I believed if I pulled the covers up over my head and hid under the pillow that I wouldn’t hear them. For a second or two, I pretended I didn’t. I pretended that it was just me in my tiny little room. It was in that second that I got up and went to the window. I wrapped my fingers around the overused tilt wand. It had been used so many times that I had to be careful it wouldn’t break. I turned it to the left, and the blinds opened to expose the eastern sky. I searched for the brilliant haze that was meant to rise over the horizon as the setting moon pulled up the sun. But there was no orange or pink haze. Missing was the purple and red colors that usually joined them. Cautiously, I turned the wand a bit harder, opening the blinds wider. But it did not matter; all that I could see was nothing in the blackness. It was difficult for me to understand why, although dawn had arrived, my sun did not rise. It was as if the sun had forgotten what it was supposed to do. In my kindest of voices, I searched for just the tiniest of light, hoping that perhaps it might hear me begging to invite it in.
Empty of light, I stood in my darkened room of nothing. The blackness thick with emptiness sneaking into every corner and every crevice. As if the blackness and emptiness weren’t enough, there was a cold that must have followed it in. A cold that sustained it that gave it life. Now that coldness wrapped itself around me. It penetrated my being with a chill that I could feel as the blood traveled through my body. Carefully, I turned the tilt wand right to close the blinds. If I couldn’t see the blackness, would it disappear? I climbed back into bed, pulled the covers up over my head again, hopeful that hiding might be helpful. But there was no relief from the darkness or the noise. There was nothing to drown out the rumbling I could hear from the monsters which occupied the only closet that existed in my small room. More than a rumble, I could actually hear a growl. Deep and menacing, they were waking up. I trembled. I squeezed my eyelids tight so that nothing would get in. Nothing but the false light which hid on the inside of the eyelids of my closed eyes. There was nowhere to hide.
The closet sounds escalated, and I sensed the monsters’ unhappiness of them locked in such tight quarters. Stealthily I pushed the covers down, exposing my head, and slowly opened my eyes. I inched the covers down with great care down my neck, over my chest, my stomach, my groin until I was able to free my legs and move them without a sound. I remembered how silent the mice had been when they ran across my floor, stopping to smell the empty bags of chips that lay there. Ever so quietly and carefully, I put my foot down—first one foot and then the other. So gently letting my toes feel around in the blackness for anything that they might step on, afraid it would make some sort of sound. I stopped to breathe; breathing in silence, I sank down as if in slow motion to my knees. Praying that the monsters would not hear me, that they would be too crammed together to sense my being. I was pretty sure that they had multiplied. So much of what had been my sustenance had gone missing. Traces of what had been bags of chips and packages of cookies were empty scattered haphazardly at the base of the closet door as if their contents had been sucked out. I lowered myself to the floor, my shoulder touching the bottom of my old chest. My old chest, the one that contained everything I owned, the one that held my memories. All of the reminders of what had once been. It was not as heavy as I remembered. I was grateful for that. Still maintaining the necessary silence, I army-style crawled along the floor, pushing my old chest forward slowly so that I wouldn’t push it into anything. With all the energy I had, I continued to push. The noise from within the closet grew louder. I knew I was close. Finally reaching the closet door, I moved my old chest against it. The growls continued, and the only relief I felt was the ability to stand upright again.
It had not been the first time I had been so alone, only the first time that so many days had passed. The first time that so many days had passed in darkness. The first time not even a slice of light had peeked in to join me.
Loneliness was exhausting. I was hungry. Despite the noise from inside the closet, the fact that I had blocked it with my old chest, my chest full of my memories, gave me just enough confidence that the monsters wouldn’t be able to get out. I began to gather whatever crumbs I could find, anything left of the food I had stored with me for times like this. Thirst could only be quenched by the drops that were left in so many empty bottles. Bottles whose labels did not exist, pulled off when I was desperate for toilet paper.
