Night enters, rudely awakening fear while light peeks tentatively from other rooms. Fate reaches for the one match still housed within its book, lone survivor of smoking years. Phosphorus flowers into flame, snatching at the candle. Vanquished, darkness slinks away.
Kevin read the sign above the door again.
Madame Veronica: Clairvoyant and Psychic Healer.
It had been a year since the accident. His memory of that night was still sketchy. They’d been at the Andersons’ for dinner. Lars had been overgenerous with the wine, as usual. He’d argued with Gillian over who should drive home. Gillian had driven. No, he had. There was a deer. A tree. The hospital.
Crimson splatters line the walls, crime scene tape girds the door. Shattered glass, a single lily, and pristine white shagpile carpet grace the floors.
He lifts the needle, abruptly silencing the Shostakovitch piano concerto.
Tipping back his trilby, he scratches his head. Who still uses a record player?
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The sun peeked over the horizon, ensuring everything was as he’d left it. The earth, clearly pleased to see his return, snaked long wispy tendrils of steam upwards, celebratory streamers heralding the return of her luminous lover.
Fred yawned and stretched, reaching his fingers high into the early dawn sky. Night shifts were starting to take their toll on him. He ran a hand over the soft furry down that now covered the bulk of his body. He’d need to shave soon.
The blue and white pot glares disapprovingly at me from the mantle. In death, in ashes, as in life, my mother has the power to make me feel inadequate.
“Bury me in the ground. I don’t want to be burnt to a crisp and sit cooped up in some urn on a mantlepiece!” She imagined herself marching steadfastly into the afterlife, intact and all limbs where they should be, hatted, gloved, and handbag slung over her left elbow. She’s a fearsome woman, my mother. Is. Was. No, is. She’s still giving somebody gyp for not behaving the way she thinks they ought to. Right now, that somebody feels like me.
‘And today’s sermon shall be on the value of chastity.’ The bitter thought swirls and sticks as I sit, eyes downcast, a penitent look fixed firmly on my face, listening to Mum berate me for missing my curfew, yet again. Why doesn’t she get it? Her rules were fine when I was a kid, but I’m almost an adult now, it’s time she came to terms with that.
The fans circle, humming sonorously, making no difference in the dense hot air. My aunt and I sit surrounded by cascades of colourful, gold-embroidered silk as the small birdlike dark skinned shop assistant claws more saris from the shelves, fanning them out to their full glory, allowing the light to catch the subtle changes in hue, the double colours, the intricate embroidery. Motherless since the age of three, Amayi, unmarried, unencumbered by children of her own, has always been my substitute mother.
The old woman sits, stooped and wizened on a small wooden stool at the front door of her cottage. The skin at her throat sags and droops, as if two sizes too big for her. Her gnarled fingers trace shapes in the air and her lips move in their silent dance, forming words that will never be spoken. She beckons to me, chuckling knowingly, and my feet hasten to her command.
She wakes with a start. The air feels stale and cold. In the darkness, she fumbles for the bedside lamp, and jostles the bottle of whisky that stands vigil. Night must have fallen while she was asleep. The gentle click of the lamp reverberates in the silent room, but there’s no light. The power must be out. The sheets are crumