Walking Through Walls

By Emily Spreng Lowery

The first time her mother, Adelaide, saw Sylvia disappear from the hall into the bathroom without opening the door, she’d been hysterical with fear, thinking that Sylvia had vanished into thin air. But upon hearing her mother’s screams, Sylvia walked right back through and into Adelaide’s trembling arms. Sylvia had always been different from other children. She started crawling before the books said it was possible and started walking soon after. And without even realizing it, Sylvia breezed easily from room to room, right through the walls.

Sylvia didn’t know how she did it, she just did. It was as normal as sneezing when her nose itched or taking a nap after a long morning. She walked through walls to get where she was going. Sometimes, like when Adelaide locked the keys of her beat-up Chevy inside the car, Sylvia’s gift was very convenient, as she would just disappear through the car door and unlock it for her mother. Other times it wasn’t as simple, especially when Sylvia was first learning to walk and didn’t quite understand when it was okay to keep going and when she needed to stop. Then, a few months before Sylvia’s fifth birthday, Adelaide was baking cookies and Sylvia reached through the oven door for a taste.

“What happened this time?” the nurse asked, as she bandaged Sylvia’s burns, refusing to meet Adelaide’s eyes. “I think if there are any more accidents like this, there might be some people who will want to talk with you.”

So Adelaide took down the crayon-colored pictures from the walls, the ones that Sylvia had drawn of clowns or animals to transform their tiny home into a circus or a zoo. She peeled off the colorful paper dolls, with clothes cut out from the Sunday newspaper ads, that she and Sylvia had taped onto the front of the washing machine and the kitchen cabinets. Then, Adelaide replaced them with large pieces of red construction paper, indicating that these were barriers that Sylvia was, under no circumstances, to pass through. She tacked up red poster board over walls they shared with neighbors and those that led to a four-story drop onto the hard black pavement outside. Soon, Sylvia was overwhelmed by red and by the time she turned six, had stopped walking through walls and closed doors all together.

Sylvia’s life continued on, of course, and she grew up into the usual kind of adult—content with the tiny, consuming details of her job and family. But for reasons she couldn’t understand or remember, she dreaded the color red: To Sylvia, it was the color of dying, the color of sweltering afternoons with no air conditioning. And so as she stepped outside her office at precisely 6 PM each evening, she was often haunted by the crimson sun hovering over the horizon, and she shook with a long-forgotten yearning as she watched the world transform into another long dark night.