I meet her on my third night there. It is around 4 a.m., but in here, you know no one is asleep. White noise gets a whole new meaning here, how it is never silent. But you get used to it, the moans and the sighs, after a while it just seems like winds blowing through the bars of the walls as through the hollows of my ribs. I spent my first night trying to decipher the sounds; are they crying, or masturbating, or ripping their nails off with their own teeth? It doesn’t matter anymore, it is just wind.
There is no ticking of the clock in this house, soft and steady like a heartbeat of a mouse. But it is around 4 a.m. and I know this because I read the moon like some people read the sun. It stayed with me from those long nights when we would just drive and drive and drive. I was never sure if we were running away from something or looking for something, Mama never wanted to say. She wanted me not to say anything. So I would keep quiet and watch the moon, and the darkness, and the green digital clock on the dashboard blinking like static, and the empty road before us lit only by the headlights of that rundown drive. On those nights, the world turned gray, like a TV show that lost all color. Three nights ago, I entered the world of grayness again.
I meet her as she is nibbling on my hair around 4.15 a.m. Pulling and tugging, and I am not asleep but I do not move. In another life, the one before this one, the one before grayness, I would have smacked her away to tomorrow. But it is my third night here and it feels like the third grade of new school. And no one talked to me the first day. And no one talked to me the second day. And I would be annoyed at all the biting and the hauling, but instead I am just grateful, so grateful there is another heartbeat in here beating together with mine. I clasp my hand against her softness and pull her into my chest, close to me as if we were two hummingbirds hiding from the storm. She doesn’t move, maybe she is afraid, or maybe she is just grateful to hear another heartbeat.
In the morning they jolt us awake with drumming on skeletons. You jump and you spasm and you think the whole world is coming down. Three nights is not enough to get used to this alarm clock. She is still asleep, she could sleep through all the racket and all the Titanics of this world. So I step over her, her heartbeat fluttering, her breaths tiny tornados. The door opens with a crack and she is still asleep. They yell out my name, say “Get your sorry ass down to the kitchens! Now! Now!” As they pull me out and push me down the corridor I can still see her sleeping in my bed, where the nook of my neck was just moments ago.
I bring her back peas I lifted from breakfast, small pieces of corn after lunch, walnuts from dinner. This is what we do. She waits in the bed for me to come back so she could nibble on something other than my hair. And we talk. She tells me of all her hideaways, all the secret passages. How there is a hole in the wall behind my bed that leads to a meadow that is now a lake. And she cannot swim so she cannot go back. We are both stuck here.
She brings me things too. Crawls into the opening behind the rusty sink and runs twenty cells south to that blond-hair-brown-roots 50 year old rich woman – she always got cigarettes on her, that’s how we know the hag is rich. She steals a cigarette and comes back to me carrying gifts like the three kings. So I smoke and she nibbles on the walnuts and sometimes my hair when the walnuts are all gone. We talk of meadows and lakes and how I know how to swim and if I could just fit through her passageway I could get us both out of there. We talk of the place she used to live in and how it was like running away from cops laid down on the floor waiting to trap her, and I know something about that. She says this is better. I say it is shit. She says that is why it is better, no money for cops waiting to trap her, all they worry about is keeping me trapped.
I tell her of my mother and our night drives and all the rocks on her fingers. I tell her how she left, dived into the gray. “But she came back?” she asks and I don’t answer back. She asks what I did but I never tell her. I think I forgot. After 30 years, she says, she understands. I laugh and chuckle and say “Is the time passing faster in your world? I have been here for three days!” She looks at me, her eyes blue jays, our hearts turned heavy under all the grayness. “You have no more hair left to nibble,” she says.