Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Baby Steps

       She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.  At the threshold, she began to worry.  The knob felt heavy in her hand.  She couldn’t remember it being so difficult to turn.  Only by gathering all her courage could she twist it just enough that it popped open.
       The mechanism of the door-hinge surprised her.  Who could have guessed it would open so willingly?  She dropped the handle, and the door swung slowly inward, eased by a gentle wind coming down off the mountain and pushing its way past her into the house.  Some papers on the piano rustled, and one sheet fluttered onto the floor.
       She froze at the sensation of wind on her face.  It was a timid wind -- just strong enough to tease the flyaway strands of her hair into brushing across her forehead and cheeks.  It smelled faintly of rain.
       The first step was like walking through water, chest-high, the current running against her.  At any moment, she expected her feet to slip out from under her; then the wind would carry her away.  But the current ebbed as she took another step, and by the time she was out the door and standing on the edge of the front porch, she wasn’t in the river at all.
       She was, in fact, out of the house for the first time in twenty years.  The sun shone down on her white arms and the smooth skin of her neck above her shirt-collar.  She felt she had never known a warm spring sun on her bare skin, or if she had, it must have been someone else in some other lifetime.
       Nobody goes inside with the idea of never going back out.  But one bad day had led to the next until it was far easier to just stay home.  Soon she couldn’t fathom how other people managed the gargantuan tasks of grocery shopping or visiting the laudromat, when, for her, greeting a neighbor required such Herculean efforts.  It was better to avoid them all -- until today.
       She had picked up a thin, worn paperback lying dusty on her bookshelf for ages.  As she opened the front cover, a folded piece of paper slipped out.  It was a letter from her mother, written to her father while he was in the war.  She would have been six, maybe seven.
       “I wish you could see our little Grace,” her mother wrote.  “She is always moving -- from the garden to the tree to the sandbox to the porch.  She never wants to come inside!  I have the hardest time convincing her to eat dinner, take a bath, go to bed.  She is insatiably curious.”
       Did she know that girl? And if she did, then who was this fifty-year-old woman, creeping around the house all day, startled by her own shadow or the sound of footsteps coming up the walk?
       So, in a momentary fit of bravery, Grace had stepped outside her home after two decades of reclusion.  She’d pushed past the current of fear wrapping the house like wood siding, ignored the scorching sun on her cheeks and the wind tugging at her hair and clothes.  But with each step she took, her feet grew heavier and her ears began to ring.
       She made it as far as the mailbox before turning around and scurrying back inside.  And for a year and a day afterwards, she could never pass by a window but the ghost of a warm, spring sun rose up to meet her.

No comments: