Chapter 6 STRANGER WITH LIDDED EYES : PIVOTAL SCENES by Fellow Traveler

Susan G Holland
3 min readJun 11, 2024

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  • This chapter is the last of the first part of the story. It seems to be the kind of story that refuses to completely go away!
    Part II is ahead.

I was giving swimming lessons in the shallow end. A couple was standing nearby , not too close. They were holding a child. Then I looked closer and knew immediately because of the lidded eyes. I had visitors: a family of three. — — — When the lesson came to an end, I pulled myself out of the water and without touching (I was dripping wet) I greeted my two old classmates and looked closely at the sturdy blonde child in the mother’s arms.

Of course one always knows how to be polite. . One says, “Wow, how are you doing!” “Haven’t seen you in ages?”

“What’s the baby’s name?”

“So cute..just darling.”“Congratulations!”

Then one says, with a certain caution, “I still have a book that belongs to you. I’ll mail it to you.”

The young wife said, “Why don’t you bring it to the house and have dinner with us?”

“Really?” say I, truly surprised.

Truly. All of this we played out as benign and “normal”, but the moment weighed heavy, packed with nuance, wariness, and a strong scent of something like hurt, or ache, or fear.

It would have been impolite to simply say “no.” So I said “yes.”

On the afternoon we agreed on, I drove up the driveway of the old house near the railway. I knocked at the door and was let in by Sam’s mother, who greeted me warmly and pointed to the back stairs.

It occurred to me that these stairs were more than quaint…it occurred that they had felt the footfall of slaves,as I had heard, gratefully climbing to a safe place during the Underground Railway days. This house had known serious history.

I climbed and then climbed again to the third floor…to the small attic space with just a gable window.

It was summer. It was warm. I had dressed, politely, in a nice cotton frock with white, picot-ed trim. I knew I looked nice in my summer tan with the white border and the joyful Bavarian print. Polite clothing.

I found an end of the squishy, low sofa. The other place to sit was simply a soft chair. I could smell that there was food warming. There was a doorway to what must be the bedroom. I don’t remember more about that little space.

The baby was squirmy. I held her while small plates of I don’t remember what were balanced on laps. Sam took the baby. The plates were taken away.

We were brittle, all of us. The baby was a good diversion. The baby was fussy. The mother took her into the other room to nurse.

That left me slouched on the sofa. Sam sat catty corner on the other end.

We talked books. We reported (and his wife heard, surely) with cursory summaries of our current lives…lives far from the familiar places that might cause troubling memories.

Sam’s hand came over to my sleeve. His fingernails came together at the tip of a picot on the border of my sleeve. He held on for a few seconds and then pulled his hand away with a little muffled snap as his fingernails came away from the stiff fabric. The lidded eyes spoke it all. It killed me. The sadness there.

It was a gesture that seared its way into both our souls — words were not a part of it. And surely, the mother and baby in the other room must feel it too, not seeing, yet seeing with the inerrant intuition of a vulnerable woman when her nest is threatened.

I had to take myself far far from that place, and I left soon after that, down those stairs to the manageable world.

— — — — — — — — — — —

  • AFTER THIS: Next part will begin in about 1999, about 39 years fast forward!

Originally published at cowbird.com.

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Susan G Holland

Student of life; curious always. Tyler School of Fine Art, and a couple of years’ worth of computer coding and design, plus 87 years of discovery.