Noah was making fun of me. Humiliation spread from the pit of my stomach and lodged in my throat. I twisted around and pushed my way through the bodies that had encroached into my bubble of personal space. As badly as I had wanted to come tonight, I now wanted to leave.
I found Daniel and screamed in his ear that I wasn’t feeling well and asked Sophie if she could give him a ride back. Daniel was worried; he insisted on driving me home but I wasn’t having it. I told him I just needed to get some air, and eventually he handed me the keys and let me go.
I bit back my embarrassment and hurried toward the exit. As I pushed through the throng, I thought I heard my name shouted behind me. I stopped, swallowed, and against my better judgment, turned around.
No one was there.
BY THE TIME I ARRIVED BACK AT THE HOUSE, I’d composed myself. Coming home with a tear-streaked face, and without Daniel, would not help my situation with my mother, and we were just starting to make some progress. But when I pulled into the driveway, her car wasn’t there. Neither was my father’s. The lights inside the house were off too. Where were they? I went to the front door and reached out to unlock it.
The door swung in. Before I touched it.
I stood there, my fingers mere inches from the handle. I stared, my heart in my throat, and raised my eyes slowly up the length of the door. Nothing unusual. Maybe they just forgot to lock it.
With one hand, I pushed the door open the rest of the way and stood in the door frame, peering into the dark house. The lights in the foyer, living room, and dining room were off, but a sliver of light peeked out from around the corner toward the family room. They must have left that one on.
My eyes roamed. The art was still on the wall. The antique ebony and mother-of-pearl Chinese screen was in the same place as when I left. Everything was where it should be. I inhaled, closed the door behind me and flipped on all of the front lights in quick succession.
When I went into the kitchen to get something to eat, I noticed the note on the refrigerator door.
Took Joseph to see a movie. Be back around 10:30.
A glance at the clock told me it was only nine. They must have just left. Joseph was probably the last one out and forgot to lock the front door. No big deal.
I stared into the refrigerator. Yogurt. Chocolate milk. Cucumbers. Leftover lasagna. My head ached, reminding me of the one thousand bobby pins my mother had stuck into my scalp. I grabbed a container of yogurt and a spoon, then made my way to my bedroom to change. But the second I entered the hallway, I froze.
When I had left the house with Daniel, all of the family pictures had been hung on the left side of the wall, opposite three sets of French doors on the right.
But now all of the pictures were on the right. And the French doors were on the left.
The yogurt fell from my hands, spattering the wall. The spoon clattered to the floor and the sound snapped me back into reality. I had a bad night. I was imagining things. I backed out of the hall, then ran to the kitchen and snatched a dish towel from the oven handle. When I went back to the hallway, everything would be where it should be.
I went back to the hallway. Everything was where it should be.
I hurried to my bedroom, closed the door behind me, and sank onto my bed. I was upset. I shouldn’t have gone out; the party was not, in fact, what I needed. The whole thing was nervous-making and stressful and was probably causing a PTSD episode. I needed to relax. I needed to get out of these clothes.
The heels went first. My feet were not used to that kind of torment, and once I slipped them off, my whole body sighed with relief. Everything was sore; my heels, calves, thighs. Still dressed, I padded to my bathroom and turned on the tub faucet. The hot water would unwind my muscles. Unwind me. I flicked the heat lamp on, casting a womblike, reddish glow over the white tile and sink. The roar of water drowned out my thoughts, and I inhaled the steam curling up from the tub. I began to remove the bobby pins, and they collected there in the corner of my sink like skinny black caterpillars. I went to the closet to slip off my dress, but then I froze.
An opened box sat on the closet floor. I had no memory of taking it down from the shelves. No memory of ripping the tape off the flaps and opening it since we’d moved. Did I leave it out? I must have. I kneeled in front of the box. It was the one my mother had brought to the hospital, and underneath bits of my old life—notes, drawings, books, the old cloth doll I’ve had since I was a baby—I found a stack of glossy pictures carelessly bound by a rubber band. A few of them escaped, fluttering to the floor, and I picked one up.
The photograph was from last summer. I saw the composition of that moment as if it was happening in real time. Rachel and I leaned our cheeks together as we faced the camera she held away from our faces. We were laughing, our mouths open, teeth glinting in the sun, the wind teasing the glowing strands of our hair. I heard the snap of her shutter creating an imprint on film, which she insisted on using that summer because she wanted to learn to develop it. Then the print went dark, leaving the two of us in white, skeletal in the negative image.
I placed the picture carefully on my empty desk, put the box back into my closet and shut the door. When I noticed the silence, it stole the air from my lungs. I backed away from the closet and peered into the bathroom. The faucet was off. A single drop of water fell, sounding like a bomb in the stillness. The bathtub had overflowed, making the ceramic tile reflect the light like glass.
I didn’t remember turning the water off.
But I must have.
But there was still no way I was getting in.
I could barely breathe as I grabbed two towels and threw them on the floor. They darkened as they absorbed the water, and saturated in seconds. The water seeped through to my feet. The bathtub drain needed to be unplugged. I made my way over to it carefully, but everything inside me screamed bad idea. I leaned over the edge.
The emerald and diamond earrings glinted at the bottom. I raised my hands to my ears.
I heard my mother’s voice in my mind. “Don’t lose them, okay? They were my mother’s.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to breathe. When I opened them, I would be brave.
I tested the water with my finger. Nothing happened.
Of course nothing happened. It was only a bathtub. The pictures had distracted me and I let it overflow, then turned it off without remembering it. Everything was fine. I plunged my arm in.
For a second, I could not think. It was as if all feeling beneath my elbow had been cut off. Like the rest of my arm never even existed.
Then the scalding pain clawed at my skin, my bones, inside out, outside in. A soundless scream misshaped my mouth and I struggled to pull my arm out but it wouldn’t move. I couldn’t move. I crumpled against the side of the bathtub. My mother found me there an hour later.