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Sounds in the Dark

by Patric Quinn

I woke during the night, not knowing what time it was, or what had woken me. This wasn’t the first time there had been sounds during the night in the rambling old house. It had been many years empty until my recent purchase made it the Bob Devlin estate. There really shouldn’t have been any sounds beyond the usual creaks of aging construction, and I was here alone. No other people noises. No bumps in the night.

I lay still in bed this time, listening, wondering where in the house it was, why sometimes I’m more sensitive to noises and, at other times, almost unaware of them. What had made this particular sound?

It wasn’t a mouse, which probably wouldn’t be heard anyway. The sound was heavier. A raccoon? Some other wild little guy? Something that had fallen off a wall? A single thump. And why was I so curious about it this time?

I sat up on the edge of the bed and slid my feet into my old boat shoes, stood up, straightened the twisted sleeve of my sweatshirt. At the bedroom door, the nightlight in the hall was enough to shine softly on the wood floor that ran past it into the darkness. It was the only light I left on all night.

A light tremor of anxiety rippled through me as I stepped into the hall. It was dark, and I was alone and didn’t know what I’d discover, even though there had been harmless night sounds often enough before. I stopped at the nightlight and peered down the darkness of the hall. I started at a new sound, a kind of rustle of fabric against fabric.

“What the heck is that?” I mumbled.

I was surprised, frozen in place when a man’s voice answered me out of the darkness. “Please, don’t come any farther,” it said.

I wouldn’t go any farther anyway because I couldn’t move, my breath stuck in my throat.

“I’m celebrating my anniversary.” The voice was a mellow baritone, but the tone was flat and morose. I couldn’t see him, even as my eyes adjusted to the dark, and I had a hard time getting any words unfrozen from my fright.

“What anniversary?” was what came out. I thought belatedly of asking, “Who are you?” or “What are you?” or “What the hell are you doing in my living room in the dark in the middle of the night?”

“Another anniversary of many,” he said.

“Then why sound so sad, if it’s an anniversary?”

“It’s a sad anniversary.” His breath came in kind of a sigh. “And a stupid story. And I’m the stupid part of the story. Even more than that, it’s a lingering pain where my heart should be. All these years. This grand old house is where it happened.”

“What happened?” I asked the voice.

At first there was no response from the darkness, just a shifting like someone moving in a chair. After a long moment he spoke. “She wasn’t what you’d call beautiful. She was wonderfully attractive, a different kind of beauty coming through from her character, lighting her up, making her more desirable than glamorous actresses and the perfect images of models.

“She glowed with the warmth of her smile and the sparkle of amusement in her eyes. Yes, she glowed. It came out of her presence and filled the space around you. Around me. And everything she did seemed like she was doing nothing. Housework, cooking, dancing... anything was nothing to her. Life with her was a treat. She was magic.

“It’s funny, I can’t remember her voice now, except that it was a little bit low and often had a smile in it. And there were the small things, bits of her enchantment. When she’d sit next to me on the couch, her arm touching my arm, that warm, easy closeness. Or when she’d stop to tell me some little thing and slip her arm lightly around my waist while she talked. She filled the world around me like there was no other world she wanted to be in, no one else she wanted to be with.” He fell silent.

I said nothing. Maybe we were both thinking of her and what a presence, a spirit, what a being she was to bring her wonders to one man’s world. “Then what?” I asked.

“Yes, then what? She never asked for anything special. I bought her lots of stuff, of course. But you can’t buy honesty or loyalty or even real love. If you’ve ever made a lot of money, more than you really need, you come to discover that money isn’t the prize. It’s nice to have around, but, when you have enough, you learn that how you work to make the money is what’s important. The money is simply a measure, a measure of achievement.

“The wonder of how she guided our life together over time grew ordinary, to me, a day-to-day accepted routine. My achievements became the dominant source of everything. That’s what I thought. It took me many new places. I met many new people all the time. I met someone alluring and exotic. Different and beautiful.”

Again, a silence. No movement. I didn’t want to move either. I was listening to silent thoughts. Probably his, floating in the past. He spoke so softly.

“Once loyalty, honesty and real love are betrayed, they’re gone, never to be recovered. And who was betrayed can’t be recovered either. When she found out, she didn’t say anything, didn’t say little things, didn’t slip her arm lightly around my waist, didn’t fill the room with her wonder. The glow faded out. The smile was gone from her lips. A tear slid down from her eye as she told me she knew. Then she was gone.”

“What happened to her?” I said.

“Gone, she was completely gone. I never found out where. I never even had the release of knowing that she found someone better. Nothing, she was gone. And this is the anniversary of her going. I get to celebrate the anniversary of betraying a treasure a whole dimension above and beyond any dreams. If ‘celebrate’ is the word for the hollowness she left where my heart should be. That ache you get when you’re on the edge of crying. It’s so hard to hold back. And I can’t do a thing to change any of it.”

“You celebrate every year?”

“Every year, every day and night, through time. My endless longing that tells me what I did, what I did to her, to her smile, her clear eyes, her magic... what loss really is.”

He didn’t say anything more. I reached down and turned off the nightlight. Dawn was showing gray in the windows and chasing darkness from the living room. There was no one there. Wherever he went, he must forever take the ache where his heart should be for the love he had betrayed and lost. A betrayer can never escape his deed. Never.

There are other sounds I hear in the night sometimes in this old house and I wonder if somehow we leave pieces of our lives behind in the houses we’ve lived in.

Copyright © 2016 by Patric Quinn

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