Maxine is writing again. She's holed up in the treehouse. Every morning we leave her food in the bucket and though we've been watching, we never see when she hauls it up.
She leaves notes sometimes, like More Pop-Tarts, and, I don't drink 2%. At night we can hear the coffee pot whirring. We don't know where she's getting the water from, but the sound is unmistakable: a sort of chug, a long sigh, a drizzle.
The last time Maxine wrote she locked herself in the bathroom. "I've just gotta do this," she yelled, so we used the neighbors' shower until the builders finished the new bathroom.
Sometimes, when the kids can't sleep, I take them out to the backyard and we watch the stars and listen to Maxine typing. I can hear words coming down from the treehouse, but I can't figure out what they say.
When Maxine's mother comes over, she pretends that everything is normal.
"Maxine told me she might be busy today," she says, then starts to read to Candice from Anna Karenina. Maxine's mother comes over every week to read with Candice. Every week she says that Maxine had told her that she would be busy, or that Maxine said she had somewhere to be. She doesn't ever look at the treehouse, and sometimes I think that maybe Maxine really is just busy, that maybe she'll be coming by later.
But at night I can hear the words falling from the treehouse windows. I imagine that Maxine has written so much that the words spill over the sides and creep through our house. They kiss Drew on the forehead and tuck the sheets tighter around Candice. They nose through the bathroom, check their hair in the mirror, and then slide into bed beside me. I hold them close. Later, I know, they will be cold, conspiratorial, in cahoots with everyone on the street, but while Maxine is still writing they're warm and yeasty.
Sometimes, when it gets so late that it's really early, I wake up and I can hear voices in the treehouse. Mostly it sounds like Maxine, but sometimes it doesn't. I shake my head and tell myself I don't need to know who Maxine talks with.
Even with the windows open it's hard to hear what Maxine is saying. I dream that Maxine is explaining her latest story to me, but all of her words are in a different language.
"Maxine told me she had to go shopping," says Maxine's mother. Candice climbs onto the couch beside her. I can't tell if Candice and Drew care that Maxine has gone. Sometimes she sends them down notes in the bucket which she has folded into origami I can't redo. I leave the sculpted paper on their pillows. They never talk about what the notes say, and I can't find them in their rooms.
I look out the window at the treehouse. It's in the old oak on the west side of the yard, and the sun is setting, so all I can see is bright colors with a dark blot in the middle. The windows aren't open, but I can hear Maxine in the treehouse. She's been talking faster and faster, louder and louder.
Maxine's mother pushes open a window, and she and Candice keep reading. Their words mix with Maxine's on the wind and get caught in their hair. They both have Maxine's hair, but then again, no one has Maxine's hair.
It's impossible to sleep with Maxine's words in the bed. I lie on top of the covers and turn the pillow to the cool side, but her words just pool on the sheets, expanding and running down the sides. I make myself into a dam, but they slide by. Tonight they're too hot to touch, so I sleep on the couch.
From the couch I can hear Maxine talking in the treehouse. What is she saying? There are too many consonants to make any words. They just hiss and slide against each other, rice in a rain stick.
Outside, the only light that isn't the moon is the light from Maxine's computer. I squint my eyes and focus, but I can't make out her profile. I imagine Maxine is squinting at me from the dark. I turn my head and lift my chin. I sleep sitting up.
Maxine's mother tells me that Maxine said that she would be in town today. "Errands," she says. I wonder if she gets notes, too. I wonder if Hazelnut next time is some sort of code.
The sun is still high enough for me to see the treehouse. The bucket is back on the ground, as if it never left. The power cords hang like tentacles.
That night, Drew and I watch the stars.
"Do you want to learn the constellations?" I ask, but Drew puts a finger to his lips.
"I'm listening," he says.
Drew shrugs. After a few minutes he nods, and goes inside.
I stand up and walk to the treehouse. I stare up at the bottom. Maxine has pulled up the ladder and closed the hatch, the cords disappearing through the seam. I take one in each hand and pull.
I listen for some kind of disturbance, but the sounds above don't stop. The keyboard, the paper shuffling of the words, the coffeemaker's chug, sigh, drizzle.
There is no note in the bucket in the morning, and when I check again in the afternoon, the food is still there. I can feel the words stream by me as if they had somewhere to be.
That night, the voices are louder. Maxine's, and others I don't recognize. They rub their consonants against each other. I imagine that they're talking about the news. Politics. The weather.
In the morning, I take out the old food and put new food in. I do it again the next day, and the next.
At night, the glow from the treehouse keeps me awake. It's as if the sun never fully sets, but gets caught by a net of words, binds itself to the leaves and the boards, finally frees itself at dawn.
Tonight the bedroom is so full of words I have to hold my breath. As I lie in bed I think about bobbing to the surface and floating on top of them. But I like the view from down here. I exhale and watch the bubbles float up and burst on the top. Through the murk of the words I can hear Maxine. She is saying, Rk rk rk. Gtp rk. Rk rk rk. The words press around me, warm and enveloping. I pretend Maxine is singing me a lullaby, and I drift off to sleep.