Alisha is wide awake a full half-hour before the time either of her parents usually, rouse each other to get ready for work. She can’t wait to get over to Ms. William’s house and gather more clues to solve “The Mystery of the Lone Lady” the mystery/fantasy game she created in her twelve-year-old mind and is obsessed with. The lines between fantasy and reality are as blurred in her thinking as her definition of person and object. At twelve, Alisha views life as a wonderful, exciting, movie unfolding before her and because of her inborn nature and the special status her parents have always given her, it is no stretch for her to place herself in the seat of movie director. Life in Alisha’s view is simply a matter of controlling the script and directing various personalities to move here or there and nudging them into her desired action. It has worked so well with her parents that she accepts it as her rightful station in life. Alisha manipulates with ease and without conscience but also, without malice. She is simply, a twelve-year-old girl who is as alone as the woman she’s become fascinated with and she is caught up in her imagination. She is only, playing a game and has no real feelings at all for Estelle.
Tony hears unusual rustling noises that are unusual for this time of morning. Being a vigilant protector, there is no hesitation as he jumps out of bed to investigate the source. Following the intrusive sounds, he finds Alisha dressed, polished, and pouring a bowl of cereal in the kitchen. “Mi jita! I never see you up this time of day! Que pasa? “ Alisha brightens when she sees her father and runs to him for a hug. “Oh! Hi Daddy! Didn’t Momma tell you? I’ve got a job! I’m going to be working at our neighbor’s house. You know, the lady next door who is alone all of the time? I’m going to do chores for her and she’s going to pay me with art lessons. Isn’t that great? You don’t have to worry about me being home alone, Ms. Williams won’t be alone, and I’ll be learning so many new things! Aren’t you proud of me, Daddy… mi papacito?” Tony could never be anything but proud of his daughter but he didn’t like the idea of his precious Alisha spending time with a woman he didn’t know. “No. Your mother said nothing and I’m not sure I want you spending time with a stranger.” Alisha notes the expected resistance and meets the challenge as she’s done so many times before with great success. “Oh….Daddy, she’s no stranger! She’s Ms. Williams our next door neighbor. You always say that we should love our neighbors. How can I show her the love of Jesus if I don’t spend time with her?” Tony thinks his daughter is amazing and melts into the familiar twisting around Alisha’s finger, as if into a warm hug. “Okay, you win but I want you to keep your Iphone with you at all times and call me if anything seems wrong! Call me anyway, every hour or so to check in and know this! If I don’t hear from you, I’ll do the calling, and if you don’t answer, I’ll be ringing the door bell!” Alisha placates her dad with more hugs, sweet kisses, her biggest Hershey eyes, and sparkling smiles. She scoots back into her room to wait for her parent’s departure and watches television as she waits for the clock to display 9:00 a.m.
By 8:30 a.m., Estelle is up and dressed. She takes a few moments to inspect the dress she’s chosen, a burgundy-print, summer dress that hugs her slim body modestly and ends in a soft ruffle just at the knee. She loves the juxtaposition of an autumn color in a summer dress and also, notices how it sets off her green eyes. At forty-seven, her arms are still beautifully slender but she chooses to cover them with a sheer, white, summer shrug. She also, takes note of a few grey hairs at her temple and wonders how long it will take for all of her dark brown hair to fade. Estelle can’t deny that she is a beautiful woman or the fact that she longs to be loved by a man and even have children but she also, believes it a fallacy for her to indulge herself in such fantasies. She stiffens her back, straightens her dress and hair one last time, turns from the full-length mirror and then stops dead. “What have I done? Why? Uggghhh….but I’ve done it. Too late now!” Caravana jumps from Estelle’s bed with a concerned, “Meow?” and tries to comfort his mistress. Estelle bends down, scoops him up, and holds him close on her chest as she rubs her cheek on his. “My Caravana! You are the only man for me. Love of my life and my son too! Where would I be without you?” The old, white Tom jumps to the floor just as Estelle hears the door-bell ring.
Estelle walks curtly toward the front entryway, stops to straighten herself one last time, and breathing deep opens the door. “Hello, Ms. Williams! I’m here! I’m not late! Aren’t you glad to see me!” Estelle lets her breath out in a huge sigh and reservedly responds, “Good morning Miss Alisha. Yes, I’m glad you are on time. Please, follow me into the kitchen.” Alisha starts to skip but Estelle simply, stops moving; and with one green-eyed- hard-stare, Alisha’s skip stops and without missing a step, blends into the walk of a mannerly, young woman. “This is where I’d like you to start Alisha. These dishes in the sink need to be rinsed and placed in the dishwasher and the countertops wiped down. The supplies you need are under the sink. Surely, a girl your age knows how to do dishes? I have a few calls to make. I’ll be in my office and when I return, I expect this work to be done.” Alisha knows how to answer, no matter what she is really thinking inside. “Yes, Ma’am!” Then when Estelle leaves the room, Alisha looks at the mess and whispers her real feelings. “Ewwww…that’s not for me!” Alisha plops down at the breakfast bar and loses herself in her Iphone.
