What We Keep

She walks at night. I hear her, lying awake, counting the cracks that spider across my ceiling. A whisper of footsteps loud enough to breathe life into hardwood floors. Every night it’s the same: a symphony of creaks while the composer paces the same length of hallway.  Looking for something. Looking for me.

Mom and Dad think I’m crazy. Overactive imagination they say. They need me to pop pills and talk to psychiatrists and psychologists. To sort out whatever sordid thoughts lurk beneath my surface, soiling their precious daughter. But they don’t understand. They weren’t in the forest that afternoon. They didn’t witness my dirty secret now come back to haunt me.

February 1, 2018; 3:14 AM

Dear Diary,

She’s here again. Walking. I can’t close my eyes for fear that she’ll find me. My locked door is the only thing standing in the way of…

Last night another dream, another memory. Doesn’t she understand it wasn’t my fault? Even though her screams haunt me still. And her eyes. I cannot close my own without seeing her final, accusatory, hateful stare. At night, my walls become a mosaic of eyes, wide and alien, jagged and malformed, watching me in the dark…

I shove the pen and paper aside. The tic-toc of the clock pulls at my nerves until I imagine my own electrical impulses moving in time with a metronome. Every movement magnetized in my vacuum of powder-blue walls.

This is crazy, a voice whispers. A sweet, seductive song like a lullaby that aims to lure me into complacency. Open the door.

But there it is again: a subtle moan, almost too soft to hear over creaking floors and shuffling steps.

Please. You left me no choice.

A sigh. Soft again. Like downy skin covered in velvet.

This is ridiculous, I think, determined to uncover the truth once and for all.

My carpet masks my steps and I creep with ease, confident she can’t hear my approach. I place my ear to my old oak door, painted white in a weekend of wild, youthful exuberance when Nina and I pretended to be artists. In our high, we painted anything not nailed down, my oak door and cedar chest two victims in our attempts. Several years of neglect left them both flaking and in need of a re-coat.

Nina. Is that really you?

Drag, shuffle, uneven steps. Heavy and wet and moving away from my room. I sigh, my fingers caressing the door with tantalizing swiftness, daring me to move lower and lower until I find the brass knob, unlock my door, and face my sins.  

“Nina,” I whisper, lips pressed against a wooden wall of white. “I’m sorry.”

Footsteps halted mid-step. A single beat of silence then a sudden urgency as she backtracked toward my room. Pulled by an unseen hand, by a curious need coiled inside, I placed one hand on the brass knob, the other on my lock.  

A brush of air stops me. Then fingernails scratching against the wood. Another soft moan and I glance at the knob realizing only two inches stand between me and her. My door remains locked, but my eyes widen as the handle turns.

I step away. One foot behind the other, slowly, deliberately so she cannot hear my retreat. Breath held I move my body like a marionette, an odd dance of step, slow, retreat, step, slow, retreat, until my back touches fleece and I climb into bed without taking my eyes from the corner. A sliver of moonlight illuminates my door, a burst of white in a blue abyss with a brass handle now quiet and still.

I burrow into blankets and pillows, hands covering my ears as I rock quickly back and forth.

It’s just a dream. Only a dream.

But blankets can’t conceal the soft, sudden knock.