Knowing of no other children who could, Morgan hated playing outside just slightly less than she loved it. It was even worse during cold weather, especially at her father’s house. Clutching her baby doll under one arm and the other stretched out to hold onto the edge of the doorway while she whined and complained “but I don’t wanna go play outside!”
“Stop it Morgan!” her father scolded and gave her a firm but gentle shove out the door “Go play outside. I’ll be right at the window watching, just like always” he assured. At about six and six and two twenty his seven year old daughter was the only one who ever seemed to give him trouble. Just as soon as her small fingers were no longer in danger he shut the door and went right to the window. She only cried at the door for a minute or two before he could see her walking in the condo-surrounded courtyard.
It was what he couldn’t see that had caused Morgan’s pleading tantrum. While her sneakers crunched upon the frost-coated grass she looked down at her baby doll. “Don’t look at the windows Tilly, they’re just going to have bad words in them again” she pouted in a small petulant voice unheard by her father behind the only window that she hadn’t already labeled bad.
That was when the tapping started up and she knew that one of them at least had started up. Even though she didn’t want to and tried for what seemed to her the longest time, she looked over. There was that awful heart-sickening feeling all over again as the taunting backward message sat scrawled in the frost laced on the edges of the third window from the corner. KCUS UOY
The little boy who scowled behind that mean window was somewhere around her age. Morgan would never be sure whether it was the words or the hate in those eyes (that she would have done anything to see friendship in instead) that stabbed more painfully. All she now or ever would know was that the sting both caused made tears well in her little golden eyes. Not tears enough to haze her vision when she turned her head away and saw another window’s worth of lashing out at her freedom. HCTIB EITTUO
She sat down where she stood and with head bent forward held Tilly up to cover her eyes. She didn’t want to see anymore. Not the awful letters traced through frosted windows. Not the worse faces behind the awful letters. The eyes were so angry and the mouths twisted in accusation. She may have been only seven but she knew that they hated her and she knew exactly why. Small heart twisted as if a fist the size of her father’s was squeezed tight around it as she wished that she could explain to them that it wasn’t her fault. She didn’t want to come outside and taunt them with the fact that they couldn’t. If it were up to her she would stay trapped behind a window all day just like them. All she wanted was to be like them, to have them not hate her. But all she had was Tilly, outside and the friends she made up in her dreams day and otherwise.
She thought of them now, remembered the dream she’d woken from just this morning. Not all of her imaginary friends had been in it, just Nattles, Virgil, Marty and to her joy Doug who was quite literally dreamy in three whole different ways. They had all played in the maze made of bushes that were themselves made of live growing lights in every color. Marty had made up a great new make believe game where everyone was one of the colored-light plants, taking turns as ‘it’ to find the right ones. It was much more fun than the complicated number games that Nattles and Plassy came up with when those two put their heads together. Morgan forever had to steer all their complicated into games that were more fun, like hopscotch, cat’s cradle or jump rope, the latter two which she had never played, except when she was dreaming. She didn’t have any real life friends that could go outside and she didn’t have any real life friends at all because she could go outside.
The outside she dreamed of, full of friends, was a lot better than this real outside even though she loved that, this real outside, almost secretly. Hand on the frosted grass beside her she curled fingers around several cold blades and wrapped them to warm swiftly around her fingers. Fingertips felt every frosty spire melt away into water to cool her skin and seep in among fingerprints, almost tasted it right through her skin. Attention paid to that rather than the meaner use of frost of the window words.
“The grass looks like it’s made of sparkles Tilly” Morgan smiled at the baby doll held in other hand to hide her face. “It’s a lot like the grass in my dreams when it’s like that, but that grass’s sparkles don’t melt and they’re not cold. The next time I dream I’m going to tell Doug all about the mean windows and he’ll say that if he was behind a window he would write nice things. I don’t know why you’re not in the dreams Tilly, maybe the next dream you will be and then we can play baby dolls and Doug can be the daddy.”
