The Recluse (Part VI)
The loud slam of Maria Hernandez’s car door brings Estelle bolting up from a deep sleep. Suddenly alert, she responds as if to a gun blast and is instantly, awake and vigilant. As she realizes the more common reality of what she heard, she gets up to look out the window and sure enough, there is Mrs. Hernandez walking from her car toward her front door. Estelle pulls the blind down and then looks into the mirror over her dressing table. She brushes her hair smooth, wipes her face with a disposable cloth, and then reaches for her favorite sweater. It’s not cold but wrapping it around her gives her a feeling of armored protection as she prepares to confront her neighbors about the behavior of their child. Confrontation is no easy task for a person who has done everything in their power to avoid contact with others and in this moment of truth, Estelle is facing an epic challenge. She feels she must do this in order, to put her life back into a manageable context.
Without really knowing how she arrived, Estelle stands outside the Hernandez home, clutching her sweater around her in a stabilizing hug. She waits for a response to the door bell and then upon becoming impatient, knocks. She feels the tension brought on by the slow answer pushing against her urge to flee. Just as she is about to give in to the second emotional prompt, the door opens. Estelle finds herself looking downward as the small form of Maria Hernandez fills the doorway. There her eyes meet the kindest, warmest eyes she’s ever seen. All of her angry resolve melts in those soft, hazel-grey globes. “Hello! May I help you?” asks Maria. “Oh…ugh…yes, I think so. I’m your next door neighbor. My name is Estelle Williams and I was wondering if I could speak with you about a problem I’m having.” Estelle sighs with relief in the success of being able to express a cohesive thought. She pulls her sweater tighter as she waits for what might come next. Maria holds out her hand and warmly invites Estelle inside, “Why of course! I’m so glad to finally, meet you. My name is Maria. Alisha has told me about you. Did you enjoy the Bisquochitos? Please, come in and have a seat.” Estelle enters the Hernandez home which is a cookie cutter image of her own but so different. The house is clean but the furnishings are merely practical and a mix of old with new. Estelle finds an over-sized chair near the back wall, facing the entrance and timidly, sits down. “Yes, the cookies were nice but I’m having some problems with your little girl and that’s why I’m here.” The soft expression on Maria’s face turns to concern and consternation, “Oh? I can’t imagine my Alisha causing anyone problems. She’s a good girl and I’ve never heard her say anything unkind about you, Ms. Williams. In fact, she asked to take cookies over to your house because she worries about you being alone.” Estelle thinks about this statement and description of Alisha for a moment then compares it to those manipulative eyes that she’s found spying on her for the last two weeks and has sudden insight into Alisha’s disregard for the personal boundaries of others. “Well…Maria…may I call you, Maria? I do appreciate your daughter’s concern for me but that concern is invading my privacy. For the last two weeks it seems, every time I turn around I find those big, brown eyes of hers spying on me. I must say that she is much too young to be on her own all day. Girls her age need guidance!” There, she said it and the problem is on the table. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she sees the subject of this conversation trying to remain invisible as she peers around the corner from the kitchen. Estelle aims the full force of her green eyes straight at her and Alisha vanishes as silently, as a ghost. “Oh, Ms. Williams…” Maria’s beginning explanation brings Estelle’s attention back on this gentle face. “You may call me, Estelle.” “Estelle…I’m sure Alisha doesn’t mean to invade your privacy but I will talk to her.” Not hearing exactly the response Estelle hopes for she reiterates, “That’s a good beginning Maria but if the little girl is alone with no one to enforce your… conversation, I have no assurance that my boundaries will be respected.” Maria flops down on the sofa and clutches a worn pillow in her lap absent mindedly, pulling the corners. “I don’t like leaving her here all day either. I wanted to put her in some kind of program for the summer but the ones I can afford, she doesn’t like. I gave into her. We’ve just moved and moving is expensive. My husband is starting a new business and I have to work. I’m sorry Alisha is bothering you. I will talk to her but I’m afraid that is the best I can do right now.” Maria doesn’t quite believe her daughter would spy on their neighbor, she doesn’t want to force Alisha into a summer program she doesn’t like, and she down-plays Estelle’s complaint as she feigns concern. Estelle sees the denial and decides to make a brave move in hopes of gaining direct control over the situation. “Well Maria, I do see your point of view. Perhaps, I can offer a solution and since Alisha is so concerned about my state of… loneliness, perhaps she would be willing to help me with a few chores around my home and accept payment in the form of art lessons, with me as her teacher. Perhaps, that would solve many of our problems.”
