Violet is not a perfect though, she only pretends to be. Now I know that. It’s her secret, which she has shared only with me. Underneath her disguise, she’s more like me than any of them. I told her it only made me feel more comfortable around her, not less.
“You’re so wonderful, you weird little man” she gushed, leaving me uncertain whether I was being flattered or put down. It was nice to be hugged though, so I put it out of my mind. The more she embraced me, the more accustomed I became to direct contact. I even found myself wanting more of it.
I suddenly remembered the Lady of the Tape. What would she think if she saw me cavorting with this strange new girl, who I’ve only known since last night? She would become cross for sure, and rightly so. “Did all those years that my voice kept you company on cold, dark, lonely nights mean nothing to you?” she might say.
I felt overcome with guilt and withdrew from Violet. She noticed something amiss and asked me what the matter was. “It’s just...there’s someone else.” She didn’t understand right away. When I told her about the Lady, she laughed again. How I wish she would laugh less.
“It was just a hug, you goob. Besides depending how old that tape is, whoever’s on it is probably a dried up vegetable in a retirement home somewhere.” I couldn’t believe she was talking about the Lady that way.
“You don’t know! You know nothing about her, or what she’s done for me! Do you know how lonely it gets down here? How could you? It’s meant everything to have her whispering encouragement in my ear, when I had nobody else.”
She slowly grew somber as I yelled. When I finished, she apologized. That calmed me down somewhat. “You’re right. I’m sorry. If you give me the tape to look at, I might be able to go looking for information about her. Don’t think that I don’t know what it’s like to be lonely, though. I know what it’s like to be lonely.”
I recalled what she told me about how everybody who she showed her real self to disappeared from her life soon after that. It was my turn to feel sheepish. We really do have a lot in common, I suppose. She’s the last person I ought to make an enemy out of.
I did wind up giving her the tape, though when she told me she wanted to take it outside with her I had immediate second thoughts. What if she dropped it and it broke? What if a bad man steals it? There’s no end to what could happen out there.
“Be really, really careful with that tape. I need to be able to hear her voice. She’s my one and only.” Violet’s face scrunched up like she smelled something bad. “A voice on a tape can’t be your...whatever you said. You’ve never even met.”
But we might, I pointed out. If she could find out where the Lady lives and inform her of what a remarkably good boy I am. She sighed. “Sure, maybe. Who knows. I really will need the tape though.” Her outstretched, upturned hand made a feeble grabbing gesture.
I reluctantly placed the precious cargo in her hand and watched anxiously as she climbed the stairs. “Don’t let the trap door slam shut!” I whispered, loudly as I dare. But then she’s had at least as much practice going unnoticed as I have. I didn’t even hear the front door open this time.
I watched with bated breath as she crept into the night, blending in perfectly once she moved beyond reach of the front porch lights.
After that, I waited. Then I waited some more. I continued waiting until I got stiff and sore from holding that position, peering anxiously out that little window into the night. I crawled into bed eventually but found that I could not sleep.
I spent the next day peering out the window as well, though I knew I shouldn’t expect her to return until dark. When she didn’t, I began pacing. Then pulling at my hair, making little anxious sounds here and there. I’ll have to go back out. Won’t I? So soon after last time, too.
Unthinkable. I was only able to last time because it was an emergency. Without anything to give me that critical push, how could I do it again? Sure enough, after the sun went down I just wound up huddled beneath the covers like always.
And like always, I began cursing myself. For all the good it ever does. I just curled up and wept, overwhelmed with frustration. Why is it so hard? I did it the other night. I was just so scared I didn’t think about what I was doing. Maybe that’s the trick?
My dreams brought no answers. When I awoke, where before Violet’s presence startled me, now it was her absence that I found disquieting. Something about waking up to find her nestled into the ceiling among the cross beams now felt indispensable.
My anxieties compounded as I waited again for nightfall. Just as I feared, when it arrived I still felt powerless to leave the crawlspace. Why am I like this? What could my life have become if I weren’t this way? If I’d summoned the courage to leave for good, many years ago? It hurts to think of all that could’ve been.
