—and you’re not here.
Panic moves me down the hall like a rook on a chess board. Screaming. Something squirms on the floor in the center of the room. Dark red and greasy.
It’s dark in here. The overhead lights are off. Candles throw vague shadows across the floor; pale orange light that pulses as the fire flickers and dances.
My body moves closer. I don’t want it to. This place isn’t right.
It’s not like I remember.
Before I realize it,
I’m standing right on
top of the thing.
b a b y .
And all but consuming her, a disaster of letters: crumpled and torn and tossed, retrieved and smoothed, discarded. Scraps of the same flax paper leading down the hall. Hundreds of them; thousands, maybe.
The baby writhes on them like a worm on leaves. Staining the pages red as she moves.
What the hell is this? Where are you? How long have you been gone?
The child looks newborn. Her skin is wet and tight. The grit on her face could be afterbirth. Could be rat shit. There’s no blood on the floor.
Did you carry her here?
She’s so red. You didn’t have time to bathe her. She couldn’t be that red just from crying, could she? Her lungs work alright. Mine feel stiff. Artificial, the way it feels to touch something with dried glue on your fingers. Disconnected.
Screaming isn’t the right word for what this child is doing. She has weaponized sound itself. Explosions of noise.
This place tells a story. My nose isn’t what it used to be. Test the air. The sharp-toothed smell of wet neglect. Ashes. Plastic. Chemically-yellowed glass. Lavender. Rust. Hospital bouquet: ammonia, solvents, and fish, like an aquarium filled with dirty mop water. Nicotine.
The main lights don’t work. Dead switch on the wall. That explains the candles. Ants make the countertops squirm like scanlines across a dead channel. An empty purse tells me everything and nothing. Spare change on the counter.
More letters. Piles of snowballs. You were preparing for war. Skinny and bitter, swollen and wanting; swaths of pale, deckled memories. All those beginnings. The weight of that room, pressing.
My ears search for sirens. If a neighbor called in the noise, they could already be en route. In ten minutes I’ll be gone. That’s all I need. Ten minutes to search. I still know all our old hiding spots.
Check the rooms one by one. Then deal with the kid.
Echoes. Danse des voix. An insect hum leaks through the windows, forms a symphony. We used to dance to this song. You always loved cicadas. Called them angels. This is a world so separate from the one outside, the one before—
Everything is distant. Your face is a frail, receding thing. Like staring in a mirror as I drive away. Your shape in the window.
Please come back to me.