Stephanie had always been limited by her mother’s timidity. No unsupervised playing out, no TV apart from children’s shows receiving full parental approval, no fashionable clothes and definitely no boyfriends until she’d left school. Stephanie had put up with these restrictions — sitting in her shapeless clothes working diligently on her homework, she was a strangely passive child.
Come the summer though, she had allowed herself one small piece of rebellion. Mother had insisted that Stephanie had her bedroom windows shut at night, even in the hottest months of the year.
“Thieves can break in, Stephanie,” she was fond of saying, “and they could steal your things!”
Stephanie may have been cowed but she was far from stupid. She knew that no-one could get in through those tiny windows, which barely opened anyway, the hinges were so stiff. Besides, she needed the air and enjoyed the birdsong early in the morning. Every summer night, after her mother had drily kissed her goodnight, Stephanie tiptoed silently to the window and opened it a little. Then she crept back to bed and held her teddy bear extra close just in case. She woke to birdsong and silently closed the window again before her mother got up.
Now Stephanie had left home and was at University. Her mother hadn’t been happy about this, but Stephanie had argued as she never had before. Her mother finally relented:
“But only if you live in a women’s hall of residence, Stephanie. I don’t want you exposed to the dangers of flat sharing or living with men, you never know what might happen!”
So Stephanie went to University, finding a place in a women’s hall of residence. She loved her cosy little room; it was a sanctuary from the strange social world outside. The only problem was the window. It was a large window, opening onto a wide grassy field. This was the kind of window that Stephanie felt her mother must have had in mind in her warnings about keeping the windows shut. Stephanie started to shut the window every night.
Stephanie’s excellent exam results had somehow only increased her mother’s reluctance to let her mix socially. As a result, by the time she got to University, she still had never had even the most demure of dates. However, Stephanie didn’t want to end up like her mother and she knew that the chances of that happening would increase if she remained single.
All she knew about men, Stephanie had learned from poetry and films. She knew that a man would often do romantic and daring things to win the woman he loved. She was well read enough to know that love wasn’t guaranteed to last, but if she could at least get the romantic beginning then she would have something to work with.
One early summer night, as she was tossing and turning in her warm room, Stephanie suddenly had a thought. Maybe her mother had always warned her to keep the windows shut not because of thieves but because of romance. She would have been scared that a man would have stolen Stephanie away from her. Just as someone with a knife had stolen her husband all those years ago in the dark back-streets of Glasgow.
Stephanie loosened her hair from her night-time plait and pulled her dressing gown round her. She tip-toed to her window and opened it wide. She stepped out onto the small balcony and breathed deeply. The warm breeze gently lifted her hair round her shoulders. She looked out across the gardens where the last pale azaleas gleamed white in the dark. A shadow moved on the lawn. Stephanie took a deep breath and whispered, “Hello!”
Juliet Wilson is a poet, short story writer and adult education tutor based in Edinburgh, Scotland.