Tuesday, 20 December 2016

                   The Recluse

                       by Dahn Batchelor

This was the first short story I ever wrote, I wrote it in 1982 for my two daughters who were six and four.

This story is about a woman who sought solitude in the protection of her own home because of her fear of facing and enduring the pain of the outside world. But as the years progressed, she gradually came to accept the premise that solitude is a pain unto itself.

Anyone who lives alone soon discovers that the heart will wither away if it cannot answer to another's beat. The recluse at the same time discovers that the mind shrinks if it only hears the echoes of its own thoughts.                                              

It was the chirping of the spring robin that woke Sally Robertson out of her sound sleep. Usually Sally slept until ten or eleven every morning. She had been doing this for twenty years. Somehow she had managed over those years, to block out the early traffic noises emitting from the street until those late hours of each morning. Her ears were tuned to pick out sounds out of the ordinary so naturally the first bird of spring was a sound that would stand out above the din of the nearby street sounds.

 At fifty years of age, she had seen many seasons come and go but spring was her favorite. It was in the spring that she met and later married Bill, her husband, now deceased. It was in the spring that she gave birth to their one and only child, Sarah who later at the age of six, was tragically killed by a drunken hit and run driver.  The mere thought of Sarah brought tears to her eyes and when she thought of Bill, the tears continued to run profusely down her cheeks.

She loved that man more than life itself. When Bill was brutally murdered twenty years earlier, right before her eyes, during a robbery being committed by a young thug who held up their convenience store, it brought to a close, Sally's years of happiness and activity.

For twenty years, she had shut herself up in their house like a butterfly refusing to escape its cocoon. For twenty years, innocent victims of crimes, such as robberies, rapes, muggings and murders would take place in the outside world but she would remain untouched by the criminals who cared less about the suffering they heaped upon those  who  were unprotected. Her house was secured, almost fortified against intruders. No one came in and she never went out. She did hear the occasional knocking once in a long time but when she called out through the door in response, there was nothing but silence to answer her. 

Her groceries were delivered every three days and left on the steps by the delivery boy who would then reach under the mat and pick up her cheque. Her utilities were paid for in the same manner. All other communications were done by phone or by letter with both methods of communications generally instituted by her.


 Money was not a problem for her. When Bill was killed, his insurance paid off handsomely and the sale of their store realized some substantial increase in her bank account. With the money in her bank, she had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of her life.

To use the word 'comfortably' perhaps is unwise because although she had all the creature comforts needed to survive, such as food and shelter, her life in her self-exile was anything but comfortable. She did however have a TV and a radio and a decent library to read, but she did lack the one thing that is essential to every human being—companionship.

About five years ago, she did in fact get a break in that direction. A small kitten with white fur had meandered its way up to her front door and when she opened her door to pick up her groceries, there before her was this ball of fluff just waiting to be loved and cuddled—and of course, fed.

 Well, if loving and cuddling and being fed is what ‘Fluffy’ wanted, that's exactly what she got. Sally talked to her kitten as if it was her child. As the years went on, and the kitten grew into a cat, Sally continued to give the cat the same love and attention it desired that she gave her own child. I refer to the cat as a child, because Sally didn't think of her cat as anything but her lost child. Extreme lonliness can do that to people and Sally was at this stage in her life where anything, no matter what it was, was better than nothing at all. And if treating her pet as her lost child would keep her from going completely mad, then a child it would become. It was Fluffy that kept Sally from toppling into that crevasse of madness of which she was forever standing at the edge.

 Perhaps madness is a painful alternative to being murdered outright but as long as she had Fluffy, her pain would be lessened.

When anyone is cooped up in a house, as in a prison, he or she will eventually gravitate to a favorite spot within in which that person will feel serenity and joy. It took Sally several years before she found the spot. It was a small window in the upstairs that overlooked her front garden—rather, what was left of it, and of course, the street next to it. In the distance, she could see the hills where she, Bill and Sarah used to romp and play. Every day, she would go up to that little window at the end of the hallway and open it and feast on the sounds, smells and sights of the world before her. She had a pair of binoculars and because they brought the world closer to her, she knew the living habits of many of her neighbours. She watched the children grow up. She watched the repainting of houses, the moving in and out of neighbours—in fact,  she  probably  knew  more  about  the  part  of  the neighbourhood she surveyed than those whom she spied upon. I suppose 'spying' is being cruel when using that word because she wasn't nosy, she merely wanted to share their world without getting involved. She used to breathe in the fresh fragrances of the flowers and trees nearby, and of course, she would sit for hours and watch the creation and demise of every beautiful sunset as the sun set behind those hills in the distance. The sounds she loved best were the sounds of children playing in the streets.

 Her heart ached to be free, to run in those warm breezes, to talk to the children, and to stand on the top of those hills and be encompassed by the glowing sunsets.

Then one day in the Spring of a particularly warm month, she accidently left the front door of her house slightly ajar when after picking up her groceries off the stoop, she ran towards the phone when it rang, completely forgetting about the opened door. The caller, the first in twenty years, was a sales girl calling to make a pitch about subscription magazines. Sally kept the girl on the phone for almost half an hour before the girl realized that there wasn't going to be a sale. While Sally was on the phone, Fluffy had peeked out into the world through the small opening at the door. Within seconds, she was gone, vanished back into that another world to which she had left almost five years earlier.

