She doesn't stop to think about it until after she's pulled her hand, still trembling, away from her mouth and breathes slow and quiet. She's safe in here. No one's told her that, but even a child would instinctively know: stay quiet, stay hidden, find a dark quiet place. Magnus, Maggie, Margret- it's all a mess in her head right now— would find her here later, shaking and crying again, scared by the sound of the footsteps on the floor and the name that wasn't hers, Abilene.
She would know where to look: the space beside the dryer, the gap between the toilet and the sink, the corner of the closet in the backroom. She would coax her out with all those quiet words, the patient ones that go with the smiles that can't hide behind expensive suits and responsibility anymore.
It would take awhile. It always took awhile, but this time would take longer. They had promised they would never leave her, that nothing bad would ever happen, but she had been alone. She'd been trying to be good, be helpful by putting the dishes away, pulling them from the drying rack with tiny clinks to set them on the shelf in the cupboard, stacking them straight. She hadn't heard the noise on the front porch until someone had knocked on the door.
The doorbell didn't work, she had forgotten that. Later she would wonder how long they had been standing there. She would wonder how long they had waited before rapping on the door to send her scampering.
It all got so confusing in her head when there were other people, people who didn't know what the story should be. There were too many secrets, too many things she wasn’t supposed to say, things she wasn’t supposed to know. She could never explain, never explain like she was supposed to. She wasn't Abby anymore, but she wasn't Abilene either. She was a church mouse, scurry scurry run.
She likes it back here, with what were supposed to be last winter's coats and her rain boots with holes in the toes, the bag of rags Maggie saved for cleaning. Smells got stuck back here with the rest of the junk: newspaper ink, warm wet grass, baking bread, the greasy smell Roy tracked everywhere. If she closed her eyes and breathed in deep enough it almost smelled like the city. She likes the groves she's worn with her scrambling fingers and the way the quiet and the dark push away everything else. Out there, there was the world, in here, in here that doesn't exist. In here is the one place where the past still exists. It's the place where Abby lives. Maggie would come home soon though and pull her out; she always pulled Abilene out.
Maggie wasn’t supposed to leave, but Abilene had dropped an egg that morning making pancakes. They needed eggs for dinner. Now they would have eggs for cookies too, the cookies Abilene and Maggie would make. Maggie would scold her but Abilene would eat the raw cookie dough anyway, scoop it from the bowl with her fingers while Maggie pretended to disapprove. She'd ruin her dinner too, eating the gooey cookies right out of the oven, bits of chocolate catching on her chin as she shoved the cookies into her mouth to stop her fingers from burning.
She liked that, liked the way the giggles forced themselves up out of her chest rusty from disuse. She liked the way Maggie laughed too, eyes glittering, flour-covered hands dusting Abilene's hair, her shoulders, as she swatted her playfully for misbehaving. The cookies and the laughter, the early spring sun setting all reminded Abby of home, the long summer nights spent on her grandmother's farm baking cookies to distract her younger sisters from the storms that rolled through the country, the lightening.
Sharp like the knock on the door. It's the only thing that Abby remembers about it now, the way it threw everything into an eerie light and shook the house to its bones. Everything had shook, everything but the closet where her sisters had hid. Abby used to crawl in with them, hold them, whispering conspiratorially about batter and frosting until the first of the storms had passed through and the three of them would crawl out.
There was no one to crawl out with her now, no one, nothing outside but whoever had knocked on the door and a name that wasn't hers. There's no one in here with her either, but at least in here she can press her eyes shut and smell the city: fresh cut grass and inky bread and oily grease.