These thoughts tormented me until I once again surrendered to the warmth, safety and stagnation of that squalid pile of insulation I call a bed. Waking up to a bare ceiling two days in a row didn’t make any difference, except to intensify my anguish.
She should be back by now, surely? Violet never said how long it would take, but if she meant to be gone for longer than a day it seemed certain that she would’ve told me. What if she’s trapped somewhere? What if she’s hurt?
I recalled what she told me the night I took her in. About how everybody who discovers she is different always turns on her. I trembled, imagining all the terrible things which could be happening to her even while I huddled under the covers like the coward that I am.
I’ll go tomorrow. Always tomorrow. The tomorrow which never arrives somehow, because when it does it becomes today. I know when I’m lying to myself, I can feel it. Knowing that is no help, though. I still can’t break out of this rut, being aware of it only makes it hurt more.
The sun once again descends beneath the horizon. Another day wasted, perhaps the one which would’ve made all the difference if Violet really is in trouble. I begin my long march towards the bed. That dreadfully comfortable cradle of failure.
But this time, something in me seizes up. I find myself picturing Violet cowering in some shadowed crevice somewhere. Shivering, crying. Scared. I can’t say why, but it budges my stubborn heart. It whips me into a frenzy, imagining what might’ve already become of her.
How can I carry on with my life, such as it is, if I let her perish out there? Out in the darkness and cold, while I sleep warm and dry beneath the covers. Things would never be the same afterwards. Worse still if I never find out what became of her! I would forever wait, forever wonder.
So I bundled up, unbelieving. Still unbelieving as I packed some food and a bottle of water. Even when I lifted the trap door and emerged from my dark, musty hole, I did not believe. It just kept happening if I didn’t stop it, my heart pounding so loud I feared it would wake Mommy and Daddy.
Maybe they already know that I’ve become a bad boy who breaks the rules. Maybe that’s why they don’t leave meals on the steps, and why I never see them? No, I have to stop thinking about that. That’s the trick after all. Just don’t think.
The night air was just as fresh and crisp as I remembered from the other night. It smells completely different than I’m used to. This time I felt sure it was my nerves, not the cold, making me tremble. The crawlspace gets so cold in the winter, but I never shake all over like this.
Still, what can I do but press on? Violet is out there somewhere, and she needs my help. So strange to care for someone I only met the other day, but then I’ve been alone for so long I suppose I couldn’t help but hang onto the first new person in my life.
Through the darkness I crept, lingering beneath the comforting light of one street lamp after the next. It made sense for me why little flying bugs crowd so closely around any source of light. When you can’t see but twenty feet into the darkness all around you, it seems to go on forever.
But then, the darkness does go on forever. Doesn’t it? That’s what space is. The low pitched hoot of an owl startled me back to the here and now. One of my books is all about birds, and in fact has a chapter on the surprising variety of night birds. Being written word, it couldn’t very well teach me to identify their calls though.
I spotted a human figure ahead, a bouncing silhouette made visible by the street lamp as it passed underneath. I began closing the distance between us, and as I drew closer the figure was revealed to be a jogging woman.
“Excuse me?” She stopped and turned around. “I’m looking for-” the woman abruptly began running away from me. What a rude person! I wasn’t about to let a potential lead escape so easily either, so I ran after her.
I didn’t know perfects are so fast! But once on all fours, despite the stiffness of my legs from sleeping funny, I easily overtook her. Inside of a minute I came up alongside her, galloping furiously on hands and feet increasingly chafed by the cold asphalt.
“This is important, someone I know might be in danger! I just wanted to ask-” I didn’t get the rest out. She withdrew a small black bottle of some kind from a pocket which turned out to be a terrible spray. A terrible, painful spray which she blasted into my eyes. I stumbled over myself, tumbling to a stop as I pawed at my burning, tearful eyes.
