Fears. These strange things, stacked high in dark places, tumbling down in the middle of the night.
Gloria stood in the silent hovering glow staring in disbelief.
Hours earlier, she had stood there much like this, looking at the guest room bed. It had been littered with the stuffed animals the grandchildren played with when they used to come. It had been months—too many months—since they’d visited. Enough months for her to have finally put them in a bag and slid them into the crawl space. She hadn’t known how they’d gotten here, but she had reflected on a church member and her young child coming last week.
Had Jim brought them out for the girl to play with?
She would have guessed he didn’t even know she’d put them in the crawl space, but maybe she told him.
Maybe I even brought them back out.
Gloria knew her memory was going a bit. Not in a way that made her worry, but more in the nagging sort of way. The kind that said she had too much else on her plate, the spinning plate hovering over her heart.
So she had scooped up the stuffed animals—four in all—and brought them back into the crawl space.
That had been late this afternoon.
Now it was midnight and she had slipped into the guest bedroom to sleep by herself. Actually, the truth was she couldn’t sleep and wanted to read a bit. She’d gotten a bit carried away looking at the photograph just before turning off the light. Sleep, however, had remained far away.
When the light came on, the four stuffed animals lay on the bed just like from before. The panda and the monkey and the owl and the zebra.
Gloria knew Jim hadn’t brought them out from crawlspace in the basement. He had barely moved off his chair for the last few hours after dinner.
And I didn’t go down there and I didn’t touch them.
It should have scared her. But seeing them there, these lifeless little toys, filled her with something else.
Not mystery. But something more frantic, something more angry.
Someone’s messing with my mind.
She recalled the conversation with Lou. About so many talks with Jim. About how the Devil was real and walking down their lane and knocking on their door and asking to come in.
So did you bring our dog’s head to our front door like some kind of UPS package? Are you playing with stuffed animals behind my back?
Gloria looked around and saw nothing unusual. She couldn’t feel anything unusual. Nothing was different except the panda, monkey, owl and zebra.
She pulled back the cover and then moved them over to one side, the way she might nudge Jim over to his side when he was crowding her.
Her eyes moved around the room, the blank walls, the cream-covered ceiling. Then they found a family shot taken years ago when everything was still beautiful including her.
For a long time, Gloria stared at the people in it.
Fingers tightened and clamped down. Knuckles so firm and white. A grip so fast and hard and undaunting.
Just like always.
Squeezing and suffocating her soul.
She sighed and then shook her head and laughed.
If you’re really real and you’re there and you’re messing with me then you better bring a lot more than that.
The devil didn’t scare her. Memories already did that.
Along with that mirror that followed her front and center every moment of every day. No matter where she stepped, it remained in front of her, proud to display the person it saw.
The person Gloria wanted to forget about.
She climbed into the bed again and then picked up the paperback and began to read. The stuffed animals lay silent next to her, with their eyes wide open and the smiles still lingering on their faces.
They didn’t seem to mind staring at her as she drifted off in the soft glow of the beside lamp.
Sometimes, it sure did feel good to be noticed.