Match Sixteen: Creeping Juniper:
Florence was dying. Lydia seemed withdrawn into herself. Alfred knew that he couldn’t help one sister but he could help the other.
The American man knocked on Lydia’s bedroom door.
“Lydia,” he said. “Come on. Open up. Talk to me.” Silence from the other side of the door. Alfred knocked again.
“Lydia! Lydia!” he shouted. “Lydia! Lydia!”
“Go away!” she shouted back. Alfred stood, blinking.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Leave me alone!” she screamed. The American man lowered his hand. Just like yesterday and last week. Neither girls left the house. Alfred didn’t know what to do. Turning to neighbors didn’t offer much out of the way either. The American man turned his head when he heard the doorbell ring.
“I’ve got it!” he shouted. Alfred made his way to the front door and looked out the peephole.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“It’s me,” an old lady said. Alfred could see her outside, looking in. He opened the door.
“Hello, miss… uh… uh…” the young man said.
“Gomez,” the old lady said. “Kate Gomez.”
“Ah,” was all Alfred said. Mrs. Gomez blinked at him.
“Is… this a bad time?” she asked.
“No, no!” he was quick to say. “Do come in.”
“Thank you,” she said. Alfred moved aside to let her in.
Lydia sat alone in her darkened room. It’s been days but it was getting worse. She drew her knees to her chest. Tears welled up in her eyes. Flashes danced around in her head. Lydia started biting on her thumb. Everything started to come back.
She pressed her hands over her ears. Whimpering sounds spilled from her lips.
Mrs. Gomez and Alfred across from each in the living room. Neither one spoke. Mrs. Gomez folded her hands in her lap.
“Look, I wasn’t planning on staying too long,” she said.
“Okay…” the American man said. No words.
“Uh…” Alfred said. The clock ticked in the background. Lydia would know what to do in this situation.
“How are the girls?” Mrs. Gomez asked. That question made the American man stiffen in place. How was he going to explain this? Florence, maybe. But Lydia…
Alfred lowered his eyes. “Actually, not good.”
“What do you mean?” Mrs. Gomez asked.
“Well… Florence hasn’t been feeling too well. And Lydia…” he said.
“Where are they now?” she asked. Alfred pointed behind him.
“They are in their rooms right now,” he said. “Florence is asleep and Lydia won’t come out of her room.” It hurt say that. He glanced up at the neighbor. She had her hands pressed on her lap.
“Can I see Lydia?” she asked. Alfred gave her an odd look.
“Huh?” he asked. He got a good look at her face. Mrs. Gomez was going into concerned mother mode.
“Let me talk to her,” she said. Alfred stared at her.
“You want to talk to her?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mrs. Gomez said. The American man didn’t know how to respond to this at first. He couldn’t get Lydia to even come to the door for him. How could this lady be sure that she would open the door for her? Alfred put up his hands.
“Fine,” he said. “Go ahead.” Mrs. Gomez got up and walked down the hall. A strange thought crossed Alfred’s mind in that instant. Something about that old lady looked familiar.
Where have I seen her before?
Curious, Alfred followed after the older woman.
“Lydia!” Mrs. Gomez called as she knocked on the door. “It’s me, Mrs. Gomez.” Silence from the other side of the room.
“Lydia,” the older woman said, knocking on the door. Still no response. She sat down on the floor.
“What are you doing?” Alfred asked.
“She’s not going to come out right away, right?” Mrs. Gomez said. “So, we are just going to wait until she comes to us.” The American man blinked.
“Are you sure this will work?” he asked. The older woman turned her head to him.
“Only one way to find out,” she said. Alfred shrugged and sat door on the other side of the door.
“How long will this take?” he asked.
“Hours,” Mrs. Gomez said, shrugging. “Maybe days.” Alfred kind of frowned.
“Seriously?” he asked. The American man sighed and dropped his head. He looked over at Mrs. Gomez. Her profile brought back some more memories.
“Mrs. Gomez?” he asked.
“Hm?” she asked. He didn’t know how to approach this at first.
“Do you have any children?” Alfred asked.
“No,” the older woman said. But then she paused. “Well, I had one.” The American man tilted his head.
“Boy or girl?” he asked. A warm smile spread across her face.
“A little girl,” she said.
“How old was she?”
“Ten years old.”
Alfred began to picture where this was going. He narrowed his eyes. “What happened to her?”
The light slowly died from her eyes. “She died.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
Mrs. Gomez shook her head. “No, it’s fine. My therapist is helping me to let her go.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah. I still cope with it every day.” She looked down as drew her knees to her chest. Alfred tried to run his own observations in his head. His mind went back to that little girl that he kept seeing on and off. Come to think of it, she had dark hair just like Mrs. Gomez. Alfred could see that old woman in the little girl’s face. He didn’t know why he asked this next question.
“Did your daughter have a Hello Kitty backpack?” Alfred asked. Mrs. Gomez looked up at him with wide eyes.
“How did you know about her backpack?” she asked. The American man nervously laughed as he rubbed of his head.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I figured that Hello Kitty was popular with little girls. Since you had a daughter, I just took a lucky guess.” Alfred started to laugh loudly. Mrs. Gomez gave him a strange look.
Meanwhile, that little girl stood outside of Florence and Lydia’s house staring up at it.