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Widow Hopkins slept in a canopied bed
with purple silk damask side curtains. The mattress was nearly three feet above
the level of the floor and she had to climb three steps to get up into it. Since
the death of her husband, Schuyler, her butler helped her to get into bed every
night. He saw to it that she climbed the steps carefully, crawled to the center
of the bed and then rooted herself firmly beneath the covers before he closed
At that point he would say, “Goodnight Miss Hopkins,” and listen for the muted
paper thin whisper of her voice before turning out the light and leaving the
Sarah Hopkins lay still in the center of her bed, her eyes focussed on the
narrow “vee” of the curtain opening. Finally the crack of a light from the hall
told her that Epson had opened her bedroom door. When it blinked out she knew he
was gone and she would be alone until morning. She could get up if she wanted,
without calling him, with the aid of her stick she could even make her way to
the bathroom. She had done it before and she could do it again -- without anyone
knowing. She didn’t have to stay in bed at all if she didn’t want to. After all
she was Sarah Hopkins and Knollwood was her house.
In fact the only thing she had to put up with was sleeplessness, she had no
control over that; Doctor Angelis had no control over it either. He left strict
orders with the butler; “Be sure she doesn’t take more than two of these. If two
won’t do it, nothing will.”
Well, Sarah Hopkins knew that wasn’t true. She knew what would happen if she
took more than two -- at least she thought she did. How many more would it take?
Two more than two? Three? Four?
She had accumulated four pills she wasn’t supposed to have. She held them
between her lip and her gum when she was supposed to swallow them. Then when the
butler wasn’t looking she spit themout in her hand. They had to get up pretty
early in the morning to put something over on Sarah Hopkins. She knew exactly
where she hid them too; in her old scrapbook. There was a tiny blue envelope in
the scrapbook, it was one of the invitations she sent out for the housewarming
party at Knollwood. She hid the pills inside the invitation.
She stretched her legs out as far as they would go and they came nowhere near
reaching the foot of the bed. It was more than a king sized bed, and just as
wide as it was long. She stretched her arms out as far as they would go and she
couldn’t feel the sides of the bed. Ridiculous bed! It was all Schuyler’s idea.
He had to have the biggest and the best of everything, and he had to have them
before anyone else did.
Schuyler was a covetous man, jealous of men richer than he was. Sarah could
still see the anger that boiled in him as he read the morning paper, cursing the
deals he missed out on and smiling with satisfaction when they fell through. She
thought of their four sons. Not one of them showed an interest in the company.
Schuyler would bring them to the plant to show them how exciting it was to watch
a toaster or a vacuum cleaner slowly take shape on the assembly line. The boys
would come home in tears, “Papa scolded us! He yelled at us all day!” Schuyler
would be livid with rage, “They showed no interest! No interest at all. they
can’t belong to me! How can children of mine not care about the business?”
No amount of explaining would satisfy Schuyler that his sons did not share his
passion for the factory. They were not athletic or competitive either, and they
were certainly not interested in their father’s business. Stanley, the youngest,
in fact was the author of two children’s stories in the Catholic Quarterly.
He took Buddy and Skipper camping, “To make men of them,” he explained to Sarah.
Buddy stepped on a paper wasp nest and was stung so badly they had to come home.
He was unrecognizable from the swelling. She remembered the doctor coming over
immediately when he heard of the reaction, “Buddy’s allergic to wasp stings, he
could have died.”
Schuyler sat in his huge reclining chair and shook his head, “I don’t know,
Sarah, I just don’t know. I’m trying to make men of them. Four boys, Sarah, you
might just as well have had four girls.”
Failing in his attempt to make men of the boys, he tried to make a man of Sarah
-- tried to get her to love the woods and streams that were fast disappearing
from this part of the country. Up before dawn on weekends and off under cold
cloudy skies to some god-forsaken lake without a name. She remembered those
mornings now, The lakes were lined with dead trees, dead reeds and sumac.
