Read Part I here:https://joyindestructible.com/2016/01/16/the-recluse/
Alisha Hernandez isn’t sure whether she should be happy about moving to Greenwood. She wasn’t included in the decision even though she was the priority consideration. Alisha is twelve, on the cusp of adolescence. She vacillates almost, hourly between being a child and being a teenager, as she clings to what she knows and tests what is to come. Having lived only, in an apartment in Philadelphia, the idea of a house with a yard and a large bedroom all her own, excites her but her heart wavers on the unknowns. She misses her friends already and wonders if she’ll fit in here in suburban Pennsylvania. Alisha is tall, with long black hair, large chocolate brown eyes, with a glowing olive complexion. Though she bears the gawkiness of a twelve year old, the discerning eye can’t miss the hint of how beautiful she will be at sixteen. She doesn’t know how this frightens her father, keeps him awake at night, and is his main motivator for moving his family to what he calls “the safety of suburbia”. Alisha never felt unsafe in the city. Not understanding that her sense of safety has nothing to do with the city itself but instead, her parent’s love and vigilance, she questions her dad’s judgment. “Why is he so paranoid?” is the question she asks herself. In fact, she is beginning to question everything about her parents. As she gingerly tests adolescence, she is also, beginning to test everything she’s been told. At twelve, Alisha is embarking upon the process of deciphering the value of all she’s been taught and choosing what to adopt as her own. Though she longs for the security of childhood, the forces of nature drive her to demand she be regarded as an adult.
Anthony and Maria Hernandez are simple, hard working people of sincere faith, who adore their only daughter. They place her needs above everything and work hard to make sure she lacks for nothing. They can’t give her everything money can buy but they lavish her with attention and make sacrifices that enable them to give her more than most children of same monetary status. Unwittingly, they are raising a child of privilege in an environment of limited privilege. Their intent is to give their daughter opportunities beyond the limits of their own childhoods. They are gracious, giving people who don’t neglect to teach their daughter about the grace of God and the importance of serving others but they are so caught up in serving Alisha that they underestimate her need to serve and sacrifice. Alisha believes herself to have certain entitlements even though, her parents are lower middle-class. A new pattern is emerging in the Hernandez household as Alisha enters her teens; Alisha demands, her parents refuse, Alisha cries as if her heart is breaking, and her parents acquiesce.
Moving is expensive and a house in suburbia makes it necessary for Maria to work outside of the home. Finding a decent job so quickly is a God-send but she is uneasy about leaving Alisha home alone during the day. Alisha however, is quick to let her parents know that she isn’t a baby and demands this opportunity to prove her maturity. She overwhelms her parents with guilt about all the changes “forced” upon her and they relent. Maria comforts herself by thinking she will find activities to keep her daughter busy once the bills are caught up and in the mean-time, she will trust God. Alisha feels empowered by her victory but also, a little worried about being alone all day.
Welland Avenue is a much quieter street than Alisha is accustomed to. Used to the rhythm of traffic she finds it difficult to sleep so, she stays up late and sleeps late. She will never tell her parents but she is bored during the day and rising late makes the day seem shorter. As an escape, she takes up the habit of lounging on the rear deck and reading in the afternoons. Alisha enjoys reading mysteries and dreams of being a detective or even a FBI agent, in the future. It isn’t long before she notices her next door neighbor, who is also, one of the few people in this neighborhood home during the day. Alisha doesn’t know any of the gossip about Estelle but she loves a mystery and this quiet, solitary woman seems to embody mystery. Soon, Alisha is spending more time spying on her neighbor and acting out her books than reading them. At first, she watches her only, in the back yard but also, begins to catch glimpses of her through the windows. In her lonely hours she becomes obsessed with the lady next door who is always alone. She often observes “The Lone Lady”, as she has titled her, sitting at her desk and absent mindedly gazing out the window, while seeing nothing. “Why does she look so sad?” Alisha wonders, as she vows to find a way to introduce herself to this interesting woman and get to the bottom of the matter. Even though “the matter” is all her imagination built around a woman who does nothing extraneous.
“Momma, have you noticed that lonely, lady next door? She doesn’t have a family or friends. She is just home all day every day.” Alisha is careful to broach the subject on a sympathetic note. “ No mi jita, I’ve been too busy to notice our neighbors. It’s sweet of you to notice, mi linda.” Maria’s heart swells with pride and she is completely, taken in. “I was thinking, Momma…maybe I could make some cookies and take them to her. The Bible says we should be kind to people who have no one. You and dad always, say so.” Alisha’s words are meant to manipulate but also, to test the validity of the faith her parents profess. “Yes honey, we are to give of ourselves to the widows and orphans but I don’t know our neighbor, or why she is all alone. I want you to be safe. You are my first priority mi jita. When I have more time, we’ll go together and take her some cookies.” Alisha is frustrated by this answer and quickly, pulls out her best gun; tears, “Momma! It’s not like I’m asking to go out with a boy or stay out late with friends you don’t know! I want to do a good deed for our neighbor, the way you and dad teach me! Don’t be a hypocrite Momma! Haven’t I been responsible while you are at work? Nothing will happen to me if I bake cookies and take them to a lonely lady next door!” Maria looks at her daughter, who has tears streaming down her cheeks, and relents. “Okay sweetheart, if it means that much to you. I’m proud of you mi jita.” Alisha is over-joyed by her victory, files the technique away for future reference, and then pats herself on the back for her altruistic nature, as she allows herself to enjoy the self-image she created to serve her purpose. Most importantly, she’d won. Tomorrow would be less boring than today because tomorrow, she would finally meet, “The Lone Lady”!
Alisha went to the kitchen to make a batch of bisquochitos while next door, Estelle sat dreaming and wistfully waiting for her long delay to end.
(To be Continued)