The Air Beneath My Bed
Zoe Murdock

      "I'm sorry, Mrs. Slade. We've called off the search. Maybe you should have a memorial service . . . try to move on."
      Mara pressed her shoulders back against the hard wood of the dining room chair and forced herself to meet the eyes of the young police officer. "Is that what you'd do if your wife was missing and you didn't know what happened?"
      "I know it's hard, ma'am, but you've got to be realistic."
      How could he know how hard it was? She and Lenny had been together for almost fifty years. She knew he couldn't be dead. She would have felt it split her brain. There had to be some other explanation. "Please, officer, I know you've had people searching the mountains, but what if he's somewhere else. What if someone's holding him or maybe--"
      "That doesn't make any sense, Mrs. Slade. Just because we couldn't find his body doesn't mean there was foul play. People disappear like this all the time. It's hard to find someone in the mountains. It's a big place."
      She could see he was uncomfortable. He was ready to be done with this old woman who couldn't accept her husband was dead. Well, he could go. They could all go, but it didn't mean she was going to give up. She pushed her chair back and stood up quickly, bringing on a wave of vertigo that made her reach for the edge of the table to keep from falling.
      The officer grabbed her arm. "Are you all right?"
      "I'm fine." She pulled herself away from his grip.
      "Do you have someone you can stay with for awhile?"
      "Don't worry about me. I know what to do."
      "Are you sure you're all right?"
      She was afraid for him to go, but she was more afraid for him to stay. Afraid he'd keep trying to convince her that Lenny was dead. She'd be better off without him. She needed time to think, time to figure out where to look for Lenny. "I think I'd like to rest now."
      When Mara opened the door to let the officer out, the intense sunlight brought an instant stab of pain to her eyes and the loud roar of cars going by bewildered her. She fell backward against the door frame.
      Once again the officer took her arm. "I'm a little worried about you staying here alone in the middle of this industrial area, ma'am. Do you have someone to call if you need help?"
      Mara was uneasy about that too. It hadn't always been an industrial area. When the neighbors first started to disappear, she'd told Lenny she wanted to move. But after awhile it hardly mattered as long as she and Lenny were together. They mostly stayed inside. Now she felt the isolation, especially at night when everyone had gone home from their jobs, leaving the streets empty and eerily silent. But she wasn't going to mention that. She wanted the policeman to be gone. "I'm fine. Don't worry."
      She watched, with her hand shading her eyes, as he got inside his black and white car with its blood-red lights. She remembered another time she'd seen those lights flashing. Another time, a long time ago when Joey . . . she forced the thought from her mind. She wasn't going to think about that.
      When she could no longer see the police car, she hurried inside and closed and locked the door. She pressed her body against the smooth mahogany, feeling a wash of relief to be back in the cool darkness of the house. But within seconds the relief turned to panic. Her heart began to race and her head felt dizzy. If they weren't going to look for Lenny anymore, what would happen to him? How could he stay alive if everyone forgot him? She realized now it was up to her alone to keep him alive.
      She turned and faced the living room. Her eye caught the little broken wing of the bluebird figurine. She'd knocked it off the table that first night when Lenny didn't come home. Then she'd sat there for hours, holding the wing in place, waiting for the phone to ring. Now it was the only thing in the room that had any significance. The books, the television, the couch and chairs, the lamps, were all sterile, all meaningless now that Lenny was gone. It was as if she was a stranger in her own house.
      She thought she heard something and turned her head to listen. At first, she could only hear the silence of the house, but then she heard water dripping. She followed the sound to the kitchen and found Lenny's favorite coffee cup in the sink overflowing with water. She tried to turn off the tap, but it kept dripping. She watched the drops fall, listening to their plop, plop, plop. She thought of how Lenny liked his coffee black and how he never understood why she liked hers with sugar and cream. He'd laugh and say, "Do you want some cake and ice cream with your dessert?"
      She always said the same thing: "You're my dessert, Lenny. You always have been."
