(Continued from Nov. 2, Nov. 16, Nov. 23, and Nov. 30)
“So, you saw the hunchback and sat outside and watched the lights go off?” Owen asked.
“Yes, the lights went off, and then they came back on again.”
“Sandy, have you had the electrical wiring checked yet? Remember, we talked a few weeks ago about your doing that.”
“No, but it wasn’t the wiring, Owen. They’re mad at me for staying out late. They’re trying to scare me.”
She wasn’t going to get a hug from him today. This had been a very bad session, and even though he hadn’t said so, he was really angry with her, she could tell. He said her plan to knock the hunchback off the car roof had been an irrational plan based on irrational thoughts. He told her a menacing hunchback was a childish fear, a cartoon monster, not something to frighten an adult. He told her she was not allowed to drive over to his house at night, when she didn’t have an appointment with him, to ring the doorbell, to beg him to open the door
She had started to cry, but he’d kept on going. Rational young women didn’t park their cars across the street from men’s houses and spend entire nights there. He wasn’t going to put up with this kind of behavior much longer. She had to learn to go from the car into the house after dark, and she even needed to learn not to leave all the lights on downstairs when she left the house each morning. If something were wrong with the wiring, she might set the house on fire. He wanted her to start with small steps, keeping some of the lights off when she left the house in the morning. Eventually, she should learn to keep all except the outside lights off when she left in the morning. Most importantly, she mustn’t put off calling an electrician any longer. He wanted her to go home tonight, park the car in the garage, call the electrician to set up an appointment, and to start writing down some of her thoughts in a journal where she could label them “rational” or “irrational.” They’d look over her journal next week and see what she’d done.
“That’s it, Sandy. We’re out of time. Please don’t come back to my house tonight.”
He’d opened the door for her. As predicted, there’d been no hug. She peered into the back seat of the car this time to make sure the serial killer wasn’t there. As she got behind the steering wheel, locked the door, and buckled her seat belt, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Owen would be upset if she didn’t do what he said. She breathed like this all the way home and pulled the car into the garage. She thought her heart would burst through her chest as she ran from the garage into the house, slamming and locking the door behind her. She’d done it, though! Owen wouldn’t, couldn’t be angry next week.
She looked around the front hall. The lights were still on all around her, just as she’d left them. No figures were waiting for her at the top of the stairs. No one was calling her name, demanding that she come out to the sun parlor.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing again. No one was here. It was irrational ever to think anyone else was in this house. The house belonged to her. No one could tell her what to do, where to go. No one could tell her she wasn’t allowed to sell the house.
She didn’t have to be afraid of Daddy anymore. He’d been hit by a train fifteen years ago, driving drunk. Poor Mama had been dead now for five years. Elizabeth had stopped coming home years ago. Sandy was alone, completely alone. She didn’t have to spend the night in the sun parlor. She could do whatever she wanted: go to movies, travel all over the world, entertain Owen in her big canopied bed, the bed she’d picked out with Mama when she was thirteen years old.
When she opened her eyes again, she noticed it for the first time. The coat rack had been moved. It should have been right there in the corner, right where it had always been since she was a little girl. She hadn’t moved it; she knew she hadn’t moved it. He’d come into the house! He’d moved it. No, that was an irrational thought. She’d never actually seen him come into the house. He was always staring in at her, beckoning her to come out to him, trying to get the window open, as if he wanted her to climb through it. One of the others had moved it, but it didn’t matter who had. Daddy would think she’d done it. He’d start calling her soon, telling her to get out in the sun parlor where he’d be waiting with the belt or something worse.
The lights, one by one, began to go off again. Sandy instinctively reached for the kerosene lamp she kept on the shelf in the hall. She groped for the box of matches next to it and lit the lamp. She had to get up to her bedroom. They never followed her into the bedroom. She just hoped she could get there before one of them got her first.
The night he finally broke one of the sun parlor windows was the night Grandma died. She didn’t see it, but she heard the glass break. She was in the kitchen making dinner because it was one of Mama’s late nights at the library. Elizabeth was fussing about how hungry she was. She’d just said, rather harshly, to Elizabeth,
“Hush! I’ll feed you as soon as it’s done and I’ve gotten some up to Grandma. She needs it more than you do. She’s sick and weak.”
When she heard the glass break, she dropped the yellow mixing bowl with a crash. Elizabeth hid under the kitchen table, crying, and a few minutes later, Sandy could hear Grandma scream,
“A man! A man! There’s a strange man in the house!”
Daddy leapt up from the evening news and raced upstairs. Sandy hoped he hadn’t heard the bowl break, and she hurried to pick up the pieces, hiding them deep down in the trashcan. She wanted to save Grandma. She wanted to get the evil man out of the house, before he could hurt any of them, but she was afraid of getting in Daddy’s way.
Mama told her later that Grandma had been dreaming, that she’d jumped out of bed in terror. Her weak heart couldn’t take it, and she’d been carried off to Heaven. Sandy didn’t believe it, though. She’d looked out the kitchen window on that moonlit night and had seen the large, evil figure walking across the yard, a small limp one in his arms. Someone had fixed that window in the sun parlor, though, because the next day, when she went out there to dust and sweep as Mama asked her to do, she hadn’t found any broken panes.
(To be continued.)