I live in someone else’s house. They want me to leave. I know so, without being certain they know I’m there, though certain something about me stirs their attention, the rustle of me on the air, the miasmatic stench of my loneliness, the keen of my hamstrung desire playing games with the echoes in the stairwell. They want it gone. They’re a nice enough family, as nice-enough families go, a married couple that fights like cats and dogs, whom in love drove each other crazy with passion that still holds the maddeningly idle discontent at bay. They have a daughter about fourteen years old and a dog about eight years old. I spend my days with the dog, when I’m not trying to leave, and my evenings with the daughter. I lie under her bed at night and pretend she’s with me with someone else above us. The dog is surprisingly emotionally taxing, but she wants me to stay, at least.
Outside the house are trees, a forest, full of hiding places. At night, lights roam the forest, lights with voices. I see the lights spin to shine about as they move, and hear the voices talk about finding me. There used to be two others living in the house, two others like me. A young boy and a woman. We would talk and find silly ways to pass time, but they both left. I don’t know if the lights got them or if they made it through the trees.
Sleep is troubling. I’m not sure that I ever even do. It’s not uncommon to open a door inside the house and step into a room other than the one I expected to be there. If I do sleep, I dream of sleeping elsewhere in the house and wake up where I fell asleep, but I’m not sure this really happens. I have my own room and I think the family knows it’s mine. All my things are in it and I spend a great deal of time packing so I can leave. It’s a frantic task that somehow never gets done. The boxes pile up paradoxically asymptotic to the height I last left them at, as the closet and shelves restock just when drawers close and hangers are removed. I stay at it till I cry then I go off to find the dog to feel sorry for her. It keeps the self-pity at bay.
My one true pleasure are my baths. I dissolve in the water if it’s hot enough, so I draw them slowly from the scalding oil furnace that fills the radiators. I dissolve as soon as I step into them and can still see the ceiling, so perhaps my reflection floats on the surface. As the water cools, I start to feel it and wind up real again and shaking in the cold. It’s especially fun in winter because the water has to get very cold for me to be real again.
The sideways door is the one I don’t understand. It leads to a staircase that I hobble up precariously to a bay window at the back, by the water. The water is clear any time of year. Even in the snow and ice it doesn’t freeze, and the sand is warm and white on the other side. Children play there, watching me and pointing sometimes. I wave at them if I’m feeling brave, but they never wave back. They just point. I don’t know if I’m a puzzle to them or an object of ridicule. Perhaps they’re pointing me out to the family that I live with. I’ve named the two boys Shawn and the girl Beth. The Shawn with long, dirty blond hair is Beth’s boyfriend. The other Shawn pines after her. There will be a new Shawn in two weeks, but the younger Shawn will still be there, pining away for Beth. She symbolizes something to him, something I remember but can no longer feel so I can’t describe it, just as if I were unable to conjure a shadow of anger within me to describe. I can only state it’s very important to him, too important for him ever to have her.
I have planned my escape through the sideways door. I think perhaps one night, if it opens to the woods, I can make it through the trees, staying clear of the moving lights and get to the water, though if I stop being real in the water, I’ll be trapped and never make it to the other side. Maybe that’s the closest thing to escape there is. But they really don’t want me here, and it gets harder every week. Maybe if I knew my name, that would help. I haven’t heard it spoken in so long, I can’t imagine I’m right about it. I’ve avoided the abbey in the basement for too long.
The basement is cavernous, soaring rock ceilings, with a path of pavers leading down to an abbey. The pavers remind me of a patio my father built on top of sand held by wooden planks over an incline that sank as the sand seeped out in the rain. There are memories interred in the abbey, in the stone, mad and striving to understand God. But the shredded pine bark mulch between the pavers is warm even in the dark so I wander down there but only halfway. Inside the abbey is a staircase, a long spiral staircase leading into the dark, wrapping in long circles around a glowing white crystal as tall as the highest building in the college I went to before I lived here. It’s not something I want to be near, but it holds all the secrets of the house and the family, and maybe even the truth about me that I crave but don’t ever want to know the whole from shame at hoping for more. When I think of it, I imagine that picture of the Grinch, with the Christmas cap on, holding the house and everything in it his hand, before his angry, piercing eyes. But I’m not a kid. Christmas isn’t missing. The crystal and past it are the way free. If my memories didn’t frighten me, maybe I’d venture into the abbey again, one last time. If I had a friend, the daughter, maybe I could. Thinking, I can picture us, all of us, me, the family, Beth and her Shawns, heading into the abbey past the screaming memories in the stone, to the alter and maybe a wooden plaque above it, “This way to the great hell.” At least, then, the family would know why I stay.
