After a second glass of wine and another run through the instructions, Tess gave me a key and I left.
On the street, I stepped up close to the building and pulled my phone out of my bag. I ordered an Uber ride, checked email, and responded to a message from Isaiah. With my finger hovering over the keypad, I thought about typing a message that I had a temporary housing solution for him. He could buy himself four more weeks by staying in my apartment. It wouldn’t get us into closer proximity now that I was an Uber drive away. In fact, I was also planning to move my car to Tess’s building where it would be secured in one of the two additional slots she was allocated. Even though he wouldn’t be close by in the evenings, he was still a few blocks from work and my gym.
Better to tell him over a martini so I could watch his jaw relax as relief passed over his face. The Uber would arrive in the next five minutes or so. I tapped a message asking him if he wanted to come over for a drink. When he messaged back that he did, I replied with a martini emoji.
I stepped out to the center of the sidewalk, turned, and looked back at my temporary home. The structure rose above me so that I had to stretch my neck to see the top edge. I lowered my head and looked at the building next door.
Part of the adobe was chipped away along the the line where the sidewalk met up with the building. The steps leading to the heavy oak door were worn and tinged with gray from years of feet going in and out, but otherwise, it was in beautiful condition. I walked to the curb and turned to study it further. It was a building with stories to tell. I guessed it must have been built soon after the earthquake and fire in 1906. I wasn’t sure how much of Russian Hill was destroyed in the earthquake, but since eighty percent of the city was leveled, there weren’t many structures that still existed from the nineteenth century.
As I stood thinking about the past, the sheer curtains on one of the second story windows moved slightly. The window appeared to be closed, but it was hard to know for sure from where I stood. The curtains moved again. I put on my sunglasses to reduce the glare. The curtains moved steadily now, swaying from side to side.
A moment later, the curtains parted.
Fingers touched the window, pressing against the glass so the pads appeared flattened and bloodless. As I watched, the rest of the hand came into view. The fingers were slim and a little on the small side. The edges of the palm showed a narrow hand. A woman. The hand was small enough, it had to be a woman. Or a boy. It remained in the same position, continuing to press hard against the glass, looking as if it wanted to push its way through.
Was he waving at someone? Signaling something? She? I glanced over my shoulder. No one else was watching. Was it directed at me, or just a calming ritual, practiced to let the cool, solid, unmoving glass provide some sort of grounding?
I squinted. Along the edge on the pinky finger side was a smear of red. I closed my eyes for a moment. It couldn’t possibly be blood.
For several minutes, maybe longer, the hand remained flat against the window and I remained mesmerized by that palm and fingers and the yearning that seemed to seep through the glass. Considering it was full daylight, there was something eerie, almost chilling about it.
The hand moved slowly down the glass, as if it were a drop of rainwater trailing away, leaving behind a smear of blood.
A car honked behind me. I jumped. Normally, I’m hyper alert to my surroundings. I doubt I’ve startled like that more than two or three times in my entire life and now I’d done it twice in the space of an hour. My mind was consumed by the palm of what I’d decided was a woman’s hand.
The Uber driver waved rapidly, as if she was in a big hurry. I stepped into the street and got into the car.
“You’re supposed to be waiting for me,” she said.
“You weren’t watching.” She pulled into the street, eyeing me in the rearview mirror instead of looking for traffic. Fortunately, there was none.
“Classy area,” she said. “You live here?”
“Visiting your guy?”
“Aren’t you talkative.”
“Just need some time to think,” I said.
“Well excuse me. I was just being friendly.”
She jutted out her jaw, pushing her lips together, making sure her head was turned so I could see her annoyed expression in the mirror.
The rest of the trip back to Howard Street was dead silent except for my heart, thudding much too loudly. I felt blood pumping through my limbs, throbbing in my hands, and all I could see was that woman’s blood smeared on the glass.
Excerpt from The Woman In the Window