On darkness and solitude

Eugenia Cruz

Mornings became sinister since I got pregnant. Ideas in my mind don’t let me sleep. I would put my head on the pillow and feel so tired that I would think, “if you close your eyes you’ll go to sleep right away.” However, when I close them and start moving my head from side to side. My body moves with my head, my hands try to make the pillow feel better, but I still can’t find comfort. I’m terribly tired and trying hard to rest… the alarm again. Andrew keeps asking me, “are you ok honey? How did you sleep?” “Fine, babe, fine” I answer.

We live in a set of twin houses. Our neighbor Giampaolo’s house is the same as ours. Our kitchen window is gigantic, it goes from the floor to the roof and lets us see the forest, the stars, and each other’s kitchens. Giampaolo is an Italian retired veteran who fought in World War II and decided to move to the woods, like us, in search of silence. He can’t walk because of a war injury; a bullet went into his spine. When he first told us about it he said, “first it felt like a fire was burning my bones, then I started to feel nothing at all. It was the scariest feeling I’ve ever had.” Our sweet neighbor is the envy of my friends, he’s a talented cooker, a terrific friend, and such good company when Andrew is out. I love visiting him and telling him all about Andrew’s art exhibitions and the progress of my next photobook.

“I’ll title it On darkness and solitude, you see, because that’s what I’ve felt taking these,” I told him once. “Oh, bella, I can’t see why On darkness should be a good title for a book made by a sunrise like you.”

Another night, another attempt. This time, I decided to follow my mom’s advice and put some lavender in the oil diffuser. When I first bought it, Andrew said he hated that smell, but proceed to fall asleep right away, “at least it worked for you,” I answered to his snoring. First, I try to sleep on my back but suddenly start moving, and moving, and turning, and sighing. I start to feel a terrible dryness in my throat. I try to gulp, to swallow my own saliva to calm it down, but it doesn’t work. I resist opening my eyes, but suddenly it’s too late, my throat starts burning, and I open them and get up to grab some water. Walking Into the kitchen I can see the sky above the woods, it feels peaceful and calming. I grab a cup and pour some water on it. When I start drinking I see Giampaolo standing at his window watching me with his bright yellow eyes. I scream “Christ!” and throw the glass, which breaks when it hits the ground. Andrew screams from the room, “babe? Babe, are you ok?” I turn and see him coming into the kitchen. When I turn to the window, I no longer see Giampaolo standing there.

“Babe?” says Andrew. “Babe?” I’m still staring at the window. “Babe!” I look at him. “I’m so sorry, I thought I saw something. I haven’t been sleeping well, I think I need some medicine.”

The next morning Andrew drives me to the doctor, and I tell her everything. She asks if I’m having nightmares and I say no because I haven’t been able to sleep at all. She then turns her head at me, and then back at Andrew to confirm this. “Oh,” he says, “oh, I just couldn’t tell, I’ve been sleeping like a rock.” “Well, you see” she starts, “it’s impossible, I mean, you must be sleeping at least a little. Sometimes when we feel like we didn’t sleep at all we slept at least an hour or two.” I give her a “hmm” and start thinking about last night. Giampaolo standing by his kitchen window was an impossible scene to watch, that scary look he gave me felt unreal too. “Well, yesterday I saw my neighbor standing by his kitchen window when I went for a glass of water,” she gives me a weird look back, and then I get it. “Oh, he can’t walk, you see. So, it’s impossible to see him standing at all.” She says that I could have been sleep walking and I believe her, it’s the only possible explanation. “But I felt it all so real. The dryness in my throat, walking to the kitchen, watching him standing there.”

We drive back home with sleeping pills and Andrew tells me that he must go out for a week or so. I say it’s ok, “but, will you be, ok?”, he asks. “I will.” I immediately call Giampaolo and tell him all about my nightmare and he says, “I think that oil infuser had something else in it,” he makes me laugh and I ask him if I can have dinner with him. He answers with “of course, bella,” and then I hang up. Andrew leaves, there’s always something inside me when he leaves that makes me want to tell him “please, stay,” but I say goodbye instead and wish him the best. “You should come to the next one,” he says, and I agree with a smile and a gentle look.

I walk into Giampaolo’s house without knocking and surprise him in the kitchen making some good pasta. “Is it trite that the Italian neighbor makes you some delicious pasta?” “Oh, no, please! I believe it will help me sleep tight tonight” I answer, “oh, it will” he says seriously. I stare at him and catch that evilness, a kind of darkness that later lights up with his sweet smile. I serve the food when everything’s ready and we open some red wine and chat and laugh. Then we have a silent moment. “I want to get out of my thoughts,” I say suddenly, “I want to stop thinking about this stupid baby and how much Andrew wanted it and how happy we’ll be in this next fase,” he finishes the wine in his glass and pours more for him and for me.

