There’s the tiniest, briefest pause but I can hear it. That tiny window as something slips between worlds.
My husband says I am mad to believe we are not alone here, but he cannot feel the shift as her steps cross from a netherworld into ours. I am sure it is a woman. A woman craving a child.
At first I had some mad idea that the presence I felt was my unborn child itself. She didn’t come before the pregnancy, you see, and it was just me here most nights while my husband worked. Alone, on the sofa with a glass of wine, the television blaring, every light in the house on. Anything to remind myself I wasn’t really alone and that out there, just beyond my doorstep, were people, real people crammed full of life.
She would wait until my husband had gone before she stepped out to keep an eye on me. I found I no longer needed the noise and colour of the television, a good book was enough. I was soothed by her presence. She moved the pictures of my scans around, always somewhere closer to the light so she could have a good look. And when I fell asleep surrounded by scented candles, as I was prone to do, she blew them all out and I would find tiny puddles of watery wax around me when I woke.
I thought she might not come again once I gave birth. I didn’t think that after that raw, visceral labour I would be so finely attuned to her steps, or capable of hearing anything beyond the raging cries of my baby waking for a feed. The baby, I think, could see her. When my girl had been quiet an unnaturally long time, I would creep along the corridor and peep in at her cot, finding her always gurgling with delight as the dinosaur mobile above her head seemed to spin and twirl of its own volition. Impossible.
I began to fall constantly, my arms bruised like a drunk from stumbling down the last steps of the staircase and catching myself on the bannister. Always some small thing there on the lower steps – a toy usually – to trip me. Something I hadn’t left there. My husband blamed my clumsiness on sleep deprivation, but even he had no account for when I went to check on the baby and found the door firmly locked from the inside, my girl chuckling and squawking with delight from her cot, and nothing to be seen through the keyhole.
If I knew where the gap was, I could block it up like a mousehole and stop her ever coming through. But it is not a hole in the wall, and the bait I have draws her night after night. And unless I find a way to trap her, she will take my baby, a little changeling, and slip her away through the gap.