by Emily Anderson
Following our harrowing escape from the orphanage, we stumbled upon a big empty house on top of a great big cliff overlooking a small circle of the great big sea; seals and baby seals brayed on the beach below.
There was no furniture in that house, only empty rooms made of hard pink granite and soft golden sandstone, sometimes in stripes. The windows had no glass in them at all which caused some of us to wonder whether or not they really were windows, or if they were just holes. Initially I supported the former theory, that the windows were windows, since they were clearly part of a structure that had been designed to be a house, and in fact themselves supported the house’s houseness, by providing vistas like that of the sea for in front of the sink while washing supper dishes, and like by letting in white moths and moonlight, and of giving yellow squares to the stone floor for standing in and jumping through all day long, all of which are things that never happened at the orphanage and supposedly happen in houses, the way mommies and daddies and pets and cows and policemen happen in at or around houses. But events have now led me to the opposite conclusion: that what I believed were windows were simply holes.
At night, through the spaces where the moths and moonlight come, we hear along down the beach the seals’ barking and the baby seals’ squeaking, the waves that we know from daylight to be white crashing against the rocks that are black day or night, the tear and snag of a motor. Then a pop of light.
That white pop, dipping and jumping, seizing and slumping, apprehends all of us: the seals barking on the beach, our pink and gold house leaning across the black with white sky, the pallid children with wrists sticking from outgrown cuffs leaning so very far out. The only thing that light can never catch is the cliff, so black white light will not see it.
There were as many as twenty-six of us when we left the orphanage during its moment of distraction (while the bathtubs were developing hair and gin and growing grandfathers who were not our grandfathers, while the dark closets were sprouting orphans on cords and rats on vines, while the silk kimonos were unearthing women, steaming laundry, and sweet purply smoke) but now there are not so many of us. Not so many now but also so many then that I have lost count.
The white grows until it is stretched across the beach like a white windowshade. The motor glugs and when it stops the sea is loud and lapping black against the beach. We see men. Men who are not afraid of getting wet up to their knees with black water and men who are not afraid of getting white sand stuck to their wet boots. Men who whisper and work quick. Seals with rolls. Seals with flips.
The white windowshade rolls up with a motor sound. All of us orphans squeeze so close to lean out it’s like there’s only one of us, instead of twenty-six or twenty-five or less. We watch the shade roll up black. It lets go the streaks of blood and sealshadow on the white beach. Blinks away the pink and gold house and its stretch into sky. Lets go the orphans’ leaning eyes and outgrown clothes: it lets all of us go, but lets one of us go most.
The last day I spent at the house, before I left to meet your mother and make her my wife, I ate a good orphan breakfast, oatmeal, from a big kettle. Even though I was almost grown-up I got caught up again in the old argument, of whether the house’s windows were windows or really holes. Even then I insisted they were windows. I became so angry with the argument that I bit through the oatmeal into my tongue, and tasted some of my own blood. But there was no one to feel sorry for me because by then only I was left.