  It wasn't until after Sally's afternoon nap that she became apprised of the fact that Fluffy wasn't responding to her calls. She searched high and low in her house for her pet and didn't realize the horrible truth of her loss until she searched in the vicinity of the front door. Sally realized at that moment, that she had foolishly left the door ajar when she went to the phone and Fluffy had slipped through the opening. She was devastated.

As the days passed, she grew more depressed and soon began to fear that perhaps Fluffy was run over by a car on the street and that was why Fluffy hadn’t come home. 

Two weeks later, her courage that evaded her for so many years ago slowly returned to her. She was willing to face the onslaught of the world outside of her home so that she could look for her missing companion.  She slowly opened her door and peeked outside. There was no one to be seen. She ventured into her large unkempt garden that was overrun by shrubbery that hadn’t been attended to for twenty years. Perhaps Fluffy was somewhere in that forest of wild shrubbery. As she wandered around the shrubbery, she suddenly heard a child’s voice. “Hello, are you looking for something?”

Sally looked in the direction of the child’s voice and there at the gate to her property was a six-year-old girl. Sally replied to the girl’s question, “I am looking for Fluffy.”

“Who is Fluffy?” asked the child.

“Fluffy is my cat. She left my house two weeks ago and she hasn’t returned.”

The little girl asked, “Is your cat a white cat?”

“Yes, It is!” exclaimed Sally excitedly. “Have you seen her?”

The little girl paused for a moment and then replied, “About two weeks ago I saw a white cat walking across the street and when it stopped and looked at me, I went to it and picked it up. I then took it home and fed it. It has been with me ever since.

 Sally asked, “Do you love the cat?”

“Oh, yes. It is such a nice cat.”

With tears in her eyes, Sally said softly, “It goes by the name of Fluffy.”

The little girl asked, “Is it possible that it is your missing cat?”

Sally paused for a moment and then wiped her eyes and said, “Probably not.” She didn’t want to deny the little girl the cat she had grown to love.

“Would you like to see my cat?” asked the girl excitedly.

Sally wasn’t sure if she wanted to see the cat she believed was Fluffy. She knew that Fluffy was now in a good home and loved by the little girl and she didn’t want to deprive her from the thing she really loved. But then she had to know if it was Fluffy that was now living in the little girl’s home. If it was, she would be happy for the cat but if it wasn’t Fluffy, she would spend the rest of her life wondering what ever happened to her companion of so many years.                                                      

When they arrived at the little girl’s home, she introduced Sally to her mother and said that she met her when they were looking for her white cat.

The mother was astute enough to realize that the new-found white cat in their home was probably the old woman’s cat so she went into another room and carried the cat with her to the kitchen. When Sally saw the cat, she called out in an excited voice, “Fluffy!”

The cat jumped out of the little girl’s mother’s arms and ran to Sally and brushed up against Sally’s left leg and purred. She then picked up the cat and held her in her arms. Sally then said to the two standing in front of her. “It is Fluffy, my missing cat.”

The mother said to her daughter. “I told you dear that someday that the cat’s owner would come by to claim her.”

The little girl sadly walked to Sally and petted the cat and then said, “Goodbye Fluffy. I loved you but you have to go to your home now.”

With tears flowing from Sally’s eyes, she gently handed her cat back  to the little girl and said, “Fluffy is already in her home, my dear.”

The girl’s mother was touched by the kindness of the old woman standing beside her and asked, “What is your name?”

 “Sally Robertson.”

 “Sally,” began the girl’s mother. I am Maria and my daughter’s name is Jennifer. My husband, Dave will be home soon and I know he would be disappointed if he didn’t meet you. Would you stay for supper?”

Sally thanked her for the invitation.

After supper, the four of them talked and after Jennifer went to bed, Dave drove Sally to her home and said when they reached the gate to Sally’s property, “I hope that we will see you again soon.”

Sally smiled and replied, “I am really looking forward to that.”

On December 24th, while Sally was out shopping, Dave not knowing this, drove to her home to invited her to his home for Christmas and pushed the button that would ring the bell inside Sally’s house. Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion and Dave was knocked backwards off of his feet as debris flew over his head. By the time the fire department and ambulance arrived, Sally also arrived on the scene.

 “Oh no!” she cried out in Anguish. “My home! My home is destroyed.”

It was later determined by the fire department that Sally had turned on her gas stove and had forgot to turn it off before she lit it when her phone rang. When she finished talking on the phone, she left the house to do her grocery shopping and closed the door behind her. During the hour she was absent from her house, the gas filled her house and when Dave rang the doorbell, a spark from the doorbell’s wires ignited the gas and subsequently the house blew up.

 Dave was treated by the ambulance personnel and declared fit enough to go home. When he saw Sally staring at the ruins of her home and crying, he approached her, placed his arm around her shoulders and said softly, “Sally. Come home with me. You can stay with us.

 And stay with Dave and his family she did. Jennifer treated her as if she was her grandmother. Sally was treated as a member of the family. She gave her property to the city on the condition that a children’s playground would be created on it for the children in the neighbourhood. Six months later, the small playground was built. Her favorite sounds emanated from the playground daily, even in the winter months. It was the sounds of children playing.

 I believe that Fluffy, her cat was the happiest of all in that household. She had four human beings to cuddle her and each night, she would sleep in a different bedroom. It was its way of expressing its love for each of the occupants sleeping in  their bedrooms.                                                                                                                                             

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