She sat on the couch, cigarette between her index and middle fingers, her long, bare legs crossed, and wrote. Smoke filled her lungs, then the living room as she exhaled.
Her black-ink pen flitted across the unlined paper like butterflies in a field of cosmos. Brief moments of pause tipped her green eyes to the ceiling, searching for a word that had risen like heat in winter.
“Maddie,” a voice whispered. Goose pimples rose upon her skin. Her pen stopped, mid-word. Shoulders tensed, she shook her head.
Her writing, which before spun loops and lines with grace and ease, now forced its will onto the page with deep strokes and abrupt transitions from letter to letter, spelling the word SHUT UP.
“What?” she yelled and slammed the pen into the paper, making a round ink-stained hole.
She tossed her paper and pen aside, sucked hard on her cigarette, then stubbed it out in the overflowing ashtray on the coffee table. Cigarette ash puffed under her deliberateness. She stood and stomped to the kitchen, careful to sidestep the door that led to the basement.
“Stop it. Leave me alone,” she said as she went from fridge to counter, gathering salsa and cheese, then ramen noodles from the cupboard. The faucet groaned, and water sputtered, shot out, speckling her arm hairs in mist.
She glanced at the basement, grimaced, and returned her attention to the boiling water, and plopped ramen noodles in.
The silence saturated the walls of the kitchen like molasses poured from a jar, and, though she was glad to not hear the persistent whispering of her name, the silence seemed worse.
The silence taunted her. It slithered under her nails and skin and wound its way around the follicles of her dirty blonde hair and sank into her skull to her mind.
She rubbed her scalp with the back of her knuckles. Her eyes shifted over the room as if to catch someone who always stood in the shadows but was never seen.
The kitchen clock cuckooed, two o’clock. Another thirty minutes, and Michael would be home. Then she would be safe.
The cheddar she tossed on the steaming noodles adhered, melting into the empty crevasses, while she shuffled back to the living room to take her lukewarm spot on the couch and eat.
“Damn it! Leave me alone!” Bits of noodle, caked in cheese and tomato, speckled the air and coffee table. “I’m trying to eat. Can’t I just eat?” Her voice trembled. She choked back tears that threatened to surface and devour her.
She ate quickly, then lit a cigarette and inhaled, her shoulders releasing their tension.
The living room had a wide bay window, which allowed an abundance of sunlight to blanket the wooden floor. This comforted her, gave her the impression that whatever lived in the walls—the basement—couldn’t get her if the sunlight kept its vigil, at least, until Michael arrived.
A flying beetle buzzed, unseen, and landed on the rim of her bowl, black with red-marked wings. She shuddered in disgust, tired of beetles, constant, always when she was alone.
Another flew around her. Then another. And another. There were so many the sunlight lost its hold.
She shrieked and flailed. Waved her arms violently about her. Each beetle-body pinged her skin, struck like needles in the dark.
And just as quick as it began, the buzzing and flying stopped. The air cleared.
She could see the living room again: the couch, the window, the ashtray, the bowl, and the heavenly light from the window that striped the floor in a daffodil glow.
The front door opened, and Michael walked in. “Maddie, I’m home.”
She tried to speak. No sound came from her, only a fettered voice in her mind. He walked from room to room, calling her name.
She hollered. Pounded her fists.
He bent down and picked up her lonely bowl and set it on the coffee table. “Must have gone to the store,” he said and headed to the bathroom.
She watched him go. She yelled. Bellowed. Shouted his name again and again.
She twisted to see herself. She had no legs. No body. No fists that could bang.
“Welcome home, Maddie,” the voice said at her side.
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