Photo by Kaspars Eglitis on Unsplash
They called her the face in the window. Practically everyone in the neighborhood knew her--the woman who would sit in the upstairs bedroom window of her house, looking out into space, seemingly oblivious to the world. Some people said she’d gone crazy after husband left her or died, others said she’d lost a son or daughter to a horrific crime; nobody knew for certain. She was simply known as the Window Watcher, her face always blank like a mask.
Jim Heller knew that she had once been known by a different name, one that had been lost to the world. He was the one who brought her food, and checked in on her. She never acknowledged his presence, although she obviously ate, since she left empty containers and bags behind her front door when she was done. Jim knew that she had money, presumably from an inheritance, and she got Social Security and Medicare. Beyond that, however, he, like his other neighbors, knew almost nothing about her. Even so, he came to see her at least once a week.
“Good afternoon,” he said on one of his visits. “How are you feeling today?” She was sitting in an old rocking chair, her blank face turned towards the slightly dusty window. Jim cleaned the window as he continued to talk. “It’s getting colder,” he remarked. “I’ll adjust your heat before I go, okay?” As always, she didn’t answer, although Jim knew that she could hear him. She was a fairly small woman, with short, grayish brown hair, and pale eyes. She wore simple clothing and a sweater, which was different from the last outfit she’d worn. Jim knew that she took care of herself when he wasn’t around, and she slept regularly at night, but she would still sit by the window the same time every day like clockwork.
“Well, I guess that’s about it,” Jim said as he left her dinner on a tray. “I guess I’ll see you next week, then.” She still didn’t acknowledge him, but Jim sensed that she knew he was there and was quietly grateful for his company, or at least he liked to think that she was. Jim nodded at her, and left, leaving her to her seemingly eternal privacy.
Jim wasn’t a prying person by nature. When he first met her in person, he’d simply been curious about her, and a little concerned as a conscientious neighbor. As time passed, however, his visits had turned into conversations-one-sided ones, but he still talked to her. It had become an odd, one-sided “friendship” that Jim felt obligated to keep going.
Jim himself was recently retired, a casualty of a changing economy. He’d been looking for something to do when he first decided to visit the woman. He’d simply knocked on her door one day, she’d silently let him in after giving him a brief appraisal. Apparently meeting her approval, she silently left him a key to the front door, and he’d been seeing her ever since. It was a now-familiar routine...until, one day, he came to see her, and she wasn’t there.
That in itself was strange. Her chair was there, showing a depression where she’d been sitting. But the woman herself was gone. Concerned, Jim went through the rest of the house, asking after her, but got no answer. It was a small place, lightly furnished with older furniture. She had no TV, no phone or computer. Now becoming worried, Jim went to her neighbor across the street, who was about the same age and who had probably seen her at the window longer than anyone else.
“An ambulance came by, a few days ago,” the neighbor said. “I asked what was up, they said she was being taken to the county medical center. I saw them putting her into the ambulance, but it looked like she wasn’t breathing…she must have passed away earlier. I’m sorry; I knew you were visiting her once a week.”
Jim tried to comprehend what the neighbor was saying. Logically, he should have expected that she might pass away some day, but emotionally, it was still difficult. “What about her house?” he asked.
“The city will probably take it, try to sell it. But I think she left something for you inside, on her coffee table. Some type of a note or letter. I saw her sitting downstairs right before she passed. It looked like she was writing something.”
“I didn’t see anything,” Jim replied, “and I went through the whole house looking for her.”
“She must have put it somewhere. Maybe in a drawer close to where she’d been sitting?”
They went back to the house together. After some searching in the front room, they found what they were looking for-an envelope that had been put in what Jim knew had been a previously locked side table drawer. The neighbor watched as Jim opened the envelope and took out its contents. It was a letter, penned in neatly written ink.
“Dear Jim,” it read. “I know that by the time you read this, I will already be gone. I just wanted you to know that I really did appreciate your visits, and your talks with me. I am sorry that I never got to say anything in response. My neighbors were right--I did lose others, and then I suppose I lost myself for a long time. But I think now I’ve finally found myself again. Yours, Judith.”
“Judith,” Jim said. “Or maybe, Judy, or even June…I never even knew her name.”
“I don’t think anyone did,” the neighbor replied. “Maybe she was waiting for the right person to tell…maybe that was you.”
Jim silently nodded. He had been a part of her life, and she his, perhaps that memory was what she had wanted to leave him with.
And he would always remember her.
Matthew Spence was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His work has most recently appeared in Short Beasts and Floral Fiction.
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