By Beth Sherman
NOISES WOKE US up in the middle of the night. Rustling of feet overhead, a furtive scurrying.
‘What the hell is that?’ Jamie asked, staring warily at the ceiling. ‘Did someone break in?’
It did sound like a person, though I highly doubted the intruder was human. Our tiny Cape by the railroad tracks was dilapidated, in need of repair. We’d been living there for nearly a year. The lease was almost up.
‘How do we make it stop?’ Jamie asked, as the sounds grew louder. He’s studying to be an orthopedist and is supposed to be smarter than me but sometimes I wonder.
‘We find the animal that got in and seal up the hole.’
Jamie shook his head. ‘Must be an awfully big hole.’
In the upstairs hall closet, a set of steps dropped down leading to the attic, which was hot and smelled of moldy books. I carried a flashlight. Nothing but beams up there, nowhere solid to walk. I struggled to keep my balance, not wanting to fall through the sheetrock and break a leg.
When I shone the flashlight on the walls, the boards appeared solid. But I couldn’t see everything. Vents and ductwork blocked parts of my view.
‘How are you going to find the hole?’ Jamie asked, from the top rung of the stairs.
‘I’ll borrow a ladder from the neighbors in the morning and try to spot it from outside.’
It occurred to me that if we stayed together, I would always be the one with the flashlight and he’d be the one trailing behind, asking useless questions.
I heard rustling, saw a furry gray creature with a pointed snout disappear behind a cardboard box.
‘What the hell . . .?’ shouted Jamie.
‘Opossum,’ I said, shining my flashlight on the roof where the attic fan had become dislodged, creating a good-sized opening. ‘I hope it didn’t chew on the wiring.’
‘Are you just going to leave it there?’
Jamie went back to sleep on the living room couch, and I lay awake listening to the opossum scampering around overhead.
In the morning, I would go to the hardware store and buy something to cover the hole, so I could nail it shut. Maybe they had a cage I could rent. I didn’t want the animal to get trapped inside the house. After I caught it, I’d let it go.
‘It must live around here but we didn’t know it,’ Jamie had said.
I thought about all the nocturnal creatures prowling through our yard while we slept. The image was comforting and disturbing at the same time, like a fairy tale with an uncertain ending. There are things you see and things you don’t and all the stuff in between that you can either ignore or run from. But I didn’t say any of that to Jamie. I was already imagining where I’d live next—somewhere modern and private, high above the trees, where no one knew my name.
Beth Sherman has an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, New York where she teaches in the English department. Her fiction has been published in numerous publications, including Portland Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, KYSO, Blue Lyra Review, Sandy River Review, Gloom Cupboard, Delmarva Review, Compose Journal, Panoplyzine, Sinkhole and Sou’wester. She is also a Pushcart nominee, a Best of the Net finalist, and has written five mystery novels.