by Meirav Zehavi
When I woke up they weren’t there.
Everything was the same except for the silence. They always wake up before me, but it’s never quiet; I can hear them preparing for a new day while I’m still struggling my dreams of the past. There’s this one dream where I see him explodes. It seems so real, like fireworks, like I can come closer and explode myself. Black flies, shining like onyx and fairy dust, feast the rotting corpse. I used to dream about it almost every night. Lately I’ve started to forget, but I still remember his name. This I can’t forget. There were times I thought it’s the only name I know, the only name that’s real.
Now it’s also quiet, and now it’s scary.
I tried to remember if they had to go somewhere, maybe they’d told me and I–beep beep beep–forgot. Sometimes I forget things. Maybe I didn’t pay attention. The night-light I’m holding is flickering.
They didn’t leave a note on a pillow or on a chest of drawer. Nor did they leave a note on the fridge. The entrance door was locked, and none of the keys was missing. I looked for–my foot is stuck in the muddy ground and something’s pulling my ankle and I point my night-light at it. I think I saw snakes, fingers and eyeballs underneath the earth. God, I can hear my teeth chattering.
I looked for them inside the house. The night-light is flickering again. I mustn’t think of the fact it might go out. I took the curtains off the windows; pure light-springs flowed in, washing walls and floors. I found black dust, which looked like smashed flies, between the tiles of the bedrooms and the laundry room. I found tiny transparent wings sparkling on sheets, lamps and under the beds and the washing machine. Here is where it’s dark, and there are no curtains that can be taken off windows. There are no windows. Here is where it’s cold. Beep is guiding my way around here. Without him I’ll be lost.
I’m cold. Very. I fell asleep in my nightgown, and I’m still wearing it. I’m trying to focus on my story and not on the cold and the things I think I see around me; think, because when I point my night-light at them–they disappear. Now I’m hearing steps–not just mine and Beep’s–and they’re getting closer and farther and closer again. They can’t listen to my story–they don’t have ears. They don’t have bodies. Here is where there’s no one that can hear, no one that can listen. Only Beep, maybe, but he’s concentrating on our road. Maybe I should try talking to… you? Can you hear me?
Are you listening?
Of course–beep beep beep–not. Only Beep’s here with me. The night-light is about to go out. If it goes out, maybe the shadows will develop bodies. Maybe the ground will develop a body. I’m so scared, though not of the shadows. Can you hear me? The night-light is flickering like a fly caught in a spider’s web.
Maybe you are listening–the night-light is as bright as the moon right now. It’s illuminating with the intensity it had when I got here–when I closed my eyes.
One day I woke up in the morning and you, my husband, and our daughter had disappeared. Is it frightening? Is it funny? Is it strange?
Is it surprising? The truth is that it isn’t surprising. It’s never surprising if you pay attention. It’s never “one day”. There are always signs underneath the surface. It can be under your nose, feet or skin. Mostly it’s underneath your skin. You can peel it and see. You’ll need to scratch the signs off your bones.
I was sort of surprised. I guess I didn’t pay attention, at least not until recently. I guess I didn’t want to care, not again. But when it happened, when it really happens–I do care, and it hurts.
It still hurts; and if I lose you two, it always will. It’s scary. I’ve already experienced such thing, and I’ve never got over it.
I remember the first night after we’d moved in together. I noticed you had a night-light in the bedroom. You turned it on when you thought I was sleeping. You were ashamed. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t investigate. I don’t like stepping on broken branches. We had a pack–leave the past in the past. No questions. After a few weeks, in the evening, you threw it into the garbage can. You didn’t buy a new one. I looked at you, and you had such a beautiful smile.
“Now you’re here,” you said. You had such a beautiful naive smile.
The next day we talked about it. I asked you if you are afraid of the dark, and you said you are, even when there’s light outside.
“I guess the darkness is inside of you, consuming you, like hungry flies,” I said. “It doesn’t matter whether there’s light or darkness, whether it’s hot or cold, whether you’re awake or asleep. Things of the outside never touch things of the inside.”
“I thought so, too, not long ago. But look,” you held my hand, “they do.”
I was silent.
“I’m also afraid of my ex,” you said.
“What?” I laughed. “Why?”
You laughed quietly. “She’s obsessed about me. Part of her behavior is my fault. I broke up with her in a bad time, we were about to…”
I stopped laughing. “Wait,” I interrupted. “Let’s not talk about the past. OK?”
You hesitated. “All right, but no living in the past either.”
