SOLITUDE

SOLITUDE

“I prefer solitude now,” she assured the man, pursing her lips disapprovingly.

He entered anyway, eyes scanning the stark room. “I was told you would be willing to

talk to me.”

“Hummph,” she muttered, “you must be the man my sister sent.

Nodding, he agreed, searching for a place to sit. The lady sat in the only comfortable piece of furniture he could see, a deep armchair placed in front of a dusty TV. Resigned to the bed, he faced her. ”You were expecting me, weren’t you?”

Ignoring him, the woman concentrated on the notepad in her lap, pencil poised just above the page. Oversized glasses slipped to the end of her nose and she pushed them up with long, tapered fingers. Wearing a faded sweatshirt and sweatpants, face devoid of make-up and jewelry, and her roughly combed gray hair thrust back into a plastic rubber band, she no longer resembled the socialite who had once been a regular in the Dallas gossip columns. The room was bare of personal effects except for a stack of reference books and a dozen spiral notebooks, exactly like the one she was using. Several minutes went by and he watched her scratch at the page. Occasionally she would mumble something unintelligible but she did not look up.

Clearing his throat, he broke the silence. “Tell me about the aliens.”

The lady’s head came up slowly, chin raised, eyes narrowed. “I’m not interested in playing parlor tricks with you, young man. Why don’t you be on your way?”

“Mrs. Temple, I have no interest in playing games,” he denied. “I’m only here because your sister asked me to come.”

“I already know that,” she snapped. “So, you came. Now, you can go.”

Frowning, he shook his head. “Please, Mrs. Temple, please let me do my job first.”

The eyes behind the thick glasses seemed to focus on him for the first time, taking in his wavy hair, pale skin, and slight body. “How old are you?” she asked.

‘Thirty,” he replied.

“And what do you do? I mean, why did my sister hire you?”

“I’m a private detective, Mrs. Temple. Your sister is worried about you and why you’re in this place.”

She laughed suddenly, a light and tinkly sound that filled the room. For a brief moment, when she smiled, he could see the beautiful woman she had once been. “You mean why am I in a mental hospital, don’t you?”

Blushing slightly, he nodded.

“Because I’m crazy, of course. Everybody knows that.”

“Not everyone,” he told her, “not your sister.”

With a dismissive wave of her hand, she spoke wearily, “Yes, yes, I know. She’s convinced my husband drove me here for my money. But she’s wrong. Robert has nothing to do with what I think or what I believe.”

“But he did have you committed, didn’t he?” the man reminded her, voice pitched low.

One dark eyebrow arched upward. “Yes, he did. But I suppose I gave him no choice.” She pushed the glasses up her nose again. “I failed to convince him of the truth. That’s my fault.”

“You mean about the aliens?” he prompted.

“Aliens again?” Mrs. Temple mocked.

The young man leaned forward. “I’ve read your file, you know.”

“Really,” she grinned, “how interesting.” Folding her arms across her chest, she challenged him to tell her what he’d learned, what he thought, what he believed.

“It’s not my place to judge, ma’am.”

Disappointed, she shrugged. “Then why are you really here?”

His back to her, the private detective moved to the lone window. “Your husband is living with another woman.” Startled, she looked at him sharply but he remained motionless. Although she had consciously put her old life behind her, it had not occurred to her that she had any residual feelings left for her husband. “She moved into your house a week ago,” he continued, battering her with the details. “Her name is Elsie Wright and she used to be a cocktail waitress at your country club.” The man turned around, watching her face. “I did a little investigating, of course. It seems that Ms. Wright stopped working as a waitress just a few months before you were committed. She’s been living in a nice apartment, with no apparent job, for the past five years. That’s as long as you’ve been in here, if I’m not mistaken.”