      Mara dumped the water out of the cup and put it back in the sink as another wave of vertigo hit her. She hurried into the bathroom and threw up in the basin, the wave of sickness returning again and again until there was nothing left but the bitter taste of bile.
      She sat on the edge of the bathtub to steady herself. She couldn't face cleaning up the mess in the sink so she stumbled to the bedroom and got in bed, pulling the covers tight around her neck. She couldn't stop shivering. It was probably a warm autumn day outside, but ever since Lenny disappeared she'd had a deep chilling pain inside, as if her bones had frozen.
      She lay listening to the plop, plop, plop from the kitchen sink. It was a rhythmic sound, almost like the beat of a heart. Like Lenny's heart. Then she heard a soft breath of air creaking through the huge pipes of the old furnace in the basement. She hated the basement. It was cold and damp, and there was that awful smell of coal dust that remained even after the furnace had been converted to gas. Whenever they needed a bottle of peaches or a couple of potatoes for supper, she'd make Lenny go down to the fruit room to get them. The only time she'd go down was when the laundry stacked up so high she had to do it. But even then she'd resist. Lenny used to kid her about it: "We better build a laundry room upstairs or we're not going to have any clothes to wear."
      She shuddered and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath trying to calm her mind, but it was impossible. She couldn't seem to keep herself from going over every detail again and again. She imagined Lenny driving up Little Cottonwood Canyon in their little blue Toyota, getting out of the car, and starting up the trail. Did he take anything to drink with him? Did he have a snack in his pocket? Whatever trail he'd taken, she was sure he would have kept going until he reached the top. How many times had they been caught out on some mountain trail trying to find their way back down in the twilight? Everyone said they were too old to be doing that, but they'd been doing it all their life together. She trusted Lenny. They'd laugh and pretend like they were lost to the world; that they had many mountains to climb before they'd reach civilization. She loved those kinds of adventures with Lenny. So why hadn't she gone with him this time? She always went with him. If only she'd gone.
      She knew what he'd say: You sprained your ankle, remember?
      "Did I?"
      "You liked to go so fast, I thought I'd hold you back."
      I guess I needed to prove I could still do it.
      Lenny always took pride in keeping himself in shape and it helped her do it to. Sure they always had aches and pains, but they were strong and healthy. But lately, Mara had begun to feel worn out sometimes. Sometimes she didn't feel like going hiking or swimming. Is that why it happened? Is that why he'd gone without her? Was she getting too old and slow for him?
      That's not true. You were great. You just got tired sometimes.
      "I don't know, Lenny. When you didn't come home, I thought you'd stopped to get apples from Tom. You know how you two always get talking. I didn't know. How could I know?" She should have called the police sooner, but she hadn't wanted to make a big deal out of things if nothing was really wrong. Maybe he just ran out of gas somewhere and was hiking down to where he could find a phone. Maybe there was nobody out there that late to pick him up. It was almost midnight before she finally called 911. Then the police came, but they said, "It's too dark." So they waited until morning to start looking.
      And then she'd told them to look in Little Cottonwood Canyon. That's what she thought he'd said, but she must have heard wrong. Or didn't remember it right. It took them two days to find his car in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Why didn't she listen more carefully? "I'm sorry, Lenny. I thought you'd gone to our favorite trail." But then he always liked a new trail. Said it opened his eyes and helped him see things more clearly. Said it widened the possibilities of perception. "I know how that is, Lenny, but now you've left me in this new place and I don't know if I can survive."
      After the searchers had looked up the trail from where Lenny's car was and couldn't find him, she wanted to go look for him herself, but the police said it was a crazy idea for an old . . . anybody to go wandering around the mountains alone. They said it wouldn't do any good; that she'd only hurt herself.
      "I didn't care about that? I just wanted to be where you were. Dead or alive, hurt or scared, I just want to be with you, Lenny. Oh, why didn't I go with you? I should have gone."
