“I’m not trying to upset you,” Jake said, taking her hand, “but there’s two explinations a normal person would come up with for that,” he said gesturing to the living room. “Either you’re banging someone on the couch, or you’re sleeping on it.” Lucille shoved her plate forward. A scowl swept her face. “I know you Luce, and I know you’re not cheating. But you are avoiding talking to me. Can we please, please talk about this.”
A noise escaped Lucille’s throat. Partially caught it sounded somewhere between a whimper and a cry. She looked at Jake, willing her eyes to convey her words. She loved him. She would never cheat on him. But she also would never sleep in her room again. Not without help.
“Use your words, baby,” Jake said, stroking the back of her hand. “You can do this.”
Lucille leaned across the corner of the table into Jake’s arm. Tears ran down her face. She drooled as she sobbed. Fragments of words, “couch,” “sleep,” “scared,” “weeks,” came out in long wet breaths.
“It’s okay,” Jake said, rubbing her back, “I can’t understand you. You have to calm down.”
Clawing at herself, Lucille tried to use the sting of the sharp edges of her nails plunging into her skin to refocus. Jake gathered her hands holding them tightly. “Words baby,” Jake said with more force this time, “it’s okay.”
When she was able to breathe again, Lucille sat up. The cheese had hardened on her uneaten slice of pizza. The pepperoni was beginning to curl. Sitting up straighter than before Lucille looked over Jake’s shoulder and pointed to her bedroom. “It’s in there,” she said.
“I can barely hear you, what’s in where?” Jake asked.
Grabbing his hand, Lucille stood up and dragged him out of his chair. Frantically she pulled him closer and closer to the door. Her eyes pleaded with him as she dragged him by his sleeves. Barely out of her condo, the door closed, unlocked behind him. Standing shoeless on the cold metal stairs, Jake waited. Lucille leaned forward crashing into him, once more coming undone to a well of tears.
Jake looked down at his girlfriend, shaking as she cried into his chest. Tension crept into his shoulders, and wrapt down his back. The chain lock, her sleeping on the couch, being afraid of her bed – her ex, he thought. But it had been years since he had come back to bother her. She had rebuilt her life excluding the fear he had tried to encase her in. Suddenly, almost violently so, Jake ripped Lucille away from his chest. Snot and tears ran down her face. Tiny bubbles of spit formed at the corners of her open mouth. Terror danced in her pupils.
With both hands he smoothed down her hair, “it’s okay, Lucille. Anything you tell me, we’re gonna make it okay. But I need you to tell me what is going on. Okay, baby?”
Lucille feabily nodded. With his hand on her back, Jake led her to the stairs outside of her condo. Before Jake’s butt had fully slid back, Lucille’s legs were strewn over him, her head resting on his chest. “It’s in there. Living. In my room. It came three times and then never left.” Soft sobs punctuated each sentence. Jake wanted to shake her and bring her back to normal. Wake her up to make sense of what she was saying. Help him to understand. Instead he flexed his feet against the concrete stairs. He had seen Lucille have breakdowns before. He had to have patience – even if it aged him to a premature death.
“From the beginning, Luce, you’re doing great.”
Lucille’s body tensed. Her breathing stopped. When she could no longer take it, she exhaled slowly. Her body softened.
“At first, I thought I had woken up. The door to my bedroom was open. There was a light from the hallway or the living room. I had already had a two part nightmare before.” Her voice was flat and lifeless. Goosebumps sprouted across Jake’s back as she spoke.
“Something had gotten into bed with me.” Her eyes were glazed over. They were pointed at Jake, but they were looking into her nightmare. “It was my mother. A little shorter, I thought, but I hadn’t laid in bed with my mother in years. Not since I was a small, scared child. Her hair was cut shorter, maybe a little more red. But the lighting from the hallway. I thought it was a trick.”
Jake felt the tension rise in Lucille’s back. It passed almost as quickly as it had come as she pressed on.