I had a bad dream that night. I dreamt about her. She had red hairs which curved as snakes around her pale face. She had long fingers and even longer fingernails, and she sharpened them using a trunk of a tree. She sharpened her teeth, too. She caught me staring and fled out of my sight. Some of her hairs were left behind her, and I noticed they were real snakes. They burrowed under the ground and tried to sting my heels. They whispered things I didn’t understand and exhaled fire. I was shaking, but I didn’t run away. It started raining, and then they fled. When I woke up I heard knocking on the window. I saw it was raining.
Here is something I’ve never told you. My dear husband, when I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t intend to tell you. I scheduled an abortion. It was supposed to happen a week after my return–if you recall, I was in an archeology exhibition at the time. The doctor told me that if I do it, I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant again since I’d already had an abortion. I couldn’t carry a dead man’s child.
I remember my flight back. The woman sitting next to me wore a long dress, silk gloves, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. A lock of hair as red as fire and as curly as smoke slipped away from her hat and slid on her forehead. I thought she was staring at me all the time, though I couldn’t see her eyes under those dark sunglasses. I tried to sleep. Most of the other passengers had already managed to do that. They tilted their chairs backwards, took out pillows and blankets, put on blindfolds and dreamt about a home they once had–or at least that was what I imagined while my eyes were closing.
I felt a breeze blowing over me and vines climbing on my legs. There were noises of snoring and animals’ pacing. I opened my eyes and saw vines climbing on seats and sleeping passengers. I saw thick, short trees; their branches were jointed together like vertebrae in an organism’s backbone, and their leaves were threaded onto it like beads. Squirrels and foxes were hopping in the aisles. I turned to look aside. The woman wasn’t wearing her sunglasses. She was looking at me, inside of me, like her gaze was cutting its way through my flesh. Her eyes looked like a snake’s eyes. She tilted her head while she was examining me, and then she pinched my elbow.
“Ouch,” I said, though I didn’t feel a thing. I looked at my wrist watch, but it didn’t work. “Stupid watch,” I said. Then I turned around to face her again. “What’s your problem?” I asked.
“I love flying,” she said. Her voice didn’t sound at all like I thought it would. It was as deep as a well, as cold as the wind and as distant as light for those who travel in forbidden woods. “So many helpless sleeping people,” she continued, “trapped together above the clouds.”
“Ha,” I said.
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re not much of a talker.”
“No,” I said.
She smiled. “You’re flying back, going to meet your boyfriend.”
“How do you…”
“Just guessing,” she shrugged. “My boyfriend and I were engaged. He’d left me two weeks before our wedding. He met some other girl. He didn’t tell me that, but I know. He was smiling when he told me we’re over. He didn’t mean to smile. I think he didn’t even notice that he was smiling. He was thinking about her, that’s why he smiled. He has the prettiest smile, you know? I thought so even when he told me we’re over.”
I didn’t know what she’d wanted from me. “I’m sorry,” I said.
She shrugged. “Do you like flying? This plane is like a metal sealed bubble, flying in optimistic blue sky. Do you like bubbles?”
Before I had the chance to answer, she’d already taken out a purple bottle, and started blowing bubbles. “Did you know that bubble solution can be made out of sugar and babies’ shampoo? I love sugar. I put a lot of sugar in this solution. You can taste it if you want. I also put some babies’ shampoo,” she said and looked at me.
“It’s suffocating in here,” she said, “I should open a window.”
“No,” I said. I moved uncomfortably on my chair. “Who are you anyway?” I asked, and a fly appeared between us. It wasn’t exactly a fly; it was shining like onyx and fairy dust, and it had only two wings. She looked irritated. She took off one of her gloves and caught the fly between two long fingers. She burnt it with a lock of her hair. The fly’s body became black dust.
“There are no names in here,” she said, “and clocks don’t work. There’s no time in here.”
She began opening a window. “Stop!” I yelled and tried to pull her away. I looked out the window and saw another forest. It was too close. It was different than the forest inside the plane; its trees were tall with thin branches, bare like bones, and on their treetops sat noisy crows. The forest got closer and closer. Now I wasn’t sure those were crows–they had tails. They looked like little dogs.
I managed to take her hands off the window. I saw the forest was getting even closer, and then I woke up. I saw the plane had just landed. I looked at her, but she wasn’t looking back at me. She was looking across the aisle at some man who was still sleeping.
“Will you marry me?” you said. You were prepared, had a ring and everything.
“What? No,” I said. “I’ve already told I’ll never get married. I’ll never call a man ‘my husband’.”
“Oh,” you said. “I thought you’ll cha… never mind.” You stared at the ground.
Surprisingly, it was hard for me to bear that look of yours. I put on my best smile and said, “I’m pregnant.”