From inside a window underneath those meaner ones, Morgan’s father sighed in relief to see her lips move and know that she was talking to her doll again. That was one of his daughter’s favorite games, that and tea party, and it made him feel better that he had made her play outside to see that she was having fun out there. He smiled to think that he would be able to tell his ex-wife that she worried too much. It wasn’t doing any harm at all that she had no one to play with out there. Kids were great at entertaining themselves he told himself while he reached for coffee mug.
In the apartment directly across the courtyard this wasn’t quite the case. Even surrounded by games of both the video and board varieties Danielle had been bored beyond belief. The video game she had been playing without the least bit of enthusiasm was forgotten the very instant she spotted the little girl outside. Controller carelessly thrown aside she got to her feet. Pins and needles stabbed throughout one foot and drew a hissed breath from wincing lips. She gave a loud petulant whine as she hopped upon the other all the way across the floor to the window.
Whining was forgotten as she noticed the girl didn’t have a filtration mask on let alone any other protection, not so much as a hat. Her jaw dropped then eyes narrowed, head turned without looking away and she shouted toward the other room “Mom look! There’s a little girl outside!”
After just a moment’s silence in which her mother sighed over the conflict in her daily schedule that would not resolve itself, she replied “I told you before Dannie, we just can’t afford a new Purecoat for you. You shouldn’t have gone and ri-“
“No mom! I’m not complaining again, just look. That girl doesn’t even have a filter on, isn’t that weird?” she called back with head turned from the window this time. She only turned back to the window when she heard her mother’s chair slide back away from her desk.
Her mother gasped as she looked out of the other room’s window. “Oh my God! That poor thing, what sort of parents would do that?.. that’s beyond irresponsible! It’s criminal! Oh that’s it, I’m calling the police.” Phone quickly in hand she did what any decent and concerned person would.
Lips quirked cruel corners while Danielle thought a moment then breathed on the glass, adding breathy fog to the window’s frost. Vindictive impulse rose and demanded to be indulged. It was both a curiosity and an offense that little girl out there, unprotected from any of the myriad allergens and contaminants and not looking at all effected by the exposure. It just wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair! Danielle lifted a finger to write the only real question she had, the only real source of the vindictive anger she felt. Purposefully and carefully she traced backward letters on the window so the little girl would be sure to be able to read them ‘WHY AREN’T YOU DEAD?’
If Morgan hadn’t already eased with the drift of her attention from just distracting herself to actually lose herself in imaginary conversation and daydream, she might have still have been careful not to look around and never at all noticed. But she held Tilly far from her to walk her along the frosted grass just to hear it crunch under tiny flat baby doll shoes. Her head turned and she froze to see those words in Danielle’s window. She didn’t even notice the face caught halfway between curiosity and hate behind them. The simple sentence itself a clenched fist striking her hard and simultaneously in heart and gut. Again her head bent to look down at the ground, arms hugged Tilly suddenly and tightly close though that did nothing to help the hurt. Tears welled bitter to sting eyes and throat too painful tight to let loose the sob that sat strangled behind.
Unlike the other windows whose hurtful words were out of view, those were directly across the courtyard and full in the view of Morgan’s father. His own eyes lighting upon them he squinted to read their distant letters. Hand clenched tight their grip on coffee mug. Sudden anger sparked out of nowhere to bloom with sharp intake of breath into full blown cold shaking rage. “What the fuck?!” he seethed through clenched and grinding teeth under narrowed glare. Small end table beside his window shook with the slam of mug quite more than just set upon its surface. Furious enough to disregard the bulk of reasons that kept him inside just to watch, he strode quick and purposeful toward and out his apartment’s door with quick grab and slap of filter mask to his face. Feet moved even quicker down the hall toward courtyard doors. All the anger fumed and grew with every step, the tirade he already imagined clear and sharp in his mind as he burst through them to step outside. He ignored the tears of his daughter to favor at least verbal attack of their cause, even though instinct already urged clenched fists and the need to use them.
Danielle saw him coming and blanched, jumped and darted back away from the window. “Mom!” she called out again.
