Jasmine R. Butler is a black queer southern writer, political educator, organizer, and afrofuturist abolitionist, amongst other things. They’re a lover of black art and black resistance and is growing as a movement educator and historian. Their political writing has been featured in multiple nonprofit blogs and on HoodCommunist, and their fiction has appeared on Inherited Podcast, Ebony Tomatoes Collective, and Torch Literary Arts. Jasmine is also an Outreach Editor at Apogee Journal where they publish incarcerated writers. Follow them on their website and on Instagram.
Fawn was always obsessed with windows. She couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t marvel at them everywhere she went. The first time she ever saw a stained glass window she was no more than six, still low to the ground on squat legs, making the floor-to-ceiling masterpiece inside her grandma’s church feel all the more massive. Her jaw hung open as she craned her neck up and back to take in the glory before her. Her grandma, having noticed the girl’s mesmerized stare, commented that the window before them was a relic of the church’s original structure built back in 1899. Mouth still agape, she stepped forward and pressed her small chestnut hands to the ruby panel, followed by her forehead and nose, sure that this piece of art couldn’t be a window. A gasp escaped from her parted lips as she confirmed her grandma's tale - through the jewel-toned glass lay the church's backyard decorated with grand magnolias, well-trimmed berry bushes, and a lush herb garden.
The familiar wonder of peering through a portal washed over Fawn. Her favorite thing about windows was that they revealed other worlds if you just looked hard enough. As she leaned forward and back, refracting her view of the scene via different angles, her imagination ran wild with possibilities. She imagined the church was actually in a deep sea submarine, and that the opaque windows cast watery reflections onto the floor. Then the scene changed and she instead peered out into the desert, the previously lush trees now bare and brittle, worlds away from this side of the window. She giggled, amazed at how vividly her mind could transform the outside into an otherworldly scene as though the red and green and purple hues of the stained glass formed some sort of magical portal. Her mind shot off with possibilities of where she’d like to transport to next.
Suddenly, her vision changed and through the red glass, Fawn saw that the mighty magnolias were ablaze. She gasped at the unwarranted assault on her private imagination and tried to blink away the intrusive image. When she opened her eyes, the flames had only grown rather than disappear back into her mind. She tried to jump back from the window but her fingertips remained glued to the glass and were rapidly warming to an uncomfortable temperature, sending slight waves of pain down her small arms. She tried then to scream, hoping to gain her Grandma’s attention and alert her to the blaze roaring behind the church, but no sound escaped her throat. Her eyes widened in horror as her efforts disappeared before they could be made sonic, real.
The gigantic windows were clouding over with smoke, making it impossible to see out but confirming her creeping fear that the church was surrounded by flames. Fawn recoiled in panic, trying to disjoin her fingertips from the rapidly heating glass, but found it impossible to free herself. She finally looked up, expecting to see her grandma’s face frowning in distaste at what Fawn’s imagination had conjured up around the house of worship. Instead, Fawn found a burning pyre where her grandmother once stood. A cloudy tear and a mangled sob escaped her as she found herself immobilized, surrounded by flames, alone, and not sure how any of this happened. She tried to think back to what her grandma had been saying about the past fires at the church, but her memory was hazy. She knew from listening to her mom and grandma before that her father and grandfather had perished in flames here, 40 years apart in 2 separate fire bombings on the sacred gathering space as a threat to those who dared find community there. Neither of their bodies were ever found, and they were assumed to have completely succumbed to the flames.
But the only detail Fawn’s mind could recall amid her current panic was that the stained glass fixture she was adhered to had withstood both disasters. The soles of her father and grandfather’s identical steel toe work boots were found at the foot of the glorious window, in nearly identical positions 40 years apart. Now, she feared the same fate awaited her.
As the flames grew around her and the smoke made it impossible to see, Fawn closed her eyes in surrender and prayer. She squeezed close to the window, pressing her cheek to the glass alongside her molten fingertips. She prayed harder than she ever had, to her grandma’s God and to all the others she’d learned about in school. She sent solemn pleas for her life to be spared up to any benevolent presence that would listen. Then, slowly, her fingertips began penetrating the glass. They passed through as if the jeweled window wasn’t over an inch thick and solid. Next her cheek, wrists, and arms slid through the pane. Within moments Fawn had completely passed through the burning portal to the outdoors and fell to her knees on the other side.
When she finally peeled her eyes open, she immediately noticed that the grass below her was green and not the sooty black she expected. Taking a deep breath, noticeably free of smoke, she slowly willed her eyes upward. Nothing. No flames, no smoke or darkness. It was all just her imagination, of course. She’d daydreamed harder than ever before and convinced herself what she had been seeing was real.
She looked down at her fingertips and her little heart skipped a beat when saw them raw and red, the outermost layer of skin completely melted away along with her fingerprints. Her stomach dropped at the realization that the fire had been real - or at least, her burns were real. Moments passed as she gathered herself, attempting to piece together reality but failing to reconcile the pieces. After a while, she turned around to face the window.
There it was, right where she left it, unscathed from the flames that seemed to consume the air on either side just moments ago. Only now the window stood alone, towering over a grassy hill in solitude, casting a lone shadow under the blaring sun. The church was gone. The window still towered, rising as if it grew straight from the dirt up to 15 feet in the air, but it stood alone. Her grandmother was gone. The lot that held the church was gone, but the hill looked otherwise normal - wildflowers and weeds had grown in the acreage that should’ve held the church’s aged bricks.
Fawn is still obsessed with windows. For the last 10 years, she’s peered through every window she’s found, in search of a portal back to her time. She figures one day, after she finds her Dad and Grandpa, together they’ll find their way back to the prettiest window of them all. May Grandma’s church’s undying stained glass survive a little bit longer on the other side so that they may one day return home.
Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Toi Derricotte, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.