From exposure to curtains

“I like looking outside. Even when it’s night, I like to see the dark,” said my brother.

I know what he means. Of course it is grand to look out at a sunny day, but even when it is raining, when it is gloomy or pitch dark, there is a reassurance and a healthy reminder to looking outside. The weather is always doing as it pleases, rarely what you might wish, and the very air betrays a sort of sentience to those who have worked out in it by necessity. It is not a personable sort of sentience, but like a cat: its paths and ways might be affected by all the to-do of human activity, all our constructions and pavings and disorderly arrangings, yet it goes about its business aloof from these things, following invisible paths that lie over all our bother like bubbles on water. If you are getting caught up in the anxieties of your day, a clear window will watch you unblinking, unperturbed. I don’t care, it might say to all your anxieties, but it doesn’t care enough to say so.

This is good medicine. But the nonchalance so afforded by a window is despoiled if unkindred faces pass too close by. There are tall windows in this apartment with elaborate old trim, and I love these windows. The three in the front room, the two flanking windows in angled wall to from a kind of curve, were part of what made me want this apartment over the others I looked at, price notwithstanding. All the windows came with blinds. Whenever I have hauled up the blinds to appreciate the noncomittal possibility of a window view, someone has gone past too close for me to ignore, jerking my attention to the window and causing me to focus on the venue meant for unfocused happenstance.

Even with the blinds down, when I sat by the windows in the front people would go by on the porch, and the little gaps at the sides of the blinds would feel like slits in a shower curtain; it gave the feeling that either I was peeking out or the passers by were peeking in.

I have been leaving the blinds mostly closed, and not sitting too close to windows people might pass by. After a month of having the furnace on, I grew vexed by the furnace’s seeming to run every ten minutes. With an hour lunch, I am gone for 9 hours at least five days a week; often eleven hours, sometimes more. On the weekends I am here even less, since I almost always spend them with family. It’s one thing to spend money heating a house full of people, and another to spend money heating an empty apartment. One obvious loss of heat was the windows; tall, and with handsome trim, but old and leaky too.

I began to entertain the thought of curtains. I always thought it was stupid to have windows if you were going to cover them up, and denied I would ever get curtains. But seeing how I spent so little time in the apartment awake, and of that scant time most of it in the dark when windows show what is in more than what is out, it began to make sense to cover the windows. Still I wasn’t convinced that curtains would help substantially with heat control, and I had not decided to get them. But then I was just waiting in Wal-Mart, and there were the curtains, waiting for me.

The front room is mainly a cream or almond color. The upper half of the wall has a restrainted plant print on it, and there’s a leafy border paper around the middle. The green curves in these two prints complement each other nicely, and the floral pattern in the green curtains I got for the front room went along splendidly. I was enchanted when I put them up. I kept going back into the room to look at them and chuckle. Yes, it seemed odd even to me at the time, to chuckle over the curtains, but at the same time I found that if I moved the coffee table from dead center to a side window, and put my chair beside it, the room became much more inviting. With the curtains protecting me from accidental glances, I had got back my front room sanctuary.

Curtains are one of the things supposed to add a feminine touch to a house. I will be more particular: my curtains have a maternal effect to me. They shelter, protect, and comfort, and they are graceful. They have a quiet abiding kind of beauty, if beauty is not too strong a word for an aesthetic satisfaction rather than titillation.

I think this is partly why I so stridently rejected my grandmother’s suggestions about curtains before. Her curtains are pretty lacey things, flouncy attention-seeking ornaments. If my curtains strike me as dresses for windows, than Grandma’s favorite curtains seem to me unbecoming dresses.

Someday I’d like to sit in that front room with the curtains pulled back and the blinds pulled up as dawn floods the valley. They are east-facing windows and the dawn comes in like glory, but usually I am on my way out the door to work or I am still asleep in my room, recuperating from late nights in front of the computer. But in my imaginary life I sit there every cold morning, lost in thought as gray bekons pink into fresh day. On the warm days I would be outside hours before the sun rises, out in wide spaces of growing things clad in dew, as songbirds narrate a week’s worth of news to one another, and I would be out there long through the day, till past dark when the stars appear deep and wide across the sky.

In my real life now I spend my long hours in wide spaces lit with electric lights, and the constant sounds are of machines. There is a kind of dew, a gray, greasy film that builds up gradually on all surfaces. But I can still come home at night, with my one light in the front room shining a warm yellow over the black walnut coffee table and layering shadows into the folds of the curtains, as I sit in my comfortable chair.