After the Light Fades
The first thing I noticed when I entered our new house was how the cream-colored curtains cast web-like lace patterns onto the hardwood floor. This house was smaller than the last one, only two bedrooms but it seemed like a good fit for us. The curtains ruffled with a cold breeze and I heard a door slam shut, the sound echoing off the walls and making me drop my keys. A shiver ran up my spine as I realized that I was not the only one walking through the house. It was here again. I froze, and my husband of five years, Nick carrying a box of books stumbled into me, the box hitting my shoulder.
“Oh, sorry. You okay?” he asked
“It’s here again.”
I turned around to face him.
He paused, and for a second I could see a glimmer of sadness in those blue eyes but then it vanished and was replaced with an eye roll.
“Where do you want this box”
“In the office, I guess.”
I watched him as he lumbered off towards the room with the box. It showed up eight months ago, hovering above me in a dark cloud, it’s thin tendrils grasping for my chest. Since then we have moved five times, and every single time it had managed to follow us. I thought—no knew-- that it was ours—born four months too early, blue in the face, mouth gaping open in a silent cry. It had a strong hold on us, for a baby girl.
“It only took it a few days to find us again this time. Maybe we should keep looking.”
“We just finished moving everything in. You promised that the house in Petaluma would be the last move and we were only there for a few months! Besides, this is a nice house. It’s close to both our jobs, it has a great back yard. I think we are really going to be happy here.” Nick said
He came out from the office and walked over to me. He put his arm around me, but I remained stiff, still sensing its presence.
“We are going to be safe here, and very happy. I have a good feeling about this place. Please stop worrying about it, okay?”
I hesitated, but then smiled at him. “Okay.”
I was in the kitchen when it happened, I was unpacking the nesting dolls Nick’s grandmother had given us as a wedding present when I heard a BANG! I whipped around and saw the old fashioned in wall ironing board had somehow unlatched itself and fallen over. Nick had been so excited when he found out this house had one, according to him his Great Aunt Essie had had one just like it in her house.
“What was that? What happened?” Nick said, running inside the kitchen
“The ironing board just fell.” I told him, pointing
“The ironing board in the wall?”
“Yes. The door swung and it fell open all on it’s own.”
He looked it over, “Ann, this is a very old house. It has creaks and cracks, maybe the latch is or loose? Or there was a draft? Or an earthquake?”
I shook my head
“No. I didn’t feel a draft or an earthquake. I know what happened, it did it. It followed us. I know it did.”
“Don’t get started on this again.”
Then he turned and left, going back to unpacking his Playstation.
I could hear it crying at night after the light faded from the sky. I always did. In the late hours where the whole world was asleep and it was just the two of us. It called for me, weeping quivering cries that dripped down from the ceiling and into my heart. Nick always remained asleep during those moments. He thought we could try again, but I knew that there was never going to be a round two for us. We had lost her, and I knew in my heart she could never be replaced with another. I often thought of that alternate reality—the one where she had lived. The second bedroom would have been the nursery; we would have painted it pink just for her. There would have been a canopy over her cradle and an owl mobile that sang Claire de Lune. My heart ached for that life where Nick would have been a father, and maybe then he would spend more time at home with me. Maybe then he wouldn’t be so distant. I sank deeper into the bed and felt the empty hole where my heart should be. It knew too that it should be here. That’s why it followed us wherever we went. I knew that all it wanted was to be loved, but I also knew that I needed to let it go if I ever wanted to move on.
We were watching TV when I saw it again, this time floating in a dark haze outside the corner of my eye. I turned my head and watched it as it floated across the walls until it was hovering above the staircase. Nick must have felt my body stiffen, he tried to take my hand but I flinched away from his touch.
“On the stairs.” I answered his silent question.
“Go away!!” I shouted, “We don’t love you anymore. Go away and leave us alone!”
It turned brighter, as if it was absorbing my bitter words. I watched in horror as it let out one smoky tendril that creeped it’s way towards me. Nick was talking to me, I could feel the vibrations in the air but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. It crawled closer to me and suddenly I felt panic over come me. I leapt off the couch and dashed towards the door, not daring to look back.
“Ann,wait!” Nick shouted, but I ignored his pleas as I slammed the door shut and ran out to the sidewalk into the fading light. Not caring that I was in my pajamas and socks, not caring that the crisp November air bit into my skin with sharp pointed teeth. I needed to run away from it, run away from her. It was too painful to let her in. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know what time it was, but the moon had risen high up in the sky by the time Nick found me, walking alongside the vineyard of Alameda de las Pulgas.
“Jesus Ann, it’s freezing out there. Don’t scare me like that! I almost called the cops, did you know that?” he shouted through the open car window. I ignored him and kept walking.
“I’m not going back there.” I told him.
“I am not going back to that house. Ever again.”
“Then what do you suppose we do? Walk around until we get arrested? Come on Ann, just get in the car.”
I could hear him swear under his breath, it was late and he had to go into the office early in the morning. I crossed my arms to keep them from shaking. He pulled the car up and stopped it in front of me. I turned to go around it but he hoped out of the drivers seat without turning the car off and stood in front of me.