There would be little time for me to wait; I had nothing left. I didn’t have another day. How could I?
Beyond loneliness, beyond fear, it was the pure sense of total emptiness that dictated what I had to do if I was to survive.
Carefully, I scrounged around, reaching this way and that for something I could find in the way of clothing to put on. Anything that might allow me to look presentable. I hadn’t seen myself from the outside for longer than I could remember, which made my definition of presentability pretty minimal.
It was challenging to see even my hands in the blackness, let alone how dirty they were. I used my fingers to comb through my hair which was dirty and knotted hair. Making my way back to the closet, I laid my hand across my old chest, touching it as if I could feel what was, what had been. I tried to remember how it had felt, how I had cared. But even now, I didn’t attempt to open it. Didn’t attempt to find the brush that I had used. The brush that my mother had used when she would brush my hair. I glanced down as if in the blackness, I might see how dirty the pair of jeans I had found were. I put them on using my hands to brush them off just in case there may have been some crumbs or dust, worse yet, mouse droppings. I remembered to tie my shoelaces, not like the last time when I had forgotten to do so. Tripping over myself, there had been so many bruises. My hands and knees were sore for a long time, with no one but myself to blame. I rubbed the palms of my hands together, remembering the pain.
I could feel a lace had broken on one of the shoes, making it challenging to tie. Grateful that I could feel through the blackness, I pulled out the broken lace just enough so that I could still tie them together. I looked around the room, although I really don’t know why. There wasn’t anyone else there, and certainly, there was nothing to see, but I looked just the same. I opened the blinds, this time pulling the cord to raise them up. Standing there for a second, I looked out into the darkness. I left them up just in case the sun might rise before I returned.
I pulled the disheveled covers that lay at the foot of my mattress up, feeling around on the floor for the bedspread. “Never leave your house with your bed unmade. You never know who might stop by.” I think my mother told me that as often as she asked me if I needed a tissue for my pocket. Or had to go to the bathroom. I never used that tissue that I carried with me “just in case.” I thought of its absurdity with an audible giggle and yet ensured that I always had some resemblance of a tissue with me. A bit of what was that had never found its place in my old chest.
Pulling the bedspread up, leaning over one side and then the other, I smoothed it out. I looked around one last time through the emptiness, the blackness.
I tiptoed past the closet, stopping to lay my body across my old chest, the one that held everything I owned. The one that held my memories and all of the reminders of what had once been. I lay there. Hoping that, like a sponge, I might absorb some of my memories, reminders of what had once been. I thought that perhaps they might be of some protection as I went out into the still darkness.
But it was not a comfort. I could hear the monsters clawing from inside the closet and worried that my old chest, which now served as a barricade, might not help. I could not focus on what it was I needed most. Trying to remember why I had to venture out of my room. I could not concentrate because I did not know. With nothing but myself, I opened the door, worried about the dilemma. Should I leave the door unlocked? What if the monsters get out of the closet and want to go? Or should I lock it should the monsters get out of the closet so that they could not leave? In the end, I decided to leave it unlocked.
Like so many times before, the hallway was dark. I paused; it was hard to hear through the silence if anyone or anything was there, and I didn’t want to chance bumping into them. I turned until my back touched the wall, side-stepping down the hallway until I reached the stairs. I grabbed onto the railing with both hands. Slowly and carefully, I made my way down. One hand over the other, remaining as close to the wall as I could. I was grateful when I made it to the bottom, opening the door to the outside.
Cautiously I stepped onto the sidewalk, looking up at the still-dark sky. Why were there so many people on the sidewalk? All of them moving fast as if there was somewhere they needed to be. It did not give me a comfortable feeling—too many people were difficult to avoid. Over the years, I learned that I could do anything as long as I kept my head down. Keeping my body as close to the storefronts and buildings as possible allowed me to avoid contact.
