Hannah arrives home from school to find that Tim has removed the entrances to the house again. In place of the front door, an escalator now descends toward her. In the windows, exhaust fans blow sawdust into the blinding sky. Every way in has been rigged to force something–or someone–out. First she’s foolish enough to think she can run up the down escalator, but the harder she runs, the less progress she makes. After three minutes she’s laboring to breathe, sweat dripping from her temples. She allows herself to be carried down and backward until her heels brush pavement and she stumbles onto the small porch. Dropping her bags, she makes her way around the house, looking for another door, feeling for some variation in the wood that might suggest a concealed entrance.
She circles around twice, just to be sure, then looks for a way to climb to the windows, knock out the fans. But it’s no use. The siding is smooth. Long panels of wood slick with polyurethane.
Thank god, thinks Hannah, she has planned for this. Ever since the announcement of two months ago, on her twelfth birthday, that her mother and Tim were engaged, she has been planning exactly what to do in case he finally means to keep her out for good. She knows to knock on a neighbor’s door and ask to use their phone. To call information for the airport’s number. How to ask for a plane ticket and how to charge it. She’s listened to her grandmother do it countless times. The only thing she does not know is where to go.
She sits on the cold patio chair and takes out her three-ring binder for biology class, tears out a piece of loose-leaf and writes:
- Grandma’s condo in Florida.
- Cancun (Mom’s always wanted to go back there.)
- What if Mom and Tim have left together and don’t wish to be found?
Before she can stop it, a teardrop falls onto the word found, distorting the letters o, u, and n. She touches her fingertip to it as the cry of a drill silences the throbbing in her head. More than anything, she wishes Tim would make up his mind. Keep her out or keep her in.
Hannah shuts her notebook. The golden tint in the sunlight reminds her it’s spring. The neighbors have begun to emerge from hibernation and might be outside, where they can see her. She hopes and doesn’t hope that someone will. Her two biggest fears are that she will be stuck at home forever and that someone will snatch her away. Slowly, without making a sound, she edges her notebook into her backpack and pads around to a corner of the house that can’t be seen from any of her neighbors’ yards. As the sound of the drill is replaced with the clanking of a hammer against metal, she waits, her breathing shallow.
In less than a half hour the house could be transformed to draw her in. Until then, she will stand with her back against the corner, where the wood panels meet and press into her spine, feeling herself part of the house. Tim’s tools inside of her. Pounding. Reshaping. Molding. It will be over soon, she thinks, and then her body will have worse to face. For now, she should rest. She lets the sunlight warm her forehead, imagines all of the paths she will have to test to find her bedroom when the doors open and the house swallows her whole.
She doesn’t know how much time has passed when she she’s thrown from her thoughts by the sudden cessation of sound. The sun has moved behind the clouds, leaving a chill in the air, which smells like freshly cut wood.
Hannah shakes the stiffness from her legs and walks to the front of the house. The escalator is gone, in its place an automatic door, the kind that slides open as you approach. She draws breath, hesitates, quickly runs through her options. But her heart is beating too fast. Her palms are slick with sweat and her tongue feels too big for her mouth. She is convinced that if she doesn’t get inside, to safety, she will die right on the front stoop. She steps closer to the door, which opens wide for her, and walks inside. At the opposite end of the foyer another door waits, wooden, closed. She tries to draw another breath, but her tongue blocks her airway. She tells herself that’s not possible, what she really needs is fresh air, and turns around to go back outside. But the front door does not open from inside.
Suddenly determined to push her way past whatever is waiting for her, Hannah lunges at the door at the end of the foyer. But as soon as she gets through, her foot slips out from under her and she falls backward onto cold, hard tile, her backpack barely padding the impact, her foot jammed up against something with no give. After a moment, she sits and surveys the room. Endless colors reminiscent of clay. The scent of sandalwood. Her foot against the side of a bathtub. Two beige towels have been folded and laid on the toilet seat next to her. A dark brown washcloth hangs on the shower door handle. The shower door is open, and a new bar of soap sits in the soap dish.
Hannah knows there will be no way out until she washes. Until she makes herself ready for Tim.
She decides to wait it out. Eventually her mother will come home, and Tim will have to let her pass, pretend nothing has happened. Perhaps if she turns on the water, he will hear and be pleased that she’s following his plan. That will buy her time. She reaches for the bathtub faucet. Out of habit, she lets the water run until it’s hot, then pulls up the handle that redirects the stream to the showerhead. She has forgotten about her tongue, about breathing. Everything inside her conspires to survive this moment. The water runs over her hands, wicks its way up her sleeves. With the warm weight on her arms, Hannah almost relaxes. She breathes in sandalwood steam and imagines herself in her bed, her mother’s voice just outside her door, insurance that Tim will not enter her room.
Then she remembers waking from a nightmare a few nights ago. In the dream she went to Florida with her mother and Tim, and on the first night, as she slept, they left her there. She had woken from the dream wishing for her mother, when suddenly the lavender walls of her room fell away and were replaced by the sage green Tim had chosen for her mother’s room. The bed widened beneath her, and there was her mother, next to her. Her hair smelling of apple candy. Coffee on her breath. For a moment Hannah had almost cried with relief–until she noticed the slight rocking motion of the mattress, heard the soft sounds of pleasure next to her. And then, to her surprise, Tim had let her run, although it felt like she had to run for days, to find her own room again.
Stuck in the memory, Hannah longs for the water. To wash herself of the feeling, the sounds, the warmth of her mother’s body against hers while Tim pleasures her. With all of her clothes on, Hannah steps into the bathtub and lets the water run down her back, turns around and shampoos her hair, watches the bubbles slide slowly down her legs, over her jeans, into the drain. And as they do, her eye catches the faint glimmer of something moving below the drain cover. She crouches down and sees that it’s shiny. Metal. The head of a screwdriver perhaps. A hammer. It must have fallen while Tim was working, or maybe he’d left it there as some sort of test. Or maybe her mother had something to do with it. Hannah tries to fit her index finger through one of the holes in the drain and can almost touch the top of the tool. She tries her pinky finger, but still no contact. If only she could unscrew the drain cover, she could reach it–use it to pry out the nails in the walls that surround her.
Soon she hears the front door open. Three footsteps. A jacket rustling. It could be her mother, but she can’t be sure. There are no clocks in the bathroom. No windows. But even with the water beating down on her, she recognizes the clack of high heels on bare wood. As the sound comes toward her, Hannah laughs through her tears. She waits. Waits for the moment when she will be safe. She looks again at the tool rocking gently in the drain. She imagines reaching it, her mother coming in and helping her dismantle the walls, the floors, the whole foundation. Still laughing, she imagines the two of them leaving the house in a pile of ruins. And when the footsteps finally arrive, she hears them walk right past. She wipes the water from her eyes and laughs until it hurts.