Alisha being careful to remain out of sight hears this and her heart leaps. She doesn’t like the sound of the word ‘chores’ but wow, what an intro to the inside world of “The Lone Lady”! She decides to make a dramatic entry into the scene playing out in the front room.
Alisha smoothes her ribbons and her summer dress then skips into the living room, “Hello Mamma! I’m glad you’re home! Oh! Ms. Williams! I didn’t know you were here!” She opens her chocolaty eyes wide for their full effect and smiles her most dazzling, people-pleasing smile. Maria’s face lights up as it always does in the presence of her beloved daughter, “Oh, mi linda! Come here and give me my hug.” Alisha folds into her mother’s side on the couch knowing she’s won control no matter what Ms. Williams says. “I’m glad to see you here Ms. Williams. I worry about you all of the time!” Estelle compares the words she hears to the expression in those eyes and knows from long experience the truth doesn’t match Alisha’s intent. She decides to match that intent and replies, “Well Alisha, I’m a grown up and I’m old enough to choose to be alone and manage my behavior. You on the other hand are a child and I believe it is you who shouldn’t be alone all day. I don’t mind being alone but I do think it not right for a girl your age to be left to her own day-after-day. Your mother and I were discussing this and I’ve made her an offer. I do have many chores around my home you could help me with and in exchange for your help, I am willing to give you art lessons. What do you think?” Alisha took the bait and jumped in before her mother had a chance to respond. “Oh yes! Yes, Ms. Williams! Oh Momma, I would love to help out. You know you and Daddy are always telling me how important it is to help others and I would be learning something too! Please Momma say, yes!” Maria’s natural servant’s heart over-rides any logical thought in the situation. She only wants to make everyone feel better so, she follows the inclinations of her heart as she always does when she makes a final decision. “Estelle, are you sure this isn’t too much bother?” “If it were a bother Maria, I wouldn’t offer. I don’t like being spied on and I do need some help with things. I love creativity and I will enjoy sharing what I know with Alisha.” Maria looks into the face she favors above all others and says, “Alisha, mi jita, my precious little girl yes, I think this is a very good idea. If it makes you happy little one, it makes me happy too.” Then she turns toward Estelle whom she already regards as a friend and with loving warmth, accepts her offer with many thanks. The three of them discuss the matter further, set a scheduled time, and agree that the plan they’ve made will begin tomorrow. “Well, I should get back home. I have work to catch up on and I must say Alisha, I don’t want to look up from my desk and find you watching me. If we are going to be friends, you must respect me. Friends don’t spy on friends. I am looking forward to seeing you at nine tomorrow morning. Don’t be late! I’m a busy woman.” Alisha, thinking she’d won a victory and fully confident of her ability to avoid doing any real work, gushes, “Oh, Ms. Williams. I am so happy and I promise not to watch you anymore. I just worry if you’re okay because you are always all by yourself. If I’m with you then I won’t worry!” Estelle knew these words to be a side-step of the real truth but she had no idea of Alisha’s underlying intent. Still, she was satisfied to be back in the driver’s seat of her life and as she turns to walk back across the driveway, feels some relief in having regained some control over her small world. Alisha watches her back feeling smug in her almost magical control over adults and looks forward to finding new clues into the mystery of her strange neighbor. Maria looks on with tender, soft eyes from one to the other, thinking how wonderful they both are and how blessed she is to have each of them in her life. The three of them have no idea of the change the pact they’ve just made is going to bring into their lives.
To be continued.
To find links to previous posts in this series, visit my Home Page and go to the drop-down menu, just under the Header, click “The Recluse Series”. Links are posted in ascending order.