I am in my sister's bedroom closet. There is the chest there where she keeps her precious things, including a cardigan sweater that was our mother's. I am running, running, trying to get out of the basement. I try my sister's fire escape window but it won't let me out; I try our other sister's fire escape window, but it won't let me out, either. I run through the rec room over our dog's petrified shit and pools of pee, past Mom's sewing machine that's still there and suddenly I can see her at it, then I can see me and my sister playing air hockey, then my knuckles hurt from the puck ramming them, then Dad and his friends and our relatives are in the rec room drinking at the bar decorated with staple-gunned beer coasters, and I'm still running, trying to find a way out. Well there are the stairs, duh. I run up them and forget there is an accordion door there that shuts with a magnet. I don't even try to open it. I know that on the other side I will be faced with the garage and the rest of the house and the yard and the neighborhood and the city and the state. I don't want to be out wandering. No, I need to go back downstairs and find a way out somehow.
I go back to my sister's bedroom closet, to the chest and already I feel better in her room -- the theater posters on the walls, the smell of Love's Baby Soft perfume. From her space there must be a way out. I open the chest again and remember the hatch door at the bottom of it. I pull it open, like a storm door of an old country house, the kind Dorothy and Toto never found to enter when the tornado came. I push my face in. It's a small hole but I am a small person. I've been afraid of what's on the other side of the door for a long, long time. Once I had imagined my sister getting lost down there. There is a tunnel made of cold, wet earth. I go and go and go and go. I have no idea where it will take me.
And then I am delivered to a seashore. Sun and crystal-clear sea. Space -- so much space -- and me. But no people and I feel afraid, a little. I think, I can't stop. So I swim into the water. I float out there like I did on my birthday -- and I am weeping, knowing that although I have escaped the basement, I can still remember it, and I still fear it, so it is with me out here in this water even though all these years have passed. I can't float here and think about these things, I think -- I'll shrivel up to salt and die. I must keep going.
And then I see my friends on shore. They've thrown a rope out to me and are yelling to me to take the rope, Sarah, take the rope, we'll pull you back to shore! They want me to be fine but I know if I take the rope, I won't be fine. They don't know that, but I do. So I go under water instead. And I swim and I swim and I know that I will die out in the open sea, but I go anyway.
I see huge octopi with glowing tentacles and a sunken ship so old it looks like it's covered in fur and a 20-foot shark and I am still swimming. I swim forever. I am a woman who can survive under water. Maybe I am a mermaid, maybe my tail is one huge muscle. Oh, the water feels so nice on my bare breasts.
I pass a hole in the ocean floor and decide to poke my nose in. I peak in it to see a family of tiny otters dancing in their kitchen. They're holding hands and the fire is lit in their tiny fireplace and they're spinning in circles and dancing and singing. They're a miniature otter family and they are so happy with what they have.
I pull my head out of the silty floor and keep swimming. I am a huge mermaid in comparison to their tiny otter selves -- and I swim alone. I think, This is when I should turn into a seal, a black seal with long black seal eyelashes and a pointed nose. I do. I come to the ocean's surface. I have no ears, they're only holes and my eyes are so big. I see an island not too far away. It is a small island. I walk onto it to find my people.
I am a human woman again. The people there teach me how to survive, and we dance near a fire.