“It’s okay, I already called!” her mother shouted back, already in an easier mood about the whole thing since she had been assured that an officer was on their way, was probably already there to handle the situation.
Danielle looked back at the window and breathed a sigh of relief to see a couple police officers in their blue uniform Purecoats. Though the angry guy was big and shouting at the window words she only heard muffled through the glass. His language far worse to her ears even so as he unleashed tirade so close it was his breath that now fogged the other side.
He only stopped and turned his head to look behind him as one of the officers called out “You, buddy, turn it around. Did you call this in?” Speakers in the full-coverage filter mask ringing voice loud and clear. The fact that the man was clearly irate had both officers on their guard though it was still unclear whether or not this was the guy who had called. It would make sense for someone seeing what they were seeing now, a kid outside with absolutely no precautionary wear, there was a good possibility that he might be yelling at the window of the neglected child’s parents.
“Call what in?” he asked still angry but now also confused. Substantial height hid the window behind him and it’s words from the officer’s view, but he referenced it nonetheless. “Someone else saw the crap those bastards wrote? Good. Just look at my daughter! I wanna fi-“
“This is your kid?” the cop asked and pulled a pair of cuffs from belt “alright you’re coming with us. Turn around and hands over your head.“ Firm tone instructed the guy as the officer moved forward to arrest him.
Even as he automatically complied, Morgan’s father complained. “You’re going to arrest Me? There’s a damn death threat against my daughter!” Hands over his head and turned around, still between cops and the window the only one seeing it except for Morgan herself at lower angle.
His partner called dispatch to get some paramedics out for the girl even though she didn’t seem in immediate distress. That was a huge ‘yet’. Then he bent to lean and put himself at the girl’s level. “Hi there” he put a hand out to help her up “I’m Officer Levins. I’m gonna get you safe inside okay? Why don’t you tell me your name and how you’re feeling?”
Morgan just jumped up still beyond teary-eyed and with more than a touch of the anger inherited either genetically or just now from her father shouted “I feel bad! I hate them! They’re mean and awful!” She ran around behind her father and clutched one of his legs.
“Stop it Morgan, it’s okay” her father with hands already cuffed behind him and unable to pick her up, looked down with an awful helplessness at how she tugged his leg “just-“ He didn’t get a chance to finish that thought or encouragement.
The officer that had been talking to her approached and she jumped up again. Morgan whirled to run only to stop short come face to face with that worst of all mean windows ever. “I HATE them!” she shrieked and cranked back the arm whose hand held Tilly.
“Morgan no! Don’t-“ her father shouted in a different sort of shock to chill him this time in relation to that hateful window, but it was too late.
Tilly went flying toward the window and words along with glass shattered with the hard-plastic hard-flung impact of otherwise harmless toy. Another shriek screamed but now from inside as Danielle jumped and for the first time in more years than she could remember, breathed raw air that already set hives on her skin. Breath gasped in swift and desperate speed while panic exacerbated actual reaction to contaminates and allergens. At the same it hindered her rushed scramble. Confused indecision ran her in circles unable to choose between a lunge for filter mask or inhaler for the sudden asthma attack.
The cops flew into a flurry. The one behind the girl’s father shoved him to sit hard on the ground, barked “You STAY the fuck right there!” even as he moved to assist the other officer, who had just ran past Morgan to jump right in through the broken window.
Between the two of them they were able to help the girl inside and her mother who had run in after the crashing sound of glass, though that reaction had been more of panic than the reaction of her daughter. Officer Levine held a sheet in improvised protection around Danielle when the paramedics arrived to take over the medical end of the situation. Morgan’s father left in the back of the police cruiser while Morgan cried in the back of the ambulance she didn’t need but had to share with the anaphylactic Danielle. In the course of the remaining light of day she went from the hospital to some office with a social worker who told her to go with a B.I.O agent who had shown up soon afterward. But with a reluctance that frightened Morgan even though she hadn’t liked the social worker himself. She didn’t see her father again even though she kept asking for a long, long time.