It’s a small thing and a gigantic thing, to be in the world. You know this. Easy and difficult. You know that outside the protection of your walls and windows is every joy you can’t reach from here. And out there is as terrifying as it is beautiful.
This is painted on the front of a notebook which spends most of its time on your coffee table:
My name is Gillian but I prefer Glass.
You haven’t told this to anyone, yet.
You have to be very careful when you walk the upstairs hallway at night. The hall is narrow, the walls built too closely together, the bannister very low. It’s not how you would have arranged things, if you had built this house. If you lose your balance, you’ll be a fractured ruin in the dark on the wood floor and no one will find you for days. Weeks, maybe. You’ve seen it, over and over in your mind. It’s not pretty.
On your tombstone, they might write: Look how far she fell.
Your front door is open, now. Your left foot rests on the doorframe — still-white laces tied tightly, untied, tied again — for the first time in fifty-two weeks. Three hundred sixty-four days and seven hours. You only feel able to go out now, after all this time, because you can’t quite let it be a year. The pressure of an entire year would be too much. It might crush you under its weight.
You keep your body centred in the doorway, equally distant from the two long windows on either side, and tap. One. Two. Three. Fingers touch the doorframe, your percussion echoing through the wood. Four. Five. Six. The sounds you make are calculated and perfect. Seven.
It’s time to go outside.
When you walk by a window, it shatters. You see it happen in that what if part of your brain. Like a movie playing in an almost-empty theatre; you’re the only one there, the only one watching. That’s why you never leave glasses too close to the edges of tables or countertops. That’s why the mirrors have been wrapped in sheets and banished to the basement. You’ve pulled glass shards out of your hands and feet a thousand times but they never leave a scar. It happens even when it doesn’t happen.
The air hurts. The sunlight hurts and you’ve never been struck by anything as painfully bright, as breathtaking as this day. Outside. The sky is uncomfortably blue and you squint. A twitch of guilt-tinted gratitude tugs at the corner of your mouth. Since the last time you looked out your front window a few weeks before, your lawn has been baked by drought into a flat, brownish tangle. At least the neighbours won’t be upset; the unkempt grass is tolerable in its current state.
A cloudless sky only means you can see the plane crash coming, long before it hits. Or a flock of frantic birds which has lost its ability to navigate and slams into the side of a building. You can already see the feathers drifting helplessly to the ground. It’s like that show where the girl dies after a toilet seat falls from the sky. Anything could come crashing down. Sharp beaks or twisted metal embedded in your skin, or anyone’s. An asteroid. The whole city ruined in one coincidental swipe. And you know you’ve never been good in an emergency.
You check your watch. And again. After five minutes, your legs have almost stopped shaking. The panic clenched in your intercostal muscles lessens enough that you can breathe. For a long time, from that particular spot, you debate with yourself over whether to lock the door behind you. On one hand, an unlocked door leaves your safe place vulnerable and exposed. But a locked door also takes longer to open. You leave it as it is and somehow your feet agree to take you a few steps from the door. Down the stairs, away from the porch.
Cars never stay on the road, like they’re supposed to. That’s why there are words like careening and uncontrollably. They veer off, squealing over the sidewalk and slamming into houses. They collide. They rip through gas lines and then there are explosions. There are buildings, even people, existing in a blind spot and they are vulnerable. You’ve seen it happen to yourself many times. Cars are safer if you count them, catalogue each one and assign it a number as it passes you by.
In this place, a few steps further, you are reminded that the sidewalk feels different from carpet and tiled floor, even under your shoes. There is a tap-scrape sound accompanying the meeting of each sole and the ground. There are small disasters you’ve forgotten about. A worm shrivelled on the cement didn’t make it back to damp ground after the rain yesterday. A baby-blue soother covered in grit, abandoned by the sewer grate. Half a robin’s egg broken in the grass, a smear of yolk dried yellow inside. Somewhere nearby, the mother robin is chirping and you hope her other babies are safe in the nest, hatched without incident.
And there are the neighbours. The untranslatable barrier between them and you. Their strange, coveted bravery. Like the woman across the street with a white envelope in her hand, moving capably toward the mailbox as if there were no disasters waiting for her there. The distracting machine-roar from a few houses down where a man whose name you might never know is mowing his lawn. Shirtless in the sun and the spring air; he is daring the world to touch him. How do they do it?
Are they looking at you? Are they thinking how rare, how odd it is to see you outside? Will they tell you it’s best for everyone if you go back in? Are they looking? They are. They are not. They are.
You are out and here and now and seen and these words are tainted with something that makes you feel like you might throw up. There is a whole terrifying world which is not your house. It makes your breath come too fast. Your teeth clench. A car backfires, somewhere — it is a gunshot. Fireworks. Explosion. Train accident. People are hurt or dead. Possibly people you know. Possibly even you.
You stomp one foot down, hard. The sidewalk is solid and real; it sends a juddering up through the bones of your leg. There is nothing bad happening. You are outside. Nothing is breaking, now. And you begin to count your breaths. One. Two. Three. Slow them down. Four. Five. Six.
You bend to pick up the remainder of the robin’s egg and cradle it in one hand. Seven. Its edges are ragged and half of it is missing. You think how wonderfully strange it is that dinosaurs grew so massive. Still, their girth, the sharp of their teeth, their claws and their appetite all fit inside an egg. The world speaks in the tiniest of sounds and you are listening.
This is written out seven times in the first pages of the notebook on your coffee table:
Glass is fragile but malleable under certain conditions.
It can take on any shape you can imagine. It shatters.
But Glass is strong, sharp, clear. Sometimes dangerous.
It can be a weapon when you need one.
You are eleven steps from the place where the sidewalk meets the walkway to your front door. And that’s enough, for now. Turn back, count the steps, touch the door. You slip back into safe and home with a half-crushed robin’s egg still in your hand.
On your tombstone, they might write: Look how far she came.
Síle Englert is a queer, Autistic writer and multidisciplinary artist. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks: The Phobic’s Handbook (Anstruther Press, 2020) and Threadbare (Baseline Press, 2019), as well as a forthcoming full-length poetry collection from Icehouse/Goose Lane Editions. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous publications, most recently Arc Poetry Magazine and The Dalhousie Review. More: Twitter @SileEnglert + Instagram @sileenglert + Facebook @sile.englert.writes