I watch him, I stare right into his yellow eyes and feel the sadness; I stare, and I can see the war in his pupils, all those dead men in his eyes, all the fire, and every explosion. I see him standing in the darkness staring at the stars with an improvised torch, he’s not afraid. Suddenly he looks back and I open my eyes and watch it again; There he is standing with a terrifying smile curving in his lips beneath his gaze. It makes me wonder if he’s always been there. The wine slips from my hands and I see it in slow motion falling by my side. Suddenly my eyes feel weird, my face immobile and my lips tight. I am barely able to say “Giampaolo, what’s happening?” He gets up from his wheelchair and says “sleep.”

I wake up in my bed dizzy and with a dry throat. “Was this a dream?» I wonder. I feel heavy, my head hurts, my eyes are still dizzy from my dream. I sit on my bed and stay there until the world stops spinning. Standing in front of the mirror of our bathroom I see my eyes; they look like shit. I close them tight and open them again just to see Giampaolo standing behind me. His yellow teeth smiling are real. Trembling, I turn slowly and he’s no longer there. “What’s wrong with me”, I start crying, “what’s going on?” I call Andrew and leave a message “babe, babe I’m still having these nightmares. I think it’s best if you come back.”

I try to stay calm. I fill the bathtub and bring the oil diffuser inside. The skylight calms me, It makes me feel the intensity of the sky and shows me just how small I am. The profound darkness of the sky makes me feel like my problems are so insignificant. I don’t want to think about why I haven’t been able to sleep, why does it matter? Andrew is happy, I am happy enjoying what’s left of silence in us. The baby can be silent, too. Maybe he or she will look at the sky and feel peace and won’t cry. I touch my belly and say “you won’t cry, right? You won’t, you’ll be ours and we love silence. You’ll understand that.” I wake up and feel the cold water in my bones. “Oh God, this isn’t good,” I think. I get out of the bathtub and run into the kitchen to make some hot tea, “we need to stay safe until daddy is back.” I suddenly realize I hadn’t spoken to it since I first got pregnant. “You’re real now” I say, “you’re real.”

When the water is ready, I make myself cinnamon tea, I drink a little and then close my eyes. When I open them, I see him again, watching me with demon eyes. I stare at him back, “I’m not going to throw this away” I say looking at his eyes. He stares. “How many people have you killed, Giampaolo?” I ask, and he just answers raising his eyebrows. “Two? No, twenty?” He won’t answer, he just stares at me and wonders why am I asking. “You see” I say, “I’m not scared because I’m feeling it too. The darkness, the desire to kill, I’ll do anything for silence.” “There’s the darkness, bella, your choice.”

I wake up in my bed again. “These pills are great,” I think. I have three missed calls from Andrew, and a voicemail. “Please, babe, don’t do anything stupid. I’m coming”. Anything stupid? I decide to go with Giampaolo and face him. I go inside his house and stare at him directly.

“Sometimes the darkness isn’t in you,” I say, “how do you do it?”

He looks shocked and confused.

Bella, I believe those pills haven’t been good. Let me call Andrew, he’ll know what to do”.

“Oh, but I know,” I say, “I should just end it, right? I should end it, it will take our silence away. That’s why you have been awake late at night, right? That’s why you’ve been spying me through your window. You moved here in search of silence and now we are having a baby.”

I start laughing, I finally get it, oh, I feel so good my laugh is so loud I’m even choking.

Bella, oh God, what are you saying?”

“I’m saying it’s better to keep everything quiet.”

Bella, you should leave. I’ll call Andrew, he will come back soon.”

“Don’t call him,” I say, but he just stares at me frightened with the phone already in his hand. I can hear the dialtone. On the other line Andrew says “hello, Giampaolo? Oh God, I need you to check on her, please call the police…”

I take the phone out of his hands, he just stares, I can’t see the devil, but I know he must be there, somewhere, somehow.

“Babe, everything’s ok, babe, I can’t see why you guys are so worried…”

“Ana, you lost it, please hold on, I’m on my way.” I get furious.

“You see, Giampaolo, maybe you are the noise. Maybe you are the one causing all this trouble with your appearances. Stand up. Stand the hell up I know you can walk.” I grab the wheelchair and throw him to the ground. “Stand, you cripple! Stand!” I see him scared, he starts to choke, like he’s having an episode, a kind of heart attack.


“Oh God, oh God.”

I run to our house and get into our bed; I swallow three or maybe more pills. I cover my ears and lie down in a fetal position. I wake up in a hospital, my head hurts, I am handcuffed to the bed… The policeman asks me what happened and I start crying.

“Mornings became sinister since I got pregnant,” I reply.