The Last Time the Poet Looked Out Her Window

By Hillary Lyon

Viv badly needed a writing prompt. She had the urge to create, an urge building like a thirst on a mid-summer day. Imperceptible at first, then the longer she went without satiation, the more apparent, more demanding the urge became. She took a sip of her tepid green tea.

I’ve got to write something, anything, but—she had no subject in mind. Early that morning she sat at her desktop, hands hovering above her keyboard like hungry vultures lazily circling in desert thermals, searching for a dead horse. Viv looked out the picture window behind her monitor. Seeing the desert mountains in the distance never failed to fill her with serenity, like taking a deep meditative breath.

Daybreak is so quiet, Viv abruptly realized. Where is the dawn chorus? She stood to move closer to the window. The trees were yet to burst out in leaves and the scant weeds were holding back their blossoms; Spring had not yet sprung.

Now that’s a poetic turn of phrase, she mused. Everything around here is in stasis, is retarded—in the developmental sense, she quickly qualified to herself. As in delayed, stunted. She had to be careful how to say that in the poem she would write. The other poets in her writers’ group kept their critiquing blades sharply honed for what they deemed offensive phrasing. She’d had her work mercilessly sliced and diced, more than once, for choosing the wrong word. Even if it was, ironically, the right word for the poem.

So there it is! Viv rejoiced. My subject: Spring is not yet sprung, she began mentally composing. Deaf to the dawn chorus, we muddle in our sad society like burgeoning milkweed thistle, not fully— A gunshot shattered the silence of the encroaching dawn. Birds, heretofore invisible in the silhouetted trees, took to wing, cawing and scattering in the pale blue-gold sky. Scattering like her thoughts, fleeing here and there, dishearteningly unrecoverable, she feared.

Viv realized she was standing before her window with her mouth agape. A gunshot—here? In this community? Had to be a car or motorcycle backfiring, that’s what people always say, when they hear a—a second shot interrupted her rationalizing. The bang rudely echoed through the quiet neighborhood, like a crash of symbols in a library. She stepped back from her window.

That sounded close; very close. Did one of her neighbors own a gun? Viv had no idea. And if they did, what were they shooting at? A coyote menacing a family dog? That had happened, more than once. A squadron of javelinas—that is what they are called, she defended to herself—turning over garbage cans, snuffling through the trashy treasure, looking for tasty sustenance? A young male bear, come down the mountain to claim new territory in some one’s backyard? She’d seen a local news story about that very situation a few years ago. Or . . .

Or did they shoot at somebody? A burglar? A home invasion! Or . . .

A lover’s quarrel?  A cheating spouse confronted in exasperation—or in righteous rage? A husband offed for the insurance money, or the grand inheritance? Grandparents killed by greedy grandchildren, too impatient for nature to take its cold, inevitable course? Or a drug deal gone wrong? Even in this upscale suburban development, illicit drugs were plentiful. Or so she’d heard. People have all sorts of reasons for murdering each other; often, they don’t need to have a rational reason at all—they allow their emotions to over-ride their scruples and self-control, she thought sagely.

She cautiously moved back to the window. The birds had returned, now performing their full-throated mating opera. A dog walker appeared with her two corgis straining on the leash, two joggers trotted past, deep in conversation. A chattering gaggle of school kids marched towards their bus stop. To Viv, it seemed no one appeared concerned about the earlier gun shots.

Had she imagined those two gun shots?

No, Chris, her husband, whispered in her ear. You heard them, because

Viv waved him away. “I don’t have time for you, you philandering bastard,” she snarked. “You have no place to tell me what I did or did not hear.”

“Sure I do,” he countered. “I’m your husband.”

Viv turned to face him. Chris always sat in his office chair at his desk, across the room from hers; far enough away to give her space to create, but close enough to interrupt her process. Which he did, joyfully, every chance he got.

His chair was empty. “Typical,” Viv grumbled. “Hit and run.”

She returned to her own desk, re-establishing her position at her keyboard. With relief, Viv recalled the opening lines of her newest poem. Her fingers went to work, tapping madly, happily—only to be interrupted.

“I kept that gun safe locked,” Chris huffed. “Never told you the combination—for a reason. How did you get it open?”

Viv smiled, not bothering to look away from her screen. What a satisfying start to her latest poem! “I had my ways,” she absently replied.

“You don’t even know how to handle a gun! You’re afraid of them!” he snarked. “You’re a poet, for heaven’s sake! A touchy-feely, mediocre, wanna be! Your work is shit, and no one will ever take you seriously—much less remember you or your poetry after you’re dead.”

Viv sighed. How many times had they had this confrontation? So many that they now bored her. She turned to face Chris. His form wavered in the glorious morning light pouring in through the window; Viv could see his still-cluttered desk through him.

“And you’ll only be remembered in connection with me, husband dearest,” she smirked. “And my two shots—why, I thought you were a burglar! Recall, there were a series of break-ins in our little neighborhood—everyone was on edge.” Viv grinned at the memory. “Conveniently, everyone around here upped their security, bought guard dogs—and guns.”

Chris scowled; he always did when Viv reminded him of his ignoble end. “Thanks to you—or rather, your generous insurance policy—I have been able to pursue my solitary art. I am the poet I always knew I could—no, would—be.”

She rose from her desk and moved to the window. Chris followed closely behind, raising his ghostly fists, impotently battering Viv in the head. Knowing what he was doing behind her back, she laughed. “Time for you to go, Christopher.”

It occurred to Viv she no longer need the window as she once had. She was uncaged—free! Such a beautiful day was in the making; she’d finish her poem, then go for an energizing walk in that lovely landscaped world outside.

Bio: With a Masters in English Lit, Hillary Lyon founded and for 20 years  acted as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher,  Subsynchronous Press. Her speculative fiction and crime short stories,  drabbles, and poems have appeared in numerous print and online  publications. She’s also an SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet. When not  writing, Hillary also creates illustrations for horror/sci-fi, and pulp  fiction sites. She’s currently the assistant art director for Black Petals.

She can be found at her website. HERE.

Read more Flash Fiction at The Yard: Crime Blog.

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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