Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Dressed Up

I thought I saw someone out there.
My dog, perched in the window seat next to me, growled long and low. I squinted my eyes and looked closer. There was someone standing out there in the dark. Looking down from the window of my second story bedroom, I could see a shimmer on the pathway.
The pathway was unlit, completely pitch black, except for the light generated by the moon that sat high and large overhead. The "paseo" as the locals called it, ran along the dry riverbed from one end of my housing complex to the other. During the day, it was busy with bikes and power-walkers and even the occasional roller-blader. At night, the rabbits and coyotes took it over. The shadow out there now looked like a woman. Hard to tell, but when she finally moved, a long, white dress appeared to trail out behind her.

She walked down the pathway a few yards, stopped, stared out at the riverbed, then turn and headed back the other way. She kept this up awhile--pacing back and forth like a caged animal. I considered going downstairs and out to my backyard and yelling, "Is something wrong?" but I thought better of it. She could be high. Drunk. Crazy. All of the above. And I couldn't be sure she was alone.

Her white dress was the only reason I could find her in the darkness. She stopped and looked out into the riverbed and the back of her dress shimmered like crystal. From the window, my dog growled loudly and barked once. The woman wheeled around and looked up. I gasped and stepped sideways out of view. I let a few seconds pass and then slowly peeked out again. She was gone.

What was that all about? I stood looking out  the window, enjoying the cool night breeze on my skin. After a few minutes, I shrugged and turned out the light and crawled into bed. My dog jumped up after me and curled into a ball at the foot of the bed. I could see the moon out my window--large and bright--almost bright enough to read by, but I wasn't interested in reading. I wanted to clear my head and calm down so I could fall asleep. I tried breathing deeply while laying flat on my back.
Then I heard a knock.
I craned my ear.
Knock. Knock. KNOCK.
Someone was at my front door? At this hour?
My dog barked and jumped up. I slid out from under the covers, grabbed the baseball bat by the side of my bed and went downstairs. New neighbors had just moved in last weekend. Maybe they needed something? But at this hour? I made it to the front door and looked through the eye hole. My dog barked furiously and pushed against me in anticipation of the door opening.
It was her!
I drew my head back and took a deep breath. My heart sped up. I shifted the baseball bat to my right hand. I peeked back through the eye hole.
"Can I help you?" I said through the closed door.
"Let me in!"  Her voice was weak and gravelly, like a smoker's.
"What?" I asked. I had heard what she said, but didn't know what else to say.
"Let me in!"

I pulled away from the eye-hole and walked to the window next to the front door. She took a step backwards, her arms flailing out to balance herself and then plopped down on my porch. Her white, lacy dress splayed out all around her and she folded her hands in her lap, turned her eyes upward, and then closed them. She was dirty, pale, rail thin, and her hair was a mess, although I could tell she had fixed it up at some point into a fancy braid arrangement on her head. There was a large, pink flower-like ribbon near the top, and strips of white lace hanging down the sides, like a home-made veil. The braids in her hair were coming apart. Tufts of ash brown hair poked out at various points like weeds in an unkempt garden. There was a large dark stain on her cheek. Chocolate? Mud? Soot?

"Why do you want to come in?" I asked through the window. She looked up sharply at the door and then to the window, catching my eye. Her big, dark eyes widened and she struggled to get up. I could see the veins bulging in her arms as she tried to push herself up off the ground. Mascara was smeared under her eyes and her cheeks were sunken, gray pockets. She steadied herself and stumbled to the window. I stepped back. My dog barked louder and leaped up at the window. With her face pressed heavily against the screen she waved two fingers at my dog, like you would wave at baby. My dog stopped barking and sat down.

"Let me in." She said again almost in a whisper this time. She coughed and blinked once very slowly. Her eyes rolled around in her head like they were loose. I put down the baseball bat and pulled the curtains closed.

