There were people in the house. I could hear them downstairs, in the back room. I could hear footsteps on the floor below, and the particular timbre of the stairs as someone ascended. There were often people in the house; I entertain frequently, and enjoy having guests. Particularly when I am not the one responsible for the food and bartending. Amid the clatter of cutlery in the kitchen and the bubbling conversation, I heard one voice rise above the others.
Her voice was not loud or piercing. Her voice was calm, low-pitched, and reassuring. “Thank you for letting us come to your house,” she said. I glanced from the hall down the stairs. She was walking up. “Your home is beautiful; I like it here.”
I smiled, in spite of myself. She’d been to my house before on a couple of occasions, usually a week-end. She was happy just to sit and look at the pictures on the wall or to have a quiet conversation with someone nearby. Once, she looked at me and smiled, as if she knew what I was thinking. Perhaps she did.
As she found a seat in the corner near the window, I was about to approach her and thank her for coming, but there were two other women in the house; a couple of girls I’d seen before but had never met. They were walking upstairs. I watched them walk, with cameras in hand. I watched the flash light up every corner of the room. I watched them walk back downstairs. They did not smile. They were like many of the other people I’d hosted in the last few years; they talked and talked but did not say a word. They demanded and took advantage of my generosity, but they did not care to understand it. Girls like those are a sad reminder of why I no longer speak to many of my guests.
In the corner, the woman by the window smiled frequently. She’d been joined by a few of her friends. She looked up and saw me standing by the railing. I watched her watching me before I held up my skirts and ran down the stairs. I can’t help but feel sometimes that everyone wants something from me; something they are unwilling to or unable to articulate. I am generous and forgiving, but I am no mind-reader.
For some time, I did not see her again that night, but as I peeked over the railing later in the evening, she was looking upstairs. What did she see up there? She looked upstairs and smiled. I wanted to ask her what she was smiling about, but before I could approach her, she and her friends had risen to leave. She lagged behind them, thanked me again for my hospitality. I thought what a wonderful teacher she must have had when she was young.
Then, the children behind me getting ready for play distracted me from her. When I looked again, she was gone.