The prompt from Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/4ugt77/ip_the_windows/
“Is this it?” Michael asked.
His father’s eyes rolled over the scene as though he were reading a book of his own personal history. The scent of dust lingered in the air, dust and concrete and neglect. His father shuffled forward a few steps, and the pebbles crunched under his shoes. Finally, he cleared his throat. “Yes.”
His father continued forward with his cane escorting each step. Michael followed. Outside, the first hints of fall blew a cool breeze through the allies between empty buildings. The Indian summer was finally failing.
Near the windows, next to a support beam, his father stopped. “I was here,” he said, spreading his hands over a workbench that was no longer there. Like his eyes, his hands and body moved around that which only existed in his mind. “It would get so hot in the summer,” he said, almost with a smile, as if the current day offered the memories themselves some relief. “I was lucky to have a window. Often times, I had to fight other boys for it, but I beat them.” The smile grew with the returning memory. “That, and I wanted to be in sight of your mother.”
Michael watched his father spread his hands.
“All of this,” his father continued, “this whole floor was just rows and rows of work stations. Mine was here. Your mother’s was there, two rows down.” The old man shuffled inward with hunched shoulders and made his way to the exact spot. “There were aisles, see? Here. They would walk the aisles all day, all night. It didn’t matter. They would walk and watch us, and they had these pieces of bamboo, see?” His father clapped his hands as loud as he could, and the sharp sound flew through the abandoned building. “Whack!” he said with another smile. “If they saw for a second you weren’t working.”
Michael watched his father in silence as the man mumbled to himself and returned to his nonexistent workstation by the window. He wondered if his father realized turning a corner around a bench that was no longer there.
“I was here, see? And your mother was there. She was so pretty.” His father smiled again.
“How did you meet her if you were always working?” asked Michael.
“Your mother had very beautiful eyes,” said his father. “I would look at them any chance I had, and I forced myself to smile when she caught me. Of course, she would smile back. Your mother was very kind, even then.” Michael and his father exchanged a mutual grin. “I finally built the nerve to ask her to sit with me near the window when they allowed us to eat. She did, and we’d look out at the other buildings and talk.” His father sighed and faced the open windows. “Lunch was only twenty minutes. That one moment in the day was all we had. Time goes so quickly.”
Michael took a moment to imagine the vast room frenzied with people, couldn’t, and joined his father by the window. “How old were you?”
“Fourteen,” his father said immediately. “She was one year younger.” Next to the window, the breeze caressed their faces. His father placed his hands on the sill. “This window,” he said, “was very important to me. I could smell the outside air. Sometimes, like today, there was a breeze. If it weren’t for this window, if I had worked at another station toward the center, I don’t know if your mother would have ever joined me for those lunches. We would’ve never spoke. She never would’ve given me the chance to walk her home.”
“What made you finally leave?” asked Michael.
His father squinted, and a darkness came to his eyes. “They hit her.”
“What?” asked Michael.
“It was my fault,” said his father. “I had been looking at her a lot that day. Smiling, making faces. She was smiling too, almost laughing sometimes. I couldn’t help it. Her smile was so pretty. We lost focus. We stopped paying attention to where the floor walkers were. One of them saw her making a goofy face, sticking her tongue out. The bamboo snapped across her back.” His father cracked his cane on the concrete floor and sent a loud Clack! through the empty building. Michael startled.
“Her eyes bulged big and white, and then the white turned to pink. I was furious, but she saw it. She saw me and shook her head. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks and she shook her head at me. She knew what would happen if I tried anything.”
The two men looked through the window in silence for some time, one reliving painful memories and the other trying to comprehend them.
“That was our last day here,” his father said. “That night when I walked her home, I begged her to leave with me. She was scared, obviously. It was a scary thing. I told her I’d sell all my things and we could flee the country and find something else, anything else. We could make our way.” His father chuckled. “She called me crazy, but she must have seen the determination in my eyes. I don’t know why she agreed to it. She was right. It really was crazy. But I knew I had her when she started smiling. Even with that mark fresh across her back, she started smiling. I knew then we’d be together forever.”
Michael smiled. “Was that the last time you were in this building?”
Michael’s father was snapped from memory’s daze, and he turned around. With the veil of memory removed, his failing eyes seemed to see the vacant building for the first time. After adjusting to the feeling of time marching by, he finally looked at his son and answered. “That was the last time I stood by this window.”