(The first installment of this story was posted Nov. 2nd.)
Owen had suggested twenty minutes at a time; that was all. Last night, she’d heard nothing at the windows, but she hadn’t even made it ten minutes without grabbing up her book, hitting the light switch at the door, pulling the door shut tight, locking it, and scurrying up to the safety of her bedroom. The bedroom was safe; no one could peer in at her through the second floor windows. Even if they could, even if they climbed a ladder or something, her bedroom windows had shades and curtains that could be drawn.
Tonight, however, despite the fact she had heard something, she was determined to make it at least twenty minutes sitting in the sun parlor before heading up to the safety of the bedroom. Wouldn’t Owen be proud of her? She kept ignoring the noises, even peeked out one of the windows when her watch indicated it had been twenty minutes. As Owen had predicted, she saw no one peering back in at her. Thus bolstered, she stayed an extra five minutes and then calmly headed up to her bedroom.
She smiled as she climbed the stairs, picturing Owen patting her on the back and praising her. How far she’d come in just a year. Last year, when she first met Owen, she couldn’t even enter the sun parlor, hadn’t entered it in years, kept it locked at all times. Martha was the only one who ever set foot out there, cleaning it every other week, just as she cleaned the rest of the house. Sandy had no need ever to go out there. Most of the time, it was a rather impractical room, too chilly in the winter on a sunless day and too hot in the summer before sunset. The secretary had long since been emptied of all useful contents, and the room had nothing of value in it, except the old furniture and a few standing lamps. These were completely dominated by the bad memories that took up every inch of the rest of the space in the room, and Sandy couldn’t bear to face those or to try to get rid of them.
However, Owen insisted confronting the bad memories would free her from them, so six months ago, she had made the first big move and had started keeping the door unlocked. Since then, her progression had been fairly rapid. She stepped into the room during the daylight hours. Over the summer, she had slowly but surely learned to sit out there five to ten minutes at a time, during the hours just before sunset, when it wasn’t too hot to do so. That was when she’d made the decision to have the furniture re-done. While the furniture was gone, she’d begun stepping out there when it was dark, and now that the furniture was back, it was time to learn to use the room in the dark, before she lost her courage, before the winter really set in, and it was too cold to do so.
How wonderful it was to be freed from having to check the door several times a day, ensuring it was locked. How nice it might be for her in the spring and early summer to sit out there with all the windows open, just as her family had done when she was very young. Visitors had always loved the room, and many overnight guests had chosen to sleep out there, as they could open all the windows for cross-ventilation and run a fan during the hottest months of summer. Of course, that had all been before they’d stopped having many visitors, before Mama had become so sad, before Sandy had been left with most of the responsibility of raising Elizabeth, and before Grandma had died. Tonight, she felt brave. Tonight she knew she could get over all the sadness that had hovered around the house most of her life; it was time to do so. She was going to make new friends to sit in the sun parlor with her. They’d, in turn, invite her to sit on their decks and eat barbecue.
As she crawled into bed, she realized these were all wonderfully rational thoughts, as she and Owen had come to define them together. Worrying about shining, beady eyes imbedded above large sagging cheeks, in pasty-white heads, staring in through windows at night, large lips parted in grimacing smiles, displaying over-sized, yellowing, and rotting teeth was irrational. Thoughts that focused on thick, white, gnarled and hairy hands sporting yellowed and broken fingernails scratching at windowpanes were irrational thoughts. Accepting the fact that these thoughts were there, labeling them, then ignoring them was rational. Grown women sat in rooms surrounded by windows and read books without feeling the hair rise on their necks. They even looked out those windows. They even came home after dark without being the least bit afraid.
To be continued...