Window Watcher

Kara Burnside

Jon Tribble Memorial Winner

Dear Jason County Police Department,
For three days straight, there was a girl named Michelle who had turned up missing on the local news. I know who took her. I promise you this note is not a waste of time to look into.

Last summer when I was picking out classes, I needed one more class to fill the slot right after lunch, so the pickle-smelling lady at the desk randomly signed me up for Graphic Design by this woman named Mrs. Miles. It was a filler class, nothing important, or so I believed at the time. Well, as it turns out, Mrs. Miles was expecting so she was out for a while in the middle of the year, right before Christmas. The substitute didn’t know anything and the class turned into a study period.

That’s when I began to look out the fogged up, cracked window. The classroom is partly underground, there are windows that are at eye level with the courtyard outside. So, for an hour every day, I would observe the students who were having lunch, calling their overprotective moms, or even the group of people who indulge in cloud watching instead of business class. The group as a whole was an interesting combination, and those cloud watchers are strange.

That’s when I saw Michelle, the popular, good-looking teacher’s pet who walks with a corn cob up her butt. But she’s not that bad, I believe. Her preppy sunshine self walks straight into the heart of any boy she merely blinks at. She’s in my P.E. class and is the only girl who can rock gym shorts in the history of Hilton High. That day she didn’t stop to talk to Oliver, who I now know is her ex, as she usually did on breezy fall days. One of Oliver’s friends yelled something, and the majority of the group laughed. Michelle kept a steady stare at her designer shoes, running straight into a brick wall.

The wall’s name was Noah. He was the leader of the Anime Club, and yet he was jacked as hell. He played soccer, but yet the strongest part of him was his arms. It made no sense, and you would agree once you look him up in your police records. But anyway, Noah knocked into Michelle and that’s where it all started.

Noah didn’t care that he knocked the wind out of the petite girl and went on with his day, heading to his medical term class on the south side of campus, and Oliver and his friends looked on crying from laughter. Michelle nearly died from embarrassment, blushing up a storm as she trembled and tumbled on through the leaf-covered lawn.

Throughout the next few days, this happened over and over again. Oliver laughed, Michelle passed with her head down, and Noah passed by not giving a hoot. It was comical at first until Michelle showed up to school a little less preppy and perfect; her hair in a bun and hoodie pulled up. I almost didn’t recognize her. Then again, I wasn’t paying too much attention that day, the substitute was on the phone with their spouse and it was getting quite heated. The whole room could hear everything despite them stepping out into the dimly lit hall. This school is built with sticks and coins, not with cement and dollar bills. The mere wall in between the yelling and the students didn’t do a thing.

But one day, the day that Mrs. Miles’s substitute had a substitute, Oliver’s friends started to follow Michelle to her class on the north side. When the group passed Noah, Noah stuck his noodle leg out and tripped one of them. That one of them was Will. He was all talk and the smallest of the group, a total junkie if you ask me or anyone with a brain. They then stared in astonishment at one another. After the conundrum, Michelle went on her way as Noah did too.

The next day when Mrs. Miles’s substitute was there and playing with the chalkboard’s chalk, I looked up from my book of poems to see Noah and Michelle heading to class in the same direction. The sun was out for December, and everyone was at peace in the courtyard, except for the group of cloudwatchers. There were no clouds to watch. Noah had shorts on and was walking beside Michelle with his skateboard in his hands. They seemed to have nothing to talk about but yet Michelle stuck close to him, I believe. If I remember correctly.

They avoided eye contact with each other and once Michelle disappeared into her class’s building without a word, Noah turned around and backtracked to pass Oliver and his friends who overtook the benches by the abandoned water fountain. The janitors had now shut off the water due to the impending snowstorm next week. I think it would be much prettier to see a frozen fountain. Oliver never said a word but his friends sure did. They had a rainbow of comments and words to use at Noah, I
could only imagine, but the glass in Mrs. Miles’ room was surprisingly soundproof. All I could hear was the snoring of the boy beside me, who was drooling all over his lab due next week. Those procrastinators, man you gotta watch out. But all Noah did was throw down his skateboard and hop on with a confident sway like a swan drowned in the sunset over the lilac bay.

(I’m working on similes because on my frickin English class’s last assignment, I got a D and it dropped my grade down a letter grade.) Later that day, a friend told me that Michelle had struck a deal with Noah to walk her to class in exchange for help studying for the unit forensics exam that was scheduled for before break. Michelle was smart at forensics, and it was really rare for her to look so deep into something other than herself. Pretty wholesome, right? I believed.

They did this every day up until Noah was not at school, and this time when Michelle walked past Oliver and his gang she walked with her head held high. There’s the corn cob up her butt part I was talking to you about earlier.

She walked past in her mittens and hoodie with snow balanced on her lashes. Mrs. Miles was yet to be back, so I paid no attention to the commotion from my peers behind me, and focused on the fact that her confidence wavered almost every step of the way.

Not many people would have noticed her messing with her rings or checking her phone obsessively, or her eyes squeezing shut before her teacher unlocked the door letting light flow on the brown grass. But I’m very aware of the symptoms of anxiety. It’s something that develops over time, where eventually every little thing becomes a big deal and everything becomes overwhelming.

I was suddenly reminded of the Michelle I saw the first time I looked out the window earlier that month. She now wore sweatshirts and sweatpants, her hair up in a bun, careful not to show any skin. Michelle from a month ago would go around flaunting her waistline with a belly chain, but that’s not her now. Had Oliver really done that to her?

She had anxiety and no confidence. It’s a deadly combination.

The next day Noah was back. They followed their routine, exchanging more words than normal, and before Michelle went through the door, she sneaked a quick hug to an unexpecting Noah. She seemed shy, not bold. I think if you’re gonna do it just do it, but what do I know?

Something else happened that day when I went to go and study in the campus library. They were there, studying I assume, and they were taking a break and talking. Then, Michelle leaned her head onto her arms on the table and gazed at Noah.

She then said something that surprised me with her flower laced voice, which I hadn’t heard till now. She whispered “I like you,” with a small smile directed at Noah. I was shocked, I never saw anything between them or anything, I believed.

All Noah did was nod, and replied, “I know,” and got up to get his belongings together. Michelle looked away as Noah left, and she sat there still as a rock. The test was the next day, their deal was off. I wanted to go and say something, but what would I say? That I’ve been eavesdropping and watching her for months now? I have some dignity might you know.

She stood up and left without saying a word.

The next few days were awkward, with Noah and Michelle making awkward eye contact and passing each other on the sidewalk. It was a little better, Oliver’s friends were focused on his new girl and gave nothing but a glance to Michelle as she passed.

Then a few days later she didn’t come to school, and then yesterday she wasn’t there either. But now that you know the story that I’m writing to you looking out the window in Mrs. Miles’ graphic design class, I know what happened to her. Her mental health took her.

Just a hazard of life is not wanting it. You could see the signs in the way she walked, and even in the way her eyes were cast downward. The way her image slowly declined, while Noah’s rejection sent her over the edge.

Check her house, her mom’s, and dad’s for letters. Check the river’s shore for shoes. Check the school’s roof for footprints.

Check the bottom of the fountain outside the window of Mrs. Miles’ Graphic design class.