Carla pushed the apartment door closed and dropped her bag to the floor. She turned on a tall lamp in the corridor, bringing the living room to a warm, gentle glow. She walked through it to the kitchen and took two pills from a small container with her name written on the side and washed them down with a glass of water. She poured a glass of wine before removing her clothes, so damp and cold from the storm outside, and throwing them in the laundry basket.
In the living room was an armchair with a small table beside it. Arthur had brought her the table when she first moved in and she cherished it deeply. She pondered that a while. It was Arthur who had showed her how to make a wine glass sing, and hers was singing now. She pondered that, too. On the table was a small cassette player, an old Dictaphone she had bought at a junk sale. She had seen these in old detective movies. The detective would search a house from top to bottom, making observations into the Dictaphone as he did so. There were always a lot of clues. Everything was evidence of something. She pressed play.
“Lesson four. Leçon quatre. Time. Temps. It’s one o’ clock. Il est une heure. It’s two o’ clock. Il est deux heures. Using your knowledge of French number, can you tell me that it’s three o’clock?”
“Il est tres heures.”
“Very good. Très bien. It is three o’ clock. Il est tres heures.”
Outside, the storm went on. It was late when Arthur came. Carla put down her book and let him in.
“Have you been out there tonight?”
“Shh. Come in, you’ll wake my neighbours.”
He was drenched but when he hugged her, she hugged him back tightly. He kissed her cheek and then her lips and then her forehead. Her head rested upon his shoulder a while, then she pushed down hard with her chin. He gritted his teeth and withstood for as long as he could, then recoiled and they both laughed. He was wet but he was warm, and his lips tasted good.
“Would you like a glass of water?”
He poked out his tongue and squeezed his fringe, catching the falling drops of rainwater in his mouth. She giggled at him and asked if he’d prefer a beer. “Yes. But I’ll take that glass of water too.”
“Take your clothes off, I’ll wash them.”
She took his clothes to the washer and put them in with her own. The machine groaned as it began its cycle. Two sets of clothing married and became one until they moved so quickly it was like there was nothing in there at all. An empty vessel. But that noise, which had been a separate thing, now suffused through her body.
“What’s the hold up? You washing them by hand?” Carla fetched the drinks and came to the bedroom. He was in her bed.
“You know I don’t like being called from another room.”
“I’m sorry. I’d have come and got you but it’s very cold outside of these blankets and some woman took all my clothes.”
“Oh how awful. And look, now it’s time for you to leave.”
“You’re very funny tonight.”
“Yeah. Come here.”
Arthur was in a deep sleep next to her, but she couldn’t hear his breathing through the storm, which now had consumed the night wholly. A storm like this made her think of pirates, ships with black sails. She supposed these ships must have had maids but you never heard about them.
The machine cycle ended, and she got out of bed to put the clothes in the dryer. Her head ached dully and she thought she might cry. The Dictaphone was still on the table, right where she had left it. Inside was a cassette and on that cassette a woman’s voice had spoken to her just hours ago. She could be dead, most likely was, but still the voice told Carla what to say. It may not have even been correct, who knew? It sounded French but anyone with use for a tape like that couldn’t be sure. It could be a trick. People were tricked all the time. Carla knew. She took out the tape and squeezed it from edge to edge until her hand hurt and then dropped it to the chair.
Back in the bedroom, Arthur still slept and Carla watched him. She went closer, wanted to hear him breathe. She pushed down the top button, the only red button, the button a detective would use to capture his thoughts. The button wouldn’t stick.
Back in the living room, she fumbled for the tape, digging it from a crevice in the chair. This time, the red button made a gentle click. The tape ran but nothing came out of the speakers and she stayed still and quiet. Finally, she spoke.
She rewound the tape and pressed play.
When Carla woke at two-thirty, the bed was empty next to her. The room was cold. The rain pelted the windows and the world outside. Her body ached and she shivered as she walked to the bathroom. In the corridor, Arthur’s coat and shoes were gone. The lamp still shone, kept the living room warmly lit, and she went to it.
The Dictaphone was wet with blood and when she looked at her hand, there was blood there too. Seeing it brought the injury to life, it throbbed and she felt such violent pain that she nearly cried out. In the kitchen there was a first aid kit but before she got there she saw her reflection in the window. There was no storm to be seen, only some featureless figure of herself and the contents of the living room. It calmed her and she stood there for a long time before returning to the chair.
The Dictaphone in her hand was heavy and the scent of blood was strong. Curiously, it had been recording but she could not remember having set the function. She stopped the tape and rewound it and pressed play. The rain from moments ago returned to her and joined the rain presently being swept by the storm. Then her own voice coming back at her. “Il pleut ce soir.” Faint, distorted.
