It was barely dawn, but just enough light had settled in the dusty halls to bring to life the picture frames on the walls. Sparkling like a lineup of twinkling stars, or a series of flashes from old cameras and then turning sepia and then gray again as the sunrise came and went. A moment of beauty that succumbs to the mundane, like every other miracle on this earth. Small, short and willingly forgotten. And worst of all, unappreciated. Treated like a nuisance. Kind of like how I treated Renee. Kind of the reason why I'm here. Here, looking at these pictures, or what should be pictures. Blurry memories that look like a watercolor painting in the rain. Changing with every drop, always moving - staying one step ahead of my mind's eye. Only she knows what they really look like. That's how it works here. Just like in a dream, where your mind can't be bothered to render detail, but you still know exactly what it is, just by the feel.
Just like Inception, Clark would say.
I fucking hate that movie. Now everyone thinks they know what I do. You'd think something that seemingly complex could still be profound. No. They dumbed it down. They took the miraculous and they made it mundane. God forbid it takes you longer to process - to appreciate something - than two and a half hours in a dark theater. God forbid it take you longer than-
I lost my train of thought. Someone is looking at me.
I turn my head and the pictures move with my line of sight, bobbing in and out of my periphery. She's there. At the end of the hallway she's there. But she's not how I left her. I still can't focus, she's not letting me. The details are blurry. But I know that gown. That posture, that hair. She's been in the kids' room again. Clark was supposed to be watching her while I took a break.
Had I been crying? My eyelids feel rubbery, the hallway still isn't clear. I've been staring at her for a while now. No clue how long we've sat at our end of the hall; me, a part of her memory house. Her, a part of mine. She must've still been in control if she got past Clark and went to the kids' room. What she grabbed is beyond me, and even if I could see it, I wouldn't know what it was. Only she knew. She controlled the details now.
I can't allow this.
She hasn't looked at me for a while now, though my eyes haven't moved from her once. Not even to blink my heavy, rubbery eyelids. I still have my wallet. I can't feel it, not even in my hands as I pull it from my back pocket, but I know it's there. The same way she knows which pictures are of her summer at summer camp, and which ones have her old dog, Lucy in them. I have to focus. She can't come near me while she has control, but I can't let her out of my sights. Losing her now would be the worst thing that could happen. Even worse than if she decided she didn't want me around anymore.
Does she know she's in control right now? Does she know what would happen to me if I became a memory to her? A watercolor in the rain?
Focus on the wallet.
She knows. She looked right at it. In an instant she's gone, like she was never there. Goddamnit, Clark, where are you!
Suddenly the hallway becomes clearer, her influence is fading. Am I able to focus better, or has her attention shifted to something-
CLARK! Where are you!!! There's an attic, isn't there! Clark!!
The hall is moving around me, bouncing, coming in and out of focus. I'm running. There's no way to accurately describe the sensation. If you could replicate this outside of the house, I don't think many people would have the stomach for it. I wouldn't. So I squeeze the wallet between my fingers, I imagine the smooth black leather getting rougher and rougher as you approach the worn edges. This is the last thing keeping me grounded. It's the only reason I can even move, let alone run.
Clark! She was in the kids' room! Now we have to find the attic! Clark!
At this point, I have to imagine the worst. How else could she get out of the nursery? How else could she have taken that form? The ten year old who came home from summer camp to find that her dog had died. Not my least favorite form, but we weren't done in the nursery, yet.
I can only assume that she's letting me chase her. She probably knew this whole time that she was in control.
Haven't I paid my penance?
Haven't I felt how you suffered?
Haven't I suffered enough?
We were married for twenty years. The only memory she keeps in this house is the attic.
I find myself at the foot of some stairs. More fuzzy watercolors line the walls up to the impossible summit. More stairs than you can count in ten lifetimes, yet no two the same. And somehow, at the top, is Renee.
He's not dead.
It takes me a long time to process this. She waits, unmoving. I'm relieved when I finally realize what she means. At least, I think I am.
I don't feel anything, really. Just dread.
My wallet. Focus on my wallet.
Why did you come here?
My wallet. Its smooth, black leather, worn charcoal gray where it bends.
You know how this is going to end.
Frayed at the corners from rubbing against denim all those years. It doesn't have to, Renee. I want to help. I can help you-
You say that, but you don't mean it.
Renee, I do. I do.
If that were true, then we wouldn't be here.
That's not fair...I-
No, it's not fair, is it?
Her white nightgown floats in the haze for a minute. When I blink, it gets washed away with that staircase.
I'm in the attic now. I can't tell if it's another sunrise, or if it's the sun setting that pulls the shadows of boxes across the floor like wisps of gray taffy. I knew how this would end. I think Clark did, too. Though I can't imagine him agreeing to this if he did. He's a good friend. I'm sad to know how easily he'll be forgotten. A solitary shadow sways back and forth across the floor, rocking in time to some silent lullaby.
I knew how this would end, and yet I can't bring myself to the conclusion.
The gentle shadow slows down, its movements seemingly more deliberate. And I'm forced to follow it back to its source.
Swaying, inches above a summer camp love-letter on the floor, are two delicate, porcelain feet with deep purple nail polish. Floating above them, almost separate, is a white nightgown, moving at a different tempo, like laundry drying in the soft breeze. And above that, surrounded by a nest of soft, brown hair, are the unblinking, bloodshot eyes of a young girl. A ten year old, hanging by her neck from the rafters like a piece of fruit from some strange tree that looks like a house. A house my psyche built to try to save her. A house she had control of the whole time. A house that would become her tomb.
I can feel my wallet again.
A slow roll of thunder wakes me up. My room is dark and foreign to me; I've been crying.
I close my eyes again and for that first moment I can see her face. Almost instantly, her features become a muddy watercolor painting. I can't remember how she looks. I can't remember her name. What was once so beautiful, so miraculous to me
is now mundane.