by Anneke Majors
Like I had on so many other nights, I sat on top of my bedspread with a book propped on my knees and pillows stacked behind my head. The bedspread was rather humorous and juvenile; beige with a large soft cat smiling up at me. The book wasn’t humorous, but I was enjoying it. It had been a long time since I had let myself read science fiction short stories, and though it didn’t provide quite the adolescent thrill it once had, this particular author was pleasant and rather adept. I sighed a little inside, however. Even the most cunning turns of plot seem to fail to catch my breath these days. I mentally crossed “reading sci fi” off of the list of things that just might be as exciting and fulfilling as they once were. It joined salsa dancing, shopping and baking.
I put down the hardback and I picked up my journal and for a moment simply held it and examined its construction. I had bought it at Muji, the incredibly hip brand-free boutique in
I leafed through its pages; I had begun it in October. Its entries spanned my last few months in
I began hesitantly writing on the first available blank page. I managed to remember the date, and I began to pour out the details that haunted the corners of my mind. Writing late at night, however, always does the truth a bit of a disservice. It makes things sound much more dire than they could possibly be.
The night a few weeks earlier when my mother and I had driven back obscenely late from the salsa dance sprang to mind. I had been going to bed every night by 10:30 at the latest, but she had talked me into the outing, and I found myself keeping her awake with conversation as we threaded our way through the 2:00 am mountain valleys.
“I just love to dance,” she had sighed. “Just to shake all your worries out of your body for a while.”
“I used to,” I admitted, “but it seems different somehow.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I had fun. I danced a lot. But it still felt kind of hollow. Before, I could always lose myself completely at a dance.”
Mom nodded. I paused, and then continued. “It’s like as much as I try, nothing really matters anymore. Or at least doesn’t matter enough.”
“Is it because you want to be back in
“It’s not even that. I even felt it winding down my last few weeks there. I know it’s over, but…. I guess I don’t know what’s next.”
“Oh, I think you know,” Mom said.
“You want to meet someone.”
I thought about it as I pondered the white line at the side of the road.
“You want to meet someone and get married, but you won’t open yourself up to that. Well, at least to talking about it.”
I rolled my head in tired circles to stretch my neck as I mumbled my reply. “Maybe. But only because if I let myself entertain it, I just end up getting disappointed.”
The words looked so pitiful as I scratched them out on the dotted pages. I thought about my poor posterity, having to read the same overblown melodramas in volume after volume of my journals. Assuming anyone would keep reading them that long. Maybe they would serve as an excellent moral lesson on why the youth shouldn’t let themselves get romantically strung out. You’ll just end up like our poor spinster auntie, bless her heart…
I snapped the journal shut and placed it gingerly on one of a stack of important books that orbited my headboard. I again rolled my neck and then twisted myself around towards the wall, stretching my spine.
I took a look at my tidy but cluttered room, noticing that my red Mag-Lite flashlight had rolled out from under my bed. I reached down and picked it up, snapping the rubbery button on and off a few times. Satisfied that the batteries were still in order, I tucked it back beneath my bed with a half-hearted attempt to get it back in the backpack that served as my 72-hour emergency kit. I think I crushed a couple granola bars in the process.
I slid my feet down to the floor, regretting the fact that the light switch was all the way on the other side of my 8-by-8 rented bedroom. Feeling my way back to the bed, I knelt at the floor by its side and buried my clasped hands in the beige cat blanket. I tried to empty my mind of whatever thoughts I could easily dispose of. The worst were the sticky, persistent things like lyrics and tunes.
Frustratingly, there was a rhythmic and exotic one that wouldn’t quite leave. It played on mercilessly as I was trying to focus my thoughts, almost seeming to grow louder.
Tambourines or finger cymbals were marching happily with a sultry winding horn. The sideways bars of an almost oriental melody were making their rounds in my mind. I tried to replace them with something else; the words of my favorite hymn began asserting themselves loudly. But the persistently simple tambourines wouldn’t stop. Rather, they seemed to grow louder, and I could hear added to them the mumbled cacophony of human voices.
I straightened my posture – I was still kneeling by the bed, but I raised my head and turned my face toward the open window and the cool summer air it was letting in. The voices and the music were coming from outside the window!
