In the spaces between my shallow breaths, I heard someone moving around the house. I knew, rationally, that my heartbeats weren’t audible to any ears besides my own, but I worried that my increasing panic would lead to hyperventilation and the kind of wheezing, huffing, gasping for air that would wrack my entire body with convulsive shudders, making me knock against the precariously stacked shelves of the storeroom I was hiding in; not only would the air passing through my constricting throat move my vocal cords, but, most likely, a whole slew of boxes, bottles and dusty bits of machinery would fall down on me, giving away my location.
I counted to myself, looking at the seconds moving on my digital watch, for once blessing my age-old habit of going to bed with it, a habit that my husband hated. I breathed in for two seconds, let the air out for three – the goal was to reach four seconds in and eight out, achieving maximum calm and minimal panic, but I was only human, after all, and someone was prowling around out there, looking for me.
Graham wasn’t home; he was on a rare business trip. He hated them and tried, whenever possible, to send our son, Graham Junior, in his stead. Junior actually liked the travel, the plane rides, the novelty of staying in hotels alone and getting to be the big boss among the small fry. Graham never really liked that stuff, and he still teases me sometimes that Junior isn’t really his son, because where did he get his outgoing streak? Maybe he got it from my side of the family, I tell him. Hiding in the closet, I was thinking about how convenient it was that Junior was spending the night with his new girlfriend and not at home. Junior isn’t nearly as outgoing as his father likes to think he is.
A tinkling sound, following by a soft rip made me lose track of my measured breaths and I felt the pins and needles begin to crawl up my fingers and toes as I started to hyperventilate. I opened my eyes wide and forced myself to track the seconds on my watch again – 00:03:26 – 00:03:27 – breathe in – 28, 29, 30 – breathe out. The intruder, whoever he was, was being careful. He was looking for something. The sounds I’d heard – I tried to figure them out. The first was probably my perfume bottles – my one concession to vanity; working in a hospital, I’ve come to appreciate being surrounded by a scent of something that isn’t death, pus, ooze, urine, feces or antibacterial hand wash. The second sound, the rip… That was harder to figure out and it made me very nervous.
A creak. A groan. That was the floor near my hiding place and a voice, the voice of someone who wasn’t aware of the loose floorboard and twisted an ankle in it. Even very rich people get lazy about house repairs, I thought sardonically, noticing with pride that my breathing was slowing and that I could afford to make it a smidgen shallower and thus quieter. The door I was behind was locked, of course, with the key inside it on my end. I had not even the tiniest bit of curiosity as to what the intruder looked like. I simply wanted him to think that the house was empty and to leave.
Graham and I have gotten death threats before. We both do work that’s controversial, in its own way, and there are many people who don’t like the wealthy in this day and age. I can’t blame them for it, though their discontent doesn’t excuse their bad behavior, nor does it allow them to ignore the fact that we are human beings with rights as well. We pay our taxes and perform our social and public duties and shouldn’t be attacked. But high powered couples are always seen as somewhat problematic and Graham and I have always been aware of it and have fought our battles together or alone, as need and our lawyers deemed fit. We are not sentimental about such things. But I know that this break-in is about me, because this is the first time that I have had a secret. My family knows nothing of it, nor does anyone else.
Except someone does, apparently, know. Someone, walking around my house that night, knew. He knew, and he was going to do something about it. I stood in my closet and counted breaths, quietly, determined not to be heard.