Artists to Authors is an exploration of the how art influences authors. Artist Grey Cross has opened his entire portfolio to any author who would like to choose a piece of art and create a short story around it. You can find more information on the project at:
The Bathroom Window
By Grey A. Cross
The bathroom is perhaps the only room in a home where you do little else but stare straight ahead. Think about it. Is there another room where you just sit or stand still for several moments, over and over again, each and every day?
So it was with some amazement that it took me a year before I really paid attention to the one window in the small bathroom in my home.
Sure, I'd stand there idly watching the trees, the birds, the rain, the sun, all the while doing my business in the toilet that sat beneath the window. But my mind would wander. The day’s affairs would flit by, and I rarely walked away from the bathroom window thinking I'd seen anything specific.
It was total chance that made me pay attention one morning. I'd been standing on my front porch. It was windy – no, more than that, it was gusty. I watched a plastic bag fly past me and saw the wind whip up a small dust devil in a nearby empty lot. The clouds were dark and there was no doubt a storm coming.
I wandered back into the house and moved towards the bathroom to once again perform the age-old ritual of urination. Mind you, I am diabetic. That means it’s rare to have a fifteen-second in and out job. It’s usually a few minutes of mindless staring out the window.
As my gaze wandered along with my mind, I failed to notice for the first few seconds that something wasn't right about what I was seeing.
The backyard with its trees and bushes was dead calm. Not a breath of air stirred the leaves. It was as if someone had thrown an “off” switch on the blowing winds I had just observed from the front of the house.
A shudder went through me. "This isn't good," I muttered. In the deep South, that kind of radical weather change often meant a very bad storm was coming. Tornado weather, especially, could play tricks on the wind. I did a quick shake, zippered up, and made my way quickly back to the front porch.
Out to the wind.
"What the hell," I said out loud. If anything, the winds were now stronger. I watched a wooden ladded that had been leaning against the side of the house flop with a bang to the ground, pushed over in the wild winds.
With a frown I went back inside. Not for a moment did I suspect anything out of the ordinary, though. I figured the winds had died down for a few moments and I'd better check the weather service to see if we had a tornado coming.
Several days passed. It was early morning. The sun was just cresting the horizon as I stumbled to the bathroom half-asleep. I usually closed the blinds every night. On this particular morning, they were open just a tad. Lines of weak sunshine limned the wall near the window.
Then I noticed that the lines were moving. It looked almost like something outside was passing quickly through the lines of sunshine. It flickered like an old-time motion picture projector.
My eyes opened a bit. Shaking off sleep, I looked at the lines in slight confusion, a frown on my face. I hate to be woken even a little by anything, and knew I'd not get back to sleep for an hour if my mind woke up. With a grunt, I reached for the slender pole that controlled the blinds and turned it counterclockwise until the blinds opened fully to the emerging day.
The yard outside was empty. Nothing moved that would have caused the lines of sunshine to flicker. One grumpy bluejay sat on a tree limb staring back at me. When I looked back at the lines, which were now a solid block of sunshine streaming in from the window, they were still.
I grumbled and stumbled back to bed. I lay there for an hour, just as I’d known I would, and tried to puzzle through what had caused the movement. Eventually I fell back to sleep with no answers.
I suppose it was then that I started paying more attention to the bathroom window.
It was little things at first. Things that most people wouldn't even take notice of. But a heightened awareness that I should keep my eyes open each time my diabetes-plagued body returned me to the window made me begin to see things I couldn’t explain.
One day just before sunset, the light was streaming in from a side alley to light the lower branches of the yard. This was a completely different kind of light than that of the morning sun. In the dappled light, for just a moment, I saw a face staring back at me. It was green with a golden tint, human yet not human. It was there for such a brief moment that I had to chalk it up to nothing more than an illusion from the setting sun.
Another day the grumpy bluejay was back. He was diving in and out of the bushes and into the tree limbs above. He stopped for just a moment and stared at the tattered fence that lined the back of the yard. His head cocked as he stared at it. And in a sudden rush of wings he flitted off the branch and went straight through the fence.
I shook my head. He must have gone over the fence and I'd just seen it wrong. Or perhaps he flew through a shaded hole that I couldn’t see from where I stood.
I had a vivid imagination. I knew that. I was prone to see ghosts and feel things that others never felt. I was a strange boy and perhaps a stranger man. But I'd always prided myself on looking for the logical reasons why something occured before I would seek out a more esoteric answer. Till then, I could rationalize the small things I'd seen as nothing but the mind at play. Until the day the bluejay once again came calling.
It had been a particularly bad morning. I was out of sorts and in no mood for flights of fancy. As I stood there doing my business, I suddenly realized I was being watched. Two bright black eyes were staring directly at me from across the yard.
The bluejay had never taken notice of me before. I didn't even think he was aware I existed. Now his head cocked, and he hopped to a branch closer to the window. Then another and another, until he was perched on a small vine climbing up the side of the house. He tottered out as far as he could go and stared in through the window at me. He was totally still for a moment, then let out a raucous cry like a warrior and threw himself at the window. I blinked and took a step back, my hand coming up to guard my face even though I logically knew there was a window between us. A spray of yellow fluid spattered across the room as my body jerked and I let out a cry almost as loud as the bluejay’s. I looked down in embarassment, momentarily distracted by the urine geyser I'd created, when I realized the damned bird had just disappeared. He had never made contact with the window. He'd just simply vanished.
