I have this dream.
It’s always the same. Its night, darker than usual. My stepfather goes on one of his drunken rampages and passes out. I’m in my small bedroom. My pink butterfly lamp is glowing gently above my head. I can feel the cold hardwood floors under my bare legs, but I can’t move away from the corner of my room. I have to be sure he’s asleep. The house is completely silent, other than the grandfather clock that ticks incessantly, threatening to wake Carl. I can hear the sound of his heavy breathing from downstairs. I sit there for almost an eternity, clenching a small teddy bear, something I’ve always had, a gift from my mother. My reflection glares at me from the opposite end of the room. She has an unfamiliar face, unrecognizable through a swollen eye. I sit in the corner until I hear this sound, a sound that makes my bottom lip begin to shake. It was a tapping at my window, pebbles hitting the glass. I muster up the courage to stand, although my legs are frail. I pull the shades up to find John standing outside, rock in had, Matthew and Ian are close behind him. John waves at me to come downstairs, but notices I’m not capable. I can hear someone sneak through the window in the dining room, under my room. If Carl were to wake, they’d all be dead. They’d have to pass him sleeping on the couch in order to get up the stairs. the anxiety building in me is almost tangible, even in a dream. I follow a set of footsteps with my ears as they ascend the stairs and walk the hall towards my bedroom. John enters my room. His eyes are filled with unsettling rage. He whispers into my ear, “this is the last time, I promise” and takes me by the arm, slowly walking me towards the hall.
We move to the rhythm of the clock, hiding our footsteps with every loud tick and tock. An empty bottle rolls off of the couch, onto the carpet, disturbing the sleeping lion. John stops walking and holds me for a minute. Carl growls and rolls over. The scent of burning matches and the all too familiar stench of whiskey linger in the air. The darkness consuming the room makes it difficult to move. We head towards the back of the house and into the kitchen. John stops me at the first counter and tells me to wait there. He walks to the screen door that leads to the yard, the door’s creak is dangerous tonight. Matt and Ian enter the kitchen. They’re all whispering, but I can kind of make out what’s being said. The very sound of their wild thoughts is too much for my young mind. They’re frantic. Confusion sets in. Subconsciously I am aware of how the dream will end, it’s always the same, it’s Abby that is scared, due to her unfortunate ignorance. Matthew grabs my hand as John leaves my side. Every time John left my side, I felt unsafe, a bit colder. I watch him, as I always do. He walks over to the counter and grabs a knife out of the wooden block. The scrape that it makes against the wood, echoes off of the countertops and the tiled floors. John takes one last look at me before he walks into the dark living room, knife in hand; Ian follows behind. The pain in my stomach becomes almost unbearable. Matthew turns to me and places my head against his chest, “close your eyes, Abby”. My curiosity takes over and I manage to escape Matthew’s arms. He chases me as I run into the living room. It’s still dark, but the knife in John’s hand reflects off the blue light on the television. John’s small silhouette is straddling Carl, stabbing him, while Ian holds Carl’s arms down. Matthew grabs me by the waist and drags me back into the kitchen. His grasp is too tight, it hurts. I want to watch, but he won’t allow it. I watch as Ian and John drag the body from the living room, through the kitchen, leaving a bloody trail all the way to the yard. The contrast of the dark blood against the white tiles holds my attention for too long. I can feel Matt’s whole body convulsing, against mine. There’s a warm, sticky feeling under my toes. The bottom of my nightgown dipped in blood. This is the only thing my mind latches onto, my gown is ruined. They ruined my nightgown.
