Chapter no 45

The Housemaid

Step Five: Find Out You’re Not Crazy After All

“We’ll take it slow,” Andy promises me as we stand together at the door to the attic staircase. “But this will be good for you. To see yourself that there’s nothing there to be scared of. That this was all completely in your head.”

“Right,” I manage. I know he’s right. But it felt so real.

Andy takes my hand in his. I don’t cringe anymore when he touches me. We started making love again. I trust him again. This will be the final step to getting back to where we were before I did this terrible thing. Before my brain broke.

“Ready?” he says. I nod.

We hold hands as we ascend the creaky staircase together. We need to put in a lightbulb here somewhere. The rest of the house is so nice—maybe if this entire area were less frightening, I would feel better. Not that it’s any excuse for what I did.

Far too soon, we reach the room in the attic. The storage closet that I somehow turned into a dungeon in my head. Andy raises his eyebrows at me. “Are you okay?”

“I… I think so.”

He turns the doorknob and nudges the door open. The light is out, and the room is pitch black. Which is strange, because there’s a window and I know there’s a full moon tonight—I had admired it from the bedroom window. I step inside, squinting into the shadows of the room.

“Andy.” I swallow a lump in my throat. “Can you turn the light on?”

“Of course, sweetheart.”

He pulls on the cord for the lights, and the room lights up. But it’s not normal light. The light coming from overhead is almost blinding. It’s super bright, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I let go of Andy’s hand and clasp my own hands over my eyes to block it out.

And then I hear the sound of the door slamming shut. “Andy!” I call out. “Andy!”

My eyes have adjusted to the super bright light just barely enough to be able to make out the contents of the room if I squint. And… it’s just as I remember it. The dingy cot in the corner of the room. The closet with the bucket. The mini fridge that had contained three tiny bottles of water.

“Andy?” I croak.

“I’m out here, Nina.” His voice is muffled.

“Where?” I grasp around blindly, still squinting. “Where did you go?”

My fingers make contact with the cold metal of the doorknob. I twist it to the right and…

No. No. It can’t be.

Am I having another breakdown? Is this all in my head?

It can’t be. It feels so real.

“Nina.” Andy’s voice again. “Can you hear me?”

I shield my eyes with my hand. “It’s so bright in here.

Why is it so bright?”

“Turn out the light.”

I grasp around until I find the cord for the lights, then I give it a good tug. I feel a surge of relief as I’m plunged

back into blackness. It lasts for about two seconds, until I realize I’m completely blind in here.

“Your eyes will adjust a bit,” he says. “But it won’t help much. I boarded up the window last week and put in new lights. If you turn off the light, the world will be pitch black. Turn it on and… well, those ultra-bright lightbulbs are pretty intense, huh?”

I close my eyes and see nothing but blackness. I open them, and it’s exactly the same. No difference. My breathing quickens.

“Light is a privilege, Nina,” he says. “My mother has noticed before that you failed to turn off the lights. Did you know in other countries, there are people who don’t even have electricity? And what do you do? You waste it.”

I press my palm against the door. “This is really happening, isn’t it?”

“What do you think?”

“I think you’re a crazy, sick asshole.”

Andy laughs on the other side of the door. “Maybe. But you were the one who was in a loony bin for trying to kill yourself and your daughter. The police saw you doing it. You admitted to having done it. And by the time they came here to check things out, this room looked exactly like a storage closet.”

“It was real,” I gasp. “It was real the whole time. You…” “I wanted you to know what you’re dealing with.” His

tone is amused. He finds this entertaining. “I wanted you to know what would happen if you tried to get away.”

“I understand.” I clear my throat. “I swear to you, I won’t leave. Just let me out of here.”

“Not yet. First you have to be disciplined for wasting electricity.”

The sound of those words brings back an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. I feel like I’m going to throw up. I sink to my knees.

“So here’s how it’s going to work, Nina,” he says. “Because I am such a nice guy, I’m giving you two choices. You can have the lightbulb or you can have blackness. It’s entirely up to you.”

