I have never been afraid of the monsters beneath my bed or the creatures that lurked in my closet; it was the darkness that scared me. The imaginary man who I believed was creeping just outside my window. So who is this man in my house, whispering to my mother in a voice I don’t recognize?
There have been voices in my house every day for the last week, but this is new: it is after 2:00am.
I can make out my mother’s voice, the distant sound of a television, the sliding of chairs, the clinking of metal teaspoons in cracked coffee cups, and a uncomfortably high, relatively unaggressive voice. There is no struggle: just a 2:00am coffee date in the kitchen. My mother and this mystery man.
I can’t sleep. Their muffled conversation is keeping me awake, and I can’t help but become angry as the clock ticks away and I remain wide-eyed in the dark.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
I toss and turn; I throw Dolly on the floor, my face into my pillow. I try and plug my ears with my fingers, cup them with my hands, bury them in the blanket, but it is no use. Finally, I get up and, with my bare feet dragging across the itchy, stained carpet, I walk toward my door and tear it open.
Sam is sitting opposite of my mother. His hands rest in his thick black hair, which flops aimlessly over his forehead, but my gaze quickly turns toward my mom. She looks exhausted — her eyes are glossed over like a one-hour photo — but I was tired. I didn’t care.
“Could you guys please quiet down? I have class in the morning.”
I think I say please. I think I ask. But really I demand silence in the whiny, passive-aggressive way only a 12-year-old can.
“Sorry hun; we didn’t mean to wake you. Go back to bed. We’ll try and be quieter.”
I turn towards my room, trying not to discuss the matter any further. Trying to avoid the question I already know the answer to, but I can’t avoid it. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) in my nature to go to bed with anything unresolved.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
I see Sam’s mouth drop and then his head, and I know the answer. My mom says nothing; instead she gestures at me — waving me forward with her bony fingers and a half-smoked cigarette — and instinctively, I shuffle toward her and climb into her lap.
She is wearing her ISOTONER slippers. I shouldn’t be surprised, it is early and the floor is cold, but they are dirty. Powder blue is an unforgiving color.
She takes a drag of her cigarette before blowing a ribbon of smoke up and away, and I watch as it dances its way towards the fluorescent lights above the sink.
I want to tell her to wash her slippers; I want to tell her to stop smoking, it smells funny and that is why — when mixed with Chock Full O Nuts and Cover Girl — I turn away from her kisses. But instead I just sit there.
“Yes honey, he’s dead.”
“Just a few minutes ago; his heart stopped, and they were unable to revive him.”
I choked down the words like her breath. Dead. He’s dead.
She pulled me towards her, coddling my head with her hand, and while I feel there were a few more words muttered, explanations given, and questions asked, I cannot recall. Instead, I simply closed my eyes. I took only long, nicotine-filled breath. Just then, my ten-year-old brother emerged.
I opened my eyes as he was slipping his green tortoise shell frames over his.
“Come here, Daniel.”
Wait, she never calls him Daniel. My father is — well, I guess now he was — Daniel; my brother, my baby brother, was — at this moment still is, still should be — Danny.
She shares the news with him in nearly the same matter of fact manner she did with me, and I can see his swollen, sleepy eyes begin to well. We hug; my mother and brother begin sobbing, but I don’t. I sit — silent and still — staring at those damn slippers as tears and day old mascara run down my face before I am even allowed to wear makeup. Before I am “old enough.”
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