They called her the face in the window. Practically everybody in the neighborhood knew her-the woman who would sit in the upstairs window of her house, looking out into space, oblivious to the world. Some people said she’d gone crazy after her husband had left her, others said that she’d lost a son or a daughter. The truth was, nobody really knew for sure. She was just known as the Face Woman, because her expression was always blank, like a mask.
Jim Heller knew that she had a different name, one that she no longer used, that had been lost to the world. He was the one who brought her food, and took care of the rent. Part of the money came from her social security; he assumed the rest came from an inheritance, or from an insurance policy she had stashed somewhere. She was always dressed in the same simple clothing, although not always the same clothes, so he knew that she didn’t have to spend all of her time in the wheelchair that she used to watch the world outside her window.
“So, how are you today?” Jim asked one Friday afternoon as he stopped by on another one of his monthly rounds. Looking at the window, he added, “The weather’s nicer today, isn’t it? I’ll bet you’re glad that storm is over with.”
She didn’t answer as Jim gathered up the envelopes on her kitchen table. Her face was impassive as always, although he thought he saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes. “Well, I’ll just take care of these, then. See you next month, okay?”
When he was gone, she continued to sit in her wheelchair, looking out her window at the houses beyond. She knew there was a world out there that she was no longer a part of, a world of noise and people-people who brought danger, and did bad things to each other. In her withdrawn silence, she’d wanted no part of that world for years, and tried not to think about what had made her that way.
Long ago, when Jim Heller had been a little boy and she had been the same age then that he was now, she had been different. The world had been different, too, and it had been part of the life she shared with her husband, who’d been her connection to it. It was when the bad thing happened to him that the connection had been severed.
“I need to go out of town for a few days,” he’d said on the last day they’d spent together. “It’s just a short business trip. I should be back Sunday night.”
“Another one?” She sighed. “I was hoping we could go out for dinner this weekend.”
“I know, but the company has been having some problems with one of their suppliers, and as usual I have to go there and straighten things out. I’m sure it’s no big deal-I’ll be back in no time.”
“Well-I guess I’ll see you when you get home, then.” Except that she never did…
The police brought her the news two days later. It didn’t sink in right away, and when it did she thought at first that they must have made some sort of a mistake. He was on his way home, she was sure of it. All she had to do was wait…
She’d kept up a facade for a while, of course. Just to keep up appearances, for her family and friends. But the connection she’d had with their world was already gone. It was gone when they took her to identify the body they’d found; when they told her about the young man with dead eyes whom they’d arrested for his death. And it was gone when she went to his funeral, and in the long, silent years that followed, as she watched the cars and her neighbors outside change.
Or, at least she thought it was.
Then came one cool night when the moon was full, and it was so light that she could see the narrow street in its entirety. She saw two figures that she knew didn’t belong there following Jim Heller as he headed up the street. She wasn’t sure why he was there-it wasn’t his normal visiting day, and at any rate he wouldn’t have come at this hour of the night. But he was there, and he seemed to know the figures that were following him, because he turned to confront them. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the discussion seemed tense. Then the tension mercifully faded as they walked away. Jim watched them go, and turned to leave.
Something stirred inside of her as she watched. At first she’d told herself that she wouldn’t get involved, that she wasn’t part of that world anymore. Ignore them and forget, she told herself. Except that she couldn’t, because she saw the two figures again. They were walking up the street, following where Jim had gone…
She had a cell phone, one that Jim had given her in case of emergencies. She’d never used it, but she kept it on the kitchen table where she kept her mail. She was out of practice; it took some effort for her to remember how to dial 9-1-1. But she did, and when the voice on the other end answered, she knew what to say, and how to say it.
It was her connection to the world, after all.