Picture Window

Picture Window

A Story by Aaron M. Anderson

A troubled woman revisits a traumatic experience from her past with grace and dignity. See also "Aunt Maggie's Conviction." This story was originally published under a different name.



The old house at the corner of Hickory Avenue was finally for sale. Maggie Spell was sorry to see it go, but then again, she had always been sentimental.

She had come to say goodbye to the old house on Hickory Avenue, but somehow, the bittersweet feelings she had been afraid would overtake her upon sight of it had not yet arisen.

Maggie was a charming woman with curly hair and sparkling blue eyes, and today she had chosen to wear her favorite outfit--a navy dress with white polka-dots, her white gloves and a white hat.

She glowed with pride as she walked up the little garden path, past the hydrangea bushes and to the porch, taking in all of the beautiful sights and smells one last time. She paused for a moment on the doorstep with her eyes closed as a dizzy spell overtook her.

Moments later, with an air of determination, she took up the pair of garden shears resting beside the old lawn chairs and stepped back down into the garden.

The rosebush was in full bloom. Countless red flowers blossomed proudly, their flawless, dewy faces lifted high toward the noonday sun. Maggie marveled at their perfection.

"I'm sure Tom won't mind," she said aloud. "He knew I'd be coming today. Besides..." she added, with just a hint of a grin, "...what business would he have with Papa's roses anyway?"

Maggie picked the brightest, most radiant rose she could find and clipped the stem at a slant, just about a quarter-length down from the branch, just the way Papa would have done.

"Now, little one..." she said to the rose, "...we'll put you in a glass of water soon enough, you needn't worry." She took a few napkins and gently wrapped the thornless, radiant flower in them, nestling it in the corner of her purse.

Inside the house, all was still and silent, but when Maggie entered, whispers of yesterdays slipped swiftly through the doorway past where she stood, bringing to mind the faint sound of children laughing in the dining hall, the warmth of the hearth and the sounds as it crackled and fumed in Papa's study.

These sensations were not at all unpleasant to Maggie; they filled her with longing. Standing in this room that she had not seen in years made her feel like a child again. She could almost hear Aunt Esther ushering her giggling siblings from the nearby kitchen as the smells of roast turkey and rhubarb pie escaped from the quickly closing door.

She passed the chairs and the hall desk, covered with white sheets, ignoring any stale odors there might have been as she ascended the staircase.

Up and through the door on the right rested the old nursery. Maggie could not help but smile when she walked into this room, the gentle glow of sunlight from the picture window still bathed the room with warmth. It had not lost its comfort--this room in which she had been born.

As she felt the perfect breeze drift in from the open window, a sudden chill seized Maggie Spell. Something was out of place. Something felt wrong, and it took all of a minute for her to realize what it was.

There on the wall, just above the old rocking horse there hung a wide mahogany frame that she had never seen before. It appeared to be a very large family portrait. She stepped away from the light of the picture window, and it came into focus.

What cruel joke is this? she wondered to herself as she looked upon the picture. It was a portrait of herself as a much older woman. A cross, rather worn look on her wrinkled face stared back down at her hatefully. There were strangers in the portrait as well, standing all around her. There were four of them, and they were all much younger than she. One of them was a child.

Who in the world would have...? She blinked and stepped back out of shock and surprise. Oh, bless me! It's only a mirror...

And so it was.

She spun around in alarm, expecting to see four unfamiliar faces grinning mischievously back at her, but found herself staring at a blank wall instead.

"Oh, my poor mind!" she exclaimed.

Another quick look at the mirror told Maggie that the strangers were still there. Their eyes were fixed directly on her.

With a muffled cry Maggie snatched the heavy mirror from the wall, and it fell face-down onto the beige carpet. She turned towards the window and covered her face with her hands.

"What a senseless trick," she said aloud. It was most certainly the work of her brother, Thomas, she decided.

From somewhere towards town, a great clock chimed once.

She didn't see any broken glass around the fallen mirror. If she had broken it, Tom would be the one to deal with it.