      She pulled the covers over her head, trying to escape into the darkness. She whispered, "If you were dead, I'd know it. I'd have heard the earth crack in two. Please, Lenny. Please, come home."
      Mara woke in the morning to the plop, plop, plop of the dripping tap. She lay perfectly still for a long time, curled up on her side with her eyes closed, listening, trying to gather the strength to get out of bed and face the empty rooms. It had been days since the officer came to tell her they were calling off the search, or had it been weeks? She didn't know for sure. She couldn't really remember what she'd been doing all that time. Had she even been out of bed? But she must have been. Oh, yes, her friend Emily had called again. She talked to her on the phone in the living room. "No, I don't need anything. Yes, I know Lenny's dead."
      But she was lying. She knew no such thing. She just didn't want to debate it. She was worn out with that conversation. After that she'd stopped answering the phone.
      She rolled onto her back and chided herself, "Get up, old girl. You've got to keep going. Get things cleaned up before Lenny comes home."
      Don't worry about that. It doesn't matter.
      Sometimes she had the strange feeling that Lenny had never been anything but a voice. Now, when she closed her eyes and tried to visualize his face, it was hazy and she'd have to think of his hands instead. How soft and warm they were. How comforting on her thigh at night in the winter. But what if she'd dreamed that up too? Maybe she'd imagined all those years together with him. All that love. The sorrow of what happened to Joey.
      She pushed the covers back, put her feet down onto the cold floor, and wiped away the tears. She could hardly see to put on the same old dirty housedress she'd been wearing for days, fumbling over the tiny buttons, rolling down the sleeves she'd rolled up the day before. She went into the bathroom to relieve herself and caught a glimpse of her thin wrinkled face in the mirror. "Dear God. Is that who I've become?"
      She moaned and wrapped her arms around herself, rocking back and forth trying to imagine it was Lenny holding her. She closed her eyes and whispered his name again and again until she thought she could feel him. Yes, there he was. She could remember the feel of him kissing her. Up in the hills above the city that night shortly after they met, with the snow falling in a wild, swirling flurry, the blue-white lights sparkling down below, the freezing air. She inhaled his hot breath into her lungs and held it for as long as she could before breathing it back into him mixed with her own breath. They made a pact to be together forever. "Lenny, I believed you." She hugged herself tight, and rocked and rocked and rocked.
      She didn't know how long she'd been standing there, but her joints felt stiff and sore. It was difficult to move. She forced herself to leave the bathroom, but out in the hall she was overwhelmed by the intolerable emptiness of the house. She moved from one room to the next, like a mouse trapped inside a maze. She couldn't find her way out because there was no out, there was nothing beyond the walls of the house. Outside, Lenny didn't exist. It was only inside that she could sustain him. And it was the place he'd return to, if he could return. She circled around, going from the living room to the dining room, to the kitchen. She emptied Lenny's cup and put it back in the sink, carefully placing it beneath the dripping tap. Then she went out into the hall past the bedroom to the bathroom again. For some reason, it was the bathroom that continually called to her. She pulled the door closed, but even then she could feel the narrow space between the bathtub and the counter urging her to come in. She could imagine the polished porcelain of the toilet and the sink and the bathtub gleaming white behind the door. "You laughed when I said the toilet was a fine work of art and the most comfortable seat in the house for reading. Who's going to make you laugh now, Lenny? Did you ever think of that?" She started to cry again.
      Don't think about the past. Think about the future.
      "But there's nothing there."
      You've got to be careful.
      "What do you mean, Lenny?"
      You know what I mean.
      He was right. It was dangerous to let her mind live in the past like that. Strange things had been happening. She kept finding herself in places she couldn't remember going to. And she'd been having such realistic dreams. The old house was pulling her here and there, forcing her to remember things she'd prefer to forget. Last night, she'd dreamed of being in the old unused coal room with the chute coming down through the window into the house. She woke in the middle of the night, tasting the black dust that puffed up and entered the house every time a gust of wind filtered its way through the gaps around the chute. She tasted the acrid bitterness as it blew into her face and she woke up coughing. She spun around and pushed hard against the door of the coal room feeling a wave of panic when it wouldn't give. She tried to remember where she'd been. "Up by the bathroom. I was upstairs. I know I was."
