The Window


Author: Jaclyn Jukkala – First Place Senior Division 2023

Oliver Sutton felt his heart racing with each step he took, feet smacking the damp sidewalks of New York City. His breath was steadily getting rougher as he hit his ten-mile mark. His skin dripped with sweat, and his ears filled with the quiet jazz music and the loud, annoying city traffic, horns beeping and the slow trickle of too many people talking too loudly, too early in the morning.

“I am the best,” he thought to himself, as he slowed to a stop. The air was cool as small raindrops hit his skin, mixing with his sweat, and causing him to shiver. He rounded the corner at a slow jog and felt his deep pockets for his gold key rings. He twirled them around his fingers before unlocking the door and stepping into his expensive apartment.

Pictures of himself lined the pale blue walls, and he smiled remembering each moment. He kicked off his shoes and continued down the hall. He stopped short at the most recent picture in the gold frame. He was standing on the podium at the 2021 Olympics for the long-distance runners. He was holding a silver medal, which was wrapped around his neck, smiling the fakest smile he had smiled in his entire twenty-five years.

He frowned. The picture was a reminder that he wasn’t the best. “Not then.” he reassured himself confidently, “but I am now.”

He looked down at his watch and frowned again. It was only half-past seven; he still had another fifteen minutes until he had to leave for the gym. He backed down the hallway and re-laced his shoes.

“Oliver Sutton doesn’t give up.” he said aloud, firmly. He locked his apartment door and let his feet hit the pavement at a run. Rain was pouring down from the clouds like machine gun fire, cooling him off. He stopped at a stoplight and when it was clear to cross, he took it at a slow jog. He heard the screech of tires and saw the bright lights of a car.

That was the last thing he remembered.

* * *

He felt himself open his eyes, but he couldn’t see anything. His world was dark, and his body ached. Panicking, he tried to move, but his body wouldn’t let him. He was trapped in his body, and he couldn’t see where he was. He had no memories of what had happened; his mind was as dark as his eyesight. He shook inside, taking sharp breaths of fear. His heart was pounding faster than it did during the 2018 Finals. His mind was numb and blurry.

“Relax, Oliver, relax,” a calm firm voice broke his panic. “You’re safe here.”

“Where’s here?” he croaked painfully, trying to calm his breathing. He took deep, sharp breaths, causing his shaking to recede.

“You’re here at New York Central Hospital,” the woman’s voice replied gently. “Can you see how many fingers I’m holding up?”

“I can’t see anything,” he snapped hoarsely, bitterly. The words hurt his throat to say, it felt like he was ripping open a wound and pouring gallons of salt inside.

The woman was quiet for a minute, but Oliver heard the scratching of a pen against paper.

The screech of tires against the wet city streets.

“Oliver,” the woman said again, “My name is Nurse Sara. People with your condition sometimes run into a problem,” she hesitated, trying to form the right words.

“My condition?” Oliver grumbled painfully. “I’m perfectly fine! I need my running shoes so I can train. The Olympics are seven months away!” he coughed roughly. He could feel his lie as it shattered his dreams. He could tell he was in no condition to even move.

“Oliver, I believe you may have temporary blindness, or permanent, but it’s too soon to tell. As for running, you won’t be doing that for a very long time,” Nurse Sara relayed sympathetically.

Oliver’s heart sank to his toes and started to race again. His skin felt cold and sweaty, and Nurse Sara’s footsteps retreated to somewhere close in the room, quickly and nimbly. The footsteps returned and he felt a sharp poke in his left—or was it his right? —arm.

He fell into a deep sleep.

* * *

He awoke, but his world was still dark. He lay still, taking in the truth of the moment. His eyes were open, he forced them open, but he still saw nothing. He knew he would never be the best again, never even close, not even second best. He sank deeper into his pillow and tried to fall asleep. It was a reassurance when he fell asleep. He could see his dreams in color, just not reality.

‘“Why?” he mumbled furiously. “Why did this happen to me?”

“Nobody knows why things happen the way they do,” a soft, sweet voice broke the tense air of the stuffy hospital. The voice wasn’t the voice of Nurse Sara, far from it.

“Who are you?” he turned his head to the sound of the voice.

“I’m Laurel,” the voice replied. “You’re Oliver Sutton, the Olympic runner.”

The Olympic runner,” he thought, “not a former Olympic runner, but the Olympic runner.” He finally responded to the voice of Laurel, “Okay.”

He fell silent and moved himself back to his pillow.

“You were brought here last night.” Laurel spoke again. “They say you’re blind.” Oliver didn’t reply. He didn’t have a reply.

