Summer of 1985
The cool breeze drifts in from the Pacific Ocean through the banana plant leaves. Shadows dance across the pastel pallet of the bedspread; the charcoal nude woman looks over her shoulder. Jesus clasps his hands in prayer. Julie Garwood books with crumpled covers of chiseled men and collapsing women appear well-read. She lies next to her little sister, under the covers.
From the living room through the door, the newscaster's words float: "Police are searching for a six-foot-tall man...dark curly hair, dubbed the Night Stalker...who has killed...though the crimes...He enters through open windows...He's been terrorizing Southern California."
Her eyes widen as she looks to the window, her knuckles clench the bedspread. Every sound is him. The scents of magnolia blossoms and jasmine tickle her nostrils. She will die tonight before she is ten—in her grandma's bed.
She doesn’t know how close the night stalker is, but the open window threatens. LA traffic is terrible, but not at night. It’s quiet. Her teeth chatter and her little sister snores peacefully, kicking her every once and a while. Each kick a reminder of how quickly things happen. How quickly a screen can come off a window. How fast a knife can slice.
She thinks Grandma will probably be glad she no longer has to share our mother with us. Her Papa George clears his throat in the other room. And he won't save us, we're not really his.
She knows her mother will blame herself; but, she has two other daughters. Maybe the loss wouldn't be that big of a deal since she has backups.
She imagines the crimson of her blood seeping into the comforter and how mad Grandma will be that she ruined it, especially since it was new. We die, and it's just an irritation.
The finch, parakeets, quail, and cockatoos in Grandma's backyard aviary chirp before the sun rises. They wake her. The light becomes golden. Her little sister flips and turns, the danger of the night is over. This morning they will leave and go back home. She will live to see the double digits. The four-hour drive home far away from the Night Stalker is worth it. I won't even ask for snacks.