In the hall the nightlight’s on, the long space glows gently pink; I walk, one foot set carefully down, then the other, without creaking, along the runner, as if on a forest floor, sneaking, my heart quick, through the night house. I am out of place. This is entirely illegal.
Down past the fisheye on the hall wall, I can see my white shape, of tented body, hair down my back like a mane, my eyes gleaming. I like this. I am doing something, on my own. The active tense. Tensed. What I would like to steal is a knife, from the kitchen, but I’m not ready for that.
I reach the sitting room, door’s ajar, slip in, leave the door a little open. A squeak of wood, but who’s near enough to hear? I stand in the room, letting the pupils of my eyes dilate, like a cat’s or owl’s. Old perfume, cloth dust fill my nostrils. There’s a slight mist of light, coming through the cracks around the closed drapes, from the searchlight outside, where two men doubtless patrol, I’ve seen them, from above, from behind my curtains, dark shapes, cutouts. Now I can see outlines, gleams: from the mirror, the bases of the lamps, the vases, the sofa looming like a cloud at dusk.
What should I take? Something that will not be missed. In the wood at midnight, a magic flower. A withered daffodil, not one from the dried arrangement. The daffodils will soon be thrown out, they’re beginning to smell. Along with Serena’s stale fumes, the stench of her knitting.
I grope, find an end table, feel. There’s a clink, I must have knocked something. I find the daffodils, crisp at the edges where they’ve dried, limp towards the stems, use my fingers to pinch. I will press this, somewhere. Under the mattress. Leave it there, for the next woman, the one who comes after me, to find.
But there’s someone in the room, behind me.
I hear the step, quiet as mine, the creaking of the same floorboard. The door closes behind me, with a little click, cutting the light. I freeze: white was a mistake. I’m snow in moonlight, even in the dark.
Then a whisper: “Don’t scream. It’s all right.”
As if I’d scream, as if it’s all right. I turn: a shape, that’s all, dull glint of cheekbone, devoid of colour.