This was too much. I quickly sopped up the puddle made by my unfortunate accident and rushed out of the house, down the alley, and through the tiny wooden gate into the backyard.
I searched frantically beneath the window, expecting to see the shattered remains of the jay. It had to have hit the window and I’d just missed it. But the ground below was empty. I looked around me and up into the trees. Other than a slowly wafting hawk far up in the sky, there was not a bird to be found.
Now it became a challenge. The window was starting to get on my nerves.
Each time I entered the bathroom, I spent more time focusing on the scene outside than I did on what I was doing. More and more, I noticed that things were just slightly off in the view. Sometimes the sun would come from a strange angle. I knew the rays should come from above, yet at midday they would slant in from the east. There were mysterious breezes when I knew it was dead calm outside. There were animals. The bluejay had returned. His loud caw could be heard, almost as if he were laughing at me. There were often squirrels in the branches. But these squirrels didn't fit the scene. Two were black, one was red. We had neither in this part of the South. The common gray squirrels that should live back there were nowhere to be seen.
It seemed to me that the more I watched, the stranger things got. Occasionally I would test what I was seeing by rushing out to survey the backyard, but when I would get there, the animals would be gone and everything looked so commonplace that I was pretty sure I had to be losing my mind.
It got to the point where I spent more time staring out that damned bathroom window than doing anything else. It was no longer a situation of looking while I leaked. I wasn't there to do anything but stare out the window.
At night I became afraid. The blinds closed out the sights and I refused to peek out and see what was going on after dark. I just knew I wasn't going to like what I saw.
Then one day in a fit of mania I couldn't stop myself. My hand moved towards one of the slats, and I eased it up with a finger. When two red eyes twinkled back at me through the opening, I yanked my hand away as if I'd been burned, letting the slat drop back into place. I would not open those blinds at night ever again.
As my mania continued from spring into summer, I'd begun to notice that everything beyond the window seemed to be growing in surges. I'd open look out one morning to see a small weed had grown a foot since I last looked out. The same weed was a bush the next day, and a few days after that, a full-grown tree stood in its place. Vines curled and inched their way in a hundred different directions, and the sky was almost lost in a profusion of green.
Yes, I'd go back and check the yard and walk around it, and all would seem normal. Nothing but the natural summer foliage one would always expect to see.
Then came the day when I noticed the small leaf. One of the vines had somehow found a tiny crack in the window frame. It had inched through the crack and was inside the bathroom with me. The tendril was tiny and attached to a hair-thick vine. But it was enough to make me shudder.
A few hours later there were four leaves and the tiny vine had grown thicker, except where it went into the crack. The next day there were a dozen leaves and it had wound its way up one side of the window. Over the course of a week, the vine moved all the way around the window, giving it a vivid new frame of bright green.
I now rarely used the bathroom for any of its normal purposes. I had nightmares of that damned vine wrapping itself around me while I was doing my business and pulling me into the toilet. I imagined it creeping up the shower curtain and strangling me while I bathed. Whenever possible, I used a friend’s bathroom down the street, claiming that mine was broken and the plumber hadn't fixed it yet.
Meanwhile, the vine had found that it liked the bathroom. It had gradually grown to take over the toilet and the sink, and was now creeping along the floor, ready to visit other parts of the house.
This had to stop. I had to get a grip on my irrational fear of the vine and my obviously delusional visions of what was going on in the backyard. Armed with clippers, a rusty machete, and a gallon jug of Weed-B-Gone, I was determined to put a stop to this.
With the machete raised, I cautiously pulled the bathroom door open an inch and glanced in. The first thing I saw was ... my toilet.
I eased the door open, expecting to see the vine monster hiding behind it, ready to jump out and feast on my entrails. But there was nothing. The bathroom looked as it always had. A dried bar of soap had slid from the edge of the tub and was lying in the middle of the floor.
Slightly crestfallen, I pushed the door completely open, stomped into the room, and looked around. Had I really been avoiding my bathroom for two weeks because I thought there was a plant creature in it? Maybe I'd imagined the whole damn thing. I wasn't beyond having a psychotic episode or two. Unhappily, I set the machete and other weed-destroying accoutrements down on the floor near the door. Then, thinking better, I picked the machete back up and moved farther into the room, towards the waiting window. "One can never be too careful," I muttered.
I lifted my head to look out the window. I fully expected ... well, I don't know what I expected. An alien landscape complete with live aliens? A tree the size of a mountain spreading up into the sky? An evil bluejay ready to peck me to death?
As I raised my head, the first thing I saw was my same old boring backyard, and perched on a nearby limb was the bluejay. Not an evil monster, just a simple bird. It watched a big mosquito flying nearby, and quick as a wink snapped the bug up in its jaws, totally ignoring me. The sun was just about to set, casting shadows across the lower portions of the yard.
I'd imagined it all. There was no other explanation and no other recourse except to admit that I had the kind of imagination that made me see things while taking a piss. That was all there was to it. In the morning I would call my psychologist and see if there was something my subconscious was trying to tell me.
I sighed. In a way, I would miss the vine and the very aware bluejay and the adventure of looking out my bathroom window. But it was time to get back to the real world. As I unzipped my fly and performed the most boring ritual of a human's existence, I looked one more time out the window. The bluejay was now gone. But as I reached to close the blinds for the night, I heard it laughing, the sound gradually fading into the distance as the bird flew away.
I turned, not noticing that one of the slats on the blinds had remained partially open, and failed to see the two red eyes watching me as I made my way out of the bathoom. The door closed behind me with a click.