Behind Glass

I stumbled out of bed, staggering sightlessly to the bathroom. The sting of bright  lights dispatched the lingering fog of Morpheus, and with great reluctance, I cracked open my eyes. Leaning over the sink, I stared into the mirror. Blood shot blue eyes stared back, and a riot of strawberry blond waves tumbled in disarray over slumped shoulders.

“You screamed again last night,” my  husband said, toweling off from his shower. I turned around, unsurprised to see him already awake and ready for the new day. He smiled, though worry bracketed his eyes and furrowed his brow. I jerked my head away and stared at the woman trapped in the glass, both of us searching for answers neither of us possessed.

Shaky fingers fluttered and rested on the slim column of sinew and skin,pressing on the wildly beating pulse found there. “Did I?” That question raised an awareness of a raw, previously unnoticed stinging. I swallowed, the convulsive gulp abrading the tender tissues with its nervous action.

“You don’t remember?” he asked. He pulled on his pants and shirt, the casualness of his question recalling to mind fragments of terror, of immobility and fear.

“There was someone by the bed,” I whispered and closed my eyes.  There was always someone by the bed or lurking in the corners, a dark shadow that was never far away. “He was going to kill me.”

“That’s what you said.” He ran a comb through his dark hair, his efficient movements cutting through the noise and chaos clouding my mind. Watching him, I matched my breathing to his.

Inhaling when he inhaled.

Exhaling when he exhaled.

My breathing calmed. The frantic pace of blood pumping through veins quieted until all I heard was a regular thub-thub.

Thub-thub.

Though fear wrapped me in a tight embrace clinging more tenaciously than a vine to a tree, I concentrated on that rhythm. For in its regularity, there was comfort. There was order.

“What happened after that?”

I didn’t want to know, not really, but I had to ask. Because it never stopped at screaming. There was always an after. He didn’t respond immediately, and guilt took root in my stomach, clawing its way up to my throat until fear and pain mingled, creating a dread more potent than the echo of agony I relived in my dreams.

“I didn’t lash out at you, did I?” That had happened before. Locked in a nightmare, unable to awaken, I had kicked, hit and punched my way through the horror that kept me rooted in the past.

He put away his comb and straightened his tie, smiling at me in the mirror. “No, nothing so awful as that.”

“Then what?”

“You cried and held my hand until sleep came again.”

Relief, when it came, was swift. “Oh, that’s progress.”

“I thought so.” He came to my side and wrapped an arm about my waist, enfolding me into the solid surety of his embrace before taking his leave.

At the door, he hesitated and asked, “Do you ever wonder why after all these years you are screaming now?”

I regarded the woman in the mirror, and her empty eyes stared back. I knew her life before. I knew the terror she felt waiting behind closed doors, hiding from the dark shadows. I knew the sting of pain as it lanced through her body when she had been discovered, tasted the blood in her mouth as she bit her lips to keep in the screams. I had heard her silent sobs and had watched as her attempts to fight back were silenced.

Yes, I knew why I screamed. I knew why a decade after leaving those dark memories behind  blood-curdling screams shattered the peace of my slumbering family. Trembling fingers reached out and touched the glass, and the woman in the mirror cried, quiet tears streaking down her cheeks.

“No one heard my cries before. Now everyone does.” I turned to look at my husband, but he had already gone, leaving me alone to stare at the wreckage of the woman before me.

Her pain, as it had so many times before, nearly crippled me and her burden was too heavy to bear this morning. A mantle of shame and defeat descended, a tangible reminder of the past which refused to die. Far too long it had marked me as different, depriving me of a normal existence where fear did not hold me in its iron grip. 

I could not stand to look at her one minute longer. I closed my eyes, but not before the woman in the mirror opened her mouth and screamed, her soundless cry trapped behind layers of metal and glass.

© Sara Ackerman 2016

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