There was a crack in the ceiling, just there, a hairline fracture, really. Thin and faint and unnoticeable I watched as it spilled from beneath the light in the foyer, the one that jutted from the ceiling like a lone milky-white breast, stiff and dead, obscene and grotesque.
The crack seemed to begin beneath the breast, stretching just beyond the boundaries of the foyer and into the library.
The house itself was old, reminiscent of antebellum fortitude and the lie of possibility. Erected in close proximity to the square just before the war–here they call it the war of northern aggression–it is prominent and beautiful, the colonnades crisp white, the expanse of lush green yard flanked by large oaks and richly colored perennials. Even now I hear the lark songs, the distant hum of a content mower, the periodic spray of the sprinklers. The house has aged well, the thin black pole marking its elegance placed gingerly in the yard with the name, “Williamson Bradford House, circa 1850” etched in gold solely for the edification of passerby. They are to marvel at this symbol of The South, the inability of the North to traverse across our collective strength. See how the house stands, unbowed against time?
But the crack.
Remy spent most of her time looking up; at the ceiling, into the heavens and beyond. She had a particular eye for disrepair, and yet it went unnoticed by her, too close for her eyes. I noticed the crack, she saw beyond. I pointed it out to Mark.
“What is that?”
He glanced up, only briefly, after scanning over the mail. Flyers and ads beckoning us to come to church for the everyday sinner. He dropped his keys haphazardly onto the tall boy. I picked them up and placed them on their hook.
He offered me a half smile before responding. “Oh. Maybe the paint is chipped.”
I shook my head at that, and he began to walk away. I grabbed his arm, only to get his attention, but he jerked away from me as if I’d burned him.
I imagined I would see fingerprints under his starched shirt and dress coat, he pulled away so quickly.
In unison we glanced at Remy, but she tugged Martin forward and they disappeared into the darkness of the house.
“Just look! What if there’s a crack in the foundation?”
“How do you know?”
He sighed and loosened his tie. He ran his fingers through his hair and I wondered how long he would continue to pretend it might come back.
“I just know,” he breathed. He narrowed his eyes at me then sighed again. “Look. If it gets any larger I’ll call someone.”
“I’ll let you decide.”
He made dinner. He must have. I leaned against the stairs staring up at that hideous fracture and when I looked down again the house was dark around me and the children were asleep.
Mark frowned at me when I entered the bedroom, Emerson clutched to me.
“Jane! She was sleeping.”
“I don’t get to see her during the day! I’ll put her back.”
When I awakened in the morning sunlight was draped over me and Emerson was gone.
I only intended to fix the crack. The children were with Mark’s parents and he was working late again. I watched as it expanded and contracted, breathing over the house. My chest began to constrict as I splashed water over my face. I couldn’t call Mark, he wouldn’t answer and he hated when I interrupted meetings. I pulled out the ladder, staring in disgust at the cobwebs covering my fingers.
The cobwebs were sticky and wet even before the bleach. It only stung briefly; the sting faded but the webs stayed. Grabbing the kitchen knife I made my way up the ladder. I pressed the knife gently into the crack first, plaster falling into my eyes. The second jab into the ceiling was deeper than the first, but necessary. Before plastering the crack I needed to know how deep it reached. The knife buried into the ceiling to the hilt; I paused for a moment, admiring my reflection in the library. I looked mad, covered in white powder perched at the top of an eight foot ladder with a butcher knife in my ceiling.
I couldn’t hear the door because of my laughter. The ladder began to tip and I felt more than saw Mark reaching out for it–or me–and briefly, a sting, and then nothing.
When I came to I noticed bandages on both arms. How strange. The knife glanced off of my arm, assuredly, but both?
Murmuring distantly but then the words became clear, a newly tuned radio.
“Mrs. Wilkes. Mrs. Wilkes. Can you hear me?” I nodded.
“Do you know where you are?” I nodded again.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
Pause. “I had an accident.”
“Can you tell me what happened.” I glanced at the man. Small and gentle, his eyes were hidden behind gold rimmed spectacles. His pants were too short.
“I fell. I was fixing the ceiling.”
“What was wrong with the ceiling?” What an odd question.
“There was a crack. I wanted to plaster over it, but I had to know how deep it was.”
Pause. “I see.”
“Am I okay to go home?” Where are the kids and Mark, I wondered.
“We want to keep you a whole longer for observation. I’d like to talk to you a bit.”
“Mrs. Wilkes. We want to make certain when you return home you’re feeling your best.”
“But I am–”
“Mrs. Wilkes there was no crack. In the ceiling. Your husband claims to have found you on the top of the ladder…you had slit your wrists. When you saw him you jumped.”
“What? No. No no no. I swear. He has it wrong. Just let me see him. Let me talk to him. He just misunderstood. Is he here–”
“Mrs. Wilkes. Please remain calm.”
“Mark. Where is Mark?” My voice began rising as ice gripped my chest. “Just let me talk to him. He’ll understand when I talk to him!”
A chill ran through my arm and my body was forced back, string hands pressing into me. His voice was distant again, but even if he were clear I would hear none of it.
I can only focus on this ceiling, so unlike my own and yet the same. I marvel at the crack.