Few things made Luciana happier than watching the world go by from her window. There, she could look down at the pavement and imagine her tiny feet upon gravel. She could watch the blue skies above turn dark as the hours passed.
On lucky days, she could even catch a glimpse of birds weaving through the fluff of clouds. More often, she peered into the her neighbour’s home, although her father forbade her to. Still, she kept watch on the house, claiming interest in the night sky.
No one knew much about the old woman who lived there. Stories have it that she never left her home, and had lived on the street longer than anyone else did. A young nurse came up to visit her three times a day – at eight in the morning, twelve in the noon, and seven in the evening.
In the hours between, the old woman had only the company of her grandson. The boy – no more than six – would sit in the old rattan chair next to her bed. Every night, she would sing him to sleep.
Luciana never knew the words to the lullaby. But she did always hear the faint hum of the mournful tune, consonant with the grim sorrow that she saw on the woman’s face. She could never forget it, she thought.
One wintry morning in 1984, Luciana turned five. Her curiosity had grown too fast for her father to catch on, he lamented. By the age of four, she no longer liked playing pretend with porcelain dolls. Even so, she allowed herself no more than a gleeful giggle at the gift from her father, who tried not to let his disappointment show.
On her fifth birthday, it was as good a day as her father had wished. He had seen his precocious daughter look at the stars every night, and thought of the perfect gift. He had never seen her smile wider than when she had unwrapped the antique telescope, too large for her stature.
Then came the treat. Nothing delighted the small family more than her stepmother’s culinary magic. During the night before, her stepmother had baked a cake that proved too massive for three. They shared it with the neighbours, who cheered at a reason for celebration.
All, but one. The ancient woman was as aloof as she looked, ignoring the doorbell as she did the small invitation note. Hours after the birthday party, Luciana found herself tossing and turning in bed. Her mind kept her awake. She looked through the telescope to distract herself, before wandering to her bedside window.
Her eyes fell on the familiar room and its occupant, who had missed her party. She began to wonder. Who was she? What kind of life had she led? How many lives had she lived?
Across the street, the old woman laid in her bed, without a clue to offer. Grandson sat in his chair beside her, just as he always did. Under the moonlight, his rosy cheeks lit up his olive skin. Luciana thought him handsome, and blushed an apple shade of red.
As she let her thoughts run a little more, her decision was set in stone. At the age of five and a day, Luciana decided to visit the old woman and her little boy, if only to learn more about what others would not.
The next night, the lullaby came right on time, sung in a voice ill with profound loneliness. It only strengthened Luciana’s will and curious heart. Socks on, she tiptoed down the stairs in her nightdress. Her stepmother was sound asleep, lying right next to her snoring father. She kissed them in her thoughts, and was soon out the door.
She followed the lure of the beautiful melody. Up close, the old lady’s house looked daunting in both size and history. Luciana could see the fresh coat of paint, flaking off the walls. Plucking all the courage she could find, she remembered her reason for visiting and knocked on the big, red door.
It creaked ajar, its silence inviting. The child accepted. In the house, the song echoed louder. Pain rose in her chest from fear. A lump formed in her throat. But the music tempted. Luciana kept moving, now up the stairs towards the room that she knew well enough.
Edging closer to the door, she kept her breaths shallow, for the room was more putrid than paint. She found her courage and moved past the door. There sat the boy in his rattan chair, unmoving and quiet. His skin was paler than it had looked from the distance, his cheeks a darker crimson.
As Luciana walked up to the boy, she noticed his threads. She knew exactly what she was looking at. She had seen such well-preserved creatures in the local museum once. His glassy eyes stared at Luciana with life yet quietude, making her shiver.
All the questions about the woman had gone from her head, and now turned to the boy. What was his name? Who had he been? … How did he die?
All the while, the old woman was watching her. Luciana could feel her gaze on her. She wanted nothing more than to head back home to her dear parents. But the humming had not stopped, and it called out to her. This time, she could hear the words of the song so clear.
Stick needles and pins
In a doll made of skin
He stares right back
With revulsion within
Look into his eyes
And see that they have died
Oh catatonic, oh catatonic
My little Frederik
Silence deadened the air, as the song came to an end. The odd couple looked at Luciana and she, back at them. At that moment, she saw how fragile they were, and almost let her guard down. Then, the song started anew, and changed her mind.
Luciana finally saw what the old woman had always seen – words floating from the boy’s tight lips towards her mind, like feathers in the wind.
The Midnight Lullaby © 2017 by Jade A. All rights reserved.