It wasn’t the sirens that woke her, or the frantic voices and hands sifting through broken glass. It wasn’t the strobe of blue and red lights against her eyelids that caused them to lift open, the dull glow of the TV screen as hot as the sun against her retinas. Her sleep hadn’t been cut short by the icy air that drifted in from a crack in the window pane, the breeze forming fingers that pressed frost against the glass, although her bare legs were cold and goose pimpled when she reached down to adjust the yellow afghan, the weight of which had forced it off the couch and into a puddle on the floor. No, not the sirens, the lights or the cold had roused her. She had woken of her own volition, sleepy eyed and sedate, as she always did this time of night. It was, simply put, time to wake up.
Uniformed medics were fast at work stabilizing a mangled limb nearly severed during a car accident as she let her feet find the floor. It wasn’t so much mangled as it was irreparably broken, she decided. Splinters of white bone surfaced from just above the elbow, a well placed tourniquet holding burgeoning blood vessels at bay. The victim was middle aged, athletic and being loaded onto a gurney and rolled into the back of an ambulance. The death of life as he knew it being well documented as he lay stoic and silent under a white blanket, aware and powerless. The sirens once again sprang to life and off they went, speeding towards whatever place promised to make him whole again. Maybe that’s why she found these shows so appealing, the true stories of the broken and the wounded being scooped up and whisked away to some promised land of miracles and panacea. It was a nice thought to drift to sleep to. Even when there was no cure and the end was imminent, there was still comfort. There was always comfort.
Her slippered feet padded away from the haze of the television, it’s already low volume muffled by the thin walls. Bony fingers reached for light switches and doorknobs more out of hsbit than conscious thought. She didn’t need the light to know where she was going, the creaks and groans of the floorboards beneath her led the way, sighing and aching with her every step. Unlike the sirens that blared from the TV, the boards were tired and without the promise of restoration. This journey would not end in a cure and they would offer her no comfort. They were a means to an end, or at least she hoped.
However bleak the night may be, her mind was always as awake as the floor was weary. Thoughts and ideas bounced from one place to the next like wasps caught in a sea of static. They droned about her brain searching for a place to land, a place to linger, a place to nest. Sometimes they were so loud she expected to find a wing or a leg tumbling out of her nose as she bent over the sink in a fit of delirium, certain there were insects living inside of her gray matter. This had yet to happen, of course, but she couldn’t help but glance down expectantly as she filled a dozen empty butter dishes with discount cat food. She shook them gently as she filled, luring brown tabbies and mottled calicos from stacks of books and rotting newspapers. The floor didn’t protest against the weight of their slight bodies, opting to let them pass without protest. The Clowder rubbed against her bare ankles, ignoring the raw and flea bitten skin just as she did. She payed no mind to things like skin or breath or chills from a damaged window. Her purpose surpassed anything with a pulse.
She ran the tap, placing a palm on the dirty spigot waiting for it to get warm. She doesn’t look at the woman in the window. The sunken eyes and hollow cheeks try in vain to call her attention, reaching out with an unrequited longing. The image present for an amount of time that seemed vague yet defined by an unseen catalyst. It could have started around the time the floor started creaking, or when the window was chipped by an errant rock thrown by a passing car. It could have happened while she was watching that chip spread out from one side to the other, fueled by the heat of the sun. It could have been when the night started speaking back to her. Hushed whispers and fractured conversations filling her head with all that static. Her skin started to warm against the metal, signalling it was time to fill the pot and get to work. She took in the woman standing before her, eyes wide and hair dreadlocked. She wasn’t the kind of woman who clutched her pearls against the vulgar and impure any longer. She was the kind of woman who clutched her robe against her chest in the dark of the night, trying to keep out the cold she no longer could feel.
Muscle memory took the lead against the gas range and askew cupboards. She would hear them soon, their voices drifting down the hallway and through the closed doors. The words seemed to slip effortlessly through the hinges and locked latches. Squeezing through the cracks, they would float down and stay suspended above her, watching and waiting for their nightly offering. They listened as meat sizzled and broth simmered, going up a decibel or two to be heard above the cooking flesh. Their words were not unkind, their tone not unpleasant. Unlike the frantic voices of the car crash victims that played out in front of the sofa every night these voices were calm, soothing almost. A cacophony of need and want tempered by melodic pentameter. They would get theirs, the woman in the window told them so.
Minutes or hours or days passed by as she cooked. Cast iron wiped clean and reused, the flavors of one dish bleeding into the next. Tired eyes and shaky hands paused only to listen to the cloud of dialogue above her, praying it would cease when met with gristle and bone.