Unraveled

A week ago, Silvia saw him standing in the door to Maddie’s nursery, a gaunt figure with restless, sunken eyes. He stepped over the threshold and approached the crib, unfazed by Maddie’s shattering cries. The light from the hall filtered through his thin frame, bending at odd angles on the floor. An uncanny absence hollowing out every ordinary thing in the room. The nightlight flickered and faded. The music from Maddie’s sleep bunny stuttered to a stop. The figure leaned over the crib and began to whisper. Her daughter stared up into his eyes and hiccupped once. As he talked, her eyes grew heavy. Finally, she slept. When the ghost finished whispering, he disappeared.

Silvia wept from relief.

Since birth, Maddie hadn’t stopped crying for more than an hour at a time. The pediatrician assured Silvia that everything was fine, that Maddie would grow out of it.

She hadn’t.

That first night, she had tried to scream, but the sound died in her throat. Now she waits for him every night, exhausted from Maddie’s tears. He arrives, as the sun sets, conjured from nightmares—though whether hers or Maddie’s, she doesn’t know. There are times she thinks she should speak; tell him he can leave. That she is enough. That a silver thread binds her to her daughter, thrumming, even in the darkness. But all she can do is watch, barely breathing, until Maddie settles, sleeps, and the spirit disappears.

Last night his whispers grew more urgent. As if his time here were short. She dared to stand, to step closer. And when he turned to her, his eyes opened a door to everything Silvia had ever feared. He leaned close to her ear. And whispered. Silvia felt herself falling, felt the silver thread tying her to Maddie fray. She reached out into the darkness, helpless against its unraveling. The thread snapped. And her heart broke.

Today Maddie is as good as gold. When Silvia’s friends visit, they congratulate her. The hardest days are behind you, they tell her. But to each other they say how cold Maddie’s eyes seem, and how her cheeks are just a bit sunken. When they leave, Silvia picks up her daughter and holds her close. She goes to the nursery and sets the sleep bunny to play Maddie’s favorite songs. When Silvia puts her down, Maddie looks up at her with a stranger’s eyes. She watches as they begin to close. The child will nod off any minute now.

As long as the ghost standing at the foot of her crib keeps talking.

Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.

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