Linda Sillitoe, who passed away recently, will undoubtedly be best remembered for her nonfiction, her journalism and her history. But she was also a poet and a writer of fiction, including two novels and today’s story (a quick read) about a woman who has lost her face saving her daughter from fireworks. She’s approaching the final skin graft of her hospital stay when she is approached by a troubled team with blue and orange hair, who needs a friend of a mother or something of her own.
Sillitoe’s prose is a nice blend of poetry and journalism. Listen to the first paragraph:
Strange that the world looked reassuringly the same although Lora Starkham would never look the same to the world. From the stocking-lined mask fitted over her face like a cat burglar, her gray-green eyes observed the traffic around the sunny atrium on the hospitalâ€™s seventh floor. She was newly grateful for her sight, for the fact that her eyes opened easily. She had been afraid for a time that her eyelids had melted, just as she knew the flesh over her cheekbones and chin hadâ€”we are, she observed wryly, clay after all.
Save for the mildest of references and the Utah setting, nothing in this tale is explicitly “Mormon”; implicitly however, the story lends itself to a strikingly Mormon interpretation.
Somewhat unclear until the end of this tale is that the hero is as much the troubled teen as it is the damaged woman. The more parallels Sillitoe draws between the two characters the more I should have seen this, but we tend to identify more with point-of-view characters, so when I realized we were meant to understand this crazy girl just as much as the woman whose mind we sit inside, I could not, at first, understand why. My first bit of understanding came through noticing how the story is mileposted by the title: “Windows on the Sea” is the romantic name the teenager has assigned to her “all whiteâ€”white walls, white ceiling, white tile floor”â€”room, her sanctuary, her asylum, her ironic Celestial Room where her damaged mind finds something between the opheliac freedom of madness and the love of her new, surrogate mother, a faceless stand-in for Mother. “Windows on the Sea” is the title, the first thing we see; “Windows of the Sea” is a private space this girl (spoiler: a possible victim of incest by her father) has never allowed anyone to visit before; “Windows of the Sea” is a holy place set apart in building of trauma and pain wherein a glorious vision of sun (an old symbol for the male god) meeting sea (connected by the tides to that old symbol for the female god, the moon) can, as we learn in the final paragraphs, not only be glimpsed but truly felt.
Call me crazy, but this story of a good woman, a mother who sacrificed herself to save her child, a mother who can reach a child untouchable by any other (in particular any father figure), a mother who will always fight for her children, is a plea in character form for a closer relationship with our Heavenly Mother.
Tell me I’m wrong, but I think that is exactly what “Windows on the Sea” is about.
And I have more evidence if you want it. The teenager first invites her new faceless mother to her room to pray for the daughter who caused her pain. Is not this the weeping god[dess] of Mormonism?
Take a look. There’s more. Bring it over here and we’ll talk about it.
Or, of course, feel free to prove me wrong. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that “Windows on the Sea” is about the Mormon longingâ€”about a young girl’s longingâ€”for herâ€”ourâ€”Mother.