An angry storm spit rain and wind whipped the trees about. I looked from the comfort of my warm house and hoped the power would return soon. In an instant I saw the lightning crack and the thunder clap so loud I jumped a foot from the wood floor.
I then saw in that instant of electric lightning light her standing just outside my door, my window, my house. Then the image was gone. A person, woman? Or was it a spirit, an aberration or poltergeist? I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand out.
Against my base instincts, I ventured outside into the stormy night of whipping wind and drenching rain that soaked my shirt and caused the material to appear translucent against my skin. I shivered but whether from the storm or something more terrifying, I couldn’t hazard a guess. I used my cellphone’s flashlight and shined in the area where I thought I saw this woman.
“Hello? Don’t be afraid. Come inside the house. I’ll keep you warm and safe. I’m George Rockefeller. Not the famous Rockefellers of New York, but a poor and distant cousin several times removed. Please come out. I promise I’ll be a gentleman in every sense of the word.”
I heard nothing save the wind crashing into the trees. I waited for a reply but none came. Perhaps it was my imagination playing games with me. How did that song go? Just my imagination, running away with me.
I hummed the song as I turned and went back inside.
The sound, the voice froze me in place. The hairs on my neck arose again and I stifled the urge to scream like a little girl. “Yes, yes I promise. Come to the light here so I can see you.”
She slowly appeared and I saw a pale woman with raven colored hair, a long nose and dark eyes stared back at me. “Hello George,” She said with a coy grin that caused her skin flush red. Her eyes casted downward as if I embarrassed her.
She wore a thin jacket, perhaps a windbreaker that soaked through. She had it zipped up, but she shivered anyway. “Neither one of us are dressed for this nasty storm. Let’s go inside. I think I have a flannel shirt or sweat pants you can borrow from me.” I looked down past her jacket and saw a saturated pair of jeans, holy, as was the style teenagers wore these days. I doubted that she was younger than 30 years though.
I pressed my right palm onto the back of her jacket and guided her inside. “I have a lantern and some candles I can light. I didn’t earlier because I like storms like this if I don’t have to be outside, that is,” I chuckled at my attempt at humor in this time. For whatever reason I felt anxious.
“Your wife doesn’t mind?” She asked.
“My wife left me ten years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she quickly apologized.
“It’s water under a bridge now,” I told her with a nervous laugh. “You are the first woman in ten years that has crossed this threshold.”
She looked about the darkened living room. I’m sure she must’ve imagined how I kept this house now that she knew I lived alone. Like some men I know, I’m one who prefers an uncluttered house. I admit I dust rarely, mop the floors infrequently but I keep my kitchen and bathroom clean.
“Penny for your thoughts?” I asked her as she looked seemingly beyond the darkness.
“I guess I’m trying to categorize you; see where you fit in this world.”
“Like I said I’m a very distant relative of those famous New York Rockefellers. Beyond that, there is nothing else. I work as an auto mechanic, I write as a hobby, mostly cookbooks, and I like viewing storms in the darkened house I live in.”
I left her standing in the dark living room as I searched the closet for that lantern I promised her I had. At least she was pleasant to the eyes, I thought as I pulled the lantern from the top shelf and pressed a button that would, should turn it on.
Nothing. “Damn, the battery must be dead,” I muttered more to myself than to this stranger. I looked at her in an apologetic air. She appeared tall but slightly shorter than me. I’m five foot eleven, though I’ve gotten away with telling people I was six foot. Like me, she had a slender body, maybe slightly anemic by her pale face and hands.
“Oh, you said you have candles. I’m more favorable to that, George.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll go and get them.” I went to the kitchen after closing the closet door. There was something about the situation that had me both excited at the prospect of entertaining a woman for the first time in ten years and a nagging anxiety that she might be dangerous.
I went to the utility drawer and began rifling through the various tools I kept inside when I found three candles I used the last time the power went out from the last storm we had. Next to the candles sat a disposable lighter, which I used to ignite the wicks, casting a yellowish glow. My eyes immediately lost night vision capability and all I saw outside the outer boundary of this limited light was darkness.
She was right there and I jumped. “Shit you scared me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I followed you. I assumed you heard me.”
“No, I didn’t hear you,” I replied, as I slowly recovered and handed her the other candle. I took mine to a twin holder and pressed the candles firmly onto the spike. “I don’t think I have an extra one for you though,” I told her. “I never got you name.”
“Xanadu,” she replied.
“What an unusual name!”
“It’s an idealized place,” she replied. “Kinda like Eden.”
