The child is below us, but we dare to whisper, knowing the rain drowns us out; it slaps the window, smearing the moonlight to a buttery bridge across the slick black asphalt of the street below.
She’s heard us before, easing doors open with a coy, feline nudge to check on her; thrusting them shut to muffle the shouting when it begins again downstairs; rattling the locks as a reminder to her mother to check them before she goes to bed, before he eases his truck to a shuddering halt outside, the battered, white Chevrolet luminous and looming in the night as a pterosaur’s skull, hanging on silver wires from the shadowed museum rafters; pushing pots and pans off countertops so their skirling, metallic screams drive him from his perch on the doorstep, where he mutters vile things at the handle that shakes again and again beneath his fist, trying to get back inside.
Yes, we have made ourselves heard before.
The child tucks her crayons back into the box and surveys her work, the whittled spokes of bright bones marking stick-figure people, lonely on blank pages. Then she stacks them together, delicate and precise, and lays them on the bedside table.
When she climbs beneath the covers, putting herself to bed again, the shouting starts fresh downstairs. We slide open a window in the hallway so that the laughter of the rain might drown them out, and reaching with a death-pale hand for the light, invite in the darkness with a flick of the switch. Standing at the foot of the child’s bed, we whisper dreams into her slumber, then slip away, seeking silence.
It’s our house too, after all.
Murmur to murmur, dust to dust, we move through the house, turning off the lights.
Silence, finally, from the kitchen, when the whole house has gone black in the storm. Only to be broken again by his hoarse, “God-damned house.”
He stumbles down the wooden steps, savages the rusted fuse box open, begins an amateur autopsy of the wires.
Upstairs, she hears the front door bang open with a rush of stomping steps and fumbles her way through the dark foyer to find the door swinging on its hinges—the roofs of neighborhood houses drip with dull gold from the spilled honey-jar of the moon at the edge of a cloud. She presses shut the door and sighs her relief, thinking him gone.
Downstairs, he’s got the flashlight in his teeth, working at the wires. Beneath the roar of the rain and the heaving of the house, he does not hear the click of the lock at the basement door nor the gentle creaking of the steps.
He does not hear anything beneath the rasp of his own muttered cursing until the whispers reach him, boiling from the darkness itself and murmuring like doves.
Rowan S. Olmstead
Rowan S. Olmstead lives in San Diego, California, where she works as a writer and freelance editor. She has Masters’ degrees in English Literature, as well as Library and Information Science, and has enjoyed a career in librarianship for over ten years. She is currently at work on a series of fantasy novels.