The lady at the realtor's place says they have a house I could have cheap, and I ask how cheap?
She tells me, and yeah, it's really cheap. Cheap enough that even I can afford it. Cheap enough that I can make the payments and still have enough for food, maybe even put a little in savings. God knows I need something in savings.
"I'll take it." I don't want her to change her mind.
She looks all surprised. "You haven't even seen the property yet. Don't you want to--?"
"Nope. I'll take it."
She starts to get some forms out for me, then she stops, looks around like she's making sure the boss is out of the room, and leans over at me. "Listen, I don't want you to move on this too quickly. There are some serious problems with the house, from everyone we've heard from."
"I don't mind an efficiency apartment," I say. "I don't mind if the neighborhood's rough. I can fix stuff if it's broken. I'll take it."
"No, you don't understand, Mrs. Fitzpatrick. The house--"
"It's Ms. Breckon now." I decide to let her have the whole deal, if only just to shut her up. "I've taken up my maiden name again. He took everything I had before he left, and I don't want his name anymore. I'm lucky we didn't have kids, or he'da taken them, too. The price is fine, I can afford the payments, I don't mind any problems with the apartment. I'll take it. I'll take it."
It works. She shuts up and lets me sign the papers. We'll close at the end of the week, and that's fine. The landlord had already told me I could stay in the old apartment for that long.
It's Friday, and I show up for the closing, the last of my things stuffed inside two suitcases and four paper bags. It's not in a bad neighborhood. It's a little run-down and isolated, but it's a good residential area. Better than I lived in before.
And it's not an efficiency. It's a house. An honest-to-God house. Not the fanciest house in the world. Needs paint. Has a cracked window. Patchy lawn. Feels drafty inside. But it's a house. Kitchen, living room, dining room. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms. And it's furnished. Sparsely -- a couch, some chairs, a small dining table, beds in the bedrooms, and a crib in the smallest bedroom. Big enough for a family, cheap enough for me and my secretary's salary.
"What's the matter with it?" I ask the realtor. She mumbles and shuffles as we sign the closing papers. "And where are the owners?"
"The realty company owned the house before," she says. "The previous owners sold it directly to us."
"And why is the house so cheap? I don't mind -- I can fix just about anything, if I can borrow the right tools, but I need to know what I'll need to work on."
"Well, the ceiling leaks back by the laundry room, and the back door doesn't really lock very well, but -- " Her cell phone starts ringing. She picks it up and says, "That's the boss -- hold on, I've got to take this." While she talks, I finish signing where I gotta sign, and she finishes signing. She's still on the phone, but she lowers it a little and says, "Can I call you later?" I say sure, and she's out the door, driving away, and I've got my new house.
A whole week passes. Getting up, taking a cold shower to save on heat, making a lunch, going to work, coming home, eating, reading, wishing I could afford cable, going to bed and not sleeping well.
I'm at work one morning, and I realize what's been making me sleep so lousy -- the neighbor's baby won't stop crying. Just about all night, wah wah wah.
Two hours later, while eating my sandwich at my desk, I realize that none of the neighbors' houses are close enough for me to hear a baby crying.
That night, just after midnight, I wake up, woozy, half-conscious, wishing the neighbors would close their windows and just let me sleep. And I remember, and I wake up a bit more. I sit up in the bed and listen. It's faint, but I do hear a baby crying. It's not the neighbors.
There's a baby crying in my house.
Christ, the back door, the one that doesn't lock so well. Someone's been coming in the back door every night to keep their baby sheltered. Shit, I can't let 'em stay -- I've got to get that lock replaced tomorrow. What if it was someone else?
I'm out of bed, wrapped up in a robe, carrying a shoe. A shoe? God, I need to buy a bat, or a gun, or something. Could I get to the kitchen and get a knife? What if there's too much clatter, what if someone comes after me?
Fuck it. I take the shoe.
I'm around the corner, slinking down the hallway, hoping the floorboards don't creak and give me away. Damn, it's a long hallway, and cold. I wish I had some houseshoes. What if I step on a nail? Shut up, shut up, there's the door to the laundry room and back door. Quiet, quiet...
There's no one there. The door is locked.
There's still a baby crying in the house. Where? Back in the house, the other bedrooms.
I sneak back down the hallway, quiet, quiet. Past my bedroom. Coming up on the middle bedroom, the one with the cowboy wallpaper. I listen, and there's nothing in there. The crying is coming from the bedroom at the very end of the hall, the little one with the little bed and the crib.
Slinking closer, still clutching that stupid shoe. The crying is getting louder, partly because I'm getting closer, partly because -- I don't know, like it's hurting, like someone's hurting her. Someone's hurting the baby. My God.
I'm right by the door. It's pitch black in there, and the crying is just overwhelming. The light switch is just inside the room, next to the doorframe. I reach in, flip the switch, jump inside.
There's no one here.
Just me and the little bed.
And the crib.
I turn out the light, go back to my bedroom, get back under the covers. I don't hear any more crying. I sleep worse than ever.