I lay there for a time, crumpled into a heap, rubbing tears out of my puffy red eyes and blubbering to myself. I assumed she made off into the night, but to my surprise the next thing I heard was her wavering voice asking if I was alright.
“No I’m not alright, you sprayed something into my eyes you nasty, mean and bad lady.” She asked if I’m mentally disabled and what number she should call to get ahold of my parents. I stiffened up. If she called Mommy and Daddy, they would know I went out at night.
“Look” the jogger continued, “I didn’t know...I mean, I thought you might be some kind of maniac.” I climbed to my feet and brushed myself off, then made a show of opening both eyes so I could stare her down despite the lingering pain.
“No forgiveness!” I declared, crossing my arms. “You are officially a bad person forever. Goodbye.” With that I fled into the night, leaving her standing alone beneath the streetlamp. It occurred to me soon after that I couldn’t remember which direction Violet left in.
For all I knew, I might be moving further and further away from her. The more I thought about it, the more hopeless it seemed. The crawlspace is so small, I can find anything I need to in a hurry. The world is so much bigger than my crawlspace, though. Much too big, in my opinion.
I convinced myself that it was okay to return home just long enough to wash out my eyes and get my bearings. This was just a reconnaissance mission, of course. Data gathered so far: Do not approach perfects when they are jogging at night.
It all turned out to be for nothing once I returned to the crawlspace. There she was waiting for me, clinging to the ceiling as if nothing happened. I wanted to shout at her but knew it would be rude, good boys use their indoor voice.
“Where were you?” I demanded, hands on my hips. She didn’t react at first, as if semi-comatose. When I repeated myself, she turned slowly to face me. “Oh, it’s you.” Exasperating. That’s really all she has to say? “I was worried sick! I went out looking for you!”
She noticed my puffy red eyes. “Shit, what happened? Looks like somebody maced you good. It wasn’t a cop, was it? Yanno, you didn’t need to go and do a thing. I told you, I can take care of myself.” As my eyesight readjusted to the darkness, I began to realize something was amiss. There was much more of her body than I remembered.
“You look...bloated.” She chuckled. “You charmer, I bet you say that to all the girls. It really wasn’t a cop though, was it? Did anybody follow you?” I recounted the altercation in detail. She shifted around, her grossly distended stomach resembling the bulbous abdomen of a black widow.
“We should be alright so long as she didn’t call the cops.” Something inside her bloated belly squirmed. I saw a bulge in the shape of a hand pressing from inside, and gasped. She seemed self conscious, for the first time.
“You’re not...scared, are you?” I shook my head. “I could never be scared of you. You’re a good and okay nice lady. You’re just strange, is all.” She shrugged. “I doubt anybody has ever accused you of normalcy.” I mulled that one over.
There was more stirring inside her belly and muffled moaning. She shivered when I placed my hands on the pale white skin of her stomach, cris-crossed with black veins. “You’re pregnant, aren’t you. Mommy warned me this would happen if I ever let a girl come down here.”
She laughed much louder this time, until I hushed her. “Dude no, I’m not pregnant. I don’t even think that part of my body works anymore. I’m just...this is how I eat. Don’t worry about it, okay? You said I could stay here as long as I needed.”
I did say that. Not realizing what all it would entail at the time, but I could hardly back out of a promise. I then noticed a scar where her belly button should be. “I don’t have one of those. What happened?”
She gave me what I took for a dull frustrated stare. “Feeding takes a lot out of me. Do we really need to go into this?” I hugged my knees to my chest and pouted. It didn’t take long for her to cave. “Alright, this can be your bedtime story. But then you go straight to sleep, alright?”
I nodded eagerly and held my head in my hands. “I used to have an umbilical” she confided. “I mean, so did you. So did everybody. Not like this one though. You’re not supposed to have one when you’re grown up. Whatever “grown up” means, I think I was maybe sixteen when I got it. Haven’t aged a day since, at least not so far as anybody can tell from looking at my outside.