The Unknown Guest
The Unknown Guest
SUNDAY, JULY 18
She dreamed that a little boy had rung their doorbell. She turned him away, just as she always turned away anyone who stood before her uninvited and wanted something from her. This attack-style begging had always been a thorn in her side; she felt harassed and intruded upon whenever someone suddenly showed up on their doorstep with hand outstretched. Most of the time it was for a good cause, of course, but then again, who knew if these people were always honest? And even if they flashed some credential that showed them to be authorized to collect for charitable organizations, it was still simply impossible to tell that quickly if you weren't looking at a more or less well made counterfeit. Especially when you were sixty-seven years old and were having more and more trouble with your eyes.
No sooner had she shut the door than the doorbell rang again.
She sat up in bed with a jolt, confused, because this time the ringing in the dream had actually torn her from her sleep. She still had the image of the boy in front of her: a gaunt, pale, almost translucent face with giant eyes. He wasn't asking for money, he was asking for something to eat.
"I'm so hungry," he had said, softly and yet almost with a note of accusation. She had slammed the door shut, terrified, horror-struck, confronted with an aspect of the world that she didn't want to see. Had turned around and tried to get the image out of her head, and right at that moment the doorbell rang and she thought: Now here he is again!
Why had she woken up just now? Had the doorbell actually rung? One did like to incorporate noises like that into one's dreams. But in that case it could only have been an alarm clock, and they didn't even have one. They didn't work anymore, after all, and in the morning they were both awake rather early anyway, purely of their own accord.
It was very dark, but through the cracks in the roll-down shutters a little light from the streetlamps made its way inside. She could see her husband asleep next to her. He lay there completely motionless, same as always, and his breathing was so soft and steady that you had to listen very closely to know if he was even breathing at all. She had read once about how older couples would fall asleep together at night, and then in the morning one of them would wake up and the other would be dead. She had thought then that if Fred were to die in this manner it would take a good long time before she noticed.
Her heart beat hard and fast. A look at the digital clock, its digits shining bright green, told her that it was almost two o'clock in the morning. Not a good time to wake up. You were so defenseless. She was at least. She had had the feeling many times that were anything bad ever to happen to her - were she to die, for example - then it would occur between one and four in the morning.
A depressing dream, she told herself, nothing more. You can just go back to sleep.
She lay back down on her pillow, and right at that moment the doorbell rang again, and she realized that it hadn't been a dream.
Someone was ringing their front doorbell at two o'clock in the morning.
She sat up again and heard her own hectic breath in the oppressive silence that followed the shrill ringing.
It's completely harmless, she thought. I don't have to answer.
It couldn't mean anything good. Not even salesmen came to call at this hour. Anyone who would scare people out of bed at this hour was either up to no good or was in serious need of help. And wasn't the latter much more likely? A burglar or a murderer wouldn't very well ring the doorbell, would he?
She switched on the light and bent over her husband, who was still sound asleep. He couldn't hear a thing; he had put in earplugs. Fred was so sensitive to noises, even the whisper of the wind through the trees by their bedroom window disturbed him. Or the c