“Alisha? What are you doing? Why is my kitchen still dirty?” The little girl puts on a sad face and walks over to the sink in hopes of making herself appear small and helpless in comparison to the mess. “I tried Ms. Williams… but… I have this cut on my finger, see?” Alisha holds up a forefinger wrapped in a Band-Aid for a not-too-close inspection. “It stings so badly when it gets wet! I just can’t make myself do it!” Estelle’s hands land on her hips in exasperation and she starts to respond in the way most natural to her in such situations, by just doing the work herself. She takes another look at Alisha standing helplessly and petulantly beside the sink full of dirty dishes; and in a flash sees the image of another woman superimpose over Alisha. Suddenly, drunken Emma has taken Alisha’s place, with her favored Bourbon and Coke sloshing in her glass in one hand and a cigarette in another. In an echo across time Estelle hears the familiar, “I just can’t do this anymore, Estelle! Your mother wasn’t meant for this drudgery! If that dad of yours wasn’t so lame, I’d have the kind of life I was meant to live!” The visage of Emma wobbles, slurps, takes a drag and Estelle feels that old impulse to run and fill her mother’s need, do her work for her, and hope for approval in return.
“Ms. Williams? Are you alright?” Alisha with real concern for how weird Estelle is behaving asks. “Ugh. Yes, I’m fine… Alisha.” Estelle answers while also, adjusting to being here in 2016 and not back in 1986. She takes another look at the little girl and like a long-sought piece of a jig-saw puzzle falling into place, understands Emma in a way she never could see before. No wonder her mother never seemed to know she had arms and legs of her own. She never had to use them. Estelle took another look at Alisha and with a resolve that feels cathartic for herself and also right for Alisha coolly states, “Life is full of difficulty, Alisha. Sometimes, we have to work around our pain in order to fulfill our obligations. There are rubber gloves under the sink to protect your hurt finger but I expect you to finish your job.” Alisha is shocked by this kind of answer and feels anger rise but then quickly, squelches it when faced with the unmovable expression of Estelle. “Yes, Ma’am, I will.” Alisha opens the cabinet beneath the sink, dons the gloves, and goes straight to work. Estelle grabs a cup of coffee to sit, watch Alisha work, and try to understand what just happened. “What’s going on with me?” she thinks to herself. “How can this little girl stir up so much from the past?” Sipping slowly, she watches Alisha’s now concentrated effort in her kitchen. Such a beautiful child, so intelligent, with so much promise, a little girl on the cusp of adolescence not much different than she’d once been…or probably even, Emma. Beautiful Emma, the helpless Queen. Had she been doted on and coddled as she suspected Maria coddled Alisha?“ It might be part of it but surely, not all of it. Nothing, especially human beings, is that simple but still, people can only become what they have opportunity to become.” Estelle’s thoughts stop here because she doesn’t want to delve any deeper into the questions surrounding her development, her stilted becoming.
“Alisha! That looks wonderful, dear. I’m proud of you. Now, let’s go out back. We’ll have an early lunch and then I’ll teach you the basics of drawing.” Alisha first inspects her finished task and is surprised by an unusual feeling of accomplishment when she sees how nice everything looks. Then she falls into her old habit of needing to be in charge and complains, “But…I don’t like drawing. I thought we’d paint or do some sculpture! Something exciting besides, I can’t draw a straight line, my Daddy says so.” Estelle replies firmly, “No child, we will start with the basics and the basic when it comes to creating fine pieces of art is drawing. There are no straight lines in nature but I will show you how to draw a nearly, straight line by a simple technique. We will also, explore circles, ellipses, and learn to connect them with straight lines to form images. Drawing is no more difficult than making beautiful letters. You simply need to learn how to do it. If you want to draw dear, you can learn to draw.” For the third time in two hours Alisha responds with a respectful, “Yes, Ma’am.”
Estelle and Alisha dine on fresh cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and lose themselves in happy chatter about Caravana, the flower garden, and all the beautiful birds. Alisha forgets all about solving “The Mystery of the Lone Lady” as she is beginning to see her neighbor through eyes of respect and as a real person rather than a make-believe character. Estelle also enjoys this warm moment in time, feeling her somber thoughts float on the warm summer breeze and the uncomplicated conversation of the delightful, young girl. They move seamlessly from a lovely lunch to drawing lessons and soon, Alisha is enraptured in discovering the magic of line, as this lesson begins to uncover her inborn creativity. Estelle feels an inner awakening in the connection of pupil and teacher, as she guides Alisha’s self-discover by her own talented thoughts and expert hands. Alisha’s finished pieces are a reflection that is partly herself but also, partly Estelle, her new teacher. They are the expression of a burgeoning relationship and each of them is filled with new happiness as they inspect them together.
The sun begins to dip and Estelle realizes that it’s time for Alisha to return home. They say their goodbye’s and agree that Alisha will return day-after-tomorrow as Estelle, holding a tired Caravana, closes the door and notices the silence reclaim her home, as she has never noticed it before. Again Estelle asks, “What is happening to me? What is going on here?”
To be continued.
See previous posts in this series at http://www.joyindestructible.com/the-recluse-series or simply visit my Home Page and look for the drop-down menu just under the Header. Click on “The Recluse Series” and find posts listed in ascending order.