Schrodinger's Squatter

I know there is a woman living in my attic. Really, it doesn't bother me much. We have an unspoken agreement that I don't go up there and she only comes down here when no one is about. Even though I wish I could meet her, I am glad I never have.

Everything started mundane enough; the last of the milk disappeared. My boyfriend asked me if I drank it, but I don't know why I would. I hate milk. We both left the conversation assuming the other person drank it, but we did not give the missing milk further thought.

At least until other items started going missing, only to return some time later. Bowls, plates, then pillows and blankets. They would return to unusual places I would never think to set them down. Once in a while, they would even be cleaned.

"Thanks for doing the dishes," my boyfriend said. "We put them off way too long."

"I didn't clean the dishes."

"Well, someone did." He chuckled.

Sure enough, all the dishes were properly placed into their assigned cabinet.

This is when I knew someone else, unseen and unheard, was in the house with us. At night, in the thick of the witching hour, I would sit up and listen. Listen to the floorboards. Listen to the walls. Listen to the stairways. With the door of my room locked, I couldn't go out to investigate the silent dark. Instead, I would jump at the sound of each throbbing heartbeat, hoping it was the noise I sought. After many nights like this, I heard it. Squeaking footsteps from the attic, as if pacing from one side to the other, back again, back again, back again…

Satisfied, I leaned my head on the wall to maybe get a wink of sleep.

In the morning, I told my boyfriend about the noises. About how the floor groaned out to me in the night, alarming me to the squatter in our attic. Maybe, he should even go up there to check.

"It's the tree." He shook his head. "The branches are overgrown, dear. They scrape on the roof, the sides of the house, sometimes the windows. I'll cut them for you."

How could he not understand it wasn't the scrape of a tree? It was the restless dragging of foreign feet! Frustrated, I left it there.

Jailed inside my room, I could not disturb her hours of freedom in the night. Gradually, she explored out of the attic into the rest of the house. When I first heard her stumbling outside my room, I peeked under the door for some shadow. Through the darkness, I could make out only a passing disruption in the darkness. These must have been her feet. Branches couldn't roam the house by night. I smiled in victory over my boyfriend's presumptions.

On nights with dramatic activity I put my lips to the door, eyes to the keyhole, tempted to cry out. Words fluttered up, only to die in my throat. Their bones left my throat irritated. If she wanted contact, I suppose she would initiate. I couldn't wait that long, though. The thought of a stranger coming from my attic disturbed me. I could not know if she was a threat to me or not, but I could hardly dislike someone who put my items away after using them. If she was malicious, she was also polite. I decided offering her what she seemed to want food would stop her from continuing to haunt my nighttime hallways.

"Look," my boyfriend said. "Look up the stairs. There is no one in the attic." He opened the door to prove it. In the glimpse I caught before turning away, it appeared the attic was unchanged. He threw the lights on, disturbing the heavy darkness. "You need to see it. If someone was living up here, wouldn't they have stuff? Wouldn't there be food or piss or something?"

"Why would they piss in the attic when we have a bathroom?"

He sighed. "There is no one in the attic."

"Okay, there is no one in the attic."

Days passed before my boyfriend left me home alone. A work meeting. He said he had to go be there in person. That would take a couple hours at least with travel times adding more. It would give me enough time to leave the peace offering, but what if she took that as an invitation to enter into my life physically? That was a risk I was willing to take, though not prepared for.

It took forever to convince my boyfriend I would be okay alone, but he left. I took my chance to raid the kitchen for snacks. Some cheerios, fruit, and crackers was all we could spare. I placed them outside the door at the foot of the attic stairs.

"If you're hungry, here's some food." I allowed my shaking voice to give way to silence before leaving. She might not have been there when my boyfriend looked, but I know better than him. Somewhere beyond where my vision could reach, I imagined her crouched, ears against the wall similar to how I spent so many nights.

I hope she likes the snacks.