Little Panes of Glass
The sick slips into everything. Doctors distribute masks. The children must be protected. A large collection of families relocate to their country estates. Water and medicine are in greater demand than ever. Eloise’s mother works nights and mornings, all day. Every patient must be helped, and every child is kept in a safe place. Ambulances scream at the hospitals. There are fevers to break, headaches, coughs, and a rash as red as a tomato. There might be, thinks Eloise, a cure to this madness.
In some moments, the days seem alive: loud, rough, each morning long and hectic. And yet everything imitates death as if the streets are dried-up rivers, depleted of life.
Stray cats walk the alleys of the east London neighborhood. The summer winds cool into autumn ones. The roads are soundless.
To shelter is to save lives.
Trains stop, stores close, and guards with shields strut down the streets. But Eloise’s health remains unscathed: no sore throat, no chills, no days spent in bed, just the shuttering of windows and the dullness of another day spent inside.
One story, two stories, three with windows into each. These little glass panes on the building across the street seem more entertaining than anything else Eloise has seen. On Christmas morning, the children on floor two smile at dolls and candy canes. By springtime, she memorizes the boy’s routine on floor three: porridge at seven, instruction from nine to three, and a candlelit dinner.
The floors of her flat collect dust with the stillness of life. Her mother walks to the hospital in blue gloves and a white cap.
Eloise sits on the floor and pens into a journal. When she writes, the lives of her neighbors come to life—resurrected from the hermits that she sees and imagines them on the cobblestone streets. They’re reading in the Kensington rose gardens and laughing in theaters. They chat with friends over tea and biscuits.
Someone on the television says, “It will be over soon,” but her mother shakes her head.
On the first day of spring, Eloise catches the boy in the window across the street with a piece of paper, a pen, and a keen look on his face. His smile lifts when she waves. Eloise writes about who she thinks he is when the days drag on, and nobody is strolling the sidewalks. He is a twelve-year-old, who is the same age as her, and loves flying kites and fossils.
Most days, he sits at the kitchen table, hunched over, lips tight in concentration. Now and then, he meets eyes with her, smiles, and folds over once more.
During those last days of the sick, penning stories about the souls around, Eloise thinks she can sense a gladness in the air. It always came from the building across the street, from those little panes of glass. As if all this time has been nothing more than a chance for her to see the raw truth.
On her thirteenth birthday, the quarantine is over, and the doors open. People shuffle out of their flats onto the streets, hesitant at first. They wander their block as if, for the first time, spying all the details of their building: the color of brick, the hardware, the shimmer of glass. The air is crisp and clean.
Eloise brings her journal and leaves her flat for the first time in months. She runs down the flight of stairs, out the entryway, into the street, and finds the boy from the little pane of glass with a stack of portraits.
“I wrote you stories,” she says.
“I drew your face.”