stretch

     Karen shook off the notion that her husband would arrive home at exactly midnight. Perhaps he would arrive at midnight, but the chances of actually having a successful conversation with him were pretty slim. She sat on the couch with her mindless gaze transfixed on the television. The bluish hue reflected a pregnant and almost radioactive glow on the bare white walls. Her eyes were drawn to the sheet rock. She realized for the first time that no pictures had been afixed to the new apartment.

     (we've been here a month and what few pictures we have we haven't put up)

     The thought nagged in the back of her brain. The plain white wall was so picturesque in its lack of explanation. They had built memories in their three year marriage, but the memories were fading as though they were printed on lackluster photo paper. Time caused the memories to melt into a yellowish and dim glow.

     (what happened what in the hell have i done)
     (what in the hell have we both done)

     The entrapment of the room erupted a claustrophobia that unsettled Karen; even physically. She rose to her feet and strolled around the house, looking for signs of life. On the many nights that she performed this self-ritual, only a few of them was she enlightened with the knowledge of a mistake.

     (but i need someone)
     (he was that someone at the time)
     (and where is he now)
     (i need him i needed him he isn't here he's never here even when he is here)

     On countless occassions she made the empty threat to leave him. After the argument, she would lay awake in bed and think of the uncertainty the action would bring. So many places to live, but yet she could see nothing more than to grow old alone. How many bags of popcorn could she eat in a mechanical and nonchalant fashion? How many shows could she watch on the television and laugh out loud for no one to hear? How many times would she promise herself to exercise, only to come home from the minimum-wage job to collapse with exhaustion?

     (it isn't the physical exhaustion that scares me)

     Karen continued to stare at the nondescript walls. The room flickered with artificial life from the television, stabilized by the yellowish porch light shining through the window. Despite the life flashing and passing on the television - the porch light remained still and frozen even in the darkness.

     (if i left him tonight who would hear me laugh tomorrow night in my hotel room)
     (if i laughed out loud right now who would hear me)
     (no one)
     (if i laughed out loud while he was beside me)
     (he would still not hear me)
     (goddammit oh god why won't somebody give me an answer)

     A monumental explosion fired somewhere in her mind. It was the signal of discovery, but not a type of discovery Karen liked. It was the hopelessness that had been laid on an altar of explosives; detonated by pure thought.

     Karen stared at the lines of yellow light on the wall. The blinds cut the light with such great precision that the symmetrical and stable pattern was almost the most beautiful thing she had laid eyes upon that evening. Yet, the hopelessness was there. The light never changed... it was washed by life, but even in the darkness it hadn't changed.

     Just as Karen felt emotion forming within her chest, the porch light flashed. It buzzed for a moment, then collapsed into nothing. The light was gone.

     She turned her head toward the front door. It was a presence she felt... a presence that caused a great stirring in her abdomen.

     (is it roy)
     (who is there)
     (is roy finally home should i run to collapse at his feet and beg him to talk this through)

     Her question was almost answered by a very loud and defined knock on wood. Karen's breath stuttered, caught by surprise at the request for attention. She looked at the clock - 11:28pm. It was certainly quite late for an unannounced visitor. The fact that the porch light had been plunged into darkness made her even more afraid.

     (is it roy)

     Karen approached the door cautiously. She tried to tiptoe so the carpeted floor wouldn't creak enough to educate the visitor about her curiousity. She slowly moved to lean on the door and strived to look through the peephole. The darkness on the porch made it impossible to locate the person.

     Silence.

     Knock.

     The vibration of the knock touched her eyelids. Karen jumped backward with a light gasp. She covered her mouth, then realized it was much too late. The visitor knew she was there.

     "Wh... who is it?"

     The voice matched the tone of a young girl. "A friend." During a long pause, Karen could faintly hear the person shuffling feet on the concrete.

     Against her better judgment, Karen placed her hand on the doorknob. She used the other hand to slide the deadbolt open and twisted the knob. She cracked the door just enough to let her eyes view the outside.

     Almost instantly, a strange darkness settled into the room - quaffing even the imagery on the television to a faint glow.

     "Yes?" Karen asked with breathlessness. She cleared her throat and tried to maintain her composure.

     The visitor was silouetted by the light of the full moon behind her. The blue glow hemmed the person's slim figure just enough to see the shape of the young girl and her long, straight hair.

     "It isn't Roy," the girl spoke softly. Karen could barely see the girl's lips move. She wondered if they were moving at all. "Doesn't he find some way to avoid the subject when you do your best to talk to him?" The girl's voice trailed for a moment, then picked up the question. "About your marriage and your hopelessness?"

     Karen began to shake uncontrollably. "Who are you? How do you know my husband?"

     "Mrs. Peterson, you have to leave."

     "Wh... what?" Karen choked on her own saliva. A fit of emotion mixed with nervousness became evident on her glassy eyes.

     "You have to leave," the mysterious person answered. "Doesn't that answer your question?"

     "What question?"

     The girl cocked her head to one side and spoke quite slowly. "Karen, if you don't leave... you will die."




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