Nonfiction from Lauren Otolski

Photo: James Stamler

winter/spring

On nights like this, our fluorescent-lit bedroom was the last bright window. The traffic lights five stories below cycled through their colors for empty sidewalks. Graphs spilled across her computer screens, calculations lined my whiteboard, and the room filled up with exhaustion forced upon us by assignments of tangled, angry equations that scrubbed away hopes of sleep. But also inside this room were video game soundtracks through laptop speakers and nests of blankets and me running my hand across the back of her flannel pajamas. I’d slip over to her side of the room and engulf myself in her nest for a few minutes while she trailed her fingers through my hair.

It’s one of those nights, and we belong there.

I wish I was outside your window, she types, because classes have moved online and campus has emptied. Our apartment is vacant, too, because our families want us home and safe. Pandemics don’t care that the school year is, implicitly, our promised time together.

You could come inside, I say, and I imagine her eight hours down the Mississippi, tucked in her house surrounded by verdant grass in a state where trees already bloom. I wonder if her bedroom lamp draws out the silver and gold in her hair like our apartment light does. I wonder if she’s made herself tea because I can’t, whether it’s chamomile and wispy steam is curling from the cup. If she steps out of her window and lifts her arms and lets sand-colored wings unfurl like the barn owls she loves, will she finish it or let it grow cold?

Oh, she says.

Please let me in.

I stand. The roof is vacant. A Christmas-light-adorned shrub glows on the other side of the street, but otherwise the neighborhood is dark. I unlatch the window and heave it open. A chill winds in and creeps across the carpet.

Window’s unlocked, I type. There are no clouds, just a speckling of stars. I shiver, but lean against the window frame anyways. If she’s flying, it will be even colder. Wind will tug at her hair, work its way through her jacket, and numb her fingers. I hope she’s wearing gloves. I hope she still has time before morning to work on her lab report once she gets here. Carefully, I slip one foot through the window, duck my head beneath the lifted pane, and sit on the rim with my feet on the shingles. I’m on the sill.

The night is deep enough that I believe in her flight. It’s still enough that I believe in settling her in the glow of my desk lamp, wrapping her in my purple blanket, and sitting next to her on the floor, running my fingers through her hair to tease out any stray bits of moonlight.

Second window from the right, I type, as if that will let her find me here, waiting, with my socks catching on the roof.
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Lauren Otolski is a undergraduate student majoring in bioproducts engineering and minoring in creative writing at the University of Minnesota. She likes hiking, tabletop and video games, and squirrel-spotting.

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