So you’ve come back for Jennifer
You know, she hides her face behind a veil
And I’m warning you, Frankie, leave on the next train
Your Jennifer, she just ain’t the same
– The Birthday Party
Today’s voice is a whisper, a whimper, a red, wet noise. It twists and staggers through the ruins left by last night’s screams.
Somewhere in my head, the nightmares are waiting. At night, they slither and writhe through the darkness, all fingertips and teeth.
At night I see my daughter’s face beneath the shadows that shimmer and glisten.
At night I crawl to the edge and reach, stretching until it burns, but she never reaches back. On my knees I beg her, don’t leave me. On my knees, I pray, don’t leave me… don’t leave me.
At night she turns and swims away, serpentine in the cold, black rivers, and the shadows hiss and swallow hard.
I watch as the dragonflies drift by, lazy and aimless and impossibly blue. I hold out my hand until one settles in my palm. Seconds go by, only seconds, and then I curl my fingers into a fist, squeezing until my knuckles turn white.
Tonight’s screams are already building.
We came to Willow Creek to escape the inescapable. To “start over”, as if there were some new beginning awaiting us on the other side of the pain.
Pleasantview is world’s away now, an already fading memory. I remember it in moments and fragments, the way I remember bits of stories I used to enjoy.
If I try, I can remember the weather, heat and leaves and snow… the sound of dogs barking… Lucy laughing as she skipped ahead, a bright flash of yellow and blue dancing in the cold light of the sun… None of that exists in Willow Creek. It’s so quiet here. Days go by and all I can hear is the wind.
Sometimes, if I’m lucky, not even that.
Today is lucky; I walk the empty streets and not even my shoes scraping the sidewalk can penetrate the thick layer of silence that smothers this town.
Pleasantview falls away. It is a phantom, haunting a forgotten life.
Back then, I used to wander.
Now, I’m just lost.
Everything in this town is so beautiful and bright. Everything is fresh and green and alive.
I wish we had moved to the desert; a barren wasteland where I could trudge through the hot sand in any direction and never know for certain which way is home. I could have disappeared…
Our new house has a large tree in the backyard. It sprouts from a silky pool of impenetrable darkness. I am drenched with it.
Lucy lays beside me on the cold grass, pointing out interesting shapes in the leaves. She sees dogs and fish and butterflies. Only she can see them; that’s part of the fun. I try to only see her.
An eternity drifts by, creaking and moaning beneath its own terrible weight. An ugly and bloated forever. It’s gone now, though. I take a deep breath and feel the darkness in my lungs.
My dragonfly floats past, little body broken and destroyed. One wing is bent and torn. The other is still smeared across my pants.
“He came back,” she says, sounding delighted. “He must have followed me.”
I tell her: “I want to follow you, too.”
She says: “Not yet.”
The wind returns from wherever it goes and the leaves shiver and the branches sway. The sound is the dry bone rattle of my nightmares.
The dragonfly is gone.
Lucy is laughing beside me.
A tiny ragged wing is caught in the corner of her smiling mouth.
All the lights are out inside. John has given up and gone to bed. How long ago was it that he asked me to come in? A minute? An hour? Did I even see him today? It’s getting harder to remember.
I sit outside and wait for the night to expand.
I remember Lucy when she was four. Her little beating heart, and her little sugared bones. We used to tell her that we’d pieced her together out of moon beams and lullabies and wishes. That the darkness couldn’t touch her.
Now she hides within it, dancing on the blackened shores that cradle a bright sea of moonlight. Now the light can’t reach her.
Sometimes, if I look hard enough, I can find her. I can see the whites of her teeth as she bares them at me from under bushes, ducking around trees, sharp little pearls flashing behind windows that look upon darkened living rooms as she darts up stairs and disappears down empty halls.
The night unfolds around me, and I wait.
And I wait.
And I wait.
Down by the sidewalk, the bushes start to whisper.
And I wait.