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At one point we stood in front of the magic lantern, let the image of the Victorian-era family project onto our chests. Painted storm clouds circled the father and his three children. They sat around the kitchen table, all glancing toward the window. The other side of the pane, a silhouetted woman walked in the direction of blackened smokestacks. Beyond the factories lay a town blighted by ash-gray snow. We imagined the father cried over losing the woman. When his children remained quiet, he bent them over, slapped their behinds. We need her, he said, hitting them harder. Then his arm went slack and he watched his children hold each other. He retreated to the window; he punched the glass again and again until the pane cracked. Cradling his hand, he realized his bloodied knuckles were broken. His children rushed away and brought back a pot of hot water and a thick cotton rag. They cleaned the blood from his fingers, then wrapped his hand with a fresh rag. As the father and his children returned to the kitchen table, the woman came to the window and traced her finger over the broken pane, down the streaks of blood. She studied the family, the man’s broken hand, the glum children. She felt glad she had refused to marry the widower. She circled around the side of the house, grabbed the feathery edge of a painted cloud, swung onto its anvil top and disappeared from our chests to see what lay beyond the beam of light.
hristopher Linforth has recently published fiction in Fiction International, Notre Dame Review, Day One, and Descant, among other magazines. He has been awarded fellowships and scholarships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.