She would come to me in shadows. Skirt around the edges of my life. Like the wind, she’d brush past me, swoop up into the trees and fade into the sky. I’d see her reflection in store windows, hear her footsteps in my dreams.
When I was very small, I thought she was a ghost. I still believe in ghosts. She’s the reason why. On my 8th birthday, when I had a party but nobody came, she was there. She was in the woods. She saw me crying, but she couldn’t come to me. I know she knew knew my pain.
Sometimes, she would be gone for months, and then, just when I thought I’d never see her again, or that I had really imagined her, she’d fade back into my life. A hunched woman wrapped in flowing robes of deep blacks and dark purples. Never a face, hands or hair, just a figure draped in satins.
The nearer she would come, the harder and faster my mom would chase her away. “Get away from her.” My mom would hiss, chasing the old woman. “And stay away. It’s over.”
Days, weeks, months would go by and I would almost forget about her. Maybe she was a dream. A memory. Maybe she was just a ‘crazy old woman.’ That’s what my mom would say.
Until the night I touched her hand. The night I turned 11. I remember every detail. The moon was full. The stars hid behind the curtain of night. My room felt stiffening and I needed air. I think that was it. All I know for sure is that I had to open my window. I had to smell the night.
I tip toed to my window, stopped and listened. Did my mom hear me? My dad? Silence answered me. Click. Click. The window unlocked and slowly I lifted it. The winter breeze licked my face. I breathed slow and deep. Just before I turned, skeletal fingers reached through the crack.
I snapped my hand over my mouth to not scream. I wanted to slam the window, but I saw paper, a letter. Her boney hand reached it out to me with a whisper, “take this.”
In one motion, my door flew open, the window slammed shut and the letter fluttered under my bed. Not so much fluttered, but crawled.
I looked up at my mom. My mouth opening and closing like a dying fish.
She knelt down to me and held my arms. Tears flowed down her face. “Are you hurt? Did she touch you?”
I shook my head.
“I don’t want you to be afraid,” my mom said. Her warm brown eyes trying to reach into my heart. “Of anything. But this woman, she is fear. I know you are too young to understand, but promise me you will never, never take anything she tries to give you.”
My mom stood up and looked out the window again. I didn’t move.
Her eyes swept every inch of my room and spent just a flicker at my bed. Would she kneel to see underneath it? With careful steps, she approached it, pulled back the covers and fluffed the pillows. “Come now. Back to bed with you.”
She kissed my forehead. “I love you Layla. Me and papa will always keep you safe. Now, go to sleep and have good dreams. Tomorrow we can all watch (50s TV show) together. ”
“Good night mama,” I whispered.
The letter pulsed with a heart beat all it’s own coming right up through the mattress.
The bedroom door closed. I held my breath and waited. And waited. The letter pulsed. Thump thump. Thump thump.
I slid out of bed and felt the paper. How can it be so cold? Do I dare to open it? What could it tell me? Could it tell me everything?
I ran my fingers along the worn edges. What secrets are in here? Does it tell me why it’s so hard for me to have friends? Why people are mean to me? How to make someone love me. Why some people hate me. How to erase the sadness in me that fills my insides like sand.
I read it only the night before my birthday and then I hid it. Or it hides from me. I used to think my mom found it, but it always reappears under my bed. Always on the night before my birthday.
Tomorrow, I turn 14.
I reach my hand under my bed and it crawls between my fingers.