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A sleepless night and bad dreams

Alva couldn’t sleep at all that night. The newspaper clipping on the little bedside table was like a mosquito buzzing in her ear. Finally she turned on the light and picked it up. Was it possible she had forgotten she’d kept it? Perhaps someone else had placed it in that bag that had been packed for her. Yes, that must have been it. Someone else had sent it away with her.

She was not buying her own subterfuge. Alva was too honest for that. She knew it must have been she herself who’d ripped the page from the paper and packed it with her few small possessions. It was hard now to remember what had been in that old brown cardboard suitcase with the strap around it and the broken hasps. It was impossible to remember what she had packed and what had been thrown in there for her. It had all been so fast. And she had been so afraid.

She looked at the headline from forty years ago and images flooded back from a time that would never be wholly forgotten. A time she had tried to bury. Fragments of memories, the sound of her own screams, the smell of her own terror. And the sense of shame. She had always felt that she would never be free of that time. It was more a part of her than this house in Brooklyn had become. Even that – this house of hers – still seemed like a great mysterious cloud that one day she might emerge from to find it all had been a dream. Yes, it was right that she could not sleep this night. Right that she should make herself face this old haunted story of her pain and humiliation. She may have been shipped north, may have found a new life, may have even turned her life into something of service and usefulness, but still, there was the other. And this she had been afraid to face for four long decades.

But why now? It was a question she could not answer, so she slipped her feet into woolen slippers she kept by her bed and threw on a warm bathrobe.

In the kitchen on the first floor, a room she had left intact as it had been when she first came to this house, she puttered, made a cup of hot tea, toasted a piece of bread, clattered a few plates into the dishwasher.

“Alva?” Kitty stood at the kitchen door blinking in the bright light. “Are you alright?”

“Oh, sure I am Honey. Why you up?”

“I heard some noise down here. I didn’t know what it was.”

“It’s just me. A big ole mouse looking for cheese,” Alva said, sighing as she sat down at the kitchen table with her tea and toast. “You want something to eat?”

Kitty could see Alva was worried about something.

“What is it, Alva? What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Oh, now, ain’t no big thang.”

Kitty pulled a chair from the table and sat down opposite Alva. Seventeen years of being considered invisible in the same house with two other people had taught her how to maintain silence and wait. She waited. Alva sipped her tea. The refrigerator motor went off with a soft whump. A car horn blasted a short chord somewhere outside. A gust of wind picked up a stray piece of paper and rattled it against the railing by the front stoop. Still Kitty waited.

“I guess you got a right to know more about me by now,” Alva spoke softly. “I guess ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.” She stopped there.

Kitty said nothing, only looked out the window into the night that was never really dark here in the city. Not like in Kentucky. Night there was black when there was no moon. And clean bright when there was. Night there was all alone and cold at this time of year. Night there was hungry, a raw kind of yearning hunger. Night was the time when the little children were all asleep and mama was scrubbing the clothes by hand in the old dented kitchen sink and hanging them over chairs, letting them drip on the linoleum floor that was peeling and yellowed. Night was the time when you could hear mama muttering about things she couldn’t fix or things she couldn’t change. Night there was not quiet, either, but it was not the same. This was city night. That other was country night. Here Kitty felt separate from the night. There the night was part of her.

“I just don’t wantchoo to think bad of me,” Alva said.

Alva, Episode Eight

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