In the dreamy middle layers of night, you wake. Even with eyes shut, you know it is there.
Lingering minutes pass. You breathe, small fingertips gripping silent handfuls of sheets. Digging deep into the mattress as if to disappear. Hearing the breathing of the house. And your heartbeat.
It will not leave until it is seen.
Eyelids parting a hair’s breadth, dim vision through blur of lashes. The door, opened wide. Dark hallway beyond. Faint light from a source unseen, unknown.
There, on the threshold, the figure. A woman bearing a basket. Draped in robes.
She is moving slowly, slowly, slowly. You wish otherwise.
You shutter your eyes again, and your thoughts dart away, miles away, to the cement figures by the church parking lot, near the playground. There, by the swings and slide, is the oddly shaped lump of rock, big enough to climb on and sit on. Painted like a frog. Eyes big and red. Funny friendly feet painted on.
You remember. Sitting on the frog, cool rocky surface, rough against shorts and bare legs. You see…
A little girl, sunlit, drinking from the stone water fountain. She looks at you and the frog, eyes glinting. Drinks with pleasure, runs excitedly back toward her mother on a green bench. Turns back for another drink, as if it had always been her plan, to run to it, then away, then back. Laughter bubbling like song from birds. Blossoms falling from branches: yellow speckles on green grass.
In the other direction, a low white fence dividing playground from red brick church. There, the forlorn yearning figures in white cement. The man, his face sad beyond understanding, with upraised hands, palms outward. A woman looking away and down. Each figure rising from a white base. But planted, yes, on the same grass and soil as your frog. Stillness around them.
These do not move. Yet you could imagine you heard something. An uneasy whisper.
Thoughts of the playground hurtle away as the presence in your room is felt again, now more strongly. Must look again.
You look. Cannot be there. But is.
White robes, yes, like the cement figures. But moving. Slowly, yes. So very slowly, leaning forward to lower the basket toward the floor.
A deathly hush. The air itself ceasing to move. Your heart. Does she hear it, too? Does she hear?
Her arms, its burden, drawing closer to the floor. The motion happening, but unseen as it happens.
Then it’s resting on the floor where she placed it. The basket with the unknowable child. Silent, unmoving, as if under glass or an enchantment.
The robed woman rising only a little, face unseen, hands still outstretched as if still holding the burden. The commanding feeling of her presence dimming. Now the shadows advancing gently to embrace her, merging with her.
All that remains a hazy pillar of soft light, soon gone. Nothing left but a shadowy doorframe, nothing … but the basket.
Heavy seconds slowly passing. A sigh felt, not heard. Air of power and expectation.
Mind searching again, seeking something knowable, you remember the rough cool surface of the rock. The undemanding, welcoming frog in the park. The softness of the earth below your feet, lush grass to cushion your fall. No spirits to trouble the breeze, No boundary between you and the grass and rock and earth. Feel you are there, instead of in the bed.
Sleep. When you stop longing for it, it arrives.
Skittery dream of lights in a tunnel, flickering by overhead as you lie in a car backseat in the depth of night. Drops of water echoing. Feeling of space.
When day arrives. Calm. Awake to see warm yellow rays filtering through fringed daisy curtains, falling on cedar floorboards, making floating patterns.
In the threshold, where it was: nothing. Not even a whisper left.
Was it even there?
Until another night.