[img_assist|nid=695|title=Standing Still|desc=Standing Still is available wherever books are sold. To find an independent bookstore near you, visit booksense.com|link=node|align=right|width=112|height=175]In all things, I blame the husband.
Women who sleep with teenage boys, women who shoplift collectibles, Yes. Their rotten husbands drove them to it.
And that is why, when the kidnapper cracks open our new skylight like an oyster and slithers in, I don’t blame the defective latch, the alarm system, or the thin bronze shell of the new tin roof. The dotted line of fault doesn’t lead to my architect or contractor or engineer.
And oddly, lastly, I do not blame my intruder. And that explains everything that follows, doesn’t it?
I am angrier at my flawed ambitious husband than the man who crouches among my daughter’s stuffed animals.
I stand at the top of our stairs with the portable phone in my hand, my thumb on the button that should produce dial tone, and doesn’t. Now there is no other sound but pounding heart and pouring rain. He is here, and He is smarter than I imagined.
I should have been happy. The renovations were nearly complete. I had what I wanted, my maze of hickory floors and cage of pale earth walls. But in the kitchen, my new French windows rattled in their open frames, as if they knew something foreign was already roaring across the crisp gardens and green backyards.
I walked from room to room. I kept checking the burnished latches in my daughters’ rooms upstairs. Re-locking, re-tucking. A mother or a warden? Jordan, my baby, was curled into her Raggedy Ann, blond silk hair against bright red yarn. Next door, Julia’s mop of curls were almost indistinguishable against our Maine coon cat, Willis. Across the hall, Jamie was asleep with her finger holding her place in her book. I slipped it out of her hand, went back downstairs. I was wearing a path on the new Berber carpet, but couldn’t see it yet. My footprints would appear to me later, with enough time and close attention, like the shape of things only visible from the sky.
As the storm came inland, I gathered candles, matches, flashlights, laundry to fold, old mail to open, and spread it out in the den. I bit my nails in front of movies I knew the endings to. I let myself worry during the commercials. Every flash and boom in the sky was an assumption: that the lightning would find whatever was metallic and brittle in me.
On the television, Hugh Grant carried Sandra Bullock through traffic. I couldn’t find the scissors—art project? School poster?–so I opened a Neiman’s package with my teeth. Inside were three floral bathing suits for the girls and the pink silk nightgown I’d ordered to surprise Sam.
The gown looked impossibly skimpy in my lap. I slipped off my tank top and shorts and pulled it on without bothering to close the shutters. The bodice was as tight as a pair of hands. But the silk brushing against my legs was intoxicating after my cottony week. I fell into it like a hotel bed, allowing myself. I slept.
They’d installed the new skylight the day before, but Sam hadn’t seen it yet; he was off somewhere again, gone three or four days—I couldn’t remember which– to somewhere. Golf outing, conference? I knew all I needed to know: that someone was serving him steak and fetching him towels, and I was home sorting his socks.
At two a.m. something hits the roof and I wake up. Shaking, I go to the kitchen and wrestle with the childproof bottle of Xanax. The wind picks up, flinging small branches on the noisy new tin roof above me. The pill finally gets swallowed through my tears. I’m not the kind of person who can live in a noisy house.
A small but hard noise makes it way through my sniffing. I look up, as if the answer is written on the ceiling. It comes again, and I start to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. People don’t break into houses on nights like this. It’s the wind. It’s squirrels on the new tin roof. As I say the word ‘tin’, something above me snaps, then shatters. Not squirrels, I know in my bones.
The portable phone blinks on the other side of the room. The tongue and groove is silent as I move to it, but my limbs rattle in their sockets.
On the landing, I stare into Jamie’s bedroom across the jungle of stuffed animals against one wall. I smell rain, damp cotton, leather. His boots, I will think later. His wet shirt. I imagine He can hear me shaking in the doorway, molars like maracas in my mouth. Finally I make out the contours of His face and eyes, human skin among the plush bears and nylon-lashed dolls that line Jamie’s floor.
I shake but do not gasp, do not scream. Of course He is there; I expected Him, I heard Him coming for years, each night when Sam left me alone with my obsessions. I conjured Him, fear by fear, bone by bone until He showed himself.
The plush zoo muffles our sharp breathing, my heart pounding. I don’t dare cast my eyes in my daughter’s direction, don’t want to point her out to Him. I feel her sleeping, hear her soft breathing, out of rhythm with His and mine. I look only at Him.
It is beyond intimate: past sharing a bathroom, past putting your child’s bloody finger in your mouth. He stares at me. I stare back. He holds a finger to His lips, a warning, and glides soundlessly, on cat burglar feet, to Jamie’s canopy bed.
“No,” I cry, but it comes out mangled and small. He scoops her up and though she is groggy she looks oddly comfortable draped in His arms.
I drop to my knees and utter the only fearless words I have ever spoken:
“Take me,” I say. “Take me instead.”
I’m ashamed to admit I wasn’t completely relieved when He did
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