“Stop. You can’t make me go back there. I’m not. I never--.”
“We’re not going back there.”
“I got us a room at the Rosewood for tonight. We’ll sleep there and then go back to the house tomorrow. Okay?” he asked, looking up at me with tired eyes.
“But you have to promise that we will go back tomorrow night, okay?”
“This is the last time you do something like this, got it? You have to find a way to deal with this thing. I can’t go chasing after you every night, Ann. This has to stop, right now.” He grabbed my shoulders, looking me right in the eye.
“Promise it will stop?” he asked.
I nodded, “Promise.”
“Good. Come on, it’s very late.”
“I love you.” I told him, looking up at him. He smiled a thin smile.
“I love you too.”
It left us alone for the rest of the week, giving us space to get settled again. Nothing happened until late Wednesday night when I woke up in a panic, seeing tendrils of red spiraling above my head, intertwining with our white canopy. I shouted and fought against the sheets. Nick sat up and grabbed me by the waist.
“Ann? What’s wrong? What’s happening? God damn it, Ann---.”
“It’s here! We have to go, we have to leave right now. Hurry, hurry!” I shouted as I pounded against his strong arms. The windows rattled and I saw a dark figure rise up and dash out of the room. Throwing off Nick’s arms, I jumped out of bed and followed it into the kitchen where it loomed above me. It was a dark mass of particles curling and whipping through the cold stale air. It rose higher and higher and I felt it growing stronger as it closed in on me and I felt like the very air in my lungs was being sucked up into it. I tried to scream but my voice was frozen with horror. Suddenly, the light switch clicked on, and it was gone in an instant, I fell to the floor gasping for breath. Nick knelt down next to me, I could tell he wanted to be a comfort but I could also see the muscles in his jaw pulsing.
“You alright?” he asked
“You want to go back to bed?”
I shook my head. I didn’t want to go back to sleep, If I went back to sleep then it would come back.
“Can you stay up with me? Just for a little while. “ I asked.
Nick ran his fingers through his messy black hair and sighed. I could see puffy bags under his eyes, and flecks of gray in his hair.
The next morning, Nick tiredly poured himself a fourth cup of coffee. We had stayed up until 5am with the lights turned on, waiting for it to come back. But it didn’t. And now Nick was sleep deprived and slightly pissed off—he had a huge meeting later and he didn’t get a good nights sleep.
“This has to stop, Ann.” He told me in a quiet, dangerous voice.
“You can’t keep doing this. You know how demanding this job is. I can’t do it on three hours of sleep. I just can’t take it anymore. Last night was the last straw.”
Nick sighed again, and then his eyes softened “I know this is hard for you. I miss her too, but we’ll try again to have another one.”
“How can you miss something that never even had a name?” I asked, not taking my eyes away from the wall where I knew she—it—watched us.
I saw Nick make a motion to come towards me, but he froze mid gesture, hand curling into a fist before he lowered it back down to his side. My eyes weren’t on him though, but on the ironing board. I could hear it rattle. I could here it breathing behind it. That’s where it liked to live. That’s where it liked to watch us.
“Are you going to work today?”
“Work. Are you going to work today?”
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” I answered vaguely, not taking my eyes off the board.
I heard him sigh, “It’s here, isn’t it?”
I nodded. I could actually feel him roll his eyes as he got up from the table and shoulder his backpack.
“Alright, well I’m going to go now.”
I never broke eye contact with the ironing board. I vaguely heard the garage door slam and then Nick’s car start but it was faded in the background. Finally, I tore my eyes away from the wall and backed out of my chair, leaving my breakfast untouched.
“Go away.” I whispered softly to the empty room.
“Go away and let me be.”
I was distracted by the way I left things with Nick all day, I just couldn’t focus in on my work when I kept picturing his tired face in my mind’s eye. I knew he was frustrated with me, I knew he wanted this to stop and for things to be back to normal again. Things hadn’t been normal though, not since the day she had been born and had died. He had been so excited to be a father, while I was pregnant he would get off work early and come home to surprise me. One time he brought home tiny little pink shoes just for her. Tonight would be different, I thought. Tonight we would watch a movie together just like old times. It would be okay. I would not let it control me anymore. I would just ignore it. Things would change and we would finally be happy again.
The first thing I thought when I opened the door was that we had been robbed. The TV and Playstation were gone, drawers had been left open, their contents strung across the floor. I dropped my purse and grocery bag and walked through the house, wondering if I should call the police or not. And then I started to realize that all of Nick’s things were gone; his suitcase, his clothes, his books, his razor from the bathroom, his toothbrush. He must have left while I was at work, not wanting to make a dramatic scene with me. I stared around the empty house, and at the ugly gaping holes that he had left behind. I laid down on my bed and looked up at the canopy. I watched the ceiling as daylight slowly faded away into darkness. My eyes glazed over as I felt my aching heavy heart sink deeper and deeper into the bed. Through the milky whiteness of the canopy fabric I saw I a little swirl of red, it drifted down towards me until it was just inches away from my face. I opened my heart up to the naked light, and this time I let it in.