The storm outside continued to lift and deposit, shift things from place to place. Something outside was hit with great force and it startled Carla. At the window, looking down, she could see light from a streetlamp reflecting off the fountain in the centre of the courtyard. A bicycle had blown into it. The window was open. She thought it had been closed.
She stayed for a while longer at the window, then placed the Dictaphone at the little table beside her chair and walked to the kitchen. She put on the little light above the stove so as not to disturb anything and poured a glass of wine and took two pills for the pain in her hand.
Her whole body now was so cold, her face numb. Had it been so cold when Arthur was here? She couldn’t remember, that seemed like a very long time ago. The window was still open and she wondered why she had not closed it.
From the chair in the living room, two small children stared at her, expressionless. She saw their bodies were blackened with blood and screamed. Eyes like two-way mirrors beamed at her, showing fear and casting judgement but she could not look away. The girl, so small, no bigger than a toddler looked away now but the boy, the older of the two, he kept staring at Carla. There was so much blood caked in the centre of his face she couldn’t make out his nose. She noticed the little girl shivering and ran to the window.
“Jesus Christ it’s freezing in here.” She started to close the window but the little girl started sobbing. “I know, my love. But look, you’re only wearing pyjamas. You can’t dress yourself? You can’t cover your own body? Just sitting there and freezing to death like that. So silly. That is not my fault. That is not my fucking fault!” Now the girl was weeping but the boy did not move. He just kept staring at Carla.
She collected the girl in her arms. The Dictaphone was in the boy’s lap, still recording. The girl was freezing. She looked over at the boy, the blood on his face looked fresh.
“Are you not hurt?” she asked, but he did not answer. “Are you not cold?” But again, he did not speak. She carried the girl to her bedroom and took a large top and put it on her, then she took a small blanket and wrapped that around the girl too.
At once, Carla realised she had left the window open, and her body filled with paralysing terror. She heard movement and knew it was the boy. With the girl in her arms, she ran to the living room and saw the boy standing upon the windowsill.
“Please,” she begged. “Please, no. Just come down. I promise I won’t be mad.” But the boy could not hear her over the sound of the storm. It came to the window and it took him.
She shrieked, put down the girl and ran to the window but it was too late. The boy was gone, washed away. She turned back, feared the girl would be gone too but she remained where she had been left. Carla picked her up and cradled her in her arms and sat on the chair. The Dictaphone was still recording.
She rewound the tape all the way back to the beginning and pressed play. A pretty voice spoke French between brief pauses; the sound of rain; Carla’s own voice.
She heard someone in the kitchen, the sound of the button for her stove light, the rattle of a bottle of pills. The girl in her arms was still cold and she held her all the tighter. The tape still ran.
The sound of little footsteps now. Two pairs of footsteps. The girl jumped toward the back of the chair and shuffled her little legs up. The boy climbed up afterwards and the girl’s teeth clattered. Wind blew the curtains in the background. Presently, the boy was speaking to the girl but Carla couldn’t make sense of it. She put the Dictaphone to her ear but still could not make out what the boy was saying. Suddenly the boy’s voice roared at her from the tape and he hadn’t been speaking at all but was singing and his voice was deathly and cruel. He was singing about black sails and pirates and he was singing to the girl.
Carla was still cradling the freezing bundle in her arms. The bundle felt heavier now, and Carla knew the little girl in her arms was dead, but she kept listening anyway, listening until the boy on the tape stopped singing. Then, from the tape, she heard the sound of herself cursing the cold and running to the window.
Carla pushed the stop button on the Dictaphone and held it a while. She put it down on the table and then she put the bundle in her arms on the floor and unwrapped it and screamed. She stood and then ran to the bedroom for another blanket.
When she returned, the body in the bundle was gone. The window closed and small, bloody footprints led the way to it. Carla reached for the Dictaphone and pushed the red button.
“Please. May I see them? May I see them?” She stopped and rewound the tape and pressed play.
“Vous avez atteint la fin de la bande. You have reached the end of the tape.” That godforsaken voice. She sat a long time then rewound the tape to the beginning and listened, hoping for some new clue, some new evidence, but none came.
She put down the Dictaphone and walked to the corridor and turned off the lamp. Back in the living room she walked past the Dictaphone and went to the window. Her legs buckled and she fell to the floor. The storm still whipped and belted and Carla screamed to drown out the noise. It made no difference. It was awoken, that violent and raging tempest would not rest this night.
Donovan Bridgeman is a writer of poetry and short fiction. He has a creative background and a degree in the musical arts, with production and performance credits on several works. He currently teaches English at a school in South Wales and is working on his first novel.