The God in the Window
by Steven R. Stewart
Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.
Those are Carl Sandburg's words, but it was Mallory I heard say them, a week after her
surgery, with blood on her lips. She lay backwards on her bed, skinny legs and calloused toes
toward the window, eyes scanning the branches that made shadow puppets against the ribbon of
the Milky Way. Her voice was clear when it should have been shredded, and I smiled hearing it.
Her voice had returned not long before. It was a real miracle, a perplexing gift from the
universe, and I didn't question it. Perhaps she would sing like the rest of us soon, when the shock
wore off, when she got her own words back and wasn't forced to borrow them. Maybe we would
be the Singing St. Claires after all. Mother, Dad, sixteen-year-old me, and now thirteen-year-old
Mallory. Skinny Mallory, my little sister, my Pixie Stick.
I got up, dabbed the blood off her lips with the corner of my pajama sleeve, and sat on the
bed next to her. I started to speak, but Mallory put a finger to her lips.
"I have known the silence of the stars and of the sea," she said.
Edgar Lee Masters.
"All right," I said. "We'll be quiet."
I sat staring into the deep shadows of the trees behind the house. I did not know what
waited in our future, or who--only that I would be with her through it all.
I'm her sister. It's something I'll never forget to be.
It began months before, in Mother's study.
The oak door at the end of the hall was the end of the world, beyond which did not belong
to humanity--and certainly not to Mallory and me. Mother almost never let us inside, so when
she turned the key, and the door glided soundlessly open, Mallory and I were hesitant to follow
her into the shadowy space. The walls were barely visible behind the meticulously displayed
awards and photographs Mother had hung to celebrate her accomplishments. There were no
Coming to stand in the center of the room, tall and beautiful with her arms outstretched,
Mother smiled down at us like a statue.
"Trinity College," she said, gesturing to walls. "Westminster Abbey. The Monteverdi
Choir. The Dunedin Consort. Les Arts Florissants. I have sung with them all. Soloed for most.
And one day, so will you."
This speech was intended for Mallory. I had already soloed for the Trinity College Choir
and had been touring with mother and father since long before I was Mallory's age. Mallory
knew better than to open her mouth, and so did I, not even to divert mother from another of her
grandstanding attempts to humiliate Mallory into greatness.
"You think I don't see your face, child, but I do," Mother said. "Speak."
Mallory cleared her throat. This was something she always did, but the self-conscious
gesture could never clear away the boyish, unmusical texture of her voice. "I stink," she said.
"I'll never sing with any of those choirs."
Mother bent down and smiled at Mallory. "I was not born as I am. I became it. As you
will become it."
Mother took a framed, monochrome photo from her desk. The photo showed two smiling
parents holding a pouty, fiery-eyed little girl between them. "Mia mama e mio papa. Your
grandparents. They gave everything to make me who I am today. Sacrificed more than you could
ever understand. And I will not dishonor their memory by doing less." Her black eyes lit up. "I
want to show you something else."
She strode out of the room, leaving Mallory and me alone. Mallory walked along the
shelves and stacks of books, running her hand over their covers and pages as if trying to draw
their secrets into her.
"You should just tell her you don't want to," I said. "One day, she'll have to accept that."
Mallory shot me a puzzled look. "Who said I don't want to?"
"I just meant--"
I had been about to sit on a wooden box when the lid gave way with a loud pop. Mallory
rushed over, and together, we stared down through a crack in the wood. An eye stared up at us
from the box.
Pulling aside the broken lid, we found another photograph of Mother and her parents.
This had been taken a bit later, and everyone bore hollow, haunted expressions. Underneath the
photo, we found stacks of my mother's childhood drawings. Most showed a girl on a tall stage,
the crowd reaching up, unable to touch even her feet. Some were drawings of windows. Some, of
As Mallory rifled through the drawings, I thought I glimpsed the leather corner of a book
deep in the recesses of the box.
"We're going to get in trouble," I said.
"Keep a lookout then."
When I turned toward the door, Mother was standing in its frame. "What are you doing?"
Mallory jumped and hugged her backpack to her chest. "Nothing."
"I sat on a box and broke the lid," I said.
Mother laughed. "Some of the things in this room are very old. Come here, look, both of
We gathered around, and she pulled us close in a hug that was cold and too tight. In her
hands was another drawing. Four singers on a stage. A mother, a father, and two daughters.
"This is my oldest dream," she said. "My only dream. And you, Mallory, are the final