"What do you want? Why were you walking along the trail behind my house?" I asked loudly from behind the curtains. No response. I peeked out between the curtains. She lifted her head and wiped her nose slowly with the back of her hand. Then her head fell back and she appeared to be either asleep or yawning. I noticed most of her teeth were rotten or missing. Probably meth. I was glad I hadn't opened the door. Eyes still closed, she tugged at the lace near her neck, almost as though it were choking her. Her head fell backward, she snapped open her eyes and cackled. Her breath wafted in through the window and I took a step back. Up until then, I thought my dog had the market cornered on bad breath.
I stepped back.
"Let me in!" Her hoarse voice trailed off to a whisper, than a cough.
I heard my dog barking. She barked again and I realized she wasn't next to me; she was back upstairs. Her bark got louder like she had someone or something cornered. I ran up the stairs and into my bedroom. She was back in the window. I ran over and looked down with her into the darkness.
The woman was walking along the pathway again in that slow, liquid way, almost as though she were floating, her white dress trailing out behind her just like before. My heart raced and I felt a chill crawl up and wrap itself around my neck. How was this possible? Were there two? The woman continued to walk, then she stopped and turned to look out into the riverbed. The white beads of her dress reflected the moon light like small disco balls. My dog let out a deep growl and then went silent. I breathed deeply.

You're seeing things. No one is there. Stop being silly. 

My cell phone was downstairs in the kitchen. I had to get it. I ran to the stairs and rushed down. When I got to the bottom step, I could hear whistling coming from outside.
I ran to the front door and looked out.
The woman was sitting cross-legged on my porch, her white dress tucked under her. She had un-braided all of her hair, taken out of all the ribbons and bobby pins, and it was hanging down her back and sides like dingy brown-gray twisted ropes. She was whistling loudly. The tune sounded very familiar, something from the 80's, but I couldn't place it.
"Go away!" I yelled.
She appeared not to hear me and kept whistling.
"Go away NOW!" I yelled again.
She whistled and ran her fingers through her hair. She took one long disheveled strand and held it up toward my porch light. She twisted it and appeared to be fascinated by its length.
"Did you hear me?" I screamed. "Go now or I'm gonna call 911!"
She dropped her hair.
I watched one soot-colored bare foot come out from under her dress and then another. Her toes were black like olives and a few appeared to be missing nails. She stood up slowly, swayed a little bit, and then brushed herself off. She leaned on the wall near the doorbell. Her eyes were shut and her knees buckled a little bit.
Great. She is probably coming down from her high. Perfect! I'll have a meth head crashed out on my porch in a second. That'll make a nice welcome gift for the neighbors.
She staggered to the window next to the door. Her eyes were pleading and soft, but they seemed to grow darker as she stared at me. Her mouth dropped open. I stepped back and raised my voice.
"I told you! Go away! I'm not kidding about calling 911!" My voice was lower than usual, but hoarse.
I ran to get my cell phone. I held it up in the window so she could see it. She leaned and swayed, but didn't look. I took a deep breath and tried to take the emotion out of my voice and sound serious. Ominous. "You have one minute to get out of here or I am going to call the police."
She didn't move. She kept leaning against the wall, balancing herself with her head.
I dialed.
"Hello, 911 what is your emergency?" The operator sounded busy.
"Yeah, uh, I have someone at my front door who won't leave."
"Have you asked this person to leave, ma'am?"
"Yes. Many times. She is just sitting there and won't listen to me. I have told her to leave and she won't. She keeps asking to come in."
"Do you know this person?"
"No, no, I do not. She wants to come in, but I won't let her. Can you please just send the police?"
"Ma'am, can you confirm your address?"
"23908 Turning Point Drive."
"Is that in River Village?"
"Wow." There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
"What?" I asked impatiently.
"We've gotten a lot of calls from your neighborhood tonight."
"Does this person at your door happen to be a skinny woman in a wedding dress?"
I swallowed hard. "Yes, yeah, that's right."
"Well, then, ma'am it's fine. Just let her in."
I switched the phone to my other ear. Was I hearing correctly? "What do you mean just let her in? I want her to leave! Did you hear me? I need the police!" I looked out the window. The woman was re-braiding two big chunks of her hair. Her head bobbed up and down like a doll as though at any moment it would snap off and roll away.
"Ma'am, there is no need..."
"What do you mean there is no need? She's trespassing! She's harassing me!  For all I know she is high on something or drunk!"
"Ma'am, she's been trying to find your party. Just let her in and she'll be fine. She's harmless."
"What party? I'm not having a party! What are you talking about?" My voice was getting louder and starting to break.
The operator continued, "It's your turn to the throw the party tonight, is it not?"
I opened my mouth to answer, but she interrupted. "You know the party where you leave your body and soul at the door?" The operator laughed loudly--a hearty, throw your head-back laugh and then began to hum softly. The woman outside my door began whistling again. The same song. Together. In unison.
All dressed up with no where to go...
My mouth went dry. I dropped the phone.
This time I knew the tune.

-Hope Horner, 2014
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