Naomi's Room

Free Naomi's Room by Jonathan Aycliffe

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Authors: Jonathan Aycliffe
buried very deep yet at times visible if you knew what you were looking for. I knew. I understood. I had it buried inside me as well.
    ‘How is your wife?’ he asked, preparing to leave.
    You are meant to say, ‘Bearing up’, but I did not.
    ‘She suffers a lot,’ I said. ‘She’ll never get over it.’
    ‘No,’ he said. ‘You don’t. People think you can, but it isn’t possible, it scars your life.’
    He meant his daughter, of course, though I did not know at the time. The verb he used was curious but apt. Death leaves wounds that never heal properly. And yet . . . even then I thought he meant something else by it.
    ‘If there’s any news . . .’ I said.
    ‘Don’t worry. You’ll be the first to know.’
    The following day, Lewis’s letter arrived. It was just a short note really, accompanying two photographs taped between a couple of sheets of thin cardboard.
    ‘Please get in touch,’ he wrote. ‘I took these the day I visited you, before I came in. The first was taken with an ordinary lens, the second with the zoom. I believe you are both in danger. We need to talk.’
    I cut the tape and slipped the photographs from their makeshift wallet. The first was another contact print showing the front elevation of the house. I looked at it closely, knowing where to look now, guessing what I might find, but not quite suspecting the truth of it. A chill crossed my heart as I made out the unmistakable image of a face in the attic window. The shuttered window, the one I had opened only two days before.
    I picked up the close-up. It makes my blood go cold even now to think of what it revealed. Not the pale, grey woman, not one of the little girls, not Naomi. But Laura’s face, white and cold, staring down as though from a great height.
    That night the hauntings began again. I think of what took place that night as a loss of innocence. Each stage in those events represented some form of loss: a loss of love or faith or self-respect. But innocence is like trust: once gone, it can never be restored.
    What do I mean by innocence? I was, after all, a grown man by then, a grieving father. I had experienced disappointment, disillusionment, hard knocks – all the paths by which we come to worldly wisdom. Or, if not wisdom, a sort of understanding. But, for all that, I was innocent enough at heart. I mean that I harboured a belief in an essential current of goodness running through things, I saw a shape, a pattern to the whole, even if life in its particulars seemed at times shapeless or inchoate, even if children died in pain. It was, I suppose, a religious sense of the world, though I did not formulate it in theological terms. A sterner theology, a dogma, might have seen me through what happened. But my innocence was not made of such iron stuff, nor so well defended. It was half-formulated, lax, too much in tune with the times and too little with the experience of generations.
    I was wakened from an uneasy sleep a little before three. Laura was asleep beside me. On this occasion, it was not a scream that woke me, but something far more insidious. As I woke, I felt as though there were some great pressure forcing me down. I found it hard to breathe. My thoughts were confused, I could feel panic welling up inside me for no apparent reason. As I lay struggling to pull myself upright, I heard what sounded like breathing. Not Laura’s breathing, but quieter than that and further away. I thought it was coming from the foot of the bed.
    With an effort, I heaved myself up against the pillow.
    ‘Who’s there?’ I whispered. I was certain that someone was standing at the foot of the bed, watching me intently. Beside me, Laura stirred uneasily in her sleep. There was no reply. The sound of breathing continued. I strained to see, but there was only darkness, plain and impenetrable.
    ‘Who are you?’ I asked again. ‘What do you want?’ Shaking, I reached out my hand to switch on the bedside lamp. Nothing happened. Again

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