We were young, the power was out. And the baby was asleep. We were sweating, sitting naked in the dead of valley summer, pooling lifeless on the couch. Wearing underwear—not naked—we were parents now. To think! She was staring at her phone, the light a ghostly pale blue. When she held it to her breast the room went dark. “Go hide,” she said. We’d been drinking. “Go and hide,” she said. “I’ll count.”
Our home then had a crawlspace—a vast, low place with carpet where we kept the tent and propane. An indiscreet space to hide in, but I went there. Like a sauna, but I went, and soon she came: “Knock knock,” her fingers tickling the door. I was lying on my back, feeling sweat crawl like roaches. “Alright, then,” she said. “I’ll just lock you in.” Her voice soft and quite lovely. Then a click. Still I lay there in the heat. A brief silence and the door slunk open. On the walls her shifty phone’s blue light. “Ah!” she breathed, and threw herself at me. We’d been drinking. I made sounds and she hushed me, pulled the door closed in the dark. We made love—we’d been drinking, we were young. And the baby was asleep.
It defied all sense, but the door wouldn’t open. She was crying. I threw a shoulder at the thing and produced only noise, a cardinal sin. In the end we called her brother, nearly two hours south though his was the only spare key. She was crying as she listened for the baby, whom we no longer could reach, the heat pulsating. Awaiting rescue in our sweat-slicked skivvies. It was obvious what we’d done in there.
Where are any of us headed? Last night, at last, I met the woman of my dreams. Late twenties, brunette, blood spilling out of an empty eye socket, her mouth like a lamprey’s. Reeking of sewage, she hissed when she spoke and was covered in blackflies. I’m quite certain it was her, that the line between nightmare and reason has been finally expunged. Sleep is no longer feasible, which means, at least, that I won’t have to see her again. She was only in town for a conference and claimed to hate California, that she’d die before ever returning.
Paul Barrett is a writer, book designer, and woodworker living in Sacramento, California.