(The first three installments of this story are on Nov. 2, Nov. 16th, and Nov. 23)
Sandy tried to keep Elizabeth quiet, but it wasn’t really Elizabeth’s fault. Her little sister just couldn’t keep still, couldn’t keep from making noise, not when she was put to bed when she wasn’t the least bit sleepy. She was too young to understand about Mama. She just wanted to play, to have fun. The grownups in their lives never understood that.
The sun parlor in winter was freezing at night. The blankets on the day bed were scratchy, but Sandy would hide under them and try to go to sleep. On good nights, her mother would rescue her before she’d been there long at all. She’d cry into her mother’s shoulder, as her mother carried her back upstairs.
“Mama, it wasn’t me. I was being good and still and quiet. It was Elizabeth. Elizabeth doesn’t know any better. Please tell Daddy it wasn’t me.”
Mama would always gently pat her back, “Shhh, darling. We don’t want Daddy to hear us. You mustn’t talk about its being Elizabeth. Daddy wouldn’t understand that. Be a big girl now. We all have to get some sleep.”
Other nights, her mother didn’t come. He came instead.
Her hands froze on the steering wheel. This wasn’t the night to have to park the car in the detached garage, to have to walk past those dark woods to get into the house. She’d leave the car outside, parked right next to the front door and hurry into the house where all the downstairs lights were brightly shining, telling her she was welcome to come in and fix herself some dinner. It was so dark outside, though. She wanted desperately to get into all that warm light, but how was she going to get there from the safe, locked car? Surely that dark figure had already begun to creep around to the back of the car. He was probably planning on climbing up on top of the car.
If he climbed on top of the car, she could safely drive out to Route 158. Once out on the highway, she’d drive as fast as it took to get him off the roof. These were rational thoughts: thoughts in which she was planning what to do to get rid of a menacing figure. She and Owen had often discussed the fact that rational people didn’t just let their fears paralyze them or prevent them from acting. They thought through the steps they’d take to protect themselves. They had contingency plans, knew what to do if they were attacked. He’d recently suggested she take a women’s self-defense course, so she could understand she was a strong woman, capable of caring for herself.
That would be her next step. Owen would probably give her another hug when she told him she’d signed up for such a course. She wanted another hug. She wanted to walk into her well-lit house and find Owen standing there, waiting to give her a hug. He’d have other things on his mind, though, as she fell into his arms. He wouldn’t just hug her, he’d kiss her, a slow, but greedy, passionate, and desperate kiss, the kind she’d seen on TV and had read about in books.
She could see and feel him clearly now. He was moving his mouth from her mouth, down her throat, teasing her with his tongue. He was caressing her neck and back with his thick, brown, hands, the lovely hands with their neatly trimmed nails, she’d often sat admiring in his office. Now he was moving those hands to slowly unbutton her blouse, the fingers almost too big for the tiny buttons.
From the front of the house, where she was parked, she couldn’t see the sun parlor and its brightly shining lights. The living room lights, though, the lights in the room into which she was staring, the room where Owen now had her completely naked on the couch, flickered off one by one. Owen disappeared. If the living room lights were going off, the sun parlor lights would be doing so, too. The kitchen would be next, followed by the dining room, and the family room. This was the fourth Wednesday in a row she hadn’t come home before dark, and they were mad at her. She was always supposed to be home before dark. Home before dark and lights out and in bed by 10:00.
At first she’d thought the figure was Daddy staring in at her from one of the windows in the sun parlor. She thought he was sneaking around the back of the house to spy on her to make sure she was being still and quiet. On second look, though, she’d realized it wasn’t Daddy at all. Daddy didn’t have such pale skin. Daddy didn’t have such beady eyes and such big cheek jowls. Daddy’s teeth were straight and white, not yellow and uneven and half rotting. She closed her eyes and tried not to scream. When she opened them again, the grotesque figure beckoned to her. This time, she did scream, and Daddy came in with the belt. Looking up from Daddy’s knees, she saw the pale, bald head turn away from the window, a hunched back lope off into the woods, barely feeling the pain of the leather against her bare skin.
After that, he came all the time. His thick fingers would work their way around the outside of the window, trying to find a way to open it. She didn’t scream anymore, throwing the blankets over her head instead, and reminding herself that he couldn’t get her. Even if he did manage to break one of the windowpanes, the hole would be too small for him, and the window latch was too old and difficult to work. He wouldn’t be able to get it to work from the outside, wouldn’t be able to open the window to climb through it. Besides, he tapped and scratched at the window, but he never did actually try to break it, for some reason, and if she just ignored him, he’d often lope off in frustration.
(To be continued...)