My window. Photo by Sophie Haigney.
In our Winter issue, we published Mieko Kanai’s “Tap Water,” a story whose remarkable first sentence spills across more than two pages and describes the interior of the narrator’s new apartment as if it were the architecture of her emotional landscape. Who among us has not resolved to stop obsessing over some small piece of our home, only to fail? Inspired by Kanai’s story, we’re launching a series called Home Improvements, in which writers consider the aspects of their homes, gardens, and interior design that have driven them to distraction.
I moved into an attic room in a tall house last March. It is a lovely house on a pretty street. The offer of the room seemed to have fallen into my lap at a time when I needed it badly. It was not too expensive, and it was in a redbrick old-fashioned neighborhood I would come to love; it seemed too good to be true, and it would not in fact last, because the rent would soon go up. But for the time being I even have a little balcony with a view of the highway and of a billboard reading “Kars4Kids.” My room is oddly shaped and small but in a way I like—someone who once stayed there compared it to a ship’s cabin and I thought yes, that’s right, my little cabin.
There was only one real problem, which I noticed on my second night sleeping there. The window next to my bed rattled. At first I thought it was typical highway noise, just amplified, but soon it became clear that the glass was flapping, wobbling, shaking. The sound it made was a strange stuttering, occasionally high-pitched, almost verging on whistling. I asked my roommate to talk to the landlord, and the landlord failed, for weeks and then months, to appear. I took a video of the noise in the middle of one sleepless night and sent it to my roommate for validation. He responded, “OMG that’s like a horror film.” The window didn’t rattle all night long, or even every single night—it was intermittent, which made the experience even more strange and like a fever dream, because I would wake up at odd times and then drift back to sleep and then wake up again and in the morning feel like perhaps I was exaggerating the problem to myself. Sometimes for a few days I would think the rattling had resolved itself, but then it would come back, loud as ever. I was not sleeping very much or very well, but my window wasn’t the only reason for this.
In the early summer, I began to talk about my window incessantly, at dinner parties and at bars and at my office. “My life is amazing, except my window won’t stop rattling,” I would say, and then describe the problem in great detail. Someone I was sort of dating offered to come by with tools to try to fix it, but I wouldn’t let him, because it seemed like too big a gesture. The rattling window outlived the short-lived relationship. It became my Achilles’ heel, something I pinpointed as The Problem of My Life. Everything would be fixed if I could fix my window!
Finally the landlord came. He replaced the window, giving it a new frame, natural wood rather than white. There was a plastic covering over the windowpane, which I peeled off to reveal a spotless sheet of glass. That night, I slept soundly and woke up ecstatic, in my new life!
A few weeks later, the window began to rattle again. It was softer this time, but it was unmistakably the same sound. I woke up in the middle of the night dazed and surprised, fell back to sleep with a pillow over my head, and woke up deflated in the morning. There seemed to be no solution for my problem, and the landlord was uninterested in the further evidence of the rattling window. He had done, he felt, all that he could do. It was hard to argue with that, since I couldn’t imagine what else could be done.
I contacted a contractor who told me to call his “window guy” and then I waited two weeks for the window guy to come and inspect it. On the phone he warned me that fixing it was likely going to be expensive, but I told him I was prepared to pay. He showed up one afternoon in November. He looked closely at the window, tested its sides, walked out onto the balcony and pressed on the glass. He studied the fixtures for about three minutes from all angles.
“There is no problem with this window,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with it.”
“But it rattles,” I said. I felt he didn’t believe me, so I showed him the video.
“Maybe you have a ghost,” he suggested, before taking his leave.
About ten days later, the rattling stopped. I waited for it to start again, but for longer than usual, it didn’t. Maybe it’s the weather, I suggested to a friend who had certainly grown bored of my window saga, though the weather had not really changed in a meaningful way. Maybe it’s psychological, he said. Ha ha!
For more than a month, the rattling has not returned, though I half expect it to at any moment. Unfortunately, despite this welcome respite, not all my problems have been fixed.
Sophie Haigney is the web editor at The Paris Review.
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