Elaine stood by the pine trees, cool in their feathery shadows, her small hands held over her ears. Dennis stood beside her, alternately watching the lawn where the construction crew worked and watching her face as she made a squinted expression of expectation. He laughed at her, though not cruelly-and he made her wish that the blast would come so that she could drop her hands from her ears and lace her fingers through his.
I've changed so much in so short a time, she thought. There was a time when thunder or loud noises did not bother me. But that had been before she had anyone upon whom she could rely. That had been when she was alone.
When the explosion came, it was gentler, more muffled by the earth, than she had expected. She felt the ground tremble, saw clods of earth spin into the sky over the excavation, saw chips of granite and limestone peel up into the blue sky and rattle back.
Jerry and Bess stood close behind Jacob Matherly where the old man sat in his wheelchair, watching the blasting operations. At first, Elaine had been surprised that no one had blamed the old couple and their superstitions for what had happened to Gordon. But, in the two weeks since Dennis had subdued his brother and ended the nightmare for all of them, she had come to see that no one could be blamed for the combination of circumstances which had plunged Gordon into an early, undetected madness. Jerry and Bess were both of Pennsylvania Dutch parentage, raised in homes where every room had a framed Himmelsbrief on the wall and every occasion called for a different charm. They sincerely believed in all that occult nonsense. You might as well try placing all the blame on Lee or Jacob (for their neglect of Gordon in the face of Dennis' more obvious need of comfort), or on Amelia Matherly for having been mad in the first place (a condition she could not, indeed, have helped). Jerry and Bess would have to live with their guilt; and that was punishment enough.
And they must understand, by now, that Gordon was not possessed. He was an extreme schizophrenic personality-as the doctors said. He actually did believe he was his mother. Indeed, only in rare moments of lucidity did he any longer remember bis real name and situation. Though the doctors did not put it so bluntly, it appeared as if Gordon would have to be institutionalized for the rest of his life.
Here we go again, Celia Tamlin said, sidling up to Elaine. She was very beautiful, despite her bandages, but she no longer generated any jealousy or dislike in Elaine. Because, Elaine thought, now I know that I'm pretty too. And I know that frivolity isn't such a terrible thing.
The second explosion was larger than the first. Elaine was glad she had kept her ears shielded.
That does it, Lee said. He clapped Paul Honneker on the shoulder. In two weeks, there'll be a kidney-shaped, blue-bottomed swimming pool where that ugly hole is now. He sounded relieved, as if the dynamiting had not only torn a hole in the earth, but had shaken away the last vestiges of the Matherly house's terrible history.
Let's go in and see how the painters are doing, Celia said. I'm just dying to get them out of the way, have the carpeting installed- and then start doing some really wild things to the inside of that dungeon!
Dungeon it was, Paul said. Not any more.
Just you wait and see the difference! Celia said, starting for the house. Most of the others followed.
We've all recovered so well, Elaine said. Even Jacob, despite his condition, seems healthier.
Dennis took her hand. My family has been wanting to recover for fifteen years, but it didn't know how. We had to face up to certain truths and then make a positive change. Redecorating the house is enormously helpful, don't you think? I tell you, with each room they take the wallpaper off, with each room they paint in those gay colors Celia chose, I feel that a bit more of the-the pain is gone. As if pain can be painted over or stripped away, like wallpaper. Silly, isn't it?
Not terribly silly, she said.
The wind was stirring her hair and making her denim skirt flap. She was suddenly conscious of the short skirt and the blue and yellow psychedelic blouse, the sequined choker, her thin-strap sandals-all the clothes she would never have chosen for herself if Denny, when he had taken her shopping last week, had not insisted they were right for her. She grinned at him, at the wind, at everything. Frivolity could be wonderful!
Her lonely childhood, the orphanage, the near-poverty had all conspired to twist her outlook on life. She had come to value seriousness and simplicity too much. Likewise, she had come to place too little value on fun. Life had to be a mixture of solemnity and mirth. And the more mirth, the better. What good was life if it couldn't be enjoyed? Denny enjoyed it immensely. Jacob, now that he was relieved of his awful suspicions about a murderer in the house, also had a talent for life. They were all beginning to impart a measure of this joy to her.
A week ago, she hadn't been able to see any value in being an artist. Now, she regarded it as a rewarding occupation-in every respect.
A week ago, she had distrusted the frivolous man and found the sober sides reliable. She now saw life was more complex than that, people harder to judge.
She really looked forward to seeing what wild things Celia would do with those stuffy old rooms!
She had been a stuffy old room herself. But the events of the past week had unlocked the door. And Denny, wonderful Denny, had opened that door the rest of the way and had ushered in a breath of fresh air.
As they walked toward the house-the house she no longer feared, the house which had been transformed by the explosions and by the painting of its rooms, the house transformed by Celia's forgiveness toward the family and by her enthusiasm for the redecorating job at hand, the house which had once harbored horror but would now, in equal measure, be filled up with happiness and good will, the house of death which they would have to work to make a house of life and love-as they walked towards this house, Denny held her hand more tightly than before and said, What are you thinking?
About the future, she said.
As they drew near the house, she saw the windows were open, airing out the odor of paint-and of misery.
Don't worry about tomorrow, Denny said. Enjoy today, Elaine. That is a big achievement in itself.
Oh, she said, I'm not worried about tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it!