By Lauren Weisberg
As college draws nearer, Nora’s recurring nightmares begin to catch up with her real life anxieties.
As Nora sat down at the dinner table, she grabbed for her butter knife and clutched it in her hand, knowing her fate well and hoping to prevent it.
“How was your day?” Her mother asked lovingly, yet obliviously, placing a plate of chicken parmigiana in front of her. The smell made her mouth water, though she knew she wouldn’t have time to eat. He would be coming soon.
It began to rain, a harsh tapping noise against the window told her so. It always rained in this dream.
“What a nasty day!” her father said as though it all hadn’t just started a moment before.
“Honey, I asked about your…” Nora’s mother was cut off by the sound of the front door whipping open. There stood a man in the doorway tall enough to fill out the frame. Even though it had happened a few times before, Nora’s heart dropped so low that she could feel its beat in her toes. Though he was all the way across the room, his face was clear to see: oblong and gaunt with charcoal-colored hair and eyes.
“Honey, we didn’t let him in,” Nora’s mother and father said in unison, staring at her so hard it nearly pierced her skin.
Rain poured into the house from the open doorway as the man advanced into the living room. With the butter knife still in her hand, Nora ran toward the stairs. She knew what the man wanted to do.
The stairs were so close to the door that she was within arm’s reach of the man, but she knew that he wouldn’t grab her yet. She stopped halfway up the stairs to observe him. Every time she had this nightmare, she tried to notice something new, though after she’d had it so many times it was hard to find anything. He wore his usual dark blazer that hung in torn shreds over his arms. His unusually long legs were dressed in corduroy pants that exposed his bony, hairless ankles. This concoction of fashion was pulled together by round silver glasses.
The man stared intently at Nora. His cheeks blushed pure red and he reached for his glasses. Taking them off he said, “You better run.” His voice sounded like crunching leaves.
She pounded up the stairs and ran into her parents’ bedroom, closing the door and pressing her back up against it, splaying her hands out over the painted wood like a snow angel in the winter. A sick feeling settled into her stomach. She knew she was going to die.
“Nora!” said a familiar voice. She opened her eyes to see her younger sister Hailey lying in bed next to her.
“I can’t nap with you anymore if you’re going to keep waking up screaming like that,” she said, unleashing her golden hair from its bun.
The two had a habit of taking naps together, especially during the lazier summer months. The sun came in through their open window, pouring light over their bare tummies. They had reduced themselves to bras to deal with the heat.
“It was a bad dream,” Nora said, hoping the nervousness in her voice would let Hailey know she meant it.
“The one about the man?” Hailey asked.
“I keep having it,” Nora responded, tired despite the rest she’d gotten.
“You know what’ll take your mind off it? Video games,” Hailey said with a sweet smile, but Nora wasn’t paying attention.
“What time is it?” Nora asked.
“It’s ten minutes to four,” Hailey said, pulling on her pink unicorn shirt. At fifteen, she still hadn’t outgrown her childish obsessions.
“Ten minutes,” Nora groaned, holding her head in her hands for a prolonged moment.
“Oh,” Hailey said, finally connecting the dots. Nora had an interview with a college admissions officer at four. She was a finalist for a full ride scholarship at a school a thousand miles away in Missouri.
“You better run,” Hailey said, and the words sent chills down Nora’s spine, though she guessed her sister was right.
She ripped open her closet door and pulled out the grey dress she’d specially bought for this occasion. This was her last interview, the bridge between her and that scholarship.
Nora pulled it on and looked at herself in the mirror. It hung loosely on her petite frame.
“You look great,” Hailey said and Nora nodded in gratitude, then shooed her sister from the room. She pried open her laptop, logged onto Zoom and tried to mentally prepare herself for the interview.
She typed in the Zoom meeting code and then stared anxiously into the virtual waiting room. She watched the circle spin on and on, waiting for it to finish loading. She held her breath. The room opened. A man with soft, dark eyes stared back at her.
“Hello there,” he said, with a surprisingly warm smile.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. The man wore a black poncho that almost resembled a cape, draped over his arms. A minute passed.
“Are you all right?” The man said, pulling off his round silver glasses and resting them on his desk.
“Yes,” Nora replied, trying to keep herself calm.
“Are you ready to start the interview?”
This is a work of fiction, but it is absolutely based on my own increasing anxiety about being independent, going off to college, leaving my parents, and all of the many question marks that that process entails.
Lauren Weisberg is a Freshman in the Hunter College Muse Scholar program and returning mentee. She was born and raised on Staten Island and is passionate about activism, creative writing and crocheting. She loves anything spooky and is intimidated by her cat.