Schuyler would say, “The fish are out there, just waiting for us Sarah. This
hour of the day you can’t keep them off the hook.” She’d stand knee deep in her
sons boots in the dark murky water hoping with all her heart that the trout were
elsewhere. Most times they were and when the weather improved -- when the sun
came out and it might even have been a pleasure to spend the day at this lake
without a name, Schuyler would say, “The hell with it! They ain’t bitin’ today,
let’s go home.”
They’d come home and realize too late they made no plans for the rest of the
day. They’d discover the boys had made plans of their own and would have nothing
to do with them. Schuyler would walk into his den and close the door, Sarah
would sit in the kitchen and talk to the cook.
Well, Buddy was a teacher now -- at a girl’s school in Connecticut, Skipper was
in South Africa teaching sanitary cooking to the Nigerians, Stanley was still
writing children’s books -- and Thomas, dear Thomas was living in the city with
someone named Lance.
Naturally Sarah Hopkins couldn’t sleep. The past pressed in on her so close it
smothered her. She wished they had been poor, perhaps they would have been
happier if they had been poor. If Schuyler had to worry about making ends meet,
he may not have had the time to badger his sons.
Well, Schuyler was dead now. “He couldn’t be deader,” she said to herself. His
death was slow and painful for him. The boys were grown and wordly wise by then
and they were not overcome with grief. Nor was Sarah. Death came slowly for
Schuyler and in many ways it came as a blessing to all of them. She lay there in
the center of her bed, the bed that used to be hers and Schuyler’s and admitted
to herself that she mourned more profoundly when Schuyler ran over her Cocker
Spaniel in the driveway. It was unexpected, and she was such a dear, dear dog
she reminded herself, it was the suddenness of it, nothing to be ashamed of.
That was the conclusion that fit for the moment. But, “How strange,” she
thought, “That Schuyler’s death meant so little to them.”
She was wide awake now, drumming her fingers on the mattress. How did they
expect her to get through the night on two pills? She felt like getting up and
walking around the room. What was the weather like? How can you tell what the
weather is like when you’re shut up in a canopied bed? “It’s like a tomb in
here,” she thought.
Rolling over twice she was able to reach the side of the bed. She pushed herself
up to a sitting position and parted the side curtain. By leaning out a little
she could see the window overlooking the terrace. The jet black cypresses just
beyond the railing waved restlessly. She swung her feet out over the stool at
the side of the bed and gripping the blanket tightly she let herself down gently
to the floor. She let out a little triumphant sigh and reached for her walking
stick and robe that hung from the back of the chair.
If they heard her downstairs they’d be up in a minute. “What are you doing out
of bed, Miss Sarah? You know you shouldn’t be walking around up here alone.
Suppose you fell and no one heard you? Tsk, tsk.” It would go on and on, then
they’d lead her back to bed and the night would start all over again. She was
careful to stay on the rug so her stick would not be heard on the bare floor.
She made her way to the dressing table, that’s where her scrapbook was. She
carefully lifted the chair and moved it back just enough to allow her to sit.
Her face in the mirror showed strain. “You look a wreck, Sarah,” she whispered.
“They’re going to take you away, Sarah -- next month, maybe the month after.”
She overheard her lawyer speaking to Buddy just last week. “The house is a drain
on the trust fund. Look at these landscaping bills. For her own sake Buddy, and
yours -- she needs full time care -- it’s time for the home.”
“Nobody thought to ask you, did they Sarah. This is the house you grew old in --
your husband died here. This is the house you loved and now it’s the house your
sons want no part of.” She pulled the scrapbook over to her and turned to the
page with the housewarming memorabilia. A picture of Sarah and Schuyler dancing
to the George Tilyou band. There was the menu -- leek soup, Caesar
salad, roast veal, French cut string beans and new potatoes ... cherries jubilee
for dessert too.
There was the invitation ...
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