I hear her in my sleep.
At least I think it’s her.
And I think I’m asleep.
I hear her cry, “Why didn’t you want me?” Faint, not real. I roll over, clutch the pillow.
My wife stirs. “You hear her?” But I don’t hear my wife, even. Or I’m not sure I do.
My shoulder stings. She’s backhanded me, my wife, trying to wake me when she’s not awake herself. I push the words out, say yes, I hear her.
Long pause. I drift off again. The drone of the floor fan is soothing, muffles the cries so faint.
“Hey,” my wife slurs.
A full minute before I force the word, what?
The floor fan clacks.
“Who is it?” she says. Which child is crying, she means. Neither, I say. I haven’t heard anything. But I have. We both have. “I hear it all the time,” I say, half-asleep, slurring words my wife once said to me about the voice we both hear sometimes but pretend not to.
Long pause. We drift off again, stir again at the same time we hear it again.
“Go,” says my wife. I frown. A minute later I throw off the blanket, sit up.
They’re in bed, I mumble, trudging up the stairs. Seems stupid, now. They’ll be in bed, like always. I open Kayla’s door and surprise, I find her sound asleep. I shut the door quiet as I can, fighting the AC draft, not wanting it to suck the door shut and wake her.
I round the corner of the hallway, open Emily’s door. She hasn’t moved since I said goodnight.
But a girl is crying and I’ve heard her before. It’s not coming from the house, it’s in my head.
It’s in my wife’s too. She hears it too.
Maybe our hearts is where we hear it. The child has only existed there, until now. I don’t know anymore. I have to get to work in the morning. Have to be up at five.
She’s in this house. Who am I kidding, I’m thinking. I’m afraid. Not physically. I’m afraid it’s supernatural, as in not of the natural world. I don’t understand how someone else can be in our house, somewhere. Or in my head, and my wife’s, both.
There she is again. A cry, so faint, so real, not in my head, no… I hear it. She’s been coming, asserting, growing. She’s gotten inside the house. She’s born. It’s a girl.
But the girls are asleep. Both of them.
There’s another girl in the house.
I walk on the balls of my feet, not breathing. I look behind me, spin to keep my back against the wall. It makes no sense. Someone else is here. I hear her. Can’t find her.
I start back downstairs and hear my name. It’s my wife calling from the bedroom. I creep in, whispering what?
“She’s here,” cries my wife happily, with tears, angry. With gritted teeth.
I stumble to the bed. My wife sits up, cradling a child wearing Emily’s old monkey pajamas. Blood seeping through the sheets. “She’s here,” she repeats, with crazy happy hate, glaring like she wants me to die.
I would ask who, but I know. It’s ours. Our not-third. Our no.
Her face is buried in my wife’s breast, and she’s wailing, the girl. She’s maybe four. “Why didn’t you want me?” she cries, smothers her scream in my wife’s chest, my wife in tears, too.
“I wanted you, sweetie,” my wife comforts her, stroking her hair. “I wanted you.” Her eyes on me. “Your father didn’t.”
The girl turns her little head to me for the first time, puffy eyes, wet cheeks, gasping for breath, looks so much like Emily, so beautiful. “Why, daddy?” she cries, and I’m on my knees, about to cry too.
I wake up in bed, facing my wife. She’s facing me, asleep. The sheets are clean. I glance over her shoulder at the clock — 4:10 am. I have to be up at five. My heart beating too fast for sleep.
I turn my back on my wife, roll over wondering how she could say such things, even in a dream, and for a moment I thought it was Emily at my bedside, they look so much alike. But this girl is shorter, younger. She’s wearing the monkey pajamas Emily hasn’t worn in years.
She says again, “Daddy, why?”
First time I’ve seen her. Really seen her. First time she’s let me. Or I’ve let me. She stays this time, doesn’t vanish barely seen from the corner of my eye, doesn’t taunt me unseen with a note of song. Doesn’t leave me. Or maybe I let her stay.
I understand now. We never had her but she’s real. She needs to understand, too.
“Why didn’t you want me, Daddy?”
I sit up. She’s still there, proud to be, finally, not a wisp and fleeting, but demanding. I reach for her and she doesn’t vanish this time. Her arms, limp at her side, look real. I touch her and she’s solid. I grasp her tiny frame. I squeeze and she occupies space, has flesh. She’s warm. I pull her close. Her breath catches between heartbeats and feelings. She hurts. She exists.