There are things you know, things you think you remember, and things you try to forget. And of course, all that lies in between.
Autumn leaves danced on the branches of the trees above my head in the yard. This has always been my favorite time of year, ever since I was a child. The humidity of the New England air was chased away by the crisp hint of a winter to come, as the seasons unfolded before my eyes in a whirlwind of color. The afternoon sun sneaked its way in between the branches and cast its lazy rays over and beyond those leaves, sprinkling across my lap. My giant Maine Coon cat, King, laced his way through the legs of my lounge chair, making sure to occasionally bump it to remind me of his presence. I dropped a hand away from my book and to the side of the chair, where he came up and rubbed his face on it. I tickled and scratched beside his whiskers until he was content and finally flopped over gracelessly to the grass beside me, where he lay giving me soft eyes and a resonant contented purr.
I tipped my head back and closed my eyes, letting the sun warm my face. The smallest of shadows flitted between me and the sun, and I opened my eyes to see a delicate butterfly fluttering about on an unseen tract of air. The butterfly danced and glided and flipped, tracing that tract that spanned several feet above and past me, then back again, an endless loop. The deep purple-blue of the wings allowed some of the sunshine through, giving them an almost iridescent sheen. The insect drooped down and settled on the back of my hand that rested on my open book. I dared not move or breathe too loudly or fully, not wanting to scare the creature away. Those little legs tickled my hand, wings all but completely still. The dark eyes regarded me carefully, and I found myself getting lost in the pool of them. Short-lived, the butterfly, now refreshed or unimpressed by what it saw, flew back up into the air, dancing over its track and getting lost in the sun. I blinked the sunshine away, and the butterfly was gone.
I wasn't sure why, but something was so oddly familiar that it made me sad.
I closed my eyes against the sun that was dropping quicker and quicker towards the horizon, giving off less warmth as it faded. I pulled my lap blanket up higher to shield against early evening's greeting, and King jumped into my lap. After a few minutes of his fidgeting and kneading and staring, unblinking at me, I gave in. “Dinner, I know. I know. Up, then.” I set the outdoor reclining chair upright and King, no longer with a choice or room to navigate, jumped to the grass. He made a few steps toward the house and stopped, turning to make sure I'd follow. I rose clumsily to my feet, which were swollen and achy, reached my hands over my head and stretched, then set them on the small of my back and winced. Everyone said being pregnant was so beautiful. Never did they tell me how awkward and uncomfortable it would be. I had to pee. Again. Always. I shrugged and followed King inside.
I reached into the cabinet and pulled out King's dinner, setting a can of wet food in his bowl while he paced the floor behind me, meowing. “Sit like a gentleman, please,” I said, turning around, to which he responded by sitting in front of his food tray. I set the bowl down. “Dinner.” He took this as permission to start eating and dipped his head into the bowl.
When he finished, he disappeared through the open doorway without sparing a glance back at me. I would have let him be, but he let out a series of meows as he meandered down the hallway. I poked my head into the hallway and watched him sashay into the nursery. I must have forgotten to close the door; that was the one room he wasn’t allowed in.
By the time I’d made it into the room, I’d lost track of him. Another soft meow issued forth, and I tracked it and him to the crib. Our baby girl was due to arrive in just over a month, and we’d just finally completed all the final little touches. A vivid cerulean blue was the color of choice, over the walls, on the soft carpet that rest under the crib, on the blankets that lined the crib. Something about that color was so bright and cheerful, it made me smile. Apparently, King was a fan, as well. He was tucked inside the crib, sitting upright, staring at the mobile that dangled over him. His eyes grew wide, and he lifted one paw up and, in a blur, he swatted several times at the blue and yellow butterflies that hung down over his head.
“No! Stop that!” I reached in and scooped him up and pulled him into me. He made to protest, his body stiffening, but I pulled him closer. “Bad kitty. This isn’t your room, and that was not your toy.” Outside the room, I set him down and turned to shut the door when movement caught my eye. The mobile still swung slightly, the butterflies doing a soft dance. I looked up to the walls where three large butterflies were painted across it, one blue, one yellow, one purple. Why did I choose butterflies? And why hadn’t we decided on a name yet?
The mobile slowed to a halt. All was still. I pulled the door shut behind me and made for the bathroom.
After emptying my bladder for the fifth or five-hundredth time today, I sank into the recliner and popped on the TV to wait for my husband Neil to come home. As usual, nothing good was on. I mindlessly hit the channel button, flipping back and through again, hoping that this time something awesome would magically appear on the TV, when a moment ago it wasn't. No luck. I shut the television off and leaned back in the chair, content to nod off. I startled when King jumped clumsily into my lap. He had the hardest time sharing my lap with a bulging baby belly. After a few tries, he finally settled in. I drifted off to sleep, King finally relaxed on my lap, his head and front paws dangling off the side of my ever-shrinking lap. Yet we carried on with our routine just the same.
I woke to a delicate sound. Playful. Soft.
So familiar, yet I couldn't place it.
I perked my ears to listen closer. Nothing.
My eyes fluttered, adjusting to being awake, mind climbed out of the haze. I hadn't thought I'd left the TV on, yet it was glowing back at me. But no channel, no program came clearly into view. I blinked again, confused, and realized my error. The TV had not been on at all. Yes, it was aglow, but there was something unnatural about it. It made me think of a time long ago when I was a child when after a certain time at night, the TV screen would go to that black and white fuzz, a channel gone dead.
Across this blank screen, movement caught my eye. I was about to doubt my weary eyes and write it off when a dark shape moved across the TV, too fast to identify, too fast to be sure that something odd truly happened. I rubbed the leftover sleep from my eyes and stared intently. The glow shifted into green and brown static background, yet the TV was definitely not on. Shapes of autumn leaf-bare trees formed; a sea of colorful drying leaves scattered across the bottom of the screen around a maple tree.
The TV flickered again, and she was there, playing in those leaves. Her golden curls fell over her face as she bent down to grab handfuls of them. She stood, tall as possible, if a six-year-old could be so tall, onto the tips of her toes, and waited for a breeze to blow by. When she was satisfied her timing was adequate, she threw the leaves up into the air and watched them as they danced and flipped and blew away. She spun around and around, her hair playfully slapping her face and over her eyes.
I sat upright, my nails gripping into the sides of the recliner. King mirrored me, but instead of the chair, his claws latched into my dress and through to my skin. I winced and looked away from the TV, and King let out a guttural growl of warning, though not at me.
When I looked back to the TV, it was normal once more. Nothing flickered across the screen, no haunting memory playing out before me; just a regular television that sat, off.
Had I seen anything at all?
And when I was about to give in to my doubts, a whisper called out from behind me.
King jumped off my lap to the ground beside my chair. Raised his hackles and made that deep throaty growl of warning. I sat up and turned my head as the voice called out again.
But this time the sound wasn't coming from behind me, it came from the TV that flashed on again. Darkness stole across the screen. But in the background, an old and lonely white house stood. Sadness crept into my heart and made my breath catch. The house I grew up in. I hadn't gone near that house in so long. Hadn't thought about it, or anything having to do with it, in years. Nothing good had ever come from that house. It was all behind me. Or so I thought.
“A-meeeeee.” The voice wrapped itself around me like a cool blanket and I shivered. “Come home, and let gooooo.”