"Billy Warner will have a fit if I don't make it to his barbeque," Mrs. Spell said. "I've outstayed my welcome."

Mrs. Spell took in a deep breath and turned towards the nursery door.

"What did you say, honey?" said a chiding voice. For a moment, Mrs. Spell thought it had come from the mirror on the floor.

"Is that you Tom?" she asked timidly, flustered. "I'm leaving now. I'm going to be late for Billy Warner's barbeque. And for that matter, why aren't you coming along...?"

She straightened her hat, turned around and marched through the nursery door without waiting for a reply, but was stopped short as a hand gently clasped her shoulder and set her down into a wheelchair that had not been there before.

The hand belonged to a man of roughly forty years with short black hair and a goatee. He was one of the unfamiliar faces from the mirror.

Someone laughed. "You ain't going nowhere, Miss Spell. Not while you've got your family here visitin'. Now ain't that nice of them?"

A woman wearing scrubs patterned with teddy bears squeezed past Mrs. Maggie Spell and out the door of Room 77.

Past the goateed man were the other three: a woman in her mid-thirties with long black hair, thick makeup and strong perfume, a tall blond-haired man with a rather round face and a hideous green sweater, and a young boy of eleven or twelve with a warm smile and an intelligent look in his deep blue eyes.

"Honey," said the long-haired woman softly, as if she were speaking to a small child, "Billy Warner's been dead since... 'shew, it must have been at least a decade ago..."

"Why, that's the silliest thing I ever did hear!" Mrs. Spell exclaimed. "Billy called me yesterday, just yesterday afternoon, mind you, and invited me to his barbeque this afternoon. It's Tom's birthday, and, whether he's figured it out or not, this whole to-do is about him!"

There was silence for several moments.

The thirty-something woman shook her head impatiently and looked out the window. She sighed heavily and spoke quietly to the blond man, "Arthur, let's go on home, now... I'd hate for all that good food to get cold while we're out...." She reached out a hand and began massaging the his shoulder. Her long, bright red fingernails made creases in the ugly green sweater. Mrs. Spell watched the strangers with interest.

"Mom?" It was the mustached man. His words were loud and slow, like the long-haired woman's. "I said... 'how do you like the pictures?'"

She looked down and realized for the first time that she was sitting in a wheelchair wearing a knitted salmon-colored sweater. There were several snapshots resting on her lap--pictures of Papa's garden--pictures of her childhood home.

She did not answer. Her voice stuck in her throat. The man seemed to understand. He took the pictures from her and sat down by the window. Mrs. Spell smiled weakly. The man's hairs were beginning to turn gray.

The young boy was sitting all alone in the corner clasping a handheld video game. He looked up at her and caught her eye.

"Charles!" she whispered suddenly, half to herself, and half to him. He broke out into a big grin, ran towards her and hugged her neck. "Oh, it's been so long..." she said, "...and you've grown so much!"

The boy laughed good-naturedly. "It's only been a week, Grandma," he said

The long-haired woman and the blond man had been lost in their own conversation, but now came toward the door. They had stern looks, and they said something quietly to the goateed man, who had been distractedly looking at the stack of pictures.

"C'mon Charles, time to go..." the woman said. "Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving, Mama Spell," she said, as an afterthought.

The blond man echoed the same, doubled back, and kissed the old woman on the forehead. "You take care, now, Mom," he added.

Mrs. Spell frowned. "Is it time for you to leave already?" she asked them in a quivering voice.

"Happy Thanksgiving, Mama." The goateed man smiled as he stood and zipped up his jacket. Mrs. Spell wasn't sure why, but her eyes began to water as she looked at him. He seemed too old...

"I guess I've got to go," the boy said.

"Well, you just come visit me anytime you want. I'll... I'll tell you a funny story next time, Charles." She managed a smile. He nodded and gave her a one-armed hug, then followed his family out the door.

The room was still once more. A telephone rang at the nurses' station several yards away from room 77. An unpleasant smell permeated the cold facility.

Mrs. Spell went on over to the windowsill, where it was warmer, and found the stack of photos her son had left for her.

