by Rebecca Lambert
The curtains aren’t fully drawn. The dark outside, strangely light, as the glow from the moon falls on snow. As cold meets warmth, a veil of condensation blurs the inside of the glass. The room is quiet, bathed in shadow; shapes cast on walls quiver with the wind.
The little girl breathes heavily: brown eyes wide open, despite the hour. From her red velvet nightdress, seep the faint smells of Grandma’s house. Pear soap and almonds, sugary scents of baking. The little girl lowers her face, wrinkling her nose in its folds. She inhales deeply, fills her nostrils. Waits.
In the distance, she hears the church bell: one solitary chime. Her body stiffens, toes curl, goosebumps prickle her skin. The little girl closes her eyes and clamps both hands over her ears. Not to dull the sound of her pounding heart, or the billowing of the wind as it coughs a flurry of snow across the moon-soaked sky, but to stifle the creak of the floorboard on the landing; the snap of the door handle unlatching; the whimper of the hinges.
A strip of light appears under the bedroom door, edge blunted by the carpet. Slowly it creeps, knife-edge slicing the darkness, marking a tightrope path along the floor. The little girl sinks deeper into bed, peeping through semi-closed eyelids.
What big eyes, peering from the sliver of light between the door and its frame.
What yellow teeth, gleaming from a twisted smile.
What big hands, feeling their way into the darkness of the room.
The little girl pulls the duvet up to her face: hands clenched into tiny fists, fastened around its hem. Knees up to her chest, she hugs them in close—daring not to breathe.
The little girl trembles. Eyes damp; squeezed shut.
If she can’t see him, he won’t see her.