My boss called me in this morning and said he was worried about me. He said I need to take some vacation time. He says I look sick, too thin, haggard, like the divorce is affecting my health. I tell him thanks, and I tell him I'm not sleeping very well. I tell him I don't need a vacation.
Here's how my days go now: my mornings are still pretty normal, other than being so tired. I go to work and feel like shit. I start to wake up some as the day goes on. I feel almost like I did before. Then I have to go home. That big empty house. I can't read anymore, 'cause I keep thinking of that room. I can hardly do anything for thinking about that room. I go to bed a little earlier than I used to now. Just to get away from the quiet and the worries. And at some point in the night, I wake up -- you know, like always, half awake from a dream, or you wanna shift to get more comfortable, or you gotta go pee.
And right then, the crying starts.
And it goes on. And it gets louder, like someone's hurting the baby again. When you listen to it, really listen, it sounds... off. Not like a normal baby crying. Like it's far off, down a tunnel, a big echoing tunnel.
I stay in that bed, and I don't move a muscle, and I don't sleep.
The crying quits a little before dawn. Maybe I sleep a little bit. Then I get up and go back to the office. God, I never want a vacation again. I can't afford a trip, and I'd have to stay in that house all day long.
I get my courage up this morning at about 2:30. I get my shiny new baseball bat out from under the bed and go creeping down the hall. I don't know why I try to be quiet, but I do. I don't know why I need the bat, but it makes me feel safer.
I get to the little bedroom, and the baby's crying so loud. So loud. I don't know if she's being hurt, or if she's just been ignored so long. But the crying is so, so loud.
The crying rises and rises, and the baby's screaming now, and I reach inside and flip on the light switch.
The crib rocks a bit, just slightly. You almost can't see it.
I go back to bed. After half an hour, the crying starts again.
I call the realtor office this morning. Ask for the lady who sold me the house. The secretary says she moved to Denver two months ago.
Can I get her new number? No, they don't give that info out.
Can you tell me what's wrong with my house? There's a pause, like she's going, "Ohh, it's that one." Then she gives me a brush-off. No, she doesn't know what I'm talking about, and she's very busy, and she has to go.
I call some other realtors, and they talk a good game 'til they hear my address. Then they make excuses and hang up.
I fell asleep at my desk this afternoon. My boss said he's worried about my job performance.
I go to the grocery after work. When I'm in the checkout line, some little kid starts screaming at his mom about wanting a piece of candy, and for a minute, it sounds...
The checker asks why I'm crying, and I tell her it's allergies. She doesn't believe me.
I'm standing in the hall again just after midnight, listening to the baby cry. Last night, I was here, started to switch on the light, and then just turned around and went back to bed. I didn't even know why.
I still don't know why.
But I stand there and listen to the baby cry, her little voice so sad, so scared. Echoing in the darkness.
I walk into the room. I leave the light off, and stand next to the crib. I can almost feel her, just as clear as I can hear her. I put my hands on the edges of crib. Shush-shush, little one. Shush-shush.
I can feel her through the crib railing. I can feel the little vibrations of her movements. I can feel the way she kicks at the air, I can feel the crib tremble.
I can feel her, I know I can. I can touch her.
She just wants her mommy.
I reach down into the crib. It's too dark for me to see her, but I know that I can touch her, pick her up, hold her, comfort her. She just wants her mommy.
The crib is empty and cold.
I go back to the hall and sit down. The baby cries all night. I don't sleep. I don't even close my eyes.
I call the office in the morning and tell my boss I need to take a day of vacation. He says he's glad, he thinks I need it. He asks if I want to take more than just one day.
No, one day is all I'll need.
Just before midnight, I draw a hot bath. As hot as I can stand. Feels good. How long has it been since I got to bathe in hot water? I'm so tired of ice-cold showers every morning.
I get the water so hot, and the bathroom mirror steams up fast. The air around me is completely thick with fog. It feels like a sauna. Well, I guess it feels like a sauna. I don't think I've ever been in a real sauna.
I step out of my robe and get into the tub. My God, it's so hot. Hurts just getting into the water, but it's a good hurting. Makes you feel clean in a way that soap and shampoo never can. Eases up your sinuses, opens up your pores, gets the blood pumping.
The baby starts to cry.
I sit there and luxuriate in the heat. I let it soak into me, until I feel like every trace of cold and wind and autumn have been burned from my body. Until I feel like I have a fever that'll never go away.
The baby cries louder, echoing even through the bathroom door. Crying like a lost soul.
So hot, like a jungle. I could go to sleep here.
That's when I reach over the side of the tub and get the kitchen knife I brought in here with me.
The blade is cold for a moment, but then there's just the heat. Pumping into me, pumping out of me.
The baby cries and cries. Such sorrow, such boundless sorrow and loneliness.
Don't worry, baby. Mommy's coming.
The next realtor gives the house a fresh coat of paint, fixes the windows, repairs the leak in the laundry room, and replaces the lock on the back door. The asking price remains low. A motivated seller, he tells potential buyers. Problems with the lawn. An old neighborhood, but near good schools.
He never mentions the baby who cries in the little bedroom. He never mentions the woman who sobs in the bathroom.