Familiar

ghost

I lean into the warm water, feeling it fill my ears with a soft whoompf, the tip of my nose and lips just breaking the surface. Slow, measured breaths. Quiet breaths. The ceiling shimmers and flexes as I open my eyes, the water stings for a second. I like the pain. I’ve always liked it. Razors with their warm shiny edges, beautiful wet blades. It connects me to a body I don’t quite own.

The light flickers, buzzes, blacks out, wavers back to life. The cold fluorescent echoing in shadows.

Warm waves flood my scalp as Mama’s fingers ripple through my hair. Hands move mechanically, massaging my head. I go limp.

Shall I braid it?

I slide up, nuzzling my neck into the edge of the porcelain tub. I nod. I’ve missed my braid. Wiggling my fingers, I check the mobility in my left hand. A little better.

Good girl.

She leans over me. The light pops zzzaaap, black splatters her face.

“Sing?” I mumble.

Her hands disappear for a second. I feel her shift behind me and then lean closer.

Rock-a-bye, baby

fingers trace the red welted scars on my wrist. My blood burns. An itch only a razor can scratch.

on a treetop

fingers press into the flesh, digging, searching.

when the wind blows

Zzzzaaaaazzzaaaap a cough of darkness.

the cradle will rock

Something is shifting, changing. Her arms elongate, thinning, a yellow foot hooks over the edge of the tub.

The door handle rattles. “Ava? You in there?”

Patrick? What’s he doing here? His flight gets back tomorrow.

Zzzzzaaaazzzzzz a chaotic symphony of shadows dance gleefully along the walls.

Mama perches on the edge of the tub, all elbows, knees, and bony edges, like she swallowed a bag of hammers. Emaciated skin sucked around jagged ribs.

I wonder why he doesn’t come in. I don’t remember locking the door.

when the bough breaks

Her eyes are gone. Just a white sloping emptiness distending from straggling ropes of hair down to a pocked nose. The cheeks pull into something resembling a grin. Part of her bottom jaw is gone.

“Ava, who are you talking to? Who’s in there?!” The rugged mahogany groans as he throws a shoulder into it. “OPEN THE DOOR! AVA!”

Mama turns and scuttles up the wall, her wet, hacking voice splattering around me.

the cradle will fall

I can’t pull my eyes away, fascinated by the ripples of her distended spine protruding through her back. Bony shoulder blades squirm and jerk.

ZZZZZZZZAAAAAAAAAAAA POP the light goes out leaving me with one last glimpse of her body splayed across the ceiling above me, small but impossibly large, her head rotating, black hair falling around a sightless face.

and down will come baby

BOOM!

“AVA!”

BOOOM!

“BABY! PLEASE! AVAAAAAA!!”

I reach up in the darkness, “MAMA! DON’T LEAVE ME AGAIN! DON’T LEAVE ME!”

cradle and all.

CRAAAAACKKK! The door splinters open, a beam of light catching Mama’s form as she launches herself toward me, all disjointed arms, knobby legs, hooked fingers.

“AVAAAA! NOOOO!”

And then I am awash in fire and blackness and rushing water. Patrick diving, reaching, but he’s late. He’s too late.

Mama takes me.

Down, down into wet, shiny nothingness.

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She Sleeps

she-sleeps

She sleeps.

I sit and watch. She feels safe when I’m there with her. I know even though she’s never told me. It’s there in the tranquil way her body lies under the sheets.

The autumn breeze whispers through the screen. The purr of cicadas whirs in my ears.

Is it possible to be so infinitely happy? So at peace. So still. So at home with the love of your heart.

She is the one I love. I knew it the first moment I saw her—that coffee shop in late August two years ago: me lost in some worthless conversation on my phone waiting on my order, and then I . . . how do I explain it? I felt her near me. I felt her before I saw her. I turned, and we saw each other.

Is it possible to fall in love at first sight? Can I use that cliché? It is a cliché. I know that, yet, I have to use it. No other words will do.

She didn’t smile, not right away, but in those bottomless eyes, those turquoise infinities, I felt her reach out to me. And I fell for her like a tree struck by lightning in the thundering mountain storms. Struck dumb to my core. Scarred for life. Scarred with a love so deep, so endlessly exquisite.

In that sliver of time—that breath—so marginal, so meaningless in its length, I was undone.

I became hers.

She became mine.

She stirs. I caress a strand of raven hair from her brow. I feel it damp with sweat.

I step to the window and raise it a bit more. Yes, good. The breeze flows around me, embraces me.

I stand watching her. My heart pumps, throbs, thrums threatening to explode with a love that consumes me.

She moves, subconsciously leaning into the night’s coolness. The curve of her breast pushes into the sheet for a moment as she turns and nuzzles deeper into her pillow.

I sit on the edge of the bed and watch her. She needs her rest. She works so hard; I can see the strain in her eyes when she gets home from work, the way she composes herself in her car before coming into the house. She doesn’t know that I know.

But when she sleeps, I know all is well. She is safe. She is loved.

I kiss the top of her head. Softly. So softly. I will not wake her.

She squirms, twists, turns onto her stomach. Glistening black hair cascades across her pillow, her naked back flawless in the moonlight.

I feel the love in my heart washing against my chest, waves crashing on forgotten beaches responding to the haunting call of the moon.

She sleeps.

At peace.

Radiant.

Goodnight I whisper.

I let myself out quietly.

Her husband will be home soon.