Tonight, the daughter will join me under her bed. The lights are a swarm of obese lightening bugs. The unnatural white swarm is too near the house, the parents are screaming, the father is drinking, the dog is barking, the daughter is already in her room, and I am picking at the stiches in her quilt, reminding her that she’s just a little girl, not strong like her father, not strong like God, just a little girl. I know she hates me, though I’m not there, and because I’m not there. That sort of thinking is dangerous and I should avoid it. It smacks too much of things that might have been, of crazy. The walls in her room are very tall. Even the bookcase doesn’t come close to reaching the ceiling. I like the bookcase. There aren’t enough books there for her tastes, instead the plate her grandmother left her, thin, thin china that she had to fight to keep near her. Oh, and the pictures of the things between the things she should not do. It’d make you smile if you knew how compactly her life is held in those moments. I’d call it more sad than amusing if prompted to comment on it or any of this. The frightened girl beneath the quilt doesn’t care enough for anyone else too, not at her age. I forgot how to love her a few days ago and don’t know why I’m not in my own room. “Never,” is the only thought that comes to mind right now. Irate, I stop tugging at the stitchery and stare at the ceiling, rising high, atop the walls. “Is it better to think never or to think nothing?” I ask, doleful that I’m not heard. I think nothing. The ceiling will rise till it cracks and the black beyond rains it’s shadow into the room, shushing the bedside lamp for the wait. The tears come and I slide under the bed. I hate that man. She weeps when he screams and I tire of it, of it all so much, so much I might burst when she weeps. We set up the beds and I play nurse and she plays doctor and we tend to the sick until her insomnia breaks and I can talk to her in her sleep. She hears me then. It’s nice.
The whole world here is full of under-the-door light, playing off the carpet fibers, shining on the wood. But it’s moonlight. How does it make sense? I only know the footprints see I leave in the shining azure carpet and the ripples that trail behind me on the wooden floors. The little boy lives in my room at night. He isn’t like the others nor like me, though perhaps it is only that I am grown. He sits against the wall with his arms folded before his knees and rocks back and forth. This place hates everything and it weighs heavy on him. If I tire enough of the daughter . . . I don’t want to think. I don’t want to know. I hope someone stops him from whispering before his steady slur of words reveals my own past. He’s afraid of me. I moved in under the daughter’s bed because I couldn’t stand him. He’d look to me every so often and say, “Do you?” Then he’d return to murmuring and rocking. I beat him with a tire iron I found in one of my boxes while he wept. He’s afraid of me now. I know that’s best. He could likely lead me to safety through the lights, but at the risk of humor, packing is still an issue. I’d hate to have to come back for something. I suspect I created this world, that I am God here, but a slave. It bends to my will, but dictates my nature as it does so. There are too many things that I dare not attempt. Perhaps I am afraid and not God at all.
I am on the sofa again. The television is on because the father believes it comforts the dog while the house is empty, slow television piped in from Norway like muzak. “What’s the capital of Iceland?” I ask the dog. “In Reykjavik, which street contains the most coffee houses? Be a good boy and ask your iPhone.” The dog just stares at me without lifting her head. My eyes tear up and I grab the remote, but there are buttons on all sides of it and it’s impossible to do anything without depressing at least two buttons at once, so I drift in the bathroom to get high in hopes of being better able to play the remote or perhaps forgetting it wholesale. After a few hits, I notice the plaque above the toilet that reads, “Lyndon Baines Johnson Shat Here.” That was there before. I’m sure of it. The plaque opens to a wall safe that holds more drugs. I take pills with water from the sink and step into the tub to melt. Come evening, I take more pills, watch the daughter listen to music and talk to friends, then smoke cigarettes while I watch her parents fuck. Their sex is interesting. Both have filthy mouths and I chuckle at what is said. I sit on the dresser as she screws she “claims” the dirty, needy fuckhole he calls a shitter. He’s apologizing for a slut he was with while she reminds him that his ass belongs to Mommy. Things are not so bad tonight. I need to remember to use drugs more often.
In the cold of the house, I squeeze through the sideways door and climb to the window that overlooks the water. The lights on the other side mock me. In one is a silhouette. A woman with raven hair behind a gossamer curtain. My heart stops. I want so so much to love her, to know her, to sit forever and talk until we both know entirely what it is to be the other. Then she turns and disappears. My mind buzzes with obsession. Another moment never forgotten, another dream tossed atop the pile. I will never find anything in here to desire, and conversely have not grown to desire any of it. I sit in one of a long row of chairs, bent forward with my arms on my thighs, and wonder when I will visit the abbey again. I never learned how to draw and so I kneel on the floor and trace out lines in the blood that flows from my fingertip. It all washes away in the liquid moonlight. I continue for some time, worried I might bleed to death unless it clots then curl up on the floor to sleep.
This could all pop in a flash into shreds that couldn’t even be real and would unravel into nothing, the way people disappear when they die. Is this substance? Soul? I kicked out one of the balusters on the staircase the other day because it wasn’t truly on my side. That’s a lie. So many things would be untrue if I had, but I don’t care for the way it quavers out of time with the others. I wish the owners would call someone in to have that fixed.