However, on this particular day, I could not go far. There were more feet than I had ever experienced before. Feet that moved quickly as if they were in a hurry. The thickness of the dark had always slowed me down, and I had always thought or noticed that it seemed to slow everything down. There were so many feet that it took me a while to find a place to settle down. A place where I could rest and wait for the sun to awaken and light the sky, to bring light to me and my day.
I found a place in a doorway. On the steps that had once belonged to one of my favorite stores, “A Taste of Olive.” Like so many other stores, it was now closed, forced to shut down just months after the neighborhood began to change. Now it belonged to nobody. I sat down, my head still down, attempting to find protection in the corner close to the doorway. Pushing my body as close to the wall as I could get. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry when a pair of feet stopped in front of me and handed me a warm paper cup full of coffee.
With my head still down, I managed a quiet “thank you.” I wondered if perhaps my idea of minimally presentable was too minimal. It felt good to have warm coffee. I marveled at how they could have known to add sugar and cream. When it was almost empty, I put it down on the concrete in front of me. I was not expecting more feet to stop in front of me. Nor was I expecting them to drop coins of different denominations into the cup. It was difficult to accept. I looked up carefully beyond the feet, beyond the legs and bodies. I looked up to the faces, most of which were wearing sunglasses. Why would they wear sunglasses in such a time of darkness? I wondered if perhaps they were more anxious than me for the sun to show itself. I questioned if I, too, should wear sunglasses, if then the sun would rise? I sat and contemplated. I sat and watched the feet, so many more passing hurriedly by. Some stopping to deposit more coins in the cup. I wondered had I made a mistake leaving the door unlocked. Had the monsters escaped? Had it been my fault? Were they, too, trying to escape?
Anxious, I continued to sit and watch, ready to run any moment should I need to. But I didn’t move. I sat waiting, hoping that I was protected in front of what had been “A Taste of Olive.” Safe until the darkness might be replaced by the light.
I waited until my cup was half full of coins, the tiny bit of coffee I had left on the bottom having risen to the top. I picked it up, sipping that last drop, wondering when I’d have another. Wondering what I would do with the coins that I could feel on my lips. I sat there, trying to allow myself to remember what it had been like before. Trying to discern what may have been.
With hands that were most likely dirty, I pulled the hair that hung down the front of my face behind my ears. I lifted my head thinking that it was better in my room alone in the dark than here on this step, exposed. Better in the company of monsters than among the feet, I did not know. But I could not stay, and as I got up from the comfort of the doorway, ready to go back to my room, I saw something. With my head up, I could see that on the other side of the sidewalk in the gutter along the curb, there was something shiny. I slowly made my way over to it. Carefully avoiding the feet that hurriedly crossed my path. When I finally made it to the other side, I was careful to bend over it, so no one would see. It shone like I had hoped the sun would. I picked it up and held it in my hand, just a tiny yellow button. I wasn’t sure if I would hang onto it or add it to my old chest. The chest that held everything I owned. The one that possessed my memories and all of the reminders of what had once been.
Audrey N Lewis is a mother, friend, daughter, wife. She is a dreamer. She has climbed mountains, camped out on billboards in Times Square and spent 23 years volunteering as the founder and executive director of a not for profit. She creates fairy houses and dream catchers. She weaves stories that address normal life events in not so normal ways making readers ask the question “what if”. She is the square in a box of circles, she is a rule breaker, a risk taker and a giver. She enjoys spending her free time working on creative projects, finding vintage treasures or a good game of scrabble. Nature tends to dictate some of her interests. Beekeeping, growing vegetables in her garden, and capturing the world through a lens. Writing has provided her an additional creative outlet. Audrey is a believer in sharing and finds that the best way for her to do that and be successful is to use her ability of creativity and unique experiences to share through the written word. She says “It is the greatest feeling to have people read my stories and ask for more.” She has just completed her first novel “The Tapestry” which brings along a story of hope, sacrifice, and self-discovery.