The Quiet

Two weeks into the Writing 101 workshop series, and I have not had as much time to write as I would like there is work and the kids’ summer learning sessions, and Sharknado 2. But I did find time to submit a short story to a local literary journal. The first time in many years and that is almost as good as as Tara Reid with a jigsaw hand.

The Quiet
I wake up to screaming. Strangely high pitched, blood-curdling squeals almost like a child’s cry but distinctly not human fill my bedroom through the open window. I run blindly out of my room across the hall to the stairs. The screeching races from the front yard down the side of the house and into the backyard. Frantically I pound down the stairs across the living room through the kitchen to the backyard door. The screams are louder, closer. I throw open the back door. Cool night air floods in and I hit silence.
My eyes devour the darkness. Nothing. I can just make out the outlines of my trees and shrubs, the neighbor’s trees and shrubs. I fumble with the light switches. The back porch overhead lamp flutter on throwing a pathetic pool of light to show the overturned wheelbarrow and Kennedy’s twisted water slide leaning forlornly against back railing. I look and look. Suddenly cold in my underwear, my heart still pounding in my chest, I close the back door.
Slowly, I climb back up the stairs suddenly weary. I peek into Kennedy’s bedroom. She is dead asleep, tiny hands clenched tight, sheets kicked to the floor. I resist the urge to go to her bed to sleep cradled against her warm back and quietly return to my own room. I make a plump nest of pillows in the middle of the headboard. I kick the duvet viciously to the floor and settle under the cool, cool sheets. It’s 3:26 am. The night screams have happened again.
I try to sleep. 3:37 am. I turn and twist. 3:42 am. I flip over the good pillow and lay very still hoping that if I pretended to sleep very, very well I would actually fall asleep. 4:02 am. I give up. I reach for my iPad and start researching useless things. At 6:23 am I turn off my alarm before it rings and begin limping through another day.
Kennedy wakes up like a rocket, already bursting of random questions and meandering stories. I blaze through the morning routine, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, do a load of laundry, grab lunches, drop off Kennedy at daycare, drive to work, collapse on desk. At each step of the day, I return to thoughts of the night. According to the almighty Internet the screaming in the night is rabbits. I know this and I know there is nothing I can do about it. Rabbits as I have learned (also from the Internet) are nocturnal. The stupid rabbits visit my vegetable garden at night and meet the local foxes, which are also nocturnal. I’ve put up chicken wire and squirrel netting, but still the rabbits come. I sprayed the garden with garlic oil and wolf urine, but still the rabbits come. I have sweated it out with the windows closed and looked into various affordable air conditioners that would work with my new vinyl windows in my very old house, but still I hear the screaming at night.
I try to lose myself at work, fussing with reports, pretending to listen to other people’s stores. I appear cheerful and attentive but the night is always on my mind. Will I lay awake all night restless and waiting? Will it be peaceful? Will I hear the screams again? When will I ever get a good night’s sleep?
It is a relief to finally head home, dropping the mask of politeness. I pick up my daughter and together we head to the grocery store. Kennedy tells me about a little boy she likes who seems not particularly bright and all the things she saw during her day including the make-believe ones. The day unwinds into dinner, Kennedy’s taking out each and every toy, cleaning up dinner, making tomorrow’s lunches, bath time, story time, bed time, please one more story time and watching Kennedy, suddenly, easily fall into sleep.
I reach over and stroke her curls, watching her even, slow breaths. She strikes my hand away in her sleep and rolls over. I head down stairs with heavy slow steps. I starting picking up toys and carrying them to the toy box in the dining room and the basket on the staircase landing. By the stairs I stop to needlessly straighten the coats on coat rack. I hug Liam’s old jacket then I quickly push away the jacket and my grief. Overhead I hear footsteps.
“Did you wake up honey?”
I wait for Kennedy’s voice to ring out for a request for a glass of water or a hug or yet another story. Silence. With a tired shrug, I return to Hungry Hungry Hippos, carefully collecting the white marbles that have escaped the broken box. I pick up my Ngaio Marsh paperback and settle on the sofa. Gently I pushed my stubbornly sullen cat, SarahJane, off the blanket on the sofa back and cover myself with the warmed, slightly hairy blanket.
My book hits the floor with a sudden bang waking me up. Despite the killer cramp in my neck, I reach for the paperback hoping I can read myself back to sleep. SarahJane is standing stock still in the middle of the living room peering up at the ceiling. Soft solid footsteps cross the living room ceiling. The steps are too soft. They are not coming from Kennedy’s room on the second floor into the hallway, but from higher up in Liam’s old office in the attic. The sound of steps drift down the third floor stairs. There is a pause. I look at SarahJane; she looks at me. I realize I’m holding my breath. There is the gentle squeak of the heavy five panel door to the third floor as it opens. SarahJane flattens her ears against her head and runs with quick hopping steps under the dining room table.
My eyes return to the living room ceiling. The footsteps from the third floor stairway head to our, my, our bedroom then quiet. I sit perfectly still. Then I place my bookmark in my book. I untangle from the blanket and head for the stairs. I climb up to bed, I climb up to curl up in a crescent on my side of the bed, I climb up to feel again a warm arm rest gently across my back, I climb up to sleep.

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