“So you and your family told scary stories?”

When I recount things, sometimes they are blurred by my filter; my emotion at the time of recall. For accuracy, my baseline is recalcitrance. My tongue is bloody from biting. I understand that the way to get an extra brownie is to walk in the room the ingenue. The confluence of both parts of me has created an immediate distrust and then visible relaxing from parties. I watch them breathe as we continue to talk. I watch their shoulders slag. I watch their faces change into suns and smiles and laughter. When I recall things, I must remember if temper came into play, if anxiety was near, or if I was a gymnast doing cartwheels for the crowd. I must remember which part I played. What I will remember about this man is that when he poured the hot water, he smiled at me in a fatherly way, and that I was not the coquettish mouse trapping cats in the basement, but the helpless girl in the dark gripping horror films to stop her wailing.

“Yeah, we had a lot of fun.”
He put the kettle on the table and sat back down. I was visibly nervous, fidgety but trying not to be.
“You left your straw by the door.”
“Do you need it?”
I looked down, not ashamed but confused.
I did. I was going to do this right though. Let the budding tension wash over me and settle. Starving to death is fine. I don’t need a fantasy to get through it.
“Let’s play your game he said,” he smiled. “It can be scary or not. Although, it’s already pretty scary out here.”
Truly, I am not threat to anyone but myself. A mouse wearing a witch hat but that’s it.
“Can I grab the straw after all? It helps my creativity.”
“Sure,” he leaned back a little in his chair.

I stood up facing him, not wanting to make a sudden movement or lose sight of him. The power dynamic seemed to switch constantly. I was a guest in his house under unusual circumstances. We were both hyper vigilant. I needed to relax and stay guarded. We were both freezing. Wait.
“You don’t have a backup generator you said?”
Briskly, I picked up the straw from the floor.
“I don’t.”
I walked back and he hadn’t moved.
“It’s warm in here.”
“I have a fireplace.”
I didn’t see smoke. Don’t say it.
“Follow me.”
“Ok,”  I acquiesced.

He led me through the right, away from the kitchen to his den. There was a fireplace and blackout curtains lining the windows. The room was dark but for the fire. It was low but warm. I had not taken off my boots or coat or hat and did not plan to. Gripping the straw tightly, I stood watching the flames flicker taking in the darkness of the hottest room in the house.

“I realize this must be scary for you,” he began. “I am a stranger, you are a stranger. We haven’t even introduced ourselves. I’m Peter.”

I understood my role. He sat in the armchair closest to the fire and I turned around slightly to face the blue couch. It was right near the window. This neighborhood was being patrolled. However

“I’m going to sit on the floor. I don’t want to be near a window. Back facing.”
I crouched slowly down hearing my knees crack, hoping he didn’t. I started on my knees so I was still sitting like that, up, tall, alert. I wanted to ask him about his firewood, where was getting it, did he have some shed, but I didn’t want to look greedy.
“My name is Ava.”
“Ava,” he repeated.
“Yes. Ava Allinger.”
“Ava,” was overly comfortable to the point where I tensed. “This is a hard time. There is no power and no phones and no electricity. I understand your mistrust and my mistrust. We can sit and warm for a bit and we don’t have to talk. Truthfully, I’ve been deluding myself thinking this would get better but it may not. I have limited supplies. I hope your cat is ok and you are welcome to stay the night.”

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