“Here is the recovery room,” she informed him cheerfully, “I just had a lung transplant.”

“I need a new body transplant,” he retorted stiffly. Laurel laughed lightly.

“That wasn’t meant to be funny,” he snapped, his throat straining. “I was serious.”

“You got hit by a car.”

“I know.”

“You have three broken ribs.”


“And both of your arms.”


“And an ankle.”


“And your left kneecap is shattered.”


She fell silent.

“Is that all?” he asked, “or do you have more of my condition to share with me?”

“You’re blind,” she offered.

“Yep.” He wanted to shout at her innocently sweet voice. How did she know this about him? “What do you see, Laurel?” he asked softly.

“People,” she answered confidently, “lots of them.”

“What are they doing?” he asked. He was desperate to see the world, even if it was through imagination.

“They’re outside the window,” came the dreamy voice, “There’s an elderly couple walking a big, white poodle. There’re two little kids, one boy and one girl, flying a brightly colored kite…”

The days were spent with her telling the things outside the marvelous window. He waited all night, or what he thought was night, for Laurel to wake up and begin talking. He craved her words that painted pictures in his mind with such clarity, it often surprised him when she stopped talking and the pictures faded from his imaginative reality. There were many times he thought he was seeing out the window himself.

Some days it was the elderly couple, who she named Ruth and Adam, and their poodle, Jack.

Some days it was the green summer trees turning into brilliant fall colors. One day it was an entire football team.

Others it was a trample of kids, running excitedly, or two teenagers holding hands.

The list went on, each day differing from the other.

Snow had begun to fall upon New York City, she said one day. It was a memorable day, that one. He had begun to see again. He could see the faint outline of his bed frame, and when he told her, she got really excited in that sweet voice of hers.

“That’s great, Oliver, soon you’ll be able to see the window too!”

The days went by as Oliver’s vision improved, every few days he could make out a little more color.

One day Nurse Sara entered the room for the morning checkups, and she shouted out in panic.

The machine that was hooked up to Laurel, controlling her heartbeat, had gone blank, in a straight line. She had informed what seemed to be the whole world, shouting in panic in her loud voice.

The blank beeping had started earlier, but Oliver didn’t know what it was, and it was driving him crazy. He could see the faint outline of Nurse Sara rushing to the bed beside him.

Oliver didn’t know what was happening. People were rushing in and out of the room, and watching their shadows gave him a headache, not to mention the beeping machine. He was thankful when it shut off, and the people filtered out. Taking Laurel’s bed with them—wait, where was she going?

“Nurse Sara!” he called out loudly, “where is Laurel going?”

“She’s gone,” came the choked reply of the strong nurse, “she left us.”

Oliver felt the choking feeling in his throat. He blinked back the tears, but they came anyway. He heard Nurse Sara sniffling as she went out the door, and it quietly shut behind her. His heart was heavy, and his little vision blurred.

The days went by at a snail’s pace. His vision became clearer by the day, but his mind was still fuzzy, until one day, he could see as clear as he could before the accident. He awoke that morning and opened his eyes. He was greeted with the white ceiling, as clear as day. He pulled himself up and looked for the window that Laurel had described so vividly.

There was no window.

The room was enclosed with white-washed white walls, surrounded by empty metal beds, with flimsy woolen blankets laid neatly over them. The lights were bright overhead, and the machines hooked up to him beeping.

He did a double take, searching the walls once again. And again. And again. There was no window. No matter how hard he searched or how frustrated he got, no window materialized.

Laurel had lied about the entire outdoors. She had entertained him hours on end with lies. He was furious, but only momentarily. After he was angry, he became thankful. Thankful to Laurel, for keeping his mind alive, and expanding his imagination. He was sure he would’ve sunk into a deep depression without her and her colorful imagination.

The weeks finally ended, and it turned into days before his release. Then the day was upon him, and he found himself being wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair. His sister, who he hadn’t acknowledged in years, was waiting for him, waiting to take him home, with a smile on her face.

She pushed him through the bustling streets of New York City for the first time in almost a year. He looked at the city, with amazement. The change in the city was minuscule, but the change in his mind was massive. He saw the city, what he had thought was just home, nothing else, and looked at it with new eyes.

The traffic that he was once annoyed with was a wonderful noise that filled his ears. The ginormous skyscrapers that had shadowed his sun, towered over him, sparkling in the daylight. The people who had gotten in his way when he trained looked so familiar while yet so different. He didn’t recognize many faces, but he recognized their way of movement, scrambling down the sidewalks, in and out of buildings, talking in an excited chatter.

Finally, he was home. At home with a new meaning.

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