I stood and tiptoed to stick my head under the homemade curtain that covered my window. It wasn’t so much a window as a well that let occasional sunlight seep into my basement bedroom, but standing near it, the music was unmistakable. It was voices and tambourines; a snaking gypsy tune and the twitter of an excited crowd. I lived in a quiet, isolated college town in the
I sat on my bed, but was too curious to stay put for long. I crossed the room and flicked on the light, pausing to make sure the music was still there. It was. It was getting closer.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror above my dresser. My hair, unleashed from its daily confinement in braids and buns, was tumbling over my shoulders in a rocky waterfall. Though my face was a little pink from having been scrubbed clean of makeup, my dark eyes were shining brightly and looked remarkably feminine. I posed for just a moment; catching a glimpse of myself from a few choice angles. I was rather pretty, I thought, which is not a thought that tends to cross my mind often.
The music was still there, and was coming very close. Some of the voices were so close I could make out words, though they didn’t seem to be in a tongue I recognized. My mind shuffled through its language circuits, trying to interpret Japanese, French, English. Among the twittering sounds of the music, however, the words were being clipped and lost and rendered uninterpretable.
I was curious, and beyond the point of dismissing the unfamiliar music as a random fluke of neighborhood activity. Something strange was happening, and I was yearning to find out what it was.
There was a sudden rattling and a series of thumps from above my head that made my heart shudder between beats. Startled, it took a moment for me to realize it had been a knock on the door. I glanced again at the mirror, trying to smooth my pink floral pajamas into something presentable.
There was another knock at the door. I waited to hear my landlady’s footsteps, remembering a moment later that she was out of town. I was the only one at home. A spear of fear shot through my body, but I grabbed for a nearby blazer, an improvised cover for my ridiculous nighttime apparel, and reached for the doorknob. The music had faded into quiet, but the voices seemed to suggest that a rather large crowd was standing in my yard, wrapped around my house.
I pulled on the doorknob, hesitated, and turned back again to my bed, reaching quickly for the heavy metal flashlight I had just stuffed into the backpack. I grabbed it, pulled the lapels of my blazer close together and, almost automatically, opened my bedroom door and climbed the stairs to the landing where the back door was being knocked upon. I flicked on the flashlight, a little naively confident in its protective power.
The porch light, however, was still on, and was illuminating the faces of some middle-aged men in beards and strange ratty clothes.
The night air behind them was lit with flickering lights that betrayed the identities holding them; a train of smiling faces, women and men, that were jabbering happily. Compelled by sheer curiosity, I brushed my hair back from my face, grasped my own flashlight tightly, and pulled open the door.
I was met with shouts and cheers. The bearded men standing on the doorstep flung their arms out joyfully. Some of the people applauded.
“The bride! The bride!”
The music started up again at a lively pace, as everyone started singing about the bride. I looked around for the bride.
The crowd parted and a younger man, dressed in white linen, stepped forward in a burst of even louder applause. He had clear, piercing eyes and a gentle look on his face. He was framed by the gazes of an expectant crowd, all focusing on him, while he focused only on me.
I turned, bewildered, to some of the bearded men standing near me. One patted my shoulder in a fatherly gesture, and extended his other arm towards the man in white. “Your bridegroom,” he gestured.
I cocked my head and fixed everyone in my immediate circle with the same inquisitive gaze. They alternately nodded and applauded fervently. I looked back at the man in white. He was walking slowly toward me as the crowd opened and closed around him, and I found myself descending the concrete stairs and unconsciously walking toward him. I was sure I had never seen him before, but at the same time his features looked comfortingly familiar. There was nothing but kindness and tenderness in his gaze. He smiled slightly and spoke my name.
The cold mountain summer blew fitfully, tossing my hair into my face, but I brushed it back, not feeling anything. I stared into his eyes and realized an overwhelming sense of familiarity and a flood of memories seemed to hover on the cusp of rushing back into my mind. I reached forward deliberately and lightly grasped his proffered hand.
“You came for me?” I said, more a statement than a question.
“I have prepared a house for you,” he smiled.
I let myself walk forward, matching his stride as the procession started moving with wails and trills of joy. The music carried us onward and we left behind the calm summer evening and the little house that for so long had been the extent of everything I knew. It receded into dark silence, settling back into the peace of ignorance, visited as it were by a thief who stole so suddenly and quietly from the night that no one heard his coming.
author’s note: any and all critiques welcome