      The room was filling up with chunks of coal. The old coal delivery truck was out there, pouring it down the chute. She'd be buried. She pushed against the door again, but it wouldn't budge. Then she remembered it had happened before. She'd found herself in the bathroom, looking at herself in the mirror, and it was the same as now. She couldn't get out. Or was that a dream? She wasn't sure. "Am I dreaming now?"
      Wake up, Mara.
      "I can't, Lenny. I can't wake up."
      You've got to.
      She pushed her forehead against the door and whispered, "Please. I'm going to suffocate."
      The door fell open and she rushed across the cement floor and up the cement stairs to the upper rooms before her fear could drag her down again. But even when she was safely upstairs, she could feel the basement rooms wrestling with her memories, pulling her back down. That steel-framed bed where Joey slept when he was growing up. That cold tight room below ground, where even the blistering heat of summer couldn't penetrate. But Joey was gone. Dead like they said Lenny was. No. Lenny wasn't dead.
      She'd forced herself to go down there once, to lie in Joey's narrow bed after he died of pneumonia, to experience it, to feel what it had been like for him to sleep down beneath the earth like that, with only a pale shaft of light coming in through the small dirty window up near the ceiling. She smelled the sweet mustiness of his sweat lingering in the air. "Help me, Lenny, I'm drowning."
      She pushed the covers back and crawled out of Joey's bed, hurrying from the basement room, trying to escape the smell, the hard coldness of the cement floor, the gray cement walls. "We should have moved, Lenny. We should have found a house with a better room for Joey."
      She shivered and walked into the living room. She had a feeling she'd forgotten something, but what could it be? Her eyes settled on the glass shelves of the hutch and she saw the terrible face of the demon mask they'd bought in San Francisco that September of 1954. They'd taken a vacation to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. Walking down through the heart of Chinatown, they'd come across that old Chinese woman wiggling her finger and bidding them to follow her down the narrow stairs off the side street. "I didn't want to go, Lenny, but you made me. You said, 'Fear's the only thing that can hurt you. Don't let it get to you.' But I didn't believe you. I was afraid of something real." Then, down in the dark room below the street, the old woman crouched in the corner and came up spinning and squealing with the demon mask over her face. "Remember the smell in that room? It was sickening . . . almost like . . ."
      No, not that. It wasn't that.
      "It could have been, Lenny. You don't know."
      Mara spun around and spotted the ballerina perched on top of the television, caught in a perpetual pirouette. A doll for the new baby girl that never came. "I heard her last night, Lenny. She was giggling with Joey in the room behind the wall."
      It was your imagination. Don't think about it.
      Mara circled through the rooms again, ending up in the bedroom in front of the clothes closet fingering the material of Lenny's clothes.
      Why do you keep these things? Throw them away.
      "I can't, Lenny. I need them. I've got your old suits and your shirts and your ties. I've got your hairbrush, and your razor, and your tools in the garage. But I can't go out there anymore. I can't even take the garbage out. I'm afraid I won't be able to get back in. I've got the garbage bagged up though. Double bagged. I try not to eat anything that will rot, you know, just crackers and rice and cereal. The potatoes are gone. I know you like potatoes, but . . ."
      I don't need potatoes.
      She held Lenny's favorite old shirt up to her face, closing her eyes and breathing the scent of him deeply into her lungs. The room began to spin and she found herself in the basement on her knees, pulling on the pale green tendrils of old potatoes growing beneath the bottom shelf in the fruit cellar. The cement was wet and clammy against her bare legs. The air smelled moldy. She could hear water dripping. "The water heater's leaking again, Lenny. Who's going to fix the water heater?" She started to cry.