That rose garden called to her from the pictures. She recalled the view from the nursery's picture window--trellises overgrown with flowers in bloom.

The more she stared at the picture of the large trellis, the more she thought she could see the figure of her half-brother, Tom standing there in the midst of the bushes looking up toward her. It was the way Tom used to look, when he was sixteen, before he got that other look about him.

It was that other look in Tom's eyes that made her afraid. It was the look Tom had before he had left for good.

There was plenty of warmth for Maggie in the garden, under the Autumn sun. When three-o'clock had come and passed, she was sitting under Papa's veranda with Billy Warner, Tom's best friend, waiting for Tom to appear. She twirled the rose cutting between her fingers.

Papa was there watching her from the porch. "Look at you young folks, wastin' your time out here." He couldn't hide his grin. "A body can't take but so much fun an' good times. You must think those garden vegetables take care of themselves!"

Soon enough, Tom came around the corner and saw the barbeque pit, and they all yelled, "Surprise!" His beautiful blue eyes couldn't hide that suprise. Maggie was proud of herself for keeping the party a secret successfully. It had been her idea to begin with.

It was those same blue eyes, moments later, that she looked into fervently, waiting for an answer to a question she had not yet asked.

"Tom, do you think...? Do you think I've been a good older sister?" she asked. "I know you'll be leaving soon."

Tom answered only with his eyes and their pained expression.

"What happened between us..." Maggie began. "I'm not sure if there's any way to make up for what either of us has d-"

Tom took her by the shoulders and kissed her. The kiss of a brother?

Maggie clenched her right fist. Years of unreleased frustration eased as he cupped her hand and unwound it. Somehow, the rose was still perfectly whole. The thornless rose.

"It's all over," Tom said. And it was true. The party decorations were down, the record had stopped playing. The guests had all left.

Tom took his hand and turned her cheek to face him. Her eyes had wandered toward the barn. 

"Maggie, you're the best sister I ever had. There's nothing you've done that needs forgiving."

His hands began moving down her dress.

Maggie pushed away from him, sobbing. "Oh, God..." 

She ran to a spigot to wash her hands, but the iron pump was missing. She tried not to think of how and why she had buried it in the barn all those Autumns ago.

She drew a bucket from the well and let the water flow over her blood-stained hands. "I didn't mean to hurt you bad... honest." 

"I know, Maggie. I love you," Tom said from the spot where he lay, far away, in the barn.

"Tom, I'm sorry you had to go," Tears streamed down Maggie's face. "I just could not let you keep on..."

The rose lay on the ground, its thorny body mangled, covered in blood.

"It hurts, " Maggie said, "God, it hurts!"

"Miss Spell! Miss Spell!" The nurse pulled Mrs. Spell's hands from the bathroom faucet and delicately walked her to her room. It took several minutes for the nurse to help Maggie, shaking and sobbing, back into her wheelchair.

"Cheer up, Miss Spell!" The nurse said. "Your Thanksgivin' dinner is ready! There's turkey, mashed potatoes and dressin'! Mmm, mmm, good!"

"I just want to forget," Maggie Spell replied as the nurse swathed her in white cotton sheets. The stack of photos slipped off the edge of the twin bed and scattered underneath it.

"I just want to forget."

© 2011 Aaron M. Anderson

Author's Note

Aaron M. Anderson
[email protected]
Rewritten from a 2008 version, renamed.
See "Aunt Maggie's Conviction" for this character, Maggie Spell, and more.

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Loved it!

Posted 8 Years Ago

Well written, very enjoyable to read.

Posted 8 Years Ago

2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

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2 Reviews
Added on July 6, 2011
Last Updated on July 26, 2011
Tags: party, elderly, youth, dark, thanksgiving, nursing home
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Aaron M. Anderson
Aaron M. Anderson

Raleigh, NC

I'm a young writer from North Carolina. I enjoy creating unique worlds for people to experience and enjoy through my stories and poems. Thank you for visiting my profile page. My favorite lyric.. more..