One graceful hand flew to her mouth, stifling a gasp. He knew he had surprised her. Just as quickly, her expression became vacant, eyes blank, small body slumping in the large chair. Eyelids fluttering shut, her breathing became slow and regular. Stunned, he realized that she was asleep. He had expected outrage, resentment, or hurt even. Those emotions he might have anticipated, but this was something else. Sleep? Unsure whether to stay or leave, he found himself drawn to the pile of books near the bed. Bending closer to read the titles, he saw that most were on the planets, the universe, and astronomy in general. A couple, however, referred to the potential existence of alien life forms. The books, he decided, seemed consistent with Mrs.Temple’s medical file.

Tiptoeing to the dresser, the private detective picked up a notebook, opening it to the first page. His eyebrows drew together in confusion. The drawing on the page was of a man, roughly sketched, and lacking true artistic detail. His gaze shifted back to the sleeping woman. When had she drawn this? Turning the pages, he found other sketches. Most of them were of some kind of creature, with arms and legs and a head but not like anything he had ever seen before. Shivering, he tossed the notebook aside, picking up another one.

“Did you find anything interesting?” came her voice, cutting through the quiet, nearly causing the young private detective to drop the notebook to the floor. Catching himself, he replaced it and straightened the stack.

“Um, no, I mean yes, I mean,” he stumbled over his words, “I’m sorry. It’s just that you were asleep and I just thought… “

“You shouldn’t have been prying,” Mrs. Temple admonished, cutting him off.

He winced at the rebuke.

“But you did find something interesting, didn’t you?”

Nodding slowly, he reached for the first notebook, turning to his own likeness. “Why is there a drawing of me in here? You’ve never seen me before today, have you?”

“Not in the sense you mean but I have seen you before. She smiled sadly. “They showed me.”

“They showed you,” he repeated. He flipped the pages again and held up the notebook. “You mean these creatures, these things, you ve drawn? They showed you?”

“Of course,” she responded simply, rising from the chair. Gliding towards him, she reached for his hands, gripping them with a strength he had not imagined she possessed.

The young man drew in his breath. “But how?”

Looking past him, she was vague. “Ours is not to question.”

Pulling his hands from her grasp, he shook his head. “You’re trying to confuse me. I know the facts. I’ve been investigating your husband for weeks now and I can prove that he had you followed to freak you out, that he tampered with your car, your phone, and that’s just for starters.”

“But none of that changes what I saw,” she insisted. “That night, all those years ago, what I saw was real. Those voices were not like anything I’ve ever heard. The lights in the sky could not be imagined. And the beings were amazingly beautiful in person. I saw them.” She clutched at him again. “Do you hear me? I saw them!”

A sadness came into his eyes and he covered her hands with his own. “I’m sure it did seem real, Mrs. Temple, but those kinds of things can be done with actors in costumes and cheap special effects. I can’t prove it yet, but I’m sure your husband was behind it. I think he staged the whole thing. Please, you have to let me help you. You can’t let him get away with it!”

Stepping back from him, she pulled away. “You’re wrong,” she mumbled, “you’re wrong.”

“Mrs. Temple, you’re not listening to me.”

Her long fingers touched his face, gently stroking the skin on his cheek. “No, young man, it is you who is not listening.”

He sighed, stricken with the realization that she might be too far gone to save.

“I’d like you to go now,” she pleaded. “Im afraid I can’t help you.”

The determination he saw on her face convinced him that he was wasting his time.

Maybe, he told himself, after she’s had a chance to think about the facts, she’ll see things differently. He felt sorry for her, saddened that she was unwilling to help herself, to realize that she had been purposefully driven crazy. Opening the door to leave, he promised to return again, but Mrs.Temple looked away, avoiding his eyes. When he was gone, she went to the dresser, sifting through the notebooks until she found the one she wanted. Every page inside was the same. Staring at the picture of the creature devouring the young private detective, tears streamed down her cheeks.

“If only he’d listened,” she whispered, “if only he’d listened.”

 The End

This short story is the property of Kellie Larsen Murphy and may not be used or reprinted without her permission.

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