      Don't worry. It doesn't matter.
      She was thinking there was something she needed to do. But what was it? She went to the dining room and noticed the small green bowl on the table, but she couldn't remember how it got there. She took it to the kitchen and set it on the counter and then she saw Lenny's cup and picked it up and ran her fingers around the rim. She touched her fingers to her lips and then drank the water and set the cup back in the sink. "I'm so thirsty, Lenny. I'm so hungry."
      Those things don't matter. Nothing matters.
      She didn't know how much longer she could avoid going out. She hadn't had milk or eggs or any fresh fruit or vegetables for weeks, or was it months? But she was afraid to go out. Anything could happen out there. The world could turn upside down. She had no faith in it.
      She started moving through the rooms again, going around and around from one room to the next, circling until her head began to spin and she fell to the floor. "I'm scared, Lenny. I can't go out. But I can't stay in."
      Just stay where you are. It's okay.
      She was on the dining room floor where she had fallen, when she felt something change. The room seemed smaller, the white paint on the walls seemed a little grayer. She struggled to her feet and stumbled into the kitchen. The afternoon light was shining in, reflecting off the white metal cabinets. It was blinding. "Gotta eat somehing. Maybe I should, Lenny. How long has it been? Do you know?"
      Are you hungry?
      "I'm not hungry, but I think maybe I should eat." She looked in the refrigerator and took out a half-empty jar of peaches. She got a spoon from the drawer and took the peaches into the dining room. She sat at the table and ate them from the bottle. While she was sitting there, she noticed how dirty the lace table cloth was, but she didn't want to think about it. She didn't want to go to the basement to wash it. She was afraid of the furnace and she was afraid of the coal room. She was afraid of being underground and she was afraid her arms might get caught in the old antique washing machine. "We should have bought a new one, Lenny. It wouldn't have hurt."
      She was shocked to find herself in the basement, her arms elbow deep in the water of the wash barrel. She jerked her arms out, dripping soap suds onto her bare feet. It was dark and she didn't want to be there. She reached up to pull the chord of the single light bulb overhead.
      No, don't! You'll electrocute yourself. You don't want to die that way.
      She slumped down to the floor into the puddle of water. "What does it matter, Lenny? I don't want to live anymore. You're not coming back."
      Don't think like that.
      "But where could you be for so long without at least calling?"
      You've got to be ready. Don't give up.
      Mara grabbed hold of one of the legs of the wash barrel and pulled herself up. She took the tablecloth out of the soapy water and put it through the wringer into the rinse barrel. She pressed the button to turn the agitator on and stared into the swirling water, trying to silence her mind. After a few minutes, she put the tablecloth through the wringer again and pinned it onto the line of rope that Lenny had strung across the basement. She heard the roar of the flame in the furnace and hurried across the room and up the narrow cement stairs from the basement before the blower could come on and bellow out its black dust. As she came to the back door, she stopped, her attention caught for a moment by the gleaming bronze of the door handle. She reached for it.
      No. Don't go out.
      "I've got to, Lenny. I'm dying in here."
      No, love. Stay with me.
      She ran down the hall and into the living room and listened at the front door. She'd almost forgotten what was outside; the roar of the street, the sirens, the grass growing wild, the plants dying. Were there letters in the mailbox? Were there bills? What would happen if she didn't pay them? She wanted to go out to see, but she couldn't bring herself to open the door. She was afraid of what would happen to Lenny?
      She hurried into the dining room and peered out through the white lace curtains. She'd almost forgotten the warehouse was there, a tall blank brick wall just beyond her gravel driveway. She heard the plop, plop, plop of the water falling into Lenny's cup, like it was calling to her, trying to settle her mind, trying to keep her inside the house. She ran back to the living room and peered out the windows on the other side. Vera's house was gone. All those years they'd been neighbors and friends. Now there was only a field, the house torn down to build a fast food restaurant that never came. And all the rest of the neighbors gone, replaced by one warehouse after the next until she was left on this island by herself. "I have no one."
