The woman had no set schedule. She came and went of her own accord and when we saw her it was like a glimpse of some elusive animal. She had soft flips of hair and wore furs and costume jewelry, dark sunglasses, always wheeling a carry-on. Sometimes we didn’t see her for weeks and then there she was, strolling past the ostentatious clock stuck at a quarter to three, the old men in faux leather chairs reading The Wall Street Journal, the fake ivy planted in plastic urns.
The manager wanted us to clean the room the woman had occupied secretly since who knows when. It was a hidden room behind a wall, and to get to it, you had to remove a patch of carpeting big enough only for a cat. When we peeled back the carpeting, we saw a small square entrance. We chiseled away at the entrance and saw the lair for what it was, a room the size of a large closet with clothes, boxes piled to the ceiling, a cot with a simple pillow.
The manager in her Talbots suit and Tiffany bracelet was anything but sympathetic as she rummaged through the belongings with an attitude of disgust. She uncovered old blankets, sheets, a stewardess’s uniform with a pair of gold wings attached to the lapel. In another box, there were extension cords and blow dryers and large hot rollers with protrusions like sea creatures.
We did not realize there could still be secrets behind the walls. We thought that these had all been eradicated with the razing of the asylum, back when they used to bring in the crazies confined to chicken crates. But we cannot deny—some of us found things: a small trunk under the pigeon-infested rafters filled with photographs and pressed flowers. A collection of glass bottles with poems curled like messages. The remnants of a leather strap. These were different from the hair ties, half-filled plastic water bottles, and gum wrappers we found in the common areas when shampooing the rugs or mopping the floors.
We hauled away some of the boxes. Some were full of Christmas presents, neatly wrapped and with bows. Others had dolls pressed up against cellophane windows; dolls in velvet dresses with names embroidered on the lapels—old vintage dolls with glass eyes peering out at us apprehensively, as if we were doing something wrong and they were concerned.
Later, in the parking lot, we divided up the gifts and unwrapped each one: miniature china tea sets and tiny spoons, glass figurines, the makings of a toddler’s chair. We thought, perhaps, she was dead. Or was she a ditz, forgetting to give presents and have children? We laughed uneasily, thinking of our own children, and remembering the rows of granite markers with chiseled numbers back by the recycling center where the land slopes gingerly toward the cornfields.
Laurette Folk ‘s fiction, essays, and poems have been published in Waxwing, Gravel, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Mom Egg, pacificREVIEW, Boston Globe Magazine, and Best Small Fictions 2019. Her first novel, A Portal to Vibrancy won the Independent Press Award for New Adult Fiction. Her second novel, The End of Aphrodite, is published by Bordighera Press. Laurette is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee and a graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing program. Her website is www.laurettefolk.com