The Waiting Dark

The house always changes slightly, in height and style, but it’s always old…with a grand staircase that spirals up into hidden zeniths.

Leisel Heitzmann

73 Perelacher St. #4

Munich, Germany

81539

 

January 18, 1932

My Dearest Leisel,

I miss you so. I just woke up from a horrible dream, but you’re not here to whisper the fright away. Just as it began, I half awoke and a part of me knew that I’d had the dream before, that it would be awful, and that I would see it to the end anyway. By the end I awakened with tears streaming down my cheeks, and with no one here to really talk to, I thought binding my nightmare in ink might purge it from my thoughts … So I’m sending it across the ocean to you.

The house always changes slightly, in height and style, but it’s always old, dimly lit, and painfully white with a grand staircase that spirals up into hidden zeniths. At the bottom, there is a white marble table with a candelabra—the five quivering flames are the only light to be found. I reach out and grasp the graceful silver in my fist, then begin to climb, holding up the crisp skirts of a beautiful silk gown.

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Floor after floor, the metal becomes heavier and heavier. My fingers tingle and I stop to switch the candles from one shaking hand to the other. And as I ascend higher, I can feel the pressure increase until it feels like I’m deep under water—there is a weight on my chest, sound becomes muffled. I have to force myself forward. And this sound begins to build in my ears, painful and encompassing, as if it’s coming from the walls themselves. It’s like the engine of a motorcycle—a bleating, ripping and grinding sound all combined—but decelerated to a fearful grating vibration. It gets worse and worse until there is also a ringing in my ears.

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I don’t know what compels me to keep going, but I’m in such a hurry to get to the top. I must reach my destination, despite the growing dread and the fact that I already know a terror awaits me. Step by step, I continue into the dark and stifling heat of the upper levels until I’m faced with a wooden door looming thick and heavy in the flickering light. I’m sticky with sweat, and those deathly vibrations feel like they’re rattling my bones apart.

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I reach out a hand and pull on the cold, metal handle to no avail. The pressure has immobilized by lungs. Following some masochistic instinct, I set down my light and throw my whole body at the door as hard as I can. On the third try, it rips open into complete blackness. I’m frozen in horror. I want to scream but my lips are sealed shut. Some minuscule part of me whispers that if I can utter some small sound, even a gasp, into the deafening, paralyzing, throbbing silence, it will break the hold this crushing void, this maddening nothingness, has on me.

I force my hands up to my face, trying to find the seam of my lips but I can’t find my mouth. It’s gone. Nauseated and panicking, I scratch at the smooth expanse of featureless skin. I trace where my lips should be then gouge through the soft tissue and worm my bloody fingers between my teeth and gums, forcing open a tiny gap for a half teaspoon of air to escape. I push out a breathless, senseless screech—more animal than human—and stumble backward out of the room.

I turn to run, but trip over the candelabra. The five white tapers fall and as I watch, the floor and wall where they land start to darken and thin lines of smoke rise up, swaying like cobras. As the air thickens, I gather my skirts and throw myself over the banister … only to fall forever.

Your Loving Sister,

Yael Adelstein

 

1329 49th St

Brooklyn, New York

United States of America

11219

 

 

 

*”Waiting Dark” photos by M.C. Chavez*

The Silver Cigarette Case

“Von deinem Hansi—20.2.29”

the case itself

Antwerp, Belgium cir.1929

Karlene Wesstenberg squinted her eyes against the flashes of sunlight reflecting off the swirling currents of the Scheldt River and took a sip of her anisette coffee. Hans wasn’t usually this late. She reached a hand into the navy blue pocketbook that matched her dress, pulled out her cigarette case and settled in to wait. With glossy, red-tipped fingers, she plucked a smoke from the neat line of six nestled into the silver rectangle and snapped it shut with a click. A waiter in a white coat stepped over with a light and she nodded her thanks, inhaling and letting her gaze wander over the scene spread out before her like an Impressionist painting.

The Saturday afternoon air was brisk, and she could smell brine and algae on the wind. Families were out walking along the quay, and the café around her was humming with quiet conversations and the clinking of cutlery and glasses. Across the street, a little girl in a lemon yellow frock was eating a dripping honeyed waffle and trying to sneak up on a fat, beady-eyed sandpiper. Karlene’s hazel irises took this all in but her mind was elsewhere. Her thumb traced circles over the etched designs in the cigarette case, picking out the minute details: a diamond pattern with raised floral swirls and her initials stylized and overlapping in the center. The edges were smooth but the face felt like the finest grain of sandpaper.

smoking

As her fingers traced the perpendicular strokes of silver, her thoughts traced the lines of her heart.  She and Hans had known each other since they were children, yet it was only in the last year that things had somehow changed. Where once their exchanges were easy and forgettable—like a song heard over and over with the lyrics never comprehended—now their words had a weight to them. A touch of the hand left a tingling impression. A moment of silence never felt empty.

She brought the smoldering cigarette to her lips and breathed in. The nicotine made her feel light-headed…just like Hansi’s lips on her neck the last time she saw him. The snake of translucent smoke coiling up from her lips was slow and warm…like his strong hands circling her waist. Of heat, they’d discovered, they had plenty.

They could live comfortably. Hans would continue working behind the counter of his father’s shop in the diamond quarter just east of Vestingstraat. He would eventually inherit the business and provide for her and any children they had—they’d probably have smiling blue eyes just like him.

Passion, stability, family—these things she understood. But did she love him? She’d never really been in love before. How did one know, and was it the kind that would last? She couldn’t honestly have answered. That is, until last week when he’d walked her home after dinner with his parents. Standing under the rustling plane tree, the sun just beginning to pinken the horizon at the end of the cobblestoned avenue, he’d chastely kissed her on the forehead and slipped the silver case into her coat pocket. Then he’d turned on his heel and left her standing there with her eyes closed and a weighted fluttering in her chest.

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Later that night, upon opening the case and reading the engraved inscription inside, she’d realized he truly loved her. “Deinem.” Yours. He was hers for the taking. All she had to do was say yes.

Karlene tapped her ashes onto the porcelain saucer holding her cup. She inhaled again.

The most verdoemde thing was, the flutter hadn’t gone away. As if a fuzzy brown dumi moth, soft and gentle, slow and heavy, were bumbling around in the darkness of her ribs, she could feel it growing. Was this it?

Over the scent of her cigarette, Karlene caught a whiff of sandalwood. The wooden chair across from her grumbled as it was pulled away from the table to allow space for an occupant. She lifted her eyelids to golden hair and a brilliant smile. He took her hand in his, warmth flooding up her arm.

Hallo mein Leibling.”