A Room of Her Own

By David Wesley Hill and Felix Wesley Hill

Author's Note I originally submitted this story to Weird Tales, but after many months passed without hearing from them (and several unanswered query letters), I sent "Room" out to other markets. Two years later I received an acceptance letter from Weird Tales—according to the editor, it had "fallen behind the copier." Since the story had already been published the year before in Redcat Magazine (a very small 'zine doomed to fold very shortly), I had to regretfully turn down the offer.

On Tuesday morning Seth Wilson realized it was necessary to lock up his wife. As usual he was cued in by certain ambiguous mannerisms that he couldn't identify with his conscious mind. Reluctantly finishing his coffee, Seth stared through the kitchen window into the pre-dawn dark before gathering the courage to speak to Angelica.

"You know, dear," he said, "it's that time of month."

"Are you certain?"

"Well, no, not entirely. But it's getting close."

"Seth," she said firmly, "I shouldn't have to go on vacation for at least another five days. Really, I'm surprised that you could have miscalculated."

"Perhaps you're right," he answered mildly. "I don't know what I was thinking."

Seth poured himself a second mug of coffee and drank it slowly before rising from the table. Angelica, immersed in The Croton Monthly Journal, ignored him. Seth steeled himself with a long breath and snapped one cuff on her without difficulty. But it was hellish getting the other closed, and she scratched him before he managed to secure both her wrists. Then Angelica refused to walk on her own and he had to hoist her upon his shoulders and carry her upstairs to the padded room. He made sure the leg irons fit snugly before releasing her hands. His wife glared at him.

"You know I don't like surprises," she said.

"I'm sorry. I couldn't tell if you were rational."

"Rational? Of course, I'm rational. You're the one who isn't rational."

"Maybe so. Let me bring you something to read."

Seth returned to the kitchen and discovered that the coffee pot had been upset directly upon the Journal. He suspected that this would further upset Angelica, and it did.

"Can't you do anything right?" she said.

Seth ignored the question. "Would you like me to get you another dress?" he asked.

"What's wrong with the one I'm wearing?"

"Nothing, Angelica. It's just that I don't know if it's appropriate."

"Since when did you become the judge of fashion around here?"

Seth shrugged and left the room, barring the door securely. The kids had woken up and were regarding the mess in the kitchen somberly. Jessica, who was twelve, understood exactly what it meant. Andrew, at seven, still had to be reminded each month.

"Where's mama?" he asked.

"Mama had to go on vacation," Seth answered. He turned to Jessica. "Will you make sure this gets cleaned up?" he asked her. "And see that Andrew brushes his teeth?"

"OK, Dad. And I'll have lunch ready, too."

"You're a great girl," he told her, meaning it with all his heart, loving his daughter so much that it hurt. Then he put on his boots and went out to the barn. The two cows were stamping their hooves impatiently. He greased the teats of the old Holstein, pushed with his shoulder against her barreled side, and sat down with the pail clamped between his knees. It was easy to milk the Holstein. But the young Guernsey was nervous, having come into her first milk only recently. Seth kept an eye on the strong hind legs and pulled the pail out of the way whenever the Guernsey kicked.

He put the full pails outside the barn and turned the cows into the pasture. He forked clean hay into the stalls and threw the manure onto a pile next to the door.

By daybreak Seth was pruning deadwood in the orchard. The apples were coming in well, and he knew that there would be a good crop this year. Toward midmorning, after a couple hours of weeding through his small acreage, he met Abe Kravitz at the fence separating their properties. His neighbor noticed Seth's scratches and remarked:

"Angelica?"

"She was a little early this month. She's never truly regular, you know."

Kravitz nodded wisely. "Neither is my Peggy.... Can't be too careful where women are concerned, that's the truth."

Both men glanced soberly to the north, at what had been the Randalls’ place. Even at a distance they could clearly make out how derelict the house and barn had become in the six years since Elaine ran amuck. Seth still missed them all, Roger and little Sarah and the baby whose name he couldn't remember and Elaine herself, and he knew that Abe did, too.

Kravitz was first to shake off the memory and return to the present. "Fred Smith's getting together a party to take a wagon into the city next week," he said. "Word is, there's a Sears that ain't hardly been touched."

