By Jacob Garrett
Anna jerked back into consciousness, gasping for air. The thin beams of orange light sliding in between her blinds gave her sweat-slick skin a sickly glow in her darkened bedroom. Her head darted back and forth as her eyes adjusted, trying to find the source of the noise that she knew had woken her up. Did someone break in? Is the house falling down? Is a tornado ripping through it? Her brain, still thick with the fog of sleep, was running through every negative scenario that it could come up with as her hands began to shake. Then, she saw it:
The lamp on Jane’s side of the bed was gone.
She crept through the tangle of the down comforter to the cold left end of the mattress and peeked over. The lamp was lying on its side on the carpet, the shade a few inches away. The plain white ceramic of the lamp’s stand was still intact, but the bulb had shattered, and Anna felt as though she could almost see the shards of broken glass twinkling wickedly at her from the floor below. She let out a deep sigh and put her head in her hands.
Shit. Looked like she wouldn’t be getting much sleep tonight.
She moved back over to her side of the bed and let her legs swing over the edge, dangling above the cool, smooth carpet. There was a shadowy splotch on the fabric below her right foot where she had accidentally spilled a mug of hot chocolate one winter morning. A bout of impromptu wrestling around with Jane had gotten out of hand and, much like the lamp, her mug had tumbled right off the edge of the nightstand. This time, however, it seemed that Jane’s old habit of cramming her nightstand with too much stuff had done the appliance in.
Anna felt a bitter smile spreading across her face as her eyes grew hot and wet. Even after she was gone, Jane was still finding ways to make messes.
She planted her feet on the stained carpet and stood up, her knees cracking like an underfoot twig in winter. Sticking her arms out behind her, she pulled and twisted her sleep-sodden body awake one section at a time, and, afterward, shuffled out of the bedroom to find the vacuum, taking another glance over her shoulder at the corpse of the lamp in its desolate pose.
Anna moved through the inky shadows of her house with an intuition developed through five years of bruising her legs and arms on the various chairs, sofas, pianos, and tables lining the path to the entryway closet. Her long fingers wrapped themselves around the faux-brass knob and turned, pulling the door open with a thick crrreeeaak. She fumbled around inside the closet, shoving aside old winter coats, ponchos, and dangling scarves, reaching for characteristic feel of cold plastic. No matter how much she moved around in there, however, she just couldn’t seem to figure out where it was hiding from her. She pulled her arm back, staring at the amorphous shapes in the closet, trying to remember where she might have stowed it away, when her eyes widened and chills rocked her body.
The air was thick with the scent of vanilla.
No, it couldn’t be. You’re imagining things. But was she? You just woke up, you could even still be dreaming. There’s nothing there. But what if…?
Anna swung the door shut, and, as it latched closed, she could have sworn that she heard soft footsteps trailing back toward the bedroom.
Her legs wobbling and her fingers twitching with anxiety and fear, she turned the corner and looked back through the living room and down the hall at the open bedroom door.
There was a shape beneath the covers on the left-hand side. Jane’s side.
She was here.
Anna began stumbling back toward the other end of the house, moving as fast as she could on legs that were melting away beneath her. Her ears were filled with a roaring like an ancient air conditioner in the middle of July. She could see her; there was a body in that bed. It was her. It was Jane.
She had come back.
Anna slammed her shin into the end of the sofa, but she barely felt it. Her nerves had almost shut down; she was numb to any sensations but the need to hurry back into that bedroom as soon as possible.
Five feet. Four. Two.
She passed through the doorframe and approached the bed, barely standing now, tears running down her face without hindrance. She was sniffling every few seconds, her nose overflowing from grief just as much as her eyes. She reached out her hand to touch Jane, to feel Jane, to finally have a physical connection with the woman to whom she had given her life and soul just as Jane had given hers….
Her palm came down upon unsupported feathers and fabric. The comforter sank without any resistance, her hand pushing into nothing but the underlying memory foam.
It couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t…
She was right here, I saw it, I saw her, I smelled her, she can’t be gone!
Anna began madly pushing her arms around the bed and through the covers, looking for any miniscule sign that Jane or anybody had been there, any hair, any lingering scent, any spot where the blankets may have absorbed their sweat…
A scream ripped from her throat as a piece of glass pierced the sole of her foot, driving deep into her skin and letting loose a hot miniature waterfall of blood onto the carpet. Anna stumbled backward, surprised and unbalanced by the pain, and tumbled into the old dresser. Everything on top of it from bottles to pictures to cases shook and rattled when her back made contact with the scratched and dented chestnut, and, as her hands scrambled futilely for a place to hold, she felt her fingers brush something and knock it off. She collided with the floor while letting out a pained and shocked “Oof!” as her hands immediately went to cup her throbbing foot, her eyes wrenched shut in pain.
Then, it came again: the thick, overpowering scent of vanilla on the air.
Anna’s eyes shot open. Through the darkness, she could make out the broken remains of a perfume bottle on the floor in front of her, the liquid so recently held in by the fractured glass soaking into the fibers of the carpet.
She tried to pull her hands away to reach for the bottle’s remains, but her foot sent another jolt of pain screaming up her leg at the first sign of movement, and she kept her hands where they were. She could only watch, sobs wrenching from her throat and tears streaming down her face, as the last of Jane’s perfume disappeared into the stain-riddled bedroom floor.