Once, when I was a little girl, I decided to hide under the kitchen table. I’m not sure what spurred me to do it. I suppose it looked like a good possibility for a fort. I crawled under and pulled the chairs in, folded my knees to my chest, and waited to see what would happen. My brother came in and made a phone call. I watched as his bare feet went back and forth on the linoleum. He always paced when he talked, like a lawyer making his closing argument to a jury. My mom came in and wrote something on the calendar, the hem of her bathroom nearly brushing my toes.
I intended to stay only for a short while. Just long enough to scope out the space. But then I began to wonder: how long would it take till they noticed I was gone?
So I sat. And I was still.
My mother did laundry. My father went out and cut the lawn. I could hear the hum of the lawn mower through the open window. My brother left and then came back. Left again. Things went on as usual. But it was somehow so different from this new vantage point, so raw and pliable. I could only see their feet and hear them, and it was as though I was a ghost, watching my own family but completely unable to interact or be noticed. Completely apart.
Around dinner time, my mother went back to my bedroom. I heard her knock three times on the door. ‘Wash your hands, Danielle. Almost time for dinner.’ When I didn’t answer, she pushed the door open. I knew this because I heard the hinges creak. I heard the floorboard groan as she walked in. She called my name again. She went to the closet and pushed back the clothes, or so I imagined she did, because she knew that sometimes I hid in the back corner with a flashlight and a book. Next she went outside and called again. I heard the lawn mower shutter to a stop as she signaled to my dad. She came in and stood at the counter, looking out the window on her tiptoes. My dad came in shortly after. ‘She’s not in the yard,’ he said. My mother sighed.
Next my father’s feet were pacing back and forth, much slower than my brother; more like a man strolling. He phoned my friend’s mother across the street, asked if I was there. ‘No, I’m sure she’s just down at her grandpa’s,’ he said, ‘no need to worry.’ I listened as he went down the list of places I might possibly be, calling each number as if he were making sales calls, ticking each name off the list. I listened as my mother pulled out the casserole she was heating up in the oven and set it on the stove top. My brother came in now. ‘Danielle’s missing,’ she said.
‘Probably in her room,’ my brother said, ‘talking to her my little ponies.’ Soon, dad and my brother were getting the car keys from the hook, off to circle the neighborhood, as if I were a lost puppy. ‘Should I call the police?’ my mom asked, standing in the open door as she watched them get into the car. ‘No,’ I heard my dad call, ‘not just yet.’
Things were getting serious now, and I knew I should push out the chair and reveal myself. But I was paralyzed by a mingled sense of shame and fascination. What would happen if I stayed here? What it would be like to hide here and watch?
And this is how I feel again, as a twenty-nine yearold woman about to turn thirty, on the verge of opening a cafe, standing behind the door that is still locked to the public and wondering what it would be like if I just stayed in this hidden, secret place forever, where all I need to do is be silent and watch, as the world revolves around me and beyond me like a rehearsal for a play that will never be performed.
But then, just as now, my own secret world — as safe it is — was not enough. I pushed the kitchen chair out. I stretched out my legs and crawled out from under the table. I cleared my throat and prepared to be a part of the world again.