The door to Gillian’s house is ajar. It seems odd that Julia would leave the door open. Maybe she was distracted when she came in? I push it open wider using three fingers,
“Julia, are you in here?” I enter, and pull closed the door.
It is just past eight o’clock and dusk is settling in. Night is riding on dusk’s tails -- I can tell by the color of the sky in the east. While the westerly view is rosy, the easterly sky is
the rich indigo of a king’s robe. The house smells considerably better than it did in the morning. My footfalls on the wooden floor are unseemingly loud. My voice intrudes on the silence.
“Hey, Julia? Are you here?”
Overhead, I hear the sound of a book drop. Not wanting to scare her, I almost stomp on the stair treads so Julia will hear me coming.
I call out when I reach the second floor landing, “Julia, it’s Carl. Where are you?” Based on the sound of the book, I put her in the bedroom with excessive stacks of books. I push open the door, “Aha! I found you!” I say. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that she is not in there. I see a stack of books that have been upended. They are within inches of the window, I try to remember if there was a stiff breeze in the afternoon. The room appears empty. I am just out the door when another stack tips over. I turn around and stare. What on earth? Then, I catch a glimpse of a small red squirrel. There is no more than a three inch tear in the window’s screen. Quickly, I pull the door shut so the squirrel doesn’t have more room to play. I tromp back down the stairs.
The kitchen pantry has a broom and a dustpan. Gloves are under the sink. However, I need something to contain the squirrel. Call me squeamish, but I want my arms covered and a mask. They are nothing more than tree rodents as far as I am concerned. I flip the switch for the basement. The entire basement is empty except for one corner that has an elaborate workbench. I am, somehow, not surprised that Gillian owned a trap and stored it under the workbench. A man’s denim work shirt --sized too big for me --is hanging on the pegboard over the workbench. I grab it, as well as a face mask from her toolbox.
Heading back upstairs, I check the front door. It is still shut.
Again, “JULIA??” Nothing.
I dress in my makeshift protective garb and enter the library/bedroom. More stacks have tumbled. It makes moving difficult. There is limited space for my feet. I open the window as wide as it goes, removing the screen completely. The best outcome would be for the squirrel to depart on its own volition. Its little head pops up from a perch on the bedpost. I use the broom to herd the creature toward the window. With an agility that surprised me, the squirrel leaps from bedpost to window ledge. Apparently, it gauged the imminent impact of the broom. Gingerly, I creep closer to the window. I hope to push him on his way. A chestnut tree is an easy two yards from the window. The squirrel appears frozen. Just as I raise the broom, it dives across the chasm between house and tree. Once it lands on the tree, the squirrel turns back, chatters loudly, then takes off, disappearing in the tree’s dense foliage. I slam shut the window with more force than I intend and a crack appears in the glass. Damn.
In the hallway, I remove the gloves, the mask and the shirt. A gutteral sound catches my attention. My first thought it that another squirrel has invaded the house. That seems far-fetched. I open the closest door, the bathroom door.
The room is alit with candles. There are at least twenty candles flickering. The window is open and a slight cross-breeze is set into motion when I open the door. The tub is full. Bubbles fill it to the top. Julia is submerged with just a small halo of her face visible. Her eyes are shut and she is sobbing. The water mimics the motion of the sobs as they wrack her body. No wonder she didn’t hear me.
Abruptly, her eyes open. She looks right through me. Her misery is that complete. On the floor, I see her running shoes and shorts. She extends her hand from the cover of bubbles. I roll up a towel and kneel next to the tub. Taking her hand, I kiss the back of it, then her palm. Her nose is running. She wipes it with her other hand. We stay like that for ten minutes. Then she sits up.
“Do you want some water?” Julia nods.
I run the water until its cold, then hand her a glass.
“I think you should dry off and I’ll make up some tea. Do you have anything else to put on?”
She shakes her head.
I go into the hall and retrieve her aunt’s denim large work shirt.
“Is this okay?” She nods solemnly.
“Come down and we will talk.”