      You don't need anyone.
      "But I do, Lenny. I'm so alone."
      I'll stay with you.
      She walked quickly through the circle of rooms. On the second time around she stopped in the kitchen to empty Lenny's cup. She set it on the counter, not wanting to hear the dripping of the water anymore. She was quite sure she'd put it on the counter before. But maybe it was a dream. Or maybe she had imagined it. "I can't tell what's inside and what's outside anymore. Am I going crazy?"
      She realized it was dark outside. She'd been in bed for hours. Hadn't she? She couldn't remember going to bed. Couldn't remember taking off her clothes. But sometimes it happened like that. Sometimes she'd be thinking of something and suddenly find herself someplace else, not knowing how she'd gotten there. Her mind didn't seem to be able to hold on to itself anymore. Didn't seem to know what was real or imagined.
      She felt the coolness of the sheets against her skin and realized she was naked. But she always wore a nightgown. She was afraid of being found naked. How terrible to be found naked, an old dead body, decaying and naked. "I don't want them to find me in the basement, Lenny. Please, don't let it be in the basement. Coal dust in my lungs. The mold. Please, Lenny. Don't let it be the basement."
      She felt her skin against the sheets and thought of Lenny's hand, so warm in the winter on her thigh, keeping track of her all night long while they slept. She touched herself. Her breasts. Between her thighs. How long had it been since she tried? She couldn't remember. She began to rub herself, closing her eyes, imagining it was Lenny.
      That's right. Just feel your body. Forget your mind. Let it go.
      She felt herself slide into a pool of blackness, aware only of the rhythm of her fingers and an aching desire to feel Lenny's flesh against her flesh. She heard him moan. She was sure of it. And then they were in the bathroom, in the narrow space between the bathtub and the counter, the mirror watching. She felt the pressure of his hips moving rhythmically against her from behind. She could feel the fullness of him inside her. She could hear his heart. She began to cry.
      Come with me, honey.
      "Please, Lenny. I don't know how anymore."
      It's okay. It's alright.
      Suddenly, she couldn't breathe. There was no air in the house. She got out of bed and hurried to the window, pushing up against the wood frame. But it had been painted shut. She got a sharp knife from the kitchen and forced the blade down between the window and the frame, wiggling it through the paint. She pushed against the window again, but it still wouldn't budge. She was breathing black coal dust spewed up from the heat vents of the old furnace. It was suffocating her.
      She hurried to the bathroom and cranked open the metal-framed window, taking in deep gasps of air, but the little window didn't let in enough air. She rushed to the living room and opened the windows and then to the dining room and the kitchen opening every window in the house. It was there, back in the bedroom, that she saw the man outside watching her from beneath the walnut tree. She could see him clearly in the moonlight. She switched off the light, but she was sure he'd already seen her nakedness. She waited until her eyes had adjusted to the dark and then she moved back to the window, hiding herself behind the curtain, pressing her nose against the window to see if he was still there. She shivered and whispered, "Is that you, Lenny?"
      But it couldn't be Lenny. He wouldn't stay outside creeping around the backyard. He'd come in. It had to be someone else. But what was he doing out there? Did he want to hurt her? Would he break through the door?
      She hurried to the living room to check the front door to be sure it was locked, then circled around to check the back door. She thought she heard crunching in the gravel in the driveway. She ran back to her bedroom, looking around wildly for somewhere to hide, but there was nowhere he wouldn't find her. She got down on her knees and looked beneath the bed to see if there was enough room for her under there. She heard something. Maybe the back door opening. Maybe the wind.