I’m trying to be brave now. You say I’m brave. Our daughter is brave, and you say it’s dangerous. She’s only five, and she already wants to know everything about everything.
She’s a daydreamer like you, and courage and daydreaming–it’s a dangerous combination. One of her hobbies is to climb the tall tree beside our house, whose branches caress the fence of our porch. She says she can view everything from its treetop–all the people, animals and plants. It’s a stable tree, but its branches are as thin as eyelashes. When there’s wind, in the autumn, it sounds as if tiny flying children are holding its sticks and are rubbing them along the grates of our fence.
The first time we saw her sitting on the treetop was when she was only three years old. We had no idea how she’d got there. You mumbled how you’ve always wondered how things look when you view them from treetops. Your eyes were vague. She could fall, break her back and be paralyzed. I was irritated. I climbed the tree and caught her. On our way down, I broke a branch. It sounded like a sprain, like a bone breaking.
She loves trees. A lot of trees. A forest. She, and so does you. I can’t understand why. In the autumn, when trees shed leaves, you say the trees are getting clean from dirt. You say leaves are dirt. You say leaves hide things. You didn’t explain this attraction to the woods, and I didn’t ask. I didn’t mind being left out of your little secrets, and I thought I never will.
Do you remember the day we brought Beep home? It was two years ago. You two love animals, so we went to an animals’ shelter. On our way there, our daughter didn’t stop talking about which type of dog or cat she’d choose. After she was done mentioning all the types she knew, she pulled out a purple bottle, which I don’t remember buying her, and started blowing bubbles.
We saw animals of all colors, shapes and sizes. Our little girl was running all over the place; she wanted to see everything before she’d choose, and in any event she loves running and being unruly. She kept pulling our clothes, demanding us to see some dog or cat; but she didn’t really like any of them.
She was pulling my sleeve when a couple standing in front of us–they, too, had a little girl–were looking at a cage which was placed on the floor, not much higher than the woman’s high heels shoes. In the cage was a small black dog with pointy ears and a missing leg. “What’s that,” said the woman, “I see they’ve started handing out broken dogs.” The man nodded, and the girl stuck out her tongue at the dog.
“This is the dog I want,” our daughter said. The dog sneezed.
“Why?” I asked.
“He’s special,” she said. You smiled and nodded.
“I’m not sure, he looks strange,” I said.
She got upset. “Daddy understands me and you don’t,” she said. You shrugged. You wanted this dog; I could see it in your eyes, in your smile.
“OK,” I said, “OK, fine. We’ll take him.”
When I was watching the two of you taking the dog, I felt there, and not there. I felt like the three of us are in the same cinema, but sometimes you get inside the movie and I’m left behind, sitting alone, watching from the outside. I’d been carrying this feeling for a couple of weeks, but I didn’t want you to know.
Only when you were outside I asked the owner of the center what’s this dog’s type.
“I’ve never seen anything like him before,” he said. “One day I came into the store and there he was, sitting in his cage.”
I tried to think of another question, but you were already calling me. Our girl was jumping up and down her seat, and the dog was getting really excited. They were about to destroy the car.
He’s a good dog, but a little strange. He’s never chased cats, and he’s never barked like a normal dog. He’s made some weird noises like “flup flup flup” and “ririri-roo”. None of these voices has ever sounded like “beep”, but our daughter insisted that it should be his name.
Our daughter is brave, but even she has fears. Everybody has. She’s afraid of the dark.
“It’s just your imagination,” I said. We were sitting on her pink bed.
I turned on the light. The room looked exactly as it did before I turned it off. “See?” I said. “Nothing to be afraid of.”
“They ran away when you turned on the lights!” she said.
“Don’t be silly,” I caressed her hair. “They don’t have any reason to run away if they want to scare you.”
“Maybe they’re afraid of light,” she said. “I’m afraid of darkness and they’re afraid of light.”
“Such nonsense,” I said.
“You’re wrong! Wrong wrong wrong!” she said, almost crying. “And I don’t think they just want to scare me.”
In the mornings of the following days all the dolls and teddy bears in her room were directed towards her bed–towards her, or, maybe, a little below her. There was something disturbing in their ‘gazes’. I thought it was only my imagination; but each time I’d organized them in the evening, I found them in their previous positions in the morning. I thought she was trying to scare me because I didn’t take her seriously. I wasn’t angry. Like you always say, ‘it’s OK’. I thought she’ll understand she’s wrong and stop this behavior.
We bought her a night-light. You chose it. When it was turned on, she wasn’t afraid to go to sleep.