My alarm clock blares, burning away the image of my seven year old toes covered in blood. I shake it off just as I alway do. Up and out. Somehow riding the morning bus always calms me. The fear of the long, dreadful day to come is momentarily set aside as the bus sways like a cradle, rocking me to sleep. Most people hate the bus. It is regarded as an annoying form of public transportation, another annoyance added to the long work day. The way I see it, the morning bus ride is the highlight of my day. It is deeper than just a ride to school, it is an intimate view into the lives of other people, strangers. People always amaze me. I consider myself on the outside looking in. I watch them carefully and see things most others can’t or don’t care to. Everything about a person’s exterior tells a story about their life. On this particular morning, a young woman sits on the bus. I notice her overwhelming sadness. She is holding a crying baby, her eyes are full of regret. She desperately tries to calm the screaming child, almost breaking down at every “shhh”. There is nothing left in her. People on the bus are frustrated with the noisy baby. They blame her, which is clear by their angry stares. As I watched the petite red head cradle her child, I take on a bit of her sorrow. I feel for her; I fear I will become like her. She seems as if she’s only a few years older than me. I see a young woman who has sacrificed her life for her child. I see a woman going through a day to day struggle, life hitting her hard, in a way I understand. As she stands to exit the bus, I feel as though we are connected. Everyone on that bus has momentarily crossed paths, entering each other’s lives. If you watch closely, you could see their thoughts, their dreams, their failures. The doors close behind her and suddenly I see him, standing in the isle. The realization of his presence startles me. I watch for a while, carefully, out of the corner of my eye. He is standing stoic, focusing on the streets reeling by through the window. What I notice about this boy is that he and I are the same, removed from reality. We are both desperately crawling to another sense of being, somewhere outside of the bus. I can tell he felt the weight of my eyes on his face. As he turns to look at me I know I should look away. Most people would look away, but I don’t. I want him to see me, to see my face, my eyes. He stares, somewhat confused, maybe wondering whether or not he knows me. I know him. Oddly enough he continues to stare back, daring me to look away first. As the bus comes to a stop, I see my school outside the window. I stand to walk to the door, grabbing the long metal railing in an attempt to catch myself. For one instant I feel a hand envelop mine, over the bar. It is merely seconds that my hand is in his. The warmth of his touch sinks into my entire being. I remove my hand out from under his and quickly exit the bus. Stepping onto the curb I heard the squeak of the doors closing. As I look up at the school doors I feel fearless, stronger than I’d felt in a long time.
I think about that town almost every day. It’s been years, who knows how many. When I close my eyes the old brick house pops into my head; it is as real to me as anything in the present. It’s like i’m stuck there with my eyes closed, dreaming up this present of mine. It is the events that occurred in that house that remain unclear. The streets, the creek, the long drives around the lake are still familiar to me. What I remember most about the place I grew up in, is the three friends I had. Their faces are blurred, but their presence is still close with me. The dreams keeps them close. John’s eyes, Matthews grasp, Ian’s strength; it’s all so familiar to me.
Concentrating in class is tough when you’re forever haunted by a memory that doesn’t quite make sense. It’s like I woke up one morning, my old life non-existent, and my new one laid out for me; a new home, a new family, constant therapy and meetings and doctors and counselors trying to erase my past, trying to take it from me. I hold onto it tightly, but there are too many unanswered questions. I need to know what really happened, but my mind doesn’t allow it. I want to remember my mother’s face, but only the dream remains; the last time I saw them, the last time I saw that house, before the black BMW came and dragged me away from them. I’m left only with the image of Matt, standing within the rearview mirror, emotionless.
I look up at my Algebra teacher. Fuck, she’s posing this question to me.
“x= 160” A whisper came from the seat behind me.
“160” My voice cracks.
“Very good, Abby” Miss Bennet turns back to the board and continues her lecture as I try to calm the panic that just set in.
“You’re welcome” An arrogant voice shoots out from behind my head.
A hot red droplet of moisture hits my notebook. The anxiety returns and becomes increasingly worse.My legs begin to shake. Shame engulfs me as I try to catch my breath. I cover my nose and hurry out of the classroom, before anyone can see. They already think I’m weird. I’m sure the whole class is confused by my odd behavior. I’m sure Miss Bennet will have no sympathy for my bloody nose, I’m sure she’ll write me up for not requesting permission to leave the classroom. Halfway down the hall a searing pain hits me between the eyes. I feel myself becoming dizzy and I struggle to hold onto consciousness. Not here, not now. I need to get out of the hallways. I remember the stairwell that leads to the basement and decide to head down there. As soon as I get down there I feel a sense of relief, being away from the jungle of students upstairs. The basement is a restricted area for students, but the need for an escape is stronger than the fear of consequence. It’s smaller than I thought it would be. The hallway consists of several doors, on both sides. One door is open, filled with the schools old junk; gym supplies, hockey nets, basketballs, mixed with the theater department’s old costumes and props, thrown on top of one another. A coffin for unwanted, outdated objects. The mystery of what lies behind the other doors excites me and dulls the pain between my eyes. At the end of the hallway, a ray of soft, yellow, light shines through a cracked door. An old dusty clock hangs in the middle of the hallway, 12:30, if it’s right I’m already late for my next class. I should go, but I want to know what’s in that room. That room with the light sneaking through the cracked door. I walk forward, disobeying the old clock, which lost its authority when it was place down here.
