When we look for the house on a map, we see only a black square.

When we seek out the woods: cross-hatching.

When we hunt for the lake, we find a watermark.

Every map.

At work, Sam asks me what’s wrong.

“Julie’s mad at me. I f-ed up. I don’t know what to do other than apologize.” I pull out my chair.

“You cheat on her?” he asks, spinning around. His chair squeaks so loudly I wince.

“No, nothing like that.”

Sam shrugs. “What’s she doing?”

I wonder what it is that allows me to keep placing a frame around the parts I want to hide. “She’s not doing anything really. It’s not the silent treatment because she’s talking to me, but it feels like that.”

“Well, here’s a thought: Why don’t you ask her what’s up?” he says.

“I think she’ll ignore me. She’ll pretend like nothing’s wrong.”

“I’m no Dr. Phil, James, but I’m pretty sure you should give her the benefit of the doubt and wait for her behavior to improve. Am I right? Chances are she’ll get tired of being angry. But maybe she can tell you what she’s still holding on to. Talk to her.”

Sam raises his eyebrows.

“So logical. Out of nowhere, you’re logical.” I turn back to my screen.

“I do what I can,” he says.

In the last hour of the day, I start getting texts every few minutes from Julie:

“James.”

“James.”

“James.”

“James.”

“James.”

“James.”

I don’t respond. I think it’s a duplicate, some cellular glitch. Maybe she’s being antsy. I don’t want to get into a texting war. I want a chance to talk to her in person before anything else goes off.

At 4:59, the message changes: “For real. I need help.”

I call her. “What’s wrong, Julie?”

She is silent for a long time. “I’m stuck in some room of the house. I don’t know how to get out.”

“I’ll be right home,” I say.

I gather my coat. Sam asks if I finished up the project I’d been working on. I tell him, “Cover for me.”

3 0

I hear the door slam, feel the reverberations. When I dial James’s phone, the call goes straight to voice mail. I crouch down to see if there’s a lip between the floor and the wall to grab and shove out, but instead I find a book, leatherbound and wedged thick with loose pages. The room seems to pull in closer, and I panic, wondering if I’ll be crushed, then suddenly the wall behind me slides to one side on its own, and light floods in and I am in our bedroom, and I push through the crack quickly, and I look at where I’ve been and it’s just another space we don’t know, a narrow closet, and I examine how the wall works and slide it back, trying not to close it completely, but it clicks into place and then I can’t seem to budge it open again. I try to crank the wall sconce and step gingerly in differ- ent areas of the floor to see if I can trigger the opening again, but to no effect. In the light of the room, the book in my hand seems to be a journal and my instinct is to keep it for myself and

I wonder why I am turning it into another secret even as I stuff it into the drawer of the nightstand and collapse onto the bed.

James comes into the room, screaming for me, then quieting down when he sees I am right here. “Where were you? What happened?”

I smile because I always smile when I shouldn’t, a nervous tic. I point to the wall that has resealed itself and then open my hand up and raise my eyebrows.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a room behind that wall, but it’s gone now.”

He looks at me strangely. “There can’t be. It’s the guest room on the other side. There’s not enough space.”

I’m too tired to convince him. “Well, I didn’t make it up.”

I can tell he wonders if this is all a bid for attention, if I was ever even trapped. “Talk to me, Julie. What’s going on? Are you mad at me? Are you trying to get back at me?”

I don’t know.

 

31

We go about our evening, making dinner and rummaging about the house. I try to keep up a regular conversation, but James clips his responses. He takes a call from his parents. “I know you want to visit, but now isn’t a good time. Julie’s under the weather. We’ll let you know as soon as we get settled . . . Just a cold, I think . . . I will . . . Love you, too. Bye.” I snuggle into him while he watches the news, tuck into his armpit, and wrap an arm around the pudge of his belly, and he allows it, but after about ten minutes he tells me he’s wiped and heads upstairs to bed.

I cry on the couch, feeling the gap that’s formed between us widening when we’d hoped this move would close it. I cycle three times through all the channels before I give up.

The lights in the bedroom are off. In the soft shine of the moon through the window, I startle at what looks like a person opposite me, only to realize it’s a figure drawn on the wall. I flip my bedside light on, not sure if I hope to wake James or not. The outline droops with liquid, watery and pink, and I wonder, Paint? Blood? Those are all of the answers I can think of.

I remember the drawings on the wall the lady at the grocery store told me about. I shiver at this form, crude—like a child’s sketch: a rough, wide oval for its head; limbs that stretch too long; features simple and too small for the face.

James and I are living in a Latin mass, memorizing ritual, reciting mysteries we’ve given up on deciphering, foreign syllables unrolling in order.

I want to flip the light on and scream. I want to rock James awake and say, James, you said this was over and also I feel like something’s gone wrong in me, but instead I crawl under the blanket with  him  and  place  a  hand  on  his  smooth back and rest  my lips on his shoulder and I pray.

 

 

The Grip of It: A Novel