The night-light looked like it was covered with leaves. It illuminated a strange green light. As the days passed, the light became darker, until our daughter didn’t want to go to sleep again. We had to buy her a new night-light. She didn’t want to keep the old one; she said it was ‘full’, and threw in from our porch. We promised her that it’s OK and we won’t use it, but she’s a smart girl, she knows better than believing that. The glass sank in the soil at the foot of the tree. Every month she reminded us to buy a new night-light of the same model.
“Why are you reading?” you asked.
“Why? You meant ‘what’,” I said.
“I meant ‘why’.”
“Because I enjoy it.”
“You do? You always say you hate the books you read. Have you ever read a book you liked?”
“Of course,” I said.
“And recently, I mean, in the last five years?” you squinted your eyes.
“I think… No, that was six years ago, before I met you… maybe…”
“All I’m saying is that if you don’t like…”
“Don’t interrupt me. I love reading. There are some books I’ve read for which I feel more love and passion then I’ll ever feel to any living human-being.” I guess I should’ve added ‘except you’, but I was too angry to think about that.
“Yeah, I know,” you said.
I rolled my eyes and continued reading.
“I also know that you were married once. You were about to have a baby. You see, I know things, though you never tell me.”
“So you’ve been investigating. Don’t ever do that! You know my privacy is the most important thing for me.”
“I wasn’t inves…”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You know I respect your privacy. Sometimes you dream about him, though not as often as you used to, so I…”
“You don’t have any idea what I dream about. If I recall, you’re not so perfect yourself. You’ve just told me a year ago that when we started dating, you were still dating another girl. Sorry, not dating, you were engaged.”
“Yes, but I’ve told you. I mean, I’ve managed to tell you. You never want to hear anything. You think that you’re the only one that has been through things. You don’t have any idea where I’ve come from. I don’t know, maybe you don’t care.”
“I do care, but I’m not sorry. I’m just… I’m just not much of a talker.” I wondered where I’d heard that before.
“I… I don’t want to fight,” you said. “It’s OK. I’m sorry. I mean… If you ever… Just know I’m here for you.”
I’ve just remembered something that happened two weeks ago. I’ve almost forgot it, and I think you should know. Sometimes I forget things though I’m not a daydreamer like you, my husband. We’re not married, but I know you don’t mind me calling you ‘my husband’. What I’ve remembered is the night when the night-light went dark very fast, almost instantly. It became as black as Beep; though the night before it was as green as fresh cut grass–I could almost smell it.
She woke up screaming, and I tried to calm her down. You were angry, I didn’t know why. You said you forbid her from going that far in those woods. I didn’t understand it, and then you left the room. You seemed frustrated, and I’m not just talking about that particular day. “I’m almost done of hearing his name in your dreams. You’re calling him ‘my husband’. It makes me sick, you know?” you used to say.
I sat on her bed. Beep entered and made a ticking-clock sound. He licked our feet, it tickled, and we raised them on the pink sheet. Afterwards, I covered her with her blanket and put her to sleep. I was watching her sleeping. At first I didn’t know why I’d started crying. She’s so pretty, I could see that. Then I understood, I was looking for his features in her. This is sick, I understood. I was ashamed and sorry. I wept my tears, and looked at her again.
She’s special, our little girl. She has my facial features and yours curly black hair and gray-blue eyes. She has my body structure, though a bit thinner, and your pointed ears and long fingers. I really love you two. I hope you know that.
After a week it happened again. You told her the same thing, so I dragged you out and asked you what had just happened. You said you don’t understand why I care. I went back to her room and looked under her bed. I thought I’d saw crawling, whispering, burning red hairs. I turned on the light so I could see better, and when I looked under her bed again they weren’t there, and the girl said, “Mum, I’m trying to sleep.”
Beep made a sound of an alarm clock in each of the following mornings. I didn’t understand what he wanted. He didn’t want to eat or do his body wastes or play outside.
Yesterday Beep woke me up at five o’clock in the morning. He held a night-light in his mouth. “Bad dog,” I said, “this isn’t a game.”
He went out of our room and walked in the hallway. “Aygkijdsryiuplkjxtser,” he barked.
I was tired and out of focus. I thought that maybe he’d wanted to see the night-light working. It’s the only thought I could produce at that hour. I turned on the lamps in the hallway. I hauled myself to its middle, sat down on the cold floor, plugged in the night-light and turned it on. Nothing happened; but he continued to bark unintelligible things. I turned off the lamps in the hallway. Nothing happened.
Today at five o’clock he acted the same. I was really exhausted because of the night before. I didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. I went to the kitchen to take a glass of water, and when I was drinking I noticed how oddly silent the house was. I could hear myself drinking when I understood you’d disappeared.
