Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
*Jenny, short for Jennifer, is a feminine given name, a Cornish form of Guinevere/Gwenhwyfar adopted into the English language during the 20th century. It may mean “white enchantress” or “the fair one” (from Proto-Celtic *Windo-seibrā “white phantom”).
I heard this story from my grandma when I was, like, seven or something. She was already getting kind of weird and forgetful, otherwise I don’t know why she’d tell this to a little kid.
Well, my mom sent me to her house, which was only a couple blocks away from where we lived at the time. Nana could still move around and do basic household chores and stuff, but since Grandpa died she’d kind of seemed lost and not really with it. But a lot of times she was smiling and normal and glad to see me, so I liked going there. Most of the time. Until she started talking about Jenny.
Nana was looking out the windows one day when we were up in the attic cleaning. I’d been helping her go through old boxes for a few weeks, since I was on summer vacation at the time. Sometimes it was really boring, just old mail and bills and newspapers, but sometimes we found old photographs of Nana’s parents and grandparents, which were cool and super creepy. I found some journals Nana had written as a kid a really long time ago, like seventy years back when she was my age. It was funny, her handwriting at the time looked so much like mine, all sloppy and loopy and sloping down to the right side of the page. If it hadn’t been so similar to mine I probably wouldn’t have been able to read it, but I knew how to translate the weird scrolls and scratches. So I started flipping through a diary–April 17th, 1927 was Nana’s seventh birthday and it seemed her uncle Sam had given her the diary as a gift. So that was the first entry. About her birthday celebration, her mother baking a cake, her father coming home from work with a box tied with a string, her uncle coming over for dinner and giving her the diary, etcetera.
Anyway, a few months of diary entries go by and they’re pretty boring, little girl stuff like drawings of horses and complaining about her baby brother and getting a red ribbon at the county fair, blah blah blah. But then something strange started appearing in the entries. She started talking about a little girl named Jenny and what she wrote about Jenny sounded really creepy. It seemed Jenny was the local apothecary’s daughter and lived in town.
Since I didn’t know, I asked Nana what an apothecary is. She said it was the town pharmacy, run by Mr. Terrington–you’d go to him to get medicines and elixirs and stuff. Whatever elixirs are. There were rumors about him among the children in the town, that he put poison in some of the bottles or that he did experiments on people late at night in the basement of the apothecary. I guess he was nice to everyone but he and Jenny kept to themselves a lot, since there was no Mrs. Terrington. Jenny was home schooled and generally didn’t come outside much, and when she was spotted it was usually just a passing glimpse when Mr. Terrington opened the back room door of the store to fill out prescriptions. The back room was where all the pills and syrups and heavy duty medicines were kept. That’s where Jenny seemed to spend all her time. Back then nobody monitored that stuff. They’d give heroin to a child if they had a cough back then.
So the story was Jenny was sick a lot, and needed to stay inside where she wouldn’t get a chill or whatever. So Nana and none of the other children in town had actually ever met Jenny, they’d only seen glimpses of her, flashes of her long black hair and blue dress. They sometimes overheard their parents whisper things about the Terringtons. Rumors.
Like, that Mrs. Terrington had had an affair and Jenny wasn’t really Mr. T’s child but was the child of the devil and that’s why he kept Jenny away from everyone. Or that Mrs. Terrington had taken pills in the back of the store and killed herself and that Jenny refused to leave her dead body, which was still back there to this day.
I don’t think anyone really thought that. Nana said small towns get their excitement from gossip based on nonsense, and that none of those rumors had any basis in reality. And that the townspeople couldn’t have possibly guessed what the real story was and that it was good they never knew. What was the real story?
That Jenny didn’t have any eyes.
Jenny had glass eyes. Both eyes were made of glass, but just the whites. No irises, no pupils. Jenny was blind. They found this out when Nana’s friend Peter dared her to sneak into the back of the store and snip a lock of Jenny’s hair.
Nana was kind of a tomboy and wasn’t about to let Peter tell everyone she was too scared to do it. So one night they snuck out and headed into town. The last entry of the diary was that evening, with a now eight-year old Nana writing about what she and Peter planned to do when everyone else was asleep. The rest of the journal was empty, so I asked Nana what had happened that night. What happened with Jenny.
I asked Nana, what did Jenny say?
She kind of stopped sorting through the trunk she’d been organizing and looked at me funny. Her eyes glazed over, and she turned her head toward the one window in the attic and looked out, not really seeing anything. I thought she’d gone to her “other place” as my mom called it when Nana spaced out and got confused. But she hadn’t. When she spoke her voice was clear and strange. “It was the night of the glass eyes.”
Nana went on. “She spoke to us. Jenny. She wasn’t asleep like we thought she’d be. She was sitting straight up on a little cot, facing the door, as though she was expecting us. She told me things.” Nana stopped talking then, so I asked her what things did Jenny tell you? Then she said, still in that clear, strange voice, “She smiled at me. Patted the cot for me to come sit next to her. I didn’t want to but I felt myself compelled to do it anyway. I sat next to Jenny and I saw her white, glass eyes, her long jet black hair. As she beckoned me her hair swung a bit to the side and I saw she was naked. When I sat next to her, Jenny began to stroke my hair. She kissed my cheek and nuzzled me, like a horse would. She took my hand in hers and then she told me about the end of the world.”
I asked Nana what she meant by that. She said, “How it was going to happen. Jenny giggled and whispered in my ear things I will not tell you. Things that I locked away in my mind so I wouldn’t know and no one else would know but these things are still locked away. Jenny kissed Peter on the lips, patted his head and whispered into his ears too. But some of the things Jenny said have been escaping lately. My mind is unlocking them now and they are getting out. And I know they were real. Whoever, whatever Jenny was, the things she said were real and are going to happen, exactly as she said they were.” I didn’t want to know but I also did want to know.
I asked her what was she remembering.
“What Jenny said. She said time would rip, and we’d all see what the universe really was. We’d see past the curtain. We’d see insanity and we’d laugh and scream and tear out our own eyes, just as she had. We’d see dimensions where triangles had twelve sides and two plus two equaled nothing. She said so many more things but those things are still locked away. But they’re going to escape too. I know they are. And when they do I’ll tear out my own eyes too.”
She died in the dementia wing of a nursing home. Eyes intact. And after that day in the attic she never mentioned Jenny again. But sometimes her eyes would glaze over and she’d gaze out the window and I’d wonder. I’d wonder if another one of those locked-up things had escaped.
Nana wouldn’t tell me so I had to look it up at the library archives. It took me a long time but last year I found an item in the local paper from the summer of 1928. Turns out they found Peter in his bed the next day. After the night of the glass eyes. He was lying there, smiling, naked.
And he’d cut out his own eyes.