I was dreaming about the fire again. The rich, nutty fragrance of linseed oil and its odd companion – turpentine. A smell I used to love but which now terrifies me. I see it then, the crackling fire crawling towards me with flames licking at wooden boards surrounding me. The embers drift through the air like hell-sent fireflies. I have the imminent feeling that the walls are about to collapse.
I sit up, sputtering, my throat tight and scratchy. My heart is racing. There’s a seagull perched on my dresser, cocking its head at me, its beady eyes glowing in the dark. It flaps its wings when I call it but it doesn’t fly to me. It seems tethered to the pine surface.
The full moon hangs low in the sky, pulsing with radiance. Swollen, bloated and partially masked by wisps of grey clouds, its blue light seeps in through the gauzy linen curtains and transforms the familiar pieces of furniture in my bedroom into strange silhouettes lurking in the shadows.
I see her face in my mind as vividly as the last time I saw her in real life. She’s in my room but she’s standing in a field of wildflowers, next to the yellow barn. I remember milkweed husks dropping their pods in the heat, the sound of distant laughing and the feeling of thistles scratching my shins. There’s a stabbing pain in my temple – my psyche telling me to back off.
“Don’t go any further,” “turn around while you still can,” “danger ahead.” It’s been so long since I let myself push through the pain that I don’t know what’s memory and what’s imagination. What have I created as a substitute for what I know?
The moon opens its mouth and screams at me. I open my mouth and silently roar, gripping my cotton sheets in my closed fists.
We used to scour the rooms after the guests had checked out and collect the treasures that had been carelessly left behind. We gave value even to the most trivial possessions that had been forgotten – a small silver comb, a single pearl earring, a gold cufflink. Our memories held a blueprint of each little crevice in the wooden floor boards, the spaces between pieces of molding along the walls, the slope in the floor that caused buttons to roll under dressers. We envisioned ourselves as glamorous as the people who shared our lives there for a week or two, taking a break from their busy work lives, their affluence, shedding their pearl necklaces like skin.
I swing my legs over the side of the bed, intending to get a glass of water from the kitchen, but instead of the smooth surface of wooden panels what I feel is cold dirt. I try to lift my leg but it’s stuck now and when I look down again my ankles have gone under. I’m sinking. Don’t panic, a glance from the seagull seems to say as if to reassure me, though he does nothing except cock his head back and forth (as if wondering about the mechanics of being swallowed alive by the ground in one’s bedroom in the middle of the night). I hold my breath and close my eyes.
Claudia Lundahl is a writer from New York. She is a graduate of the City University of New York at Hunter College where she studied Language and Literature. Her work has been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, So to Speak Journal, The Daily Drunk and other marvelous places. She lives in the United Kingdom with her partner and two rescued hounds. Find her on Twitter @claudrosewrites.