The Recluse (Part III)
Part I http://wp.me/p6iXvK-dQ
Part II http://wp.me/p6iXvK-eh
On this beautiful, late June morning, Estelle is outside tending to the roses and Rhododendron before the humidity becomes unbearable. The rare treat of a clear, blue, Pennsylvania sky fills her with a sense of elation so intense that part of her interprets it as a premonition of something exciting on the way. Estelle dismisses this idea as quickly as it rises because she knows there can be nothing new in her hum- drum life. With intensity, she focuses on clipping withered blossoms from the Rhododendron hedge that forms the eastern boundary of her property. They are in full bloom, pink, white, and red; the favorite of the humming birds whirring around her garden. Caravana, her fluffy white cat, contentedly weaves himself in and out of her ankles as she works. The two are inseparable. A sudden breeze picks up, turning the leaves on the oak tree upside down, and Estelle takes note that it will rain later today. As she pushes to finish her work, she hears the door-bell ring, looks at her watch, and makes a mental inventory of any deliveries that might be coming on this new Tuesday. Nothing coming to mind, Estelle decides to ignore the bell, a bit irritated at the interruption from the outside world. Being alone is her normal state and any feelings of loneliness were buried deep, a long time ago.
“Hello? Is anyone home? I’m your new neighbor!” Startled, Estelle looks up and her eyes lock with two large, brown eyes peering over the top of her back gate. With no way to escape, she pulls herself together and politely asks, “Yes? May I help you?” Though she is very poised, Estelle is alarmed not only, by the uninvited intrusion but there is something in those eyes that she recognizes. Those eyes draw her like a magnet but at the same time frighten her to her very core. Then she chides herself, “It’s just a little girl!” Alisha determined to make meaningful contact doesn’t hesitate, “I made some Bisquochitos and I thought maybe we could try them together? I copied my mother’s recipe and Momma says that Bisquochitos should never be eaten alone.” Estelle is caught off guard by someone bringing her a gift and offering companionship, as well. What could this child be up to? “Well, thank you for the thought dear. What are Bis..quit…cheatas?” Alisha laughs, “They are Mexican sugar cookies and they’re very good with milk or hot tea! If you open the gate, I’ll show you!” Estelle hesitates and timidly lifts the latch, as the gate swings open she asks, “Are… you from Mexico?” “Oh, no!” Alisha giggles, “I was born in Virginia. My dad was stationed there. My parents are from Arizona but I grew up in Philadelphia. My dad works on computers and we moved here so he could start his own business. We moved in three weeks ago. Did you notice?” “Oh yes, I noticed.” Estelle answered, “Many neighbors have come and gone during the time I’ve lived here.” The implication is a show of strength meant as a defense. Estelle struggles to keep her walls up despite the very forward attempts on the part of Alisha to tear them down. “Oh, you’ve lived here a long time then? Do you have some milk or tea so we can try my cookies?” Not knowing quite how to turn this little girl aside, Estelle plays the role of hostess, from memories of long ago. “Yes, I have both but little girls should have milk, I’ll have tea.” By this statement, Estelle hoped to establish authority and retrieve control. “Come this way, sit here, and I’ll be back in a moment.” Alisha sat down at the patio table, disappointed that she didn’t make it all the way inside. Through the glass door, she couldn’t make out many details of the kitchen and before long, Estelle re-emerged with the beverages.
“Here you go. Hmmm…what did you say your name was?” Estelle asked. “Oh! I’m Alisha…Alisha Hernandez. My mom and dad are Maria and Tony. May I ask your name?” “I’m Mrs. Williams.” Estelle said firmly, hoping to stop further inquires and keep the relationship formal. “Do you like my Bisquochitos?” “Yes, they are quite tasty, dear and thank you. I thought all Mexican food was spicy but these have a delicate flavor. Thank you for bringing them over. Drink your milk up now. I appreciate your kindness but I’ve a great deal to accomplish today.” Alisha feeling that she is losing her opportunity fast, asks with the abruptness of a child, “Why don’t you have any family or friends?” The words pierce like sharp shards of broken glass shot into Estelle’s heart, “It isn’t appropriate, dear to ask such personal questions of a stranger. I think it is time for you to run along.” With gentile niceties, Estelle rushes Alisha back out the gate and out of her safe, quiet world.
Estelle looks up and marvels at how quickly the blue sky had turned gray. With storm clouds looming and the humidity intensifying, she turns to putting away her gardening tools, and then suddenly, misses Caravana. “Kitty, kitty! Handsome Caravana! Where are you?” Thinking he may have followed her into the kitchen, Estelle goes inside to look for him. The door bell rings, again! Still calling for her feline best friend, Estelle dutifully, answers the door and there stands Alisha, holding a purring Caravana. Not waiting for an invitation she knows by now, probably won’t come, Alisha pushes her way in. “He followed me out of the gate and I was back home before I noticed him. He likes me I think.” Alisha is stunned by the interior of this average home. Everything is up-to-date and perfect like in a magazine. Above the fire-place is a portrait of a woman who resembles Mrs. Williams but she realizes right away the painting isn’t of her neighbor. There were also, lots of photographs of the same woman, in frames, scattered here and there around the room. So many clues to take note of but they only added to the mystery of “The Lone Lady” and offered no answers. “Your house is beautiful! Who is that woman?” Estelle weary of the intrusion decides to ignore Alisha’s questions, “Thank you for bringing Caravana home. Have a good day.” She takes the cat from the girl and shoos her out the door, locking it behind her.
Holding Caravanna close, Estelle sits down, gently on the pale-blue velvet couch and admires the expensive decor. Walls the color of banana cream pie add warmth to the light blue draperies and furnishings, highlighted with silver and a hint of rose. The fabrics are rich and expensive; the rugs thick with soft luxury. She feels proud of the work she’s done here and as she looks up at her mother’s portrait, asks out loud, “Do you like it, Momma? I know it’s still a small house but do you like it this way? I did it for you, Momma. Now, do you love me? Is it good enough?” Caravana responds to Estelle’s deep longing, stirred by the unwanted interaction of the morning, and snuggles his nose into her neck. Comforted but still shaken, Estelle tries to decipher the feelings Alisha brought to the surface. Still waters run deep and she preferred to keep the waters still with the hurt and confusion resting at the bottom. What was it about those eyes? It was Alisha’s huge, chocolate-brown, child eyes that drew her irresistibly, toward her but also, filled her with dread. She looked up at the portrait again and understood. The little girl’s eyes held the same expression as her mother’s. A chill she couldn’t name passed over her as the weight of the void pressed down. Exhausted, Estelle made her way to the back of the house and sought refuge in the heart of this shrine. Her mother’s room speaks of royalty, frivolity, and fairytales. Estelle faithfully, places fresh pink roses in this room every day, and their scent permeates this secret haven. With Caravana, she lies down on the sacred bed and cries herself to sleep, not understanding who she is crying for.
Estelle’s dreams tell her the truth of her inner mysteries and reveal the reason for her isolation. A nightmare that is somehow also, comforting. Most of her dreams will fade and the reckoning taking place in them will be forgotten by morning. What will remain is only a clue to the truth that is the key to unlocking the door shut on her life.
(To be Continued)