“She wondered if there was a door somewhere, maybe labeled with an entreaty to be sure, that the girl could walk through and find herself finally safe, finally home. She hoped so.”
- In An Absent Dream, pg. 126 (hardcover edition)
IN THE YEAR 1967 Esther Bloom was pregnant. In 1968 she was not. Her parents would have you believe it was that simple, but, as with most things to do with teenage girls in any day and age, it was not.
The baby was born in a hospital less than two miles from the Chesholm School for Girls. Esther was not allowed to hold it, or see it, or even learn if it was a boy or a girl. Quick, clinical separation was what was best for her, according to every adult in her life. She would soon forgot all about it, they said, and it would cease to be an obstacle to her marrying and having real, legitimate children. This baby did not matter. This baby was not hers. It did not exist.
Esther knew better. That baby was hers. It was real. It had grown inside her body and she had carried it for nine months. She had felt it kicking at night and dreamed of a child with Adam’s eyes, Adam’s smile, something left of the boy she loved that wasn’t dog tags and an empty grave.
By the time she was taken back to the school she felt nothing. It was like the girl who kept sneaking her extra dessert said. They’d taken everything from her.
Esther spent most of that semester in a fog. She did her schoolwork. She ate the meals that were placed in front of her. She was such a perfect little wind-up doll that her parents said they would let her go back to her old school and graduate with her old class. She didn’t say anything and they took that to mean she agreed. When the semester was over they took her back to their house and pretended she’d never been gone.
The word’s grey was tempered by sugary pink wallpaper, fluffy pillows and gauzy curtains. Soft, sweet, nonthreatening things that made Esther feel rubbed raw every time she saw them. They felt like lies. The world wasn’t soft or sweet or nonthreatening.
The third night back in her parents’ house, Esther couldn’t sleep. She stared up at the shadowed ceiling as the old grandfather clock tick tocked away in the hall. Then she blinked and the room was flooded with light.
Esther sat up and turned to face the full-length mirror in the corner of the room. It was glowing with harsh white light that almost hurt to look at. She got out of bed and padded towards the mirror. As she got closer the light retreated until she could see through the mirror to the shining landscape on the other side. She gasped softly.
The surface of the mirror gave under her fingertips. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to step through.
Her bare feet touched down on a cool, smooth surface that Esther at first thought was stone. Then she looked around her. The trees towering over her head and filtering sunlight through their leaves were made of brown and green glass. Past them, the sky was a thousand different shades of blue, pieced together from shards of stained glass with visible lead seams between them. The grass and flowers were also made of glass. Some of them had sharp points where a blade of grass or a leaf or a flower had been broken off. The only thing that wasn’t made of glass, save for Esther herself, was the ground around the plants. It was shimmering white sand. When Esther scooped up a handful of it she found it contained pieces of broken glass with the sharp edges in the process of being worn away, the remains of plants being returned to the earth that had spawned them.
What Esther was standing on was an unbroken ribbon of glass that stretched off into the distance like a road. It disappeared behind her into a forest and ahead of her into the horizon.
If there was a road, there must be something at the end of it.
Esther turned towards the blue horizon and walked. She didn’t look back.