Halloween. I can’t sleep. I toss and turn, the house making more than its usual noises as it settles down, night deepening. Loud creaks, a crack. I picture chunks of it breaking loose and falling clean off. Ker-chunk. The wind begins to pick up. Fans along the top of the house clank. 12:30 a.m. Now 1:00, and I drift in and out, the house still making noises. 1:45. The wind outside pushes against the walls. The bathroom fans clatter. I’m in for it now, I think, and bury my head under my pillow to stifle the racket. Two a.m. Now I’m thinking of the night’s news, a man with a rap sheet two inches thick, breaking into a Seattle home and raping a woman at knife point while her children slept just down the hall.
I lie stark still, breathing hard, listening. I ease the pillow off my head, ears on high alert.
A sliver of light from the hallway lamp comes slanting under my bedroom door and 2:05 glimmers green from the clock by my bed. No, I finally think, it’s just the house, and I close my eyes. Not for long. This time I bolt straight up into a sitting position, staring at the door, heart pounding my ears so hard I can’t hear a thing. And my lungs don’t know what to do. They shiver and shudder in confusion and it hurts. I have to consciously tell them to take turns with in and out. In. Out. That’s better. Another noise… Someone’s in the house!
I don’t even reach for the phone; it’s sitting by my computer in the other room. So stupid. I’m going to be stabbed to death because I forgot the phone. Another noise and I throw off the cover, feet to the floor. Next thing I know I can’t pivot the doorknob key into lock! And my hands are shaking so badly I fear I’ll rattle the door in its frame. Hey you out there! Come get me! I might as well shout. Which way does the lock turn? Right? Left? Just as it clicks into place I hear footfall on the other side.
I freeze. Just for a moment. Then I’m across the room, grappling the lazy roll-up blind. Too loud. Half-heartedly, the blind at last gives me about eighteen inches. Good enough. I reach under, flip the window lock. Too loud! Every noise I make is going full blast. The window slides open with a trombone sigh. What, what? The screen? How do I get the screen out? I claw at the corner. Too loud too loud!! A loud snap, tooooo loud. The screen falls into the night. Now I’m trying to swing my legs out and over the sill, fighting the blind with more noise than a coop of hens all aflutter. I perch, one butt cheek in, one out, bare legs dangling in the wind. I hesitate. Maybe it’s just my imagination. And if I drop, I can’t get back in. And I’ll look pretty damn silly running around the neighborhood in bare feet and wearing only a short summer nightgown.
The rush and roar of my heart deafens me, pounding harder and faster than it ever has on a treadmill. Who needs a half hour of misery three times a week when all they need is someone to break into their house to give their heart a workout? I smell the sea. The tide’s in, the wind just right…a rare combination. Or maybe it’s just the salt in the sweat of my fear? All this darts through my head in a fraction of a second, whole thoughts, questions raised, curiosity up and sniffing like a chipmunk at its door while I remain dangling in terror half in, half out my window, straining, straining, straining to hear. Oprah of course would tell me to get the heck out of Dodge but I hang there.
I can see the slant of light under my door. If a shadow crosses, I’ll know. But then more noise and I drop, heavy as a brick, and land right on the screen, torking it out of shape. I’ve done this to a screen once before, at the old house. Dad had to fix it for me. There’s no one to fix this one, Dad’s dead, and a rush of loneliness rushes out of nowhere and takes me almost to my knees in sick fear. Dad! Dad! Tell me what to do!
I glance quickly down the narrow aisle of my side yard. I can dart in behind the rhodendrons, ease through the arbor vitae, then vault the floppy fish netting I’ve stapled behind them and land in the field behind the house. But what if I somehow get stuck in the netting, like Peter Rabbit? To say nothing of having to first tiptoe barefoot through the entire neighborhood’s unwanted cat poop! And once in the field? What then? Race over hay-stubble in my bare feet under full light of the moon? And to where? A single glance out a back window will give me away. Whoever’s in my house might--might?--have a gun and blow me to smithereens.
I glance the other direction, up to the front of the house. I dash for the gate. Shivering, trembling so badly I can hardly grasp the latch, I gratefully find it undone. The gate swings away noiselessly, but then collides with the gravel on the other side. Too loud! I give the gate a shove. The gravel grates, everything amplified. I squeeze around. Three steps. My feet find the brick I laid last summer. Just to my right is the garage. Tucked along the wall and beside the garbage can is a stump my dad made for my watering can. If I had my phone I could sit here in the shadow of garage and garbage, and call 9-1-1. But no phone. I have to get to a neighbor’s. Any instant the intruder will break into my bedroom and know I’ve flown the coop.