She held the candle slightly away from her face. I saw the beauty of her and a blemish under her nose, like scarred over defect that will undoubtedly be with her for life. In life there are always imperfections, I reminded myself as I forced myself to look beyond her upper lip and focused instead on her eyes, a deep, deep brown color. They mesmerized me. “Wasn’t there a movie by that name?”
“Yes, and a song by Olivia Newton John.” A loud clap of thunder erupted and she and I both jumped. We laughed at each other. “You mentioned dry clothes?”
“Yes I did. Please, stay here. If you’d like, there are some snacks in the cupboard over there and I think maybe some fruit in the fridge.” I quickly left her and followed the candle light into my bedroom and opened a drawer from an antique bureau I inherited from my mother after her passing ten years ago. It was a rough year and I believed I shut my wife out to the point of leaving me. She couldn’t handle my mood anymore.
I searched and found the sweatpants, and then I took a bathrobe hanging from my bedroom door. I changed out of my shirt as well, opting for a sweatshirt with the technical college’s logo on its front I once attended several years ago, and took them to the kitchen. I saw her sitting at the table. She had poured the melted wax on the table and stuck the candle fast upon the tabletop. She ate crackers, a variety of fresh fruit mostly melons and pineapple chunks, and slices of cheddar cheese from a platter I had bought a while back.
“Here you go,” I told her with lightheartedness as I stared at the disfigured tabletop that I imagined was ruined now. “I hope that cleans up.”
She looked confused by my comment. “Oh, the candle! Yes, it will clean up very nicely.”
“It’s just it’s an antique I got from my mother’s inheritance.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she apologized with sincerity. She got up and snatched the clothes from my hand and went into the living room. I afforded her privacy and sat at the table on a chair opposite from the one she sat on. “Do you have a washer I can put these in?”
“I do but the power is off. It will do you little good now.”
“It would be a place to stow them until the power does come on,” she replied tersely. She walked back into the kitchen, her wet clothes in a bundle cradled in one arm, her candle in the other,
“In the bathroom down the hall on the left is where I keep a laundry basket. You can use that for the time being.” I placed a cheese slice in my mouth. “The washer and dryer are in the basement. It would be too dangerous for you to go there now.”
Her mouth worked on something to come back on, but then smiled and left the kitchen, walking toward the bathroom down the hallway where she disposed of her wet clothes. A moment later I heard the toilet flush and then water running from the faucet. I had moved into the living room and sat on my recliner, though I sat with my back straight up and my bottom inclined toward the front of the chair. She made me nervous.
She came out wearing the sweat pants and robe, its sash knotted securely. The front of the robe showed a hint of her young chest. I was uncertain how developed she was but assumed had little to brag about. “Sit down,” I told her pointing at the chair next to me. An end table sat between us. She hesitated, then acquiesced. She too sat on the seat but never fully relaxed. It was as if we were on a blind date and meeting each other for the first time. “Xanadu,” I blurted out without thinking as if trying the name on for taste and feel.
“It’s such an unusual name, quite unique.”
“I would like to think of myself that way.”
“Your mother must have been a very creative woman.”
“She wasn’t. I made up that name after I turned of age and left my family five years ago.”
“What was your birth name then?”
“Blanch,” she replied in bitterness as if she just bit into a lemon.
“But that’s a method of cooking. Why on earth would she resort to naming you that?”
“Ask her yourself. She hated me anyway.”
“Her brother, my dad, raped her when she was a teenager. Her parents, my grandparents, were strictly religious types and refused to have an abortion performed, insisting they raise me proper.”
I was shocked at her answer to say the least. “It must have been hard growing up knowing that bitter truth.”
“All I have to do is look in the mirror every day and am reminded the effect of my mother’s rape and their sin.” She put the candle closer to her face showing me the harelip.
“I’m so sorry for your horrible, horrible life.” I couldn’t think of a suitable line to use. I looked at her, but at the same time I wanted to cast my eyes away from the deformity. “Why haven’t a plastic surgeon taken pity on you and get that fixed?”
“Pity?” She flashed angry eyes at me. If she were Medusa of Greek myth, I’m sure I would have turned to stone. “I don’t want anyone’s pity, George!”
“I guess I said that wrong. I apologize,” I replied quickly. “Your speech is impeccable though.”
It took her a moment to calm herself down before she replied, “I practiced every day, learning how to enunciate the words I would need to use.” She seemed to relax her defenses and leaned back in her chair. I did the same. It was obvious by the storm outside; we weren’t going anywhere tonight. “You want to play a game?”