I liked the jagged edges of the broken mirror and how it reflected pieces of me back. It seemed fitting.
Blood splattered my cheeks, small flecks decorated my skin like gory confetti. I licked my lip and tasted the metallic iron truth of the fluids I was showered in. My smile twisted in the broken reflection but I let myself sink into the peace I felt despite being surrounded by destruction and chaos. Perhaps the peace was due to those things?
Turning on the water in the sink I began the process of cleaning up the blood that had snuck into the crack between covered skin and gloves and of course the blood splashed Pollock like across her face. I was so damn cheerful that I caught myself humming a happy little tune. Some stupid song I had heard on the radio, the type that you professed to hate but still knew all the words too. Singing to myself, I scrubbed my skin and thought about what to pick up at Trader Joe’s for dinner on the way home. I loved their beef jerky but I didn’t think my roommate would approve that as a dinner choice. It was my turn to cook but I didn’t feel like actually making anything. Maybe pot stickers?
I carefully examined the small amount of exposed skin around the cuff of the suit an dmy gloves, making sure any blood was cleaned up. The rest of her was covered in a full bodysuit, the type you’d wear to a crime scene so you didn’t contaminate it. I had been careful and made sure to use the cleaning solution she had brought along in a spray bottle and cleaned off the sink and anything I might have touched, compulsively pockets the few small things I had come into contact with, like souvenirs. This was all excessive precaution, I knew I had been very careful not to leave anything of myself behind.
Until this point I had avoided looking at the bathtub filled with blood, water and Mary’s quickly cooling earthly remains. It was not due to any revulsion, it was because I had found myself giggling like a madwoman, fighting the desire to pull apart the flesh that was now opened up from Mary’s wrist to halfway up her forearm. I liked seeing all the layers of fat and muscle, so pretty. I knew I couldn’t touch her, that would be stupid after all the careful planning I had done.
I could still feel Mary’s hand, warm and alive, as I helped her cut open those delicate veins. Down the block, not across the street. Any job worth doing , was worth doing well..
When Mary opened the door to see me on the small tidy porch, she hadn’t recognized me. I would have been surprised if she had and my plan would have been shot to shit, so it was for the best. She hadn’t seen the last few hours of her life in my smiling face when I greeted her and offered condolences on the recent death of her husband. Mary had graciously accepted the story of travel and only finding out about the death now. I told her that I hadn’t seen her husband in years but my father had been a friend before he retired from the utility company they had both spent their lives working for.
” My parents retired down South to get away from the cold, but when my father knew I was going to be in the area he asked me to come by personally, to send his condolences. I’m sorry to bother you, at this difficult time but would you mind if I came in a for a few minutes? I brought a few small gifts, they aren’t much but I know my dad would appreciate knowing I had done this for him.” I said this all in the apologetic tones of a loving but slightly put upon child of pushy parents.
” Of course dear, it’s okay, I understand. He had a lot of friends that cared” said the women that I barely recognized almost 30 years later. She let me into the neat home that matched the tidy porch. She was smaller than I remembered, her hair a faded grey instead of the brassy auburn that came from her favorite Clairol bottle in her youth.
After taking my big puffy coat and hanging it up in the hall closet, Mary lead me into the kitchen, asking me if I’d like a cup of coffee or tea?
“Oh, thank you, tea would be wonderful, it was just so cold this winter and a warm drink always seemed to hit the spot on these kind of blustery days, didn’t it? Actually, I brought a pie for you from this tiny bakery my dad said your husband loved from the old neighborhood, and some tea from this shop I found around the block. Do you like tea?” I asked as I handed her a beautifully wrapped bakery box from bakery many miles away and tea from yet another nondescript location nowhere near where they sat.
” I do enjoy tea, I have always preferred it over coffee” Mary explained as I watched as she went about the process of making each of them a cup of strong tea on a cold wintry day, filled with the weight of things she didn’t know were to come.
“Pecan pie is one of my very favorite pies though it’s been years since I’ve had it. My sons never liked it and my husband always though tit was too sweet, but this looks wonderful and some days you need to have a treat. Thank you, this was very kind of you. Please make sure you thank your father for me. You’ll have a cup and slice with me before you go?” Mary asked s she unwrapped the box and placed the pie on the counter.
I had remembered that Mary loved pecan pie, it was the biggest reason I could never stomach the stuff despite my deep and abiding love of most things pie. I smiled and looked pleasantly pleased at Mary’s seemingly, kind smiling face.
“Of course I will. Thank you for letting me barge in without any notice. My dad will be real happy I got chance to chat with you and that you liked the pie”
“Don’t you want to take off your gloves? ” Mary inquired
“No, I have a condition called Raynaud’s. Have you heard of it? ” Mary shook her head ” Oh, well most people haven’t heard of it. My circulation is terrible, it just takes some time for my fingers and toes to get warm. Sometimes they even turned blue. It’s no fun in the winter but what can you do? I’m sorry, just give me a little while, and I’ll be able to take them off. I know it’s strange, but hopefully you’ll excuse this small eccentricity? ”
“Of course, you take your time”
The air filled with the small words of people that are generations and worlds apart. The weather, the traffic, a shared hobby of knitting and questions about marriages and children. Her son was on his honeymoon in the Bahamas, had she ever been there? No she hadn’t but she heard it was a wonderful place to spend a honeymoon. What type of wedding had they had? This subject filled the space with the joy of a proud mother watching her son at the altar and all the work that went into making it such a perfect event. While she had done her research and had a tale to tell, Mary didn’t seem in any hurry to get down to the business of messages for the dead. I knew about the wedding. The younger son she spoke of was my half-brother, and we never had much in common but there was no way to predict how things would have been with everything that had happened between them. Yet I knew the reason I would never know the answers and that I was never going to be invited to a family event sat from me.