Seth didn't believe it. "After all this time? Come on, Abe. We haven't found anything worthwhile in twenty years. The city was stripped before either of us was born."

"I'm not saying it's a fact. But the thing is, this place hadn't opened for business. There's a chance it was overlooked during the looting. Tell me you couldn't use some good hardware or maybe a new saw or two or a fine wheelbarrow."

"Well, all right," Seth replied dubiously, disliking the very thought of visiting the empty, echoing city. "Count me in."

He turned away from the fence and began lugging his tools up the long hill toward home. It was almost noon and the September sun, blinding in a milky sky, possessed a fierceness out of character for the season. Seth halted a moment to catch his breath and mop his forehead. That was when he heard screaming carrying faintly through the still air. Sprinting explosively for the house, he burst directly through the screen door and flung himself straight upstairs to Angelica’s room. As he’d feared, the bar had been put aside, and both kids were with her. His wife had her hands around Andrew's neck and was shaking him with such vehemence that his head seemed about to fly off, while Jessica, wailing and crying, tried vainly to free him. Seth waded into the melee and slapped Angelica repeatedly until her grip loosened and he was able to wrest Andrew away from her. He cradled the sobbing child until he was sure the boy was unhurt.

"Take Andrew downstairs," he told Jessica. "Your mother and I need to be alone."

When the kids had left, Seth stared silently at his wife. Angelica glowered back at him.

"He was disrespectful," she said at last. "It's not right. A child shouldn't talk to his own mother like that."

Seth couldn't bring himself to speak. What was the point? Any words of his would be meaningless to her now. And in another two days, or three, when Angelica came back to her right mind, to the agony of sanity, her own furies of regret would scourge her far more bitterly than he could ever imagine. So instead he merely murmured:

"I know, dear. I know. Is there anything I can get you?"

"Just leave me alone. Why is everyone bothering me all the time? Why can't I simply have some peace and quiet?"

Seth rebarred the door and walked slowly to the kitchen, where the kids were sniffling together quietly. Suddenly he couldn't restrain his rage and fear. "How could you?" he asked them. "How could you? I've told you a thousand times not to disturb your mother when she's on vacation. Haven't I? Don't you ever listen?"

That set them both off. "I heard mama crying," Andrew said. "I wanted to make her feel better."

"I didn't know what he was doing," Jessica said. "I was cooking, and I thought he was playing outside. Really, Daddy, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

As suddenly as it had welled in him, his anger fled, leaving Seth spent and nerveless. He fell into a chair and sat there until the kids had cried themselves out, too drained of feeling to either chastise them further or to console them. Eventually Jessica rose from the table and silently brought out the meal she'd prepared. Eating lifted Seth's spirits somewhat, and he tried to make up with the kids for his outburst, but they wouldn't allow themselves to be cajoled. So he sent Andrew out to feed the chickens while Jessica began straightening up, and brought Angelica lunch himself, a thankless task. Then Seth collected his woodworking tools, first mending the porch door and replacing it on its hinges and then going around to the back of the house, where he was half finished with the new extension.

He worked steadily, driving the long nails into the solid two by fours with bitter determination, doing his best to ignore the furious howling that erupted toward mid-afternoon from upstairs. It would be a strong room, durable and sturdy, although Seth took no pride in this fact, concerned only with having it ready by the time it was needed, probably in the spring. He became so involved in the carpentry that he didn't notice that his daughter had joined him until he was wet by her tears as he hammered another thick stud into place.

He looked up and asked, "What's the matter, Jessie?"

"This is my room, isn't it?" she asked. "I didn't realize it before. But I do now. You're building it for me."

"Yes, that's right."

"Pretty soon I'll be just like mom, won't I? After I get my period? I'll need to go on vacation every month, too."

Seth nodded. "It's not your fault, Jessie."

"I know, Dad. Mom explained it to me. I know about the plagues. I know I'm sick."

"Not just you, Jessie. And not just her, either. Every woman in the world has the syndrome. For a hundred years now, ever since the war."

"That doesn't make me feel any better," she said.

Seth didn't know what else there was to say, what he could tell her to soothe away her fear and sadness. So he put down the hammer and took Jessica in his arms and simply hugged her for a long, long time, hoping desperately that he would be able to continue loving his daughter as much as he did now, when she became a woman.