I wake up to screaming. High pitched, blood-curdling squeals—almost like a child’s cry—fill my bedroom raging in through the open window. Blindly I run out of our bedroom across the hall to the stairs. The screaming races from the front yard whips along the side of the house and rushes into the backyard. Frantically I pound down the circular stairs, spinning through the foyer, through the kitchen, finally to the backyard door.
The screams are louder, closer, right there. I wretch open the back-door lock. I throw open the back door. Cool night air floods in and I hit silence.
My eyes devour the darkness for the source of the sounds. Nothing. I can just make out the outlines of our trees and shrubs, the neighbor’s trees and the neighbor’s shrubs. I fumble with the light switches. The back porch overhead lamp sputters on throwing a pathetic pool of light.
Now I see our overturned wheelbarrow, the weeds, Kennedy’s twisted water slide leaning forlornly against back fence, and our old empty rabbit hutch. I search the yard with my eyes hungrily. Suddenly cold in my nightgown, 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. Twinks uncurls and recurls at the foot of her bed, sleepily winks at me, and begins to purr furiously. Kennedy’s room is very warm and lit by a plush star-studded turtle nightlight. She is dead asleep, tiny hands clenched tight, her blanket with tiny tiaras and pink flowers kicked to the floor. I resist the urge to go to her bed to sleep cradled against her warm back and instead I pick up her bedclothes and tuck her to bed.
Quietly return to my own room. I make a plump nest of pillows on my side of the bed. I kick my own 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 fall asleep. 4:02 am. I give up. I reach for my iPad and start researching useless things. At 5:23 am I turn off my alarm before it rings and begin limping through another day.
Kennedy wakes up like a rocket, bursting with questions and songs and occasional pirouettes. I sleepwalk through our morning routine, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, load laundry, pack lunches–turkey sandwiches and apple slices with onions on mine and a juice box with hers–drop off Kennedy at daycare, drive to work, collapse on desk. At each step of the morning, I return to thoughts of the night.
According to my late-night internet research the screaming in the night is the sound of rabbits, rabbits in distress, particularly rabbits in distress when they are being eaten by foxes. Wild bunnies invade our raised beds day and night, but mostly at night. Among the cukes and black Russian tomatoes each night, the rabbits come for food and instead encounter foxes. Rabbits are silent, no purring, no barking, their only sound is a scream before dying.
I’ve put up chicken wire and squirrel netting. I sprayed the garden with wolf urine. I even listened to my mother God help me and sprinkled human hair from the Hair Cuttery around the vegetable garden. Now I sweat out the end of summer with the windows closed, but still I can hear them. The first time I heard a rabbit’s screaming I must’ve dreamt a fox had broken into our bunny’s hutch. I ran into the backyard, tore up the cage, searching for Paddington before waking up to remember our own rabbit had died last spring.
I lose myself at work, editing articles, reviewing captions, pretending to listen during staff meetings. Only on the long drive home does the night returns to 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, discarding the mask of politeness and efficiency on the passenger seat. I pick up my daughter and together we head to ShopRite for a roast chicken and quinoa salad for me and nuggets for her. Over dinner, Kennedy fills the house. The evening slowly unfurls from dinner to cleanup to Kennedy’s taking out each and every toy from her bedroom to the living room, to making tomorrow’s lunches, bath time, bouncy pajama time, story time, bed time, please one more story time, real bedtime and watching Kennedy, suddenly, effortlessly fall into sleep.
I reach over and stroke her curls. She has my dark coloring but Liam’s hair, a loose explosion of big curls. I watch her even, slow breaths and twirl a lock of her soft dark brown hair around my finger. She strikes my hand away in her sleep and rolls over. I head down stairs with heavy slow steps. I pick up the toys and books and stuffed animals, carrying them to the bookshelf or 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 waiting for a plaintive mommy. I pour myself a predicable glass of box wine. I find a paperback and settle onto the sofa. Gently I pushed a stubbornly sullen Twinks 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. Stiff, I reach for the paperback hoping I can read myself back to sleep. A puffed ball of orange fur, Twinks 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 solid, heavy, too heavy. They are not coming from Kennedy’s room on the second floor into the hallway, but from higher up from the third floor Liam’s office. The sound of steps drift down the third floor stairs. There is a pause. I look at Twinks; he 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. Twinks flattens his ears against her head and zips into the dining room, runs around the dining room chairs and barrels through the kitchen through the cat door and disappears into the basement..
My eyes return to the living room ceiling. The footsteps from the third floor stairway head to our bedroom then quiet. I sit perfectly still. I close 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.