      She lay on her back and slid under the edge of the bed. It was so tight she didn't know if she could fit, but she pushed the air out of her lungs and wiggled and strained until she reached the center. The boxed bedsprings pressed against her chest so hard she couldn't get any air in her lungs. She closed her eyes and listened. She heard a strange whooshing sound, but she couldn't tell what it was. She held her breath to hear better, but the sound had stopped. When she breathed again, she realized it was her own desperate gasps that she'd heard, the only breath she could take against the tremendous pressure of the bed on her chest. She was drenched with sweat and yet she was freezing. She tried to calm herself but she couldn't stop shivering. When she tried to shift herself to a more comfortable position, she realized she was trapped. Her body had swollen up with fear. "I can't get out, Lenny. Help me."
      Calm yourself, love. Everything's fine now.
      She tried to get control of her breath, to let it flow softly, without urgency, in and out, in and out. She felt calmer. A little less pressure on her chest. Then suddenly she felt warmer. She realized the furnace had come on. But why? She hadn't turned it on. Who could have done it? She could taste the bitter air and she felt the coal dust burn her nose, and fill her lungs. She started to cough, but there was no room to cough. The tension in her chest increased and she felt a desperate need to free herself. She tried to get her forearms straight so she could push up against the box springs, but there wasn't enough room. She tried to lift with her knees, but she couldn't get any leverage.
      Don't fight it, my love. Let it come.
      She realized she was going to die under there. But that was crazy. She'd gotten under the bed, so why couldn't she get out? She had to get out. She strained against the bedsprings, with every muscle in her body, pushing up with everything she had, but it was as if the bed was glued to the floor. She wailed, pushing again and again, praying to God that it would move just a little. Her chest started to ache and a sharp pain shot down her arm, and she had to stop trying to move it. "Lenny, I'm scared."
      There's nothing to it, love. Close your eyes and think of something nice. Remember the day we met in Sugarhouse Park?
      "Yes. I remember."
       It was evening. The sun was setting in a golden blaze and a slight breeze was blowing through the trees making shadows dance in the grass. You were sitting in a swing watching the children spinning around and around on the merry-go-round.
      "I was thinking about the children, wondering if I'd ever have one."
      "You were so exquisite in your pale blue dress with your yellow hair catching the last light. I couldn't keep myself from sneaking up behind you to give you a push. You were so surprised I nearly pushed you out of the swing.
      "I know, it scared me to death. But I still went with you to that funny little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant for egg fu yung. I didn't know what to think of you. You said such strange things. When I started to tell you about myself, you said it was all an illusion, that the things I believed about myself and the world were just a subjective version of reality. You said I could change the world if I wanted to, just by changing my beliefs. I thought about that for a long time. When I finally realized what you were saying, I felt a shift in me . . . an instability that's been with me ever since. I feel it now, Lenny. I don't know what's real."
      When you question everything you believe, it leaves you with no place to stand.
      "But how can we live that way, Lenny, never knowing what the real truth is? Sometimes we have to be able to count on the truth, or we won't know what to do."
      What do you want to do, love?
      "I want to be with you, Lenny. That's the only thing."
      Then be with me.
      "I don't know how. I don't know where you are."
      I'm right here. Inside you like I've always been.
      "Inside me?"
      Mara took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She could hear something. Was it Lenny's heart beating or was it only the drip in the kitchen? She didn't know, but it brought her comfort. "Lenny, do you remember that time we were driving back from Las Vegas? We stopped in that canyon where the highway goes across the tip of Arizona and went for a hike. I told you that we were like Siamese twins and that every time you got too far away from me I could feel the tug on the band of flesh between us. We laughed so hard thinking of all the places we could be attached: side to side, head to head, heart to heart. Do you remember that?"
      Of course, I remember. I remember everything.
      "You do?"
      Of course.
      "Will I remember things like that too?"
      Of course, you will. That's all we have, isn't it?
      "But I don't want them to find me naked, Lenny. And what's going to happen if they don't find me at all? Will the rats come?"
      Believe me. It doesn't matter.
      "Are you sure?"
      I'm sure. Now, come on. I want to show you something.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

Want to comment on this story? Click Here to go the Literary Review Discussion Forum

Want to contact the author? Click Here