“I thought it was my mother laying in bed with me. So I tapped her on the shoulder. She didn’t move. She was cold and stiff. I tapped harder, grabbing her by the shoulder and shaking her. The smell of blood and earth took over. I grabbed my phone to try and take a selfie to see what it was. Suddenly this thing sat up. In the photo, I saw the dirty smeared across its skin. Its skin was the color of soiled paper or cloth. Its eyes were sunken in, but bulging out. I tried to brush the dirt way. It wasn’t my mother, Jake.”
Lucille’s eyes blinked, flashing her bright green irises against her pale skin. Jake remembered Lucille’s mother. They had been dating for a year and a half when she passed. She had known that the cancer might win. For Christmas she had made Lucille and Jake a homemade recipe book filled with their favorites. A tear found its way into Jake’s eye. No wonder why she couldn’t sleep. Lucille and her mother were best friends.
“It was a nightmare, baby. That’s all it -”
“NO,” her voice was harsh and sharp. “It’s living in there,” she said. She pulled back slightly from Jake’s grip. Her eyes once more transfixed, this time on her door. The shards of fear cut like gravel through her voice. Moths flew up alongside her door, then across to her neighbor’s outside light. Bugs swarmed around her neighbor’s light, the lights on the front of Lucille’s building, and while it seemed like all of them stopped by her door. None of them stayed too close.
“That was the third visit…” Lucille closed her eyes. Again her body tensed and her breath stopped. She released as she exhaled and continued the story.
“The second visit, I had gotten out of bed. I walked through the house. Again, my bedroom door was opened, and there was light coming in. This time it had been enough to see the blacks, the greys, and the whites of my comforter. Their assorted shapes and shades defined. Throughout the hallway things were out of place. There had been a doll propped up in the hallway. I ran back to my room, grabbed my phone, and recorded a walk through for you. So someone could see it was real.”
Lucille’s voice cracked. Breaking momentarily from its stony wrasp. Jake tried to see her face. He needed to see if she was still all there. But the more she spoke, the more she cowered back, shrinking into his side.
“All of the lights came on at once, at least the ones I could see. There was a second one. A doll, a thing. Whatever it was. It was almost comical. Short with a greenish pallor. Wild black hair. Hobbling toward me on my bed. It had the same dirty, bloodied face as the one that looked like my mother. I grabbed my bat, the one you bought for me. I tried to hit it, but I couldn’t. I was too weak. Finally, I took the butt of the bat down on its chest enough times it stayed down. But it was laughing.”
Her breath had quickened. Her head felt cloudy and began to spin. She tettered for a moment, but Jake’s arms wrapped around her. She didn’t respond.
“The first time. The first time was nothing more than rearranged knicks. Like a joke. A test. To see if I was paying attention. I hadn’t been. Not from the first hello.”
Lucille’s head whipped around. With a catlike quickness she was facing Jake. Her hair was windblown. Her eyes had taken on a deep grey color. Her breath had taken on a bitter quality. Leaning forward, her nose lightly tickled his.
“You remember the voice?”
Jake blinked. He couldn’t think fast enough.
“The VOICES,” Lucille repeated louder this time, “the ones that wanted to know if I was social. Well, now they know. I’m not. I’m not social. I don’t play the right way. I’m scared. Too scared. Now, now he’s in there. He lives in my room. It’s his. It’s his room. We can’t open the door because then he’ll take the house. And where will I go?”
Lucille was panicking. Her words were flying like the flecks of spit. She looked deranged. Jake had to stop her. It was too late to reason with her. Grabbing her by both shoulders he shook her lightly until she stopped. Her shoulders buckled and she crashed into the nape of his neck.
“Breathe Lucille,” Jake spoke into her hair, smoothing it down her back. How could someone forget if their girlfriend told them she was hearing a voice? “Just breathe,” he urged her, holding the back of her neck, keeping his other arm wrapped tight around her waist.
“One moment at a time,” Jake said, over and over again.