This story is by Gloria Jainchill and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I looked over my reading book, and there in front of me was our picture window. It was nighttime and hard to see anything outside, especially with my reading lamp on. There was a glare on the window, the drapes still open as I was very involved in my novel. A novel taking place in one of the hilly old English towns. The kind of town where the stone houses are built three stories high along the hills within town limits. Those cool to the touch damp musty homes like the one I had stayed at during my four weeks stay in England many years ago. I lean towards books that take place in cities and towns that I am personally familiar with. The stories come alive in me. I can taste, feel, smell and hear their distinctive sounds. The bird calls, the lapping waters, the oil fueled lamps, the burning fireplaces and smoke from the brick ovens. The meandering sweet smelling brambles, bluebells, cowslip, primrose, honeysuckle and ivy along the cobblestone walkways. My senses alive I am walking through the town with the main characters and the villains. I can visualize the town’s main street and the dark allies with hideaway building entries. I am walking in the victim’s or the villains or the heroine’s shoes.
As a child, I overheard my Dad talking to my Mom about the owner of the deli being killed during an armed robbery. He ran the local bookie joint from there. They never found the killer which concerned him since he too was a local business owner. At least once a year they would be sitting there over their nightly coffee whispering, shaking their heads, saying a prayer of thanksgiving no one else had suffered the same fate. Several times I overhead him use the name Harry as he rushed through a quick prayer for his family. I think this incident and my parents fifteen year worry about us as a family, peaked my interest in mysteries and murder novels. My ability to travel the world with my art led me to England more than once.
This suspense novel was no different. I sat down about three pm with a cup of tea, reading and sipping as the plot thickened. I read for ten minutes finishing my chapter. My heart racing, I decided to stop, digest the who done it’s in the last three chapters. I looked out my window with the glare from my lamp. I almost jumped from my seat, hard to do in a lounge chair. First thought – I am imagining things, that dang novel. There in the window was this haunting, malformed, hollow-eyed face staring at me. I gasped for air, my chest tightened, my hands frozen to my book. I could not move.
First instinct – run like cheetah, but I was frozen in my chair, not even able to close the drapes. Instinctively, I reached for the light switch and turned the lamp off. No face staring at me. My heart still racing and breathing fast, I closed my eyes self-talking. I knew with the light out I would not be seen, nor could I see the face. If they were going to break in, I would hear noises and have time to get my bat near the door in the umbrella stand.
“Did I lock the doors?” I asked me. “Yes” I replied out loud.
“Did I lock the windows?” I said out loud. “Yes, closed and latched.”
“It’s ninety degrees with the air on” flashed in my head.
No sounds of anyone breaking in. I opened my eyes, no face staring at me, I rose to check the deadbolts, and to close the drapes. Racing heart slowing, breathing longer smoother breaths, body relaxing. I thought of turning the light back on and calling 911.
“No” I heard loud and clear in my own voice. And I was not going to continue reading my book!
Did I recognize the face? Was it someone from the neighborhood? Was it a composite of the murderers in the stupid mystery novels I read?
The face was round. The hair was bushy and dark, maybe curly or maybe just windblown. It was long for a man, short for a woman my age. The nose appeared big. His eyes though, they frightened me. They were hollow with a questioning fearful spirit. They looked like they would pop out and fly into my living room ready to punch the day lights out of me.
I thought of my neighbor three houses down on the left side of the street. During an evening walk and jogging time, I saw him. He was bending over trying to do something to his lawnmower. Maybe put gas in it or unclog it. When he heard my steps, he looked up to his left and glanced at me. I was unsettled by his gaze but remembered his face, round with dark hair and large bulging eyes. The sun was setting, and it was hot and muggy. He had dark curly hair and a big hook nose with black eyes. I thought to myself, yes, the face in my window could pass off as this man, though it was a far stretch.
I remembered the man I passed several blocks away as I had continued running. It was last week that I saw him. It was earlier in the day, I got a half day off from work, something to do with electrical stuff being done in the building. I decided to do my three times a week walk run jog earlier that day. This man was a little taller than the other man. His hair was light brown, sparkled in the glaring sun. His hair was longer and wavy, disheveled and matted. The wind was blowing his hair in all directions at once, so it seemed. I sensed that maybe in the dark he could be the face in my window. My mind pulled his face up before me. It could be.
My thoughts going every which way, I sat down again, closed my eyes, and relaxed for ten minutes. I was glad I did not call 911. I opened my eyes and shortly afterwards, I picked up my book to continue reading. Fifteen minutes and two chapters later, I stopped to contemplate and rest my eyes. When I opened them again, my surprise, I saw another face looking at me.
“How could this be?” I said. How could a face be staring at me through the drapes? I had no idea.
Jolted from my comfort zone once again, I took a deeper, longer look at this face. It was a kind face. It had dark disheveled mid-length hair and a big nose. But the eyes. The eyes reflected love, gentleness, sweetness, kindness, acceptance, they were smiling at me. I was not afraid of this face the way I had been of the first face.
I gasped and took a deep breath, blinked a few times. The face was still there but fading. I closed my eyes once again. I was drawn to this face, closed curtains and all. No fear. No trembling. No guilt. No shame. Just goodness and sweetness. I did not want to close my eyes again for fear of it disappearing.
I sat there thinking and remembered something that happened earlier in the day. I was sitting with a co-worker having coffee with a blueberry muffin. We were talking about our childhoods and our fears and current world events. Last nights news was very upsetting to her. Me? I haven’t watched the news in several days. Something traumatic had happened to her when she was about ten years old. I too had experienced traumas as a child as most people have. We talked about how we felt about ourselves, how we had such poor self-images for successful people. How our faith had told us that God loves us just as we are.
It was then that it clicked in my head and I began to understand the meanings behind the faces I had seen. They were both faces of me. The first face was me seeing myself through my eyes. The second face was God showing me how He sees me through His eyes. I put my book down and held my face as tears formed and fell unto my cheeks. My t-shirt, now damp with tears, helped me realized that I had been given a wonderful gift. I had been given the gift of seeing myself through the loving eyes of God. The empty hollow eyes. The disheveled hair. The big nose. They were symbols of my not forgiving myself for the bad things I’ve done in my life. But God. But God, in His infinite love, wanted to let me know how loved and forgiven and cherished I was. Now I had to do the same for myself.