Do I go Lori’s? My neighbor on the other side of my house? But her porch lights will be on. One look out my kitchen window and the intruder has me in his sites. Who will get to me first? The guy with the knife, or Lori, wondering why someone’s ringing her bell in the middle of the night?
I sure as shooting ain’t going down to the mean Lori’s house. Down the street the opposite direction. Once-upon-a-time my boss, she replaced me in July with a twenty-year-old. I won’t get over the discrimination for a long time. Russell’s? I wonder. Across the cultesac? The scent of the sea is suddenly eclipsed by the garbage and I stagger forward, to the end of the garage and drive. What?
A car sits bold as you please in my driveway. I shrink back quickly and cozy up to the garbage can. Is someone at the wheel? Waiting for the guy inside to make his haul and come flying out for a quick getaway? I ease forward, thinking that the good Lori’s porch light might be bright enough for me to see. Yes, and no one’s in the car. Wait. . . Blake’s car? As in Blake, my twenty-eight-year-old son? Is that his car?
I dart quickly across the drive, past the face of my house and front porch. The accountant lamp on Grandpa’s desk, a warm glow behind the Venetian blinds, suddenly goes out. I plunge around the porch and gain the far side of the house.
The side windows are all over my head. No one inside is going to spot me while I work my way down to the back yard. But to where? Why? I’m losing all sense of rational thinking and I freeze at the back deck, mind paralyzed. Really, I can’t go up and peer through the glass doors to see if it’s Blake! How asinine is that? What if it isn’t? I have to find out if it’s Blake’s car. I have to. How?
I head back up to the front.
I’m passing the living room window when the wooden blinds above my head rattle. I jump a mile. Truly. I look up. Maybe it is Blake! A burglar, a murderer, wouldn’t be rattling the blinds. Would they? Or maybe they know by now I’m out here. My heart goes into overdrive. I cough on the pain in my chest and stumble forward, pause at the porch, car in full sight.
It looks like Blake’s car. Ah! I suddenly remember he’d been vandalized, that his radio has been stolen. I glance at my front window, where the accountant light is out. All is quiet. Very dark. No one is peering through the slats. I race to the car, peek in through the driver’s side. Oh my gosh, a gaping hole in the dashboard!
The relief is so profound and so swift my innards go warm and liquid and I nearly wet myself. True. At the same time I realize my feet are ice, and soaking wet from the grass that needs to be cut one more time before winter sets in. I stumble up the drive, knees so wobbly they’re knocking, stagger up the two cement steps and lean an index finger into the doorbell.
He doesn’t answer.
I use my thumb this time. Twice. Bing bong. Bing bong.
Get up, I say to myself, shivering and shaking and wondering how long I can stand. Then I hear him. He flips on the porch light. I hear him turn the dead bolt. The door swings open three inches. A very puzzled-looking Blake squints through the crack. Suddenly recognition lightens his eyes and, hand to his head and stepping back a bit, he says, “What the…”
“What are doing in my house?” I demand.
“What are you doing out there!”
“Someone broke in and I jumped out the window!”
“You jumped out the window?”
He let me in.
Of course I’m locked out of my bedroom. He has to go out and around and scramble up through the window. I try not to think of the damaged screen.
“How could you do this to me?” I demand when he sheepishly lets me into my own bedroom.
“I e-mailed you! I told you I might be staying over!”
“You didn’t e-mail me!”
I head for the computer, fire up Firefox. He’s laughing in the doorway and says: “When the doorbell rang and I’m wondering who might be calling? I never, ever, in my wildest dreams figured on finding my mother standing out there!”
And there’s his e-mail. i may sleep at your place tonight on the way back from vancouver, so if you hear a noise in the middle of the night don't be alarmed.
Who said better late than never?
I hear him wandering back to the living room and sofa. “This’ll be a funny story in the morning!” he calls over his shoulder. “We can have a lot of fun with this one!”
I kill Firefox. It blinks out. I trail Blake. “It would be a whole lot funnier if I’d had my phone and called the cops on you.”
“It would,” he agrees.
I turn back to my room. Gosh, that would have been funny!
“Someone needs to get you a tazer!” he hollers.
So guess what’s on my Christmas list. Happy Halloween, everyone!