SUSAN CLARKSON MOORHEAD
The hallway is the same different it is every night after everyone has gone to bed. Same tilted silence as if this boxy house was slowly shifting in the thickness of outside darkness. It's hard not to feel a strange kind of lonesome when all that is familiar in the daylight is abandoned and everyone else is lost to dreams. When just being awake marks you. The light from the overhead fixture is pale and anorexic as if the sleep of others has sucked something out of the filaments, thinning the cast light. I am careful to note each shadow, each potential movement behind each doorway, because it might come, it might already be here. This notion sends little flits of terror over my skin. But then again, it might not come and that might be even more frightening.
I am calling to it as I have all afternoon and evening. How do you lure a savage wallaby? I try to be persuasive, use my sweet voice, say how much I want to see it, to have it come to me instead of her. All day I could only send out little flashes of my mind towards it in the rare moments between interruptions - an argument about an inappropriate cartoon TV show with my son, cleaning up after supper, cursing out the plastic containers that never have a matching lid until I remembered I wanted to sound sweet, compliant, in case it was listening. Then it was checks on homework and those 'get to bed early for once' kind of remarks to the kids, trying to listen as the husband chatted about his day, one last prowl outside offered to the dog.
But now, everyone is sleeping, even the dog snuffles as he dreams. Now this creature might find open passage to my thoughts, now he might hear my voice, clear in the long quiet of night, this savage wallaby I am hunting.
I know how he will sound as he approaches, a running patter of long narrow feet. I know he will be at the edge of my vision like some macular degenerated nightmare, caught only in sideways glimpses so he remains maybe behind me, maybe beside me. I won't know until I’ll slide my eyes and see him pressing near me, fanged teeth and slobber eking out of his mouth.
I know how he looks because Katie has drawn him, spent hours perfecting the magic- markered glisten of his dripping jars mitigated by his comical rotund shape to hand over weekly to the therapist. My sweet girl has told me in endless detail what he looks like, but says only she can hear him and see him as she explains it's because he only wants her. Even her older brother, rapt as he watched YouTube clips on his computer, didn’t hear as the wallaby ran past his desk, didn’t see when the wallaby turned his grinning face toward his sister’s quaking voice coming from the place she thought would be safe, her brother’s unmade bed, asking if he could see the creature standing next to her. “You’re nuts,” he had said.
There’s nothing yet, but maybe it’s still early in wallaby time. He could be snoozing. He could be eating whatever wallabies with fangs eat. He has never done more to Katie than follow her, stare at her, grin at her, but what are those fangs capable of? This worries me a great deal as I sit in my desk chair, denying myself the comfort of scrolling through Etsy as I wait. I don’t want to be caught off guard. I want to be ready.
An hour later and I'm admiring some silver earrings on Etsy when I sense something by my right elbow. I freeze, trying to slow down time as I carefully slide my eyes slowly to the right. Nothing. Nothing that I can see, but maybe a thickness of air? Doesn’t something feel different? The thin light in the hallway casts no shadow. Katie didn’t mention if the wallaby has a shadow. I listen to the sounds past the doorway so intently I can feel the skin on my ears, feel the prickles of separate hairs on my head, at the nape of my neck. There’s the dog snoring. There’s the protesting sound the heat makes as it shudders on and shoots warm air through the vents into the rooms.
I will be exhausted tomorrow, the fruit of a pointless endeavor. I turn off the computer. This was all foohlishness. I check the breathing of each child from their doorway before settling my head down on my own pillow. My husband's back against mine is a comfort. But I can't help fighting the sleep that folds over me, opening my eyes in quick blinks in a last attempt to catch the wallaby in case he has finally come. I am afraid each second before I flick my eyes open that there will be the sharp vees of teeth inches from my face, phosphorescent in the darkness. I can’t think about what I’ll do if I can win him over, persuade him to follow me around instead of her, pattering after me like some Sci-fi wannabe orphan. How to live my life with this savage wallaby trotting after me to the grocery store, while I carpool the kids, while I read in bed, make love to my husband, all the while glancing sidewise to see him oozing slime out of his long mouse-colored wallaby snout.
If I can only see him just once.
I force my eyes to flash open again, quick like a camera’s shutter. There is only the interior night sieved gray by the light in the hall. I fall towards sleep and at the brink of it, I can finally see the fearsome thing I have dreaded take shape and present itself to me. The fact that my daughter sees the savage wallaby coming after her and I can’t see him, I can't catch him, and I can't stop his steady pursuit.