It’s dark and I can’t see.
That’s a lie.
I can see vague shapes. Outlines. Fuzzy out of focus details.
There’s a smell. Rot. Decay. Death.
Words, mumbled and garbled. “Sinner. Bitch. Useless. Bad, bad girl. You are nothing. Nothing,” repeated like a mantra. The voice is hoarse, sexless.
I keep moving. Stumbling. Feeling around in the dark. I can’t breathe. I don’t want to smell that smell. But it keeps getting stronger.
The voice is getting louder.
There is a dim light ahead. I move to it. Drawn to the ability to see. A need to see. Like a moth to a flame, I move to it.
“Sinner. Bitch. Useless. Bad, bad girl. You are nothing. Nothing.”
A room is vaguely seen in the dim, dusty light. Stained and peeling wallpaper. It might have been considered elegant once. But now it’s dingy in the dust-covered light. Water stains warp the filigree design, gold on white now muted with dankness and decay.
A sagging velvet arm chair, mottled with brown stains, maybe it had been green and luxurious and comfortable once.
“Sinner. Bitch. Useless. Bad, bad girl. You are nothing. NOTHING.” The voice is loud now. It’s coming from my right.
There’s a bed. The once ornate brass canopy is falling in and around itself. Partially covering the bed. Covering it’s occupant, whose head peeks out looking at me with milky cataract eyes. Thin wispy white hair barely covers a pink scalp. Raw, wrinkled skin and a toothless mouth gape open at me.
From underneath the collapsed canopy, an arm raises, and a knobby, arthritic hand point a gnarled finger at me, a long sharp nail aimed to my center. “Sinner. Bitch. Useless. Bad, bad birl. You are nothing. Nothing. NOTHING.” She is talking directly to me.
“I’m not a bad girl,” I whisper. “I’m a good girl.” I see myself in the dirty mirror in front of me. I’m no longer the grown and capable woman who has achieved so much.
I’m back to the five year old me. The one who was exposed to so much and had no way of dealing. No voice to speak up with. I’m once again that helpless, sad girl.
I wake up with a start.
It was all a dream. A nightmare. I roll over and look at my sleeping wife beside me. A soft smile of contentment on her lips as she dozes peaceful.
I look over at the clock. Three in the morning. I always wake up at three in the morning when I have this dream. I look around the darkness of my bedroom. The cream colored furniture glows in the dim moonlight coming from the open window. The soft smell of jasmine eases the smell of rot from my memory.
I pick up the cat curled sleeping from the foot of the bed and take her with me to the living room. I will not be able to fall back to sleep. I never can when I dream of the old woman. She has plagued my dreams since childhood. Always her same mantra. “Sinner. Bitch. Useless. Bad, bad girl. Nothing.”
My therapist says she was born from my trauma, and the slightest stress seems to trigger her. I take an ativan and make a cup of tea. I email my boss and let her know I won’t be coming in today.
I take the plush blanket and throw it over my lap and the cat curls up and purrs her gentle motor on my lap.
The open breeze from the sliding door to the patio blows a cool wind over my face. I turn on the television and turn the volume low. The lamp lights the room in a golden glow.
CNN rambles through the happenings of the world. Politics. Division. War. A human interest story about a sea lion. It cycles through and starts from the top. No variation in the coverage or the words spoken. “Sinner. Bitch. Useless. Bad, bad girl. Nothing.”
The cat stretches and kneads her paws, shifting her weight on my lap. My tea has gone cold.
The clock now reads four in the morning. My wife will be up in two hours.
My eyes feel heavy and I shift my position on the couch, laying myself out. The cat moves to curl up in a ball against my belly.
I let my eyes fall closed. The smell of jasmine on the breeze, the sound of chimes sonorous and melodic on the breeze, and a coyote in the distance calling to his pack ease me back into slumber. I am fine. I am safe. I tell myself this over and over as I fall deeper and deeper into a heavy sleep.
The lights go dark. I tell myself it’s just my eyes succumbing to sleep. My mind needs rest.
It’s that inky dark that doesn’t allow you to discern your location in the room. It’s confusing and heavy.
The cat makes a noise I’ve never heard from her before. Guttural and angry. A low hiss escapes from her.
The sweet, heady smell of jasmine is overtaken by the thick smell of rot and death.
“Sinner. Bitch. Useless. Bad, bad girl. Nothing.” I hear the voice in the distance. In a sick rhythm, I hear the thump of feet hitting the tile, bare and heavy in sync with the words. “Sinner.” Thwack. “Bitch.” Slap. “Useless.” Pitter. “Bad.” Patter. “Bad.” Thwack. “Girl.” Slap. “Nothing.” Pitter.
It all comes louder and the smell becomes overpowering. I reach to the lamp and click and the switch and it turns back on, flickering and struggling. The flashing and unsteady light are dizzying as I struggle to not breathe in the overwhelming odor.
The cat has ran off and I’m alone.
The old woman is slowly making her way across the tiles from the darkness of the corners to me. The white coated eyes blue and glowing against the darkness.
Her tirade continues as she approaches me closer and closer. I pull the blanket over me, and tears slide down my cheeks.
The blanket is slowly pulled from my grip and down and away from me. I’m cold and shivering and she is standing over me.
Her hands are paper dry and hot as they wrap around my neck. I feel the sharp points of her nails against the tender flesh of my neck as she begins to squeeze.
Her nose is against mine, and I smell only her breath. Hear only her words. “Sinner. Bitch. Useless. Bad, bad girl. Nothing.” Until all goes black around me.
And then, it’s nothingness. Sweet, sweet nothingness.