So I looked for you in every room, trying to remember if… Oh, I forgot I’d already told you this part. Sometimes I forget things, you know. I called everyone I know; they weren’t very helpful.
I called the police to report on a kidnap. “I think it was a redhead woman about…”
“You need to wait at least twenty-four hours,” the policeman interrupted.
I sat on the porch. Waiting was scary. I’ve been sleeping long enough–six years. The tree was leafless, and the wind blew at it. I heard tiny voices coming from behind the cages of its bare branches. They sounded like giggles. It was getting darker. I looked down at the foot of the tree and saw the black shards of the night-lights. I rubbed my eyes. They were sparkling. I also noticed the shards of the glass I’d broke. They’d gotten black, but they didn’t sparkle.
I changed my clothes to my nightgown. I was very tired. Beep was holding a night-light in his mouth. I took it from him. I decided to try something.
I went into our daughter’s room and turned on the fluorescent lamp. I sat on the pink bed and unplugged the night-light. It was as black as coal, and its light bulb was burnt out. I plugged in the night-light I’d taken from Beep, and turned it on. Nothing happened. Beep jumped on the bed and snuggled under the blanket. I turned off the fluorescent lamp, and sat on the bed again. I expected that now something will happen.
Afterwards, I fell asleep. Then I came here. I found myself in my nightgown, holding a night-light. It turns out that it’s really made out of leaves. I also found Beep. I can’t see him, but I can hear him–he beeps. He guides me. He’ll lead me to you. Shards of black glass cover the ground. Everything here is black except for the green light of the night-light, the pale moon, and some crawling, whispering, burning red hairs. They look like snakes. I think there’s also blood. I can’t see–beep beep beep–it, maybe it’s also black, but I can smell.
I think I see a forest. I’m getting closer. Yes, it’s a forest. It’s a big forest. It has a lot of tall trees with branches as thin as eyelashes, as thin as fingers, as thin as needles, and as bare as bones. They look like the tree beside our house. I see another thing; I think it’s a person. There are things attached to its back, they’re half-transparent so it’s hard for me to see. The night-light is flickering. He has long fingers and pointed ears. He has a long face and a sharp chin. He has sharp elbows. He can murder someone with these elbows. They look like knives. I’m shaking. He’s–beep beep beep–talking to me. He says I shouldn’t enter the forest. He’s holding something sharp. A sword.
“Who are you? What are you?” I ask.
“I’m an elf,” he says.
“What?” I don’t understand. “Where am I?”
I watch the way he talks. I don’t listen. He has sharp teeth. Something in the ground is pulling my ankle. I’m trying to walk in place so I won’t sink in the mud, hairs and shattered glass stained with blood. Beep has stopped walking; I can hear him sitting down. He continues to beep quietly. Something is climbing on the roots of the trees, underneath the earth. The creature is still talking. “Don’t enter the forest,” he repeats. “Do you understand?”
“What’s after the forest?” I ask.
“Lost things, rivers of blood, kidnapped things, fairies, darkness, shattered glass castles,” he says.
“What’s in the forest?” I ask. “Dreams?”
“Nightmares,” he says.
Yesterday, in the evening, we sat on the porch and then started to fight. In the beginning of the evening I held a full glass. When we started fighting it was empty, and then it was broken. I asked you what’s going on, and you, again, said that you don’t understand why do I care. Instead of talking to you, I broke the glass in my hand and threw the shards from the porch on the tree. I was very angry about everything, and I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell you how things have come to this. I wanted to tell you this story, but I didn’t know where to begin.
We left the porch silently, and our daughter was in the living-room. She was staring at us, holding her night-light and teddy bear. “Have you been fighting?” she asked. Her voice quivered.
“No, honey,” I said. “Is something wrong?”
She was silent for a moment, clinging to her teddy bear. “No,” she said.
We calmed her down and put her to sleep. I took the car keys and left. I thought about what I’ll say when I come home in another hour or two. The car was filled with those flying creatures which look like flies. At first I had a strong desire to gather them, I felt like I couldn’t let them go; but in the end I opened the windows of the car, and the flies flew away above the roads, people and changing traffic lights.
The creature’s sharp teeth are shining. They are as white as the moon. My heart is beating fast; he can hear it. He thinks I’m not brave enough. I take a step forward. The moon disappears. The elf giggles. Maybe he’d eaten the moon; he has more teeth than before. I’m pointing the night-light at the forest–the heart of the night. Beep has already entered. I take a deep breath, maybe my last, and enter. Can you hear me?
Are you listening?
I will find–beep beep beep–you.