Adelaide And The 8 By 10
Dorothy E Thomas
I could smell the summer of the night. The fear of the quiet, knowing eventually there would be sound. You just somehow knew that. Sometimes and then again most times. The yard was bigger than any I had ever known. Beyond the yard was a wooded area where adventures would be made and in later years solace could be sought. On a small hill after the woods were the railroad tracks. Once in a while a person riding the rails would walk out of the woods, across the yard and to the back door of the hotel. Standing on the crumbled cement beyond the screen door, my mother would give them something to eat and I suppose ask for something in return. Lift a heavy box, rake a few leaves maybe. Look for four boys that were there just a minute ago?
Within the night I sensed the walls upon walls and the tower of darkness that the hotel had given us. It was now our home but then it never really would be. Unfamiliar sounds that came from above, under and elsewhere. The sounds were there throughout the day and into the night. The business at hand or so they told us to quiet our concerns. I always wanted my wooden screen in the bedroom window to feel the movement of the gingham curtains and to imagine Catherine and Heathcliff on the moors. I wanted the stillness and the smell of the night. My fear would not allow that and so each night I would take out the screen and welcome what I imagined was the safety of the silence.
She had come to the foot of my fatherīs bed, smiling and said hello. I wonder if he knew fear and ever waited in the night for sounds? He said she had a distant look and something was uncomfortable. Not sure if that was for him or her. He called the police and walked her to the lobby to wait. The lobby was our living room. Or so I told my friends so that they would think I had one, too. She wanted to be left alone. I tried to create a picture of how he walked her to the lobby. Did she just follow his height down the hall, past my bedroom with the chain lock on the door? Did she shuffle or smile once again, vaguely? She lived down Route 17 with her father. He was said to be an old Dutch painter who had painted day upon day and night upon night. She always came with him so as not to be alone as her mother had died.
The painter had painted rooms inside the hotel. Even my bedroom when we first moved to the hotel would later hold a sense of their long ago presence. The story was that the woman was often sent to the State hospital for mental problems. I was never quite sure what that meant but the hotel was large and brick and held memories that drew her back. Her name was Adelaide and there began a fear that I was to embrace for too many years.
I re-arranged my bedroom so that my bed was not near the chain lock on the door. I knew that if she had come that way I would have awakened to her face that would have haunted me and fed my fear. The thought of having to remember a face I did not see led me through my adolescence. It was as if all my childhood fears of the hotel, its character and sounds, started with that one night.
Years later she came back on a warm summer day and sat down on a couch in the hall. She was in her underwear and aimlessly moving her hand back and forth. My heart raced but I was drawn to watch my brother curiously walk by and give her a glance. I hurried on and felt the turmoil within my digestive system start as fear would always ignite that sensation. I remained steadfast in my mission to not see her face as I hurried back to my room and the chain lock on the door. They later said she had been walking down Route 17, with a determined look and sense of destination. Once again I had been spared seeing her face.
When I was 23 I became a Caseworker for the Department of Family Services and received a referral to visit an elderly, presumably Dutch man, whose daughter was routinely committed to the state hospital. The daughter lived with her father and helped manage the home and now that he was older he wanted to learn about any services he might be eligible for. I asked my supervisor for another assignment and I felt the movement of fear return. I was not so sure I was ready, even then, to see her face. I was relieved to know that she had returned to the hospital and my visit would just be with her father.
The house was small and well kept. It had a comfortable feel as I shook hands with her father, an elderly gentleman who had a worn look of sadness. I sat down on the couch, smiled and turned to face him in his chair. There in front of me, on the top of he TV console, was an 8 by 10 glossy of Adelaide.