“Andy, please…”

“Good night, Nina. We’ll talk more tomorrow.” “Please! Andy, don’t do this!”

Tears spring to my eyes as his footsteps fade away. Shouting won’t make a difference. I know it because this exact same thing happened to me one year ago. He locked me in here the same way he has today.

And somehow I’ve let him do it again.

I imagine things unfolding the same way as last time. Emerging from this room, weak and groggy. Him making it seem like I was trying to hurt myself, or worse, hurt Cecelia. Everyone will be so quick to believe his story after the last time. I imagine being wrenched away from my daughter again. I just got her back. I can’t let that happen. I can’t.

I’ll do anything.

Once again, Andy has left three water bottles for me in the refrigerator. I decide to save them for the next day, because it’s all I’ll get and I have no idea how long I’ll be in here. I’m going to save them for when I can’t stand it another minute. When my tongue starts to feel like it’s made of sandpaper.

The light situation is driving me completely crazy. There are two naked bulbs on the ceiling, and both of them are these ultra-bright lights. If I turn on the light, it is agonizingly bright in here. But with them off, it’s pitch black. I get the idea to push the dresser over below the lightbulbs, and I climb up there and manage to unscrew

one of them. It’s a little better with just the single lightbulb, but still bright enough that I have to squint.

Andy doesn’t come back in the morning either. I sit in that room the entire day, worrying about Cecelia, wondering what the hell I’m going to do when and if I get out of here. But this isn’t a delusion. This isn’t a hallucination. This is really happening to me.

I have to remember that.

It’s bedtime when I finally hear footsteps outside the room. I’ve been lying in the bed, choosing the darkness option. When it was daylight, a few tiny cracks of sunlight had gotten through, and I could almost make out the shadow of objects in the room. But now that the sun has gone down, it’s pitch black again.


I open my mouth but my throat is too dry to say anything. I have to clear my throat. “I’m here.”

“I’m going to let you out.”

I wait for him to add “but not yet,” but he doesn’t.

“But first,” he says, “there are going to be some ground rules.”

“Anything you say.” Just please let me out of here.

“For starters, you don’t tell anyone what went on in this room.” His voice is firm. “You don’t tell your friends, you don’t tell your doctor, you don’t tell anyone. Because nobody will believe you, and if you talk about it, it’s just going to be a sign that you’re having delusions again and poor Cecelia could be in danger.”

I stare into the blackness. Even though I knew what he was going to say, hearing it fills me with fury. How can he expect me not to talk about what he just did to me?

Do you understand, Nina?” “Yes,” I manage.

“Good.” I can almost imagine his satisfied smirk. “Second, from time to time, if you need to be disciplined, that will take place in this room.”

Is he kidding me? “No way. Forget it.”

“I don’t think you’re in a position to negotiate, Nina.” He snorts. “I’m just telling you how it’s going to be. You are my wife now, and I have very specific expectations. Really, it’s for your own good. I taught you a valuable lesson about wasting electricity, didn’t I?”

I gasp for air in the blackness. I feel like I’m choking.

“This is for you, Nina,” he says. “Look at the horrible choices you made in your life before I came along. You had a dead-end minimum-wage job. You got knocked up by some loser who didn’t stick around. I’m just trying to teach you how to be a better person.”

“I wish I had never met you,” I spit out.

“That’s not a very nice thing to say.” He laughs. “I guess I can’t blame you. I’m impressed that you managed to unscrew one of those lightbulbs though. I didn’t even think of that.”

“You… How did you…?”

“I’m watching you, Nina. I’m always watching.” I can hear him breathing behind the door. “This is going to be our lives from now on. We will be a happily married couple like everyone else. And you will be the best wife in the entire neighborhood. I’ll make sure of that.”

I press my fingers into my eyeballs, trying to extinguish the headache that’s blooming in my temples.

“Do you understand, Nina?”

Tears prick at my eyes, but I can’t cry. I’m too dehydrated; nothing comes out.

Do you understand, Nina?

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