The kettle began to whistle.
“Let me get that!” I exclaimed and jumped up quickly, in exactly the helpful, polite way I should and poured hot water into the waiting cups, all the while keeping up chatter about dresses and floral arrangements. Yes, I loved orchids, they were so elegant. I carefully placed the hot cups in front of each of their places at the circular kitchen table that had one of those thick table clothes that was plastic on one side but slightly fuzzy on the underside. The pattern was a horrible collection of roses and foliage in shades of faded oranges and reds. I placed a small slice of pie on each plate Mary had left out and brought that over as well.
Mary took a tentative sip, her eyebrows rising in a small show of surprise.
“This is spicy!” she exclaimed
“Yes, it’s a chia tea made in a small shop I like to visit when I was in town. Do you like it?”
“It surprised me but yes, I do, thank you.”
I smiled and continued to blow on the surface of my own cup.
“I’m glad you like it! I wasn’t sure about the choice but it was a lucky risk. Wasn’t it nice how these things sometimes just worked out?”
The sedative I had slipped into her tea worked quickly in exactly the way it was meant to. It was a strong dose, in the liquid form, of the same type, meant to be in the empty bottle I would leave beside her later. I didn’t think it would be looked at too closely, these things happened with the elderly and recently widowed. I knew Mary had a history of depression and so it all made a perfectly tragic, neat type of sense, which suited my needs. I had been afraid she might completely pass out, but she just became groggy and limp, slumping back against her chair. She didn’t quite know what was going on, but I thought I saw unease in her eyes. The drugs made it almost impossible to work up any real emotional reaction but I think fear can always find a way to slip through.
I took off the leather gloves I wore to reveal latex beneath and began to clean up all signs of our little tea party. A pie on the counter would not be remarked upon. As she watched, unable to react, I told her who I was and that is when I knew with certainty she was afraid. I was a ghost from a long distant past, possibly one not thought of in many years.
I washed cups and asked ” Do you remember the corner under the stirs int he old house? You would lever me there for hours, until I learned to sleep upright. When I sat or slumped in exhaustion you had me kneel on rice,do you remember?”
I dried everything I washed and calmly listed, in detail, the abuses her son perpetrated upon me with her consent”
I told her that while she had tried to beat it out of me with that rod against my legs, I still walked upon my toes.
All of the little chores done that erased my visit, I came back tot he table
“Do you remember the little table and chair you had me sit at, while you, your son, my half brother and his father sat at the dinner table?”
I had not been worthy, good or clean enough to share a table with them, I knew because she had told me many times.
She struggled to talk, but I ignored her incoherent mumbling. She still couldn’t move very well but she tried too, succeeding only in a very ungraceful fall from her chair. Her head made a satisfying sound on the tile. It made me giggle.
I let her lie there, squirming, gurgling and trying to get away from this place she found herself where all of her power was stripped away and she was at the mercy of another’s hand. As I pulled the bio-hazard suit from the little pouch in my bag and put it on, her struggles became more pronounced.
I thought that I could smell her fear and the thought kept me smiling as I told her about how it felt to be denounced in front of a church congregation at the age of 7.
“In need of cleansing I think you said, tainted by the sin of my mother, unclean..had she said demon possessed? Or had I just added that part? Did she remember? My memory was always a little shaky on these things, but my therapist says that’s normal.”
She was wiggling away, like a pale corpulent maggot. I didn’t think she was going to answer me. Rude.
” You didn’t let me say goodbye to my mom, you didn’t let me see her when she was dying alone int hat terrible hospital by herself. I could get over the rest of the stuff you did to me, it wasn’t even as bad as some of the stuff that came before or went on after, but that one thing, I just couldn’t forgive. I thought I’d get over it, you know? I told myself that I would wait and if I couldn’t let it go, I’d come find you and make things right.”
I went to her as she tried to get away. I petted her grey course hair then forced her jaws open with my fingers and closed her nose as I poured more of the concentrated liquid into her mouth. I kept her mouth closed as she was forced to swallow. I held her gently until she went limp in my arms. Old and frail, she was a shadow of the monster in my head but this was a loose end that had to be cut.
When she came too, Mary was in the tub with tepid water around her. I had been sitting on the toilet lid beside her, killing time with the crossword at the back of the New York magazine I had brought along in my bag. I needed her to be awake for this part.
Tears poured down her wrinkled cheeks as we made the cuts together, our hands intimately entwined as her flesh parted beneath one of the broken mirror pieces I had retrieved for her use. I felt tears flowing down my own face but I couldn’t say how much of each drop was of pain, relief or joy.
I left the small neat house, as neat as I had come to it, other than the quickly cooling body of the only one still left from the years when I was the weak, powerless one. In the cold windy day, I was just another thickly bundled, anonymous human, briskly getting to where they needed to go.
I realized I ahd made no plan for what I would do after, my tasks were complete. Across the street or down the block? I didn’t look back as I laughed into the wind, the sound and a cloud of foggy breath engulfing me as I kept moving. I didn’t know where I was headed, my body felt empty and light, as if I might blow away before I could make a decision.
I would just keep moving forward, there was no reason to look back anymore.