by Christine Seifert
Ellen’s room could hardly be called a room; it was more of a storage closet, a tiny, airless enclosure right off the kitchen. Just big enough for a bed and a wooden shelf where she kept her clothes neatly folded. Underneath the clothes, she kept her prized possession—an embroidered pillowcase, a gift from her mother. Small pink roses were expertly woven into the starched white fabric. It was exactly the kind of bed linen rich ladies would have, far too beautiful and delicate to lay her common head on every night. The pillowcase would have to wait until she was as elegant as it.
When Uncle Valentine and Aunt Beth moved in, they took her room and she carried her pillowcase wrapped in a crinkly paper sack to the younger boys’ room and placed it under the bed with the dustballs. She slept on the floor on a faded quilt with her musty pillow. Little Paul, the youngest and the sweetest of the boys, curled next to her and called her Mama in his sleep.
The boys were silent as monks the first night she heard the door ease open. The figure stood in the doorway for so long, she almost convinced herself that she was still asleep.
She wished that she were the kind of girl who could scream: promptly, shrilly, and loudly enough to wake the whole house. But she already believed in fate—what Father Tim called God’s will. She was the kind of girl who already knew that things happened regardless of what you did or didn’t do.
She pushed little Paul out from under her arm and watched him scoot until he was curled up underneath the bed, inches from the paper-covered pillowcase. She flinched when she realized one more half roll and he’d be lying atop her treasure, but he stopped just short. Little Paul, the only one who loved her more than Mama, guarding the precious pillowcase in his sleep. When they all awoke before dawn, the day would unfold, just as God planned.
The shadow advanced. She waited for what would happen to happen.
CHRISTINE SEIFERT is a Professor of Communication at Westminster College where she teaches rhetoric and strategic communication. She’s written for The Atavist, Harvard Business Review, Inside Higher Ed, Bitch Magazine, Business Communication Quarterly, The Journal of Self-Directed Learning, and The Journal of Competency-Based Learning, among others. She is the author of four books and several short stories.
Photo by Elijah Lychik on Unsplash