesday, as spring blossoms inside my mind, I look up from my book and turn my head towards their noise.
I go to the window and stare out at the wall beyond and wonder:
Do they miss me?
Do they—could they—
still like me—even here,
secreted away in a labyrinth
world so still and quiet?
Please, someone tell me—
Can I still be seen?
About Andrea Witzke Slot
Andrea Witzke Slot is author of the poetry collections To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press 2012) and the forthcoming Ministry of Flowers (Valley Press 2020). Her fiction has won prizes with Fiction International and Able Muse and her work can be found (or is forthcoming) in Stand Magazine, Fictive Dream, Compass Magazine, American Literary Review, Ambit and Queen Mob's review. She lives in London, where she is a contributing artist with Fiona Lesley's Poetry Exchange, a British Podcast Silver Award Winner for Most Original Podcast. She is currently at work on a novel about madness.
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