The Darkness of One O' Clock
The room spun. I don't mean that to be a metaphor. I mean it dissolved in and out as my body began shaking. I screamed, my panic demanding to be heard. My stomach clenched, and I gagged again and again, dry heaving into my pillow.
Your body believes in terror much more quickly than your mind, you see, because even as I screamed I didn't believe him. This was from a movie. People don’t sit on my bed in the middle of the night and tell me that my sister, my person, my best friend, didn’t make it. I thought all that, but I kept screaming. The mind's ability to multitask shocked me even then. I clung to my dad, clawing myself into his chest.
“Why Daddy? NO. Daddy, please. Say it’s not real. What the fuck!" I don't usually swear, but it seemed the only word that didn't fall short.
I pulled on a sweatshirt because although it was summer I couldn't stop shivering. Afraid I was going to throw up, I sprinted to the bathroom but didn't quite make it. I collapsed in front of the door.
“I need you to get up now," my dad said as he squatted down. "Can you get ready to come with me?”
Another man spoke. Had he been there the whole time? He must have been. It was my neighbor, Tim, the sheriff. I knew his kids, and I felt my face flush, ashamed for screaming and flailing here on the floor. I started to whimper, hunkering more closely to my dad.
“Is anyone else home?” the sheriff repeated. But I didn't answer. Because Aleisha was the one that should have been home, the one I figured was home by now, but she wasn't in her room. Her bedroom door was open next to us, her clothes in a heap on the floor, her bed unmade, her backpack lying open, notebooks spilling out.
“Honey, is Bob home?” my dad asked gently. Bob, my mom’s boyfriend. I nodded, surprised he hadn't heard me screaming. “Okay, sweetheart,” Dad said, trying to steady his voice. “I need you to get up now. I need you to get a message to your mom."
My mom who didn't yet know her daughter was dead. I screamed wailing, sobbing screams, but my dad kept urging me up. “Put in your contacts, honey,” he said. But my body didn't move. I tried saying it out loud to myself this time.
“Stand up,” I said, my voice echoing in the small bathroom. And I stood. “Put your contacts in. You can do it. Just put them in.” I realized how idiotic I sounded, standing there in the bathroom talking to myself, staring into the mirror at my own frantic eyes. But it worked, I suppose. I got them in.
I was breathing as fast as my body could inflate with oxygen and get rid of it. Was I hyperventilating? “Sweetheart, I need you to send your mom a message," Dad said again, nudging me toward the stairs. I started shaking even harder. My legs couldn't hold my body up.
Could I really tell my mom? Maybe if we didn't tell her it wouldn't be real. We could all just go back to bed and wake up in the morning and Al would be there, sleeping in too late, and I'd go into her room and crawl under the blankets with her.
I withered into a clump on the linoleum next to the bath mat, and I could feel myself sucking in sand from the floor that never got swept because Al’s clothes were always strewn across it, so I couldn't clean up. I had just asked her a few days earlier if she could finally, please, just pick UP her clothes? She narrowed her eyes at me. They were still there, surrounding me now. Her sweatpants and her underwear, right where she'd stripped them off for a shower.
My dad lifted me to my feet, and I walked down the stairs, one slow step at a time, to the kitchen where my computer sat on the counter. My feature article still up on the screen.
I opened my email and started typing a message to my mom, picturing her reaction, her paralysis, her fear. I wanted her to know it was important, that she needed to call quickly, but didn't want to say too much. I wanted to give her a few extra minutes of not knowing.
"Mom, Please call Daddy as soon as you see this," I wrote. I hadn't called him Daddy since I was six. I included his number—not willing to take any chances. I read it over and hesitated before adding "I love you with all my heart," knowing it wouldn't be enough. I held my breath and hit send.
Standing in the doorway, I stared into the darkness of one o’clock, the stillness of one o’clock. But it was all just a façade of calm, veiling the hellscape lurking beyond.
Bob walked down the stairs with the officer, rambling too loudly. “I thought it was the dog—that sound, I thought it was Beta. I couldn’t figure out why she was makin’ so much noise. I can’t believe I di’n’t hear you guys. Joyce is gonna die; she’s just gonna die. I saw Aleisha just a few hours ago. I was gonna build a campfire for her and her friend, but then I guess they left. I can’t tell Joyce. She’ll just die.”
When he saw me standing by the door he came straight over and hugged me for the first time since he'd begun dating my mom five years before. He hugged me a long time. Tightly. Like I was his own daughter.
“We’ve got to go," Dad said. It didn't occur to me to ask where we had to go or why the huge rush. I may have been twenty-one, but here I was just a child, listening to everything my daddy said, hoping he could make it right, hoping he could tell me how to fix this.
I stared unblinking out the windshield. As he pulled out of the driveway, his wife Nancy said, “Marlowe, can you actually drive right now?" I imagine he was shaking quite badly. "Do you need me to drive, Marlowe?"
He stared ahead. “No."
We'd only made it a mile when his phone began ringing. My body realized it was my mom before my mind did, and the dry heaving began. I thought I might vomit. I couldn't listen to it happen—him telling her. I yanked the handle, but my door wouldn't open unless the one in front opened first. Desperate, I yanked the handle again.
“Pull over, Marlowe,” Nancy said as Dad reached for the phone. As soon as the truck stopped, she opened the front door, and I hurled myself out, sprinting into the woods. It wasn't long before I collapsed.
I hadn't noticed the police officer jogging behind me, not my neighbor, but another guy, much younger, a kid really. I realized then they had been following us in the squad car, making sure my dad stayed on the road.
He kneeled awkwardly but stayed quiet. I kept whimpering, my throat making noises I couldn't control. Enough time passed in silence that the officer must have felt uncomfortable. He cleared his throat.
“We knew it was her because of her ring,” he said. I rocked back and forth like some sort of mental patient trying to tune him out. Why on earth would he be saying this to me? I wondered. Don't these guys get sensitivity training or something? Jesus.
“Her friend said she was wearing a claddagh ring." Friend? What friend had the police been talking to? I realized how much I didn't know. He mistook my silence for confusion about the ring. "That Irish one with the crown? It was on her finger.” he tried to explain. "That's how we knew it was her…"
What do you mean: that's how you knew it was her? Didn't it look like her? I whimpered. What happened to my baby sister? I looked at the same ring on my finger and thought about how she always wanted the things I had. I pressed my face into the gravel until I could feel tiny rocks jut into my skin, and I listened to crickets chirping into the otherwise silent summer night.