Careful not to make a sound, I make my way halfway through the cracked door. Peering in, I notice the few canvases propped up in the center of the room. The only sound I can hear is the clock down the hall and my heart pounding in my chest. The clock that never seems to stop taunting, even as I sleep. The walls of the compact room are covered with odd, abstract pieces of art, all shapes and sizes. There’s a cluttered desk at the far end of the room and a small couch to the right. The strong stench of paint fills the room and makes me a bit dizzy. As I look back at the couch, I notice what I hadn’t before, someone amongst the clutter. There’s a boy sleeping on the couch, his hands covered in brown paint. I carefully squeeze through the open door, not to make a sound. I walk towards the couch, through a maze of canvases. Oddly, I have a need to touch his face, to make sure that he’s real. He moves a little, readjusting his body on the couch. His eyes flutter behind the closed lids. I wonder what he’s dreaming? I want so badly for his eyes to open, so I can see that rare shade of blue that I saw this morning on the bus. I reach out to touch his skin. His cheek is soft. He slowly tilts his face towards my touch. I look up at one of the canvases. It’s a smaller painting of a child’s face. The brown of her hair, still damp and shining. Panic returns. The pain between my eyes come back. I must be dreaming again. The seven year old face on the canvas is mine.
Days go by and I can’t find him. My obsession is uncontrollable. I go to the basement everyday, the clock reads 12:30, no boy, no painting. Food no longer entices me and sleep is rare. I can no longer focus on school work due to the constant researching on the internet for him. It’s aggravating when search information is so limited. I’m not sure where to begin. I try to find my past, but I cannot rely solely on a reoccurring nightmare. Sometimes I wonder if he’s real; the boy I found in the art room. I need to see him again, just once more, so I can call him by his name; the name I’m sure is his. If he responds, then I’ll know.
“Sweetheart, you’ve been on that thing for hours, don’t your eyes hurt?” Nancy isn’t great at asking me to do things, directly. I know that she wants me to get up and help her set the table for dinner. She has her roundabout ways of hinting. She’s not comfortable with bossing me around. She’s not comfortable talking with me at all. I’d never asked her the location of my hometown. I am careful to never bring up subjects that will generate conversation about my past. It’s something she is knowledgeable of, but will never share with me. It’s all in her eyes. She tiptoes around me, thinking I’ll crack at the slightest wrong move. She doesn’t confront me about the calls she gets at home regarding my constant absence from the 12:30 class. She won’t talk. I need to know, it’s my right.
“Nancy, where did I live before Queens?” She stops moving and clears her throat.
“You won’t be going to school tomorrow hun.” Completely off topic.
She brings out a tray of lasagna from the kitchen, places it on the table and removes her oven mitts.
“Smells yummy right? Help yourself hun, here” She hands me the spatula, but she isn’t aware that I don’t want to eat.
“Why?” I ask, probably a bit too loud. Scooping a small piece, careful not to hurt her feelings.
“It’s closed. Abigail, you’re so frail! Take a bigger piece look at all this food I made?” She says everything so nicely, even when she wants to be frustrated. Her calm tone makes me feel guilty. I must be insulting her by not eating as much , by asking about my childhood. I am thankful for her, although she may be unaware.
“Why won’t I have school?” I take another small scoop, a drop of red sauce hits the table cloth leaving a small stain. I fixate on it as she speaks.
“I saw it on the news this morning, big story. A boy from your school, it’s the most disturbing thing; he um, he murdered his parents last night dear, with uhh a kitchen knife, while they were asleep. Isn’t that the horrible? His name was John, did you know him?”
Lisa Maria Rose