Slivers of invasive white light beam through the bedroom window exposing small triangular parts of mismatched furniture. In the dark shadows, my mother and I lay cuddled up under a patched quilt that spreads out like the night sky, blanketing us with dark shades of blue speckled with gold.
A slow shiver climbs from the bottom of my heels to the tip of my head. I scooch closer to my mother, hoping to steal the heat radiating from her. I fall back asleep.
Suddenly, my mother’s body stiffens with alertness. Her breath catches and she pushes herself up with her forearms in the cobra position, not leaving the warmth of the bed. She pauses. Trying to make sense of her surroundings within the fogginess of her wakening mind, she reaches for the bedside table. Fingers first feeling a blue porcelain lamp, then a wooden picture frame, she finally grabs hold of her glasses. She can see.
I’m listening to my mother carefully navigate the bedroom, but I can’t bring myself to open my eyes and look. To comfort my mind, I reason that my mother normally gets up throughout the night for water or simply because she’s feeling restless, so I allow myself to be lazy and immovable. With her absent, I grab the quilt closer around my body and curl my knees up to my chest. There is no luck in appeasing my mind. Her warmth is gone and my ears have left with her.
My mother moves from room to room throughout the cabin, careful to stay within the shadows. I hear her pause in the living room and I assume she is checking on my older sister, Jordan, who had decided to sleep on the couch across from the warmth of the fire place.
When she returns to the bedroom, she leans in close to my face and whispers “Lydia, don’t make a sound. Don’t be afraid, but don’t make a sound. There is man outside our window and I need you to get up quietly and come with me.” She’s got my attention. I open my eyes.
I quietly slip out of bed, but instead of following her to the kitchen, I duck into the bathroom, get into the bathtub, and hunker down. The cool white porcelain touches my bare arms and jolts me awake. Laying there, I allow myself a minute to process our invasion. Only a small window sits above the toilet, and it is too high above the ground outside for him to be able to see in. The fear of seeing his face in the window looking back at mine floods the corners of my mind. “Lydia, honey, what are you doing in here?” I look up to find my mother in the doorway, in her red flannel nightgown.
“I don’t want to see his face, Ma. I can’t see his face.”
“Ok. I get it, but we need to stay close together, so we can figure out what to do.”
I grab my mother’s hand as she leads me to the kitchen where Jordan stands at the kitchen sink, trying to track the movements of the man outside.
My mother interrupts Jordan’s vigilance with a serious tone, “Girls, where are your cell phones? I can’t get service on mine.” Jordan and I move swiftly and without hesitation to the outlet underneath the kitchen table where we charge them overnight. I flip open my phone hoping find three bars in the upper right hand corner of the screen, but panic overwhelms me when all I see is a tiny satellite with a dish circling around it. Roaming.
Of course our cell phones are out of service. We are in the middle of the Poconos. It takes twenty minutes of dirt roads that wind and twist through the mountains just to get a veggie omelet and home fries at the nearest diner Saturday mornings. We are planted in the middle of nowhere.
Suddenly my ears have moved outside. I become aware of the sounds the man is making. “What is he shouting, Ma?” The three of us turn still and quiet.
“What the hell?!” Somehow these words feel personal considering we are three women, alone. My palms sweat and I begin biting my nails – a nervous tick I’ve never been able to get rid of.
“Jesus Ma, he’s trying to get in your car now!” Jordan has moved to the living room window overlooking the long gravel driveway. “What does he want?” Much less concerned with staying within the shadows than my mother and I, she moves from window to window with less care. Though her lack of consideration for not being seen may be interpreted as fearlessness, the slightly higher pitch in her voice lets me know she too is afraid.
I turn to find my mom frantically searching through the junk drawer in the kitchen. “Lydie, please help me find the cord to connect this landline.” Even with her glasses on, my mother has a hard time seeing, let alone trying to dig through a messy drawer in the dark. I rub her back and squeeze her shoulder to let her know I’m there to help, and begin my somewhat less blind treasure hunt. I first feel rubber bands, then zip ties, then odd keys, then a box of matches when finally my fingers settle on thin hard plastic and I pull.
Before my mother can start dialing, the man’s face appears in the front picture window of our cedar cabin. Time stops and we hold our collective breath. The sounds in my head compete for clarity. Buzzing, fuzzy, static cacophony of useless noise, my eyes burn from fear of what might appear when I reopen them, and my body feels glued to the ground like I’m living one of those perpetual nightmares where I can’t move my feet to run away or lift my fists to fight back. I’m motionless. Coming out of the mind-numbing fog, I hear struggle and desperation in my mother’s voice. “What do you mean ‘Is this an emergency?’ There is a man trying to see and break into our cabin. We’re alone here, just me and my girls. We are afraid. Please send someone…” I turn to see the terror on her face as she realizes just HOW alone we are. Her body reflects growing panic. Eyebrows furrowed, jaws tensed, shoulders slumped, our eyes meet. My mother’s entire demeanor shifts. She places her arms at her sides, puts her shoulders back, and with a calm face and tone of voice tells the operator, “Listen. If you don’t get someone out here soon and this man breaks in, I’m going to kill him with this fireplace poker. Are you comfortable with that?”
Jordan’s body perks up from the corner of the living room where she had been watching him. She walks over and picks up the poker from the side of the fire place, “Oh, I’ll definitely kill him with this if he gets in.” Mom nods. We have a plan.
“We should boil water!” I chime in. They turn to look at me as if I had suggested we invite him in for tea.
“What are you talking about?” Jordan scoffs.
“You know. We boil the water so if he gets in we can throw it on him and he’ll be so distracted by the pain of the burn that it’ll be easier for us to take him.”
“C’mon, Lyd. That’s a waste of time. If he gets in mom and I can totally take him.” I know she’s right.
My mother, sister, and I are statuesque. We’ve been called Vikings our entire lives because of our long blonde hair and height. I am the smallest, standing at five-foot-eight-inches, and Jordan towers at a remarkable six feet. We are fighters. She is right, and I know that, but my ego stings because I’ve suggested boiling water and now I’m aware of the frailty of my plan.
Shifting away from the defense of my feelings to the defense of our lives, the front door knob begins to jiggle. “Pussy” and “Lil’ Bitch” sound louder now throughout the cabin and we band together. “We’re going to get through this, girls,” my mother reassures us, as she squeezes her free hand tighter around mine. We stay huddled together side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with makeshift weapons in hand. I look over to see my mother and sister’s eyes transfixed on the front door and suddenly feel a wave of relief shower over me. If this crazy “Pussy” yelling man breaks into our safe haven, together we will get rid of him. Like everything we’ve done so far in our lives, we will get through this as a unit. My confidence in us grows as I mentally list the many challenges we’ve faced and conquered: packing up our apartment in New York, driving the Ryder truck to Pennsylvania with all of our belongings on board, carrying all of our heavy furniture up to our second floor apartment, entering an entirely new school system, making friends from scratch, putting up a six-foot Christmas tree that the kind seller let us have for free because he somehow sensed the depth of our struggle. Just like everything else we’ve done, we three Viking women will band together and get it done.
Bright lights first pierce and then flood the gravel driveway and the screen door slams shut. We rush over to the windows to witness the unfolding action. Two middle-aged male police officers jump out of the cop car and chase the man who has been invading our privacy slip behind the garage and into the woods.
The police officers separate and ambush him behind the outbuilding at the edge of the forest. Wearing pants barely up around his waist, a dirty black shirt with holes and tears, with unkempt hair that looks like it smells of cheap whiskey, stale cigarettes and sweat, the police officers usher him roughly past the front door and push him into the back of the car, cuffed and stuffed.
We stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder, in the light above the picture window and watch as the arrest takes place. We don’t move, but I listen to us breathe.
Breaking the silence and, as usual, providing the random comic relief, my mother asks “He looks like a Hank, doesn’t he?”
“Definitely” Jordan and I respond in unplanned unison, and that is how this unknown terrorist-of-the-night will forever be known to us.
I crawl under the quilt, tucked between my mother and sister and feel their warmth on either side of me. For the rest of the night, we sleep together. We sleep together not for fear, but because there’s nothing more healing than the comfort of our togetherness.
Lydia Dozoretz is a junior studying Adolescent Education – English at SUNY Geneseo. Lydia hails from Binghamton, NY where her mother and sister live – without Hank. Living off campus in an apartment on Conesus Lake, she found inspiration for this piece during a morning walk. To this day, Lydia enjoys a weekend in the mountains, hiking and camping, with her family and pups, Dodger and Bruno.