by Kate Burgo
It’s the middle of the night when you wake up. You hear a soft thud quickly followed by another, and another. It takes you a minute to realize that it’s the same rhythmic sound — almost like a gloved fist gently hitting the wall over and over again — that you hear every night as you retreat under the covers and close your eyes. You don’t know where the sound comes from — inside the wall, perhaps, or maybe somewhere on the roof? Is it air pushing its way through a pipe, or is it an animal nesting in a sheltered spot that just so happens to be above your bedroom? Some nights the sound keeps pace with the thoughts running through your mind and it keeps you awake, blinking in the darkness. Other nights, it lulls you to sleep.
Tonight, it doesn’t let you go back to sleep. You lay still and tense, listening to the sound, waiting for each thud, trying to discern its origin. It’s no use. You turn, you toss, you adjust the pillow and tell yourself how comfortable you feel, how warm it is under the blankets, how good it would feel to drift away again and wake up feeling rested. But the noise is still there, and you’ve annoyed yourself fully awake. You slowly peel away the covers so as not to wake him and find your way to the bedroom door. The doorknob turns easily and you exit unnoticed.
In the bathroom, you don’t turn the light on. You ease the door closed and turn toward the window, which overlooks a row of narrow backyards. The yards are hidden by short fences, tall pine trees, and shadows. In one house, on the third floor, a light is on in a small window. You’ve noticed this light before and have wondered who it belongs to. A student? An insomniac? Someone else with a soft thud coming from somewhere in their house that keeps them awake? And then you realize you cannot hear the sound in the bathroom and wonder, though not seriously, if it is possible to sleep there.
As you take your hand off the curtain and let it fall back into place, your palm brushes the windowsill and pushes something off the ledge. Oh shit, you think, and listen as it hits the scale and then the tile floor. You turn on the light and your eyes are shocked by the brightness. It was the plastic hand mirror. The glass has broken and a few thin slivers have popped out of the frame and onto the floor. You pick them up one by one and flick them into the trash. When you look at the mirror, you see a spider web of cracks and your reflection, distorted, looking back at you with only one eye. As if your head is gone and you’re left with a single eyeball in its place.
The mirror is useless now and you throw it in the trash. You scan the floor for more stray pieces of glass and when you are satisfied that there are none, you turn off the light. Before opening the door, you look out the window a second time to see if the light in the small window is still on. It is.
You feel your way through the hall and push the door open to the bedroom. A bluish light filters in from the window, and you make your way quietly to the bed. The covers are still folded back, but the place where you lay before is now cold. When you climb in and pull the blankets over your shoulder you feel him turn in your direction, and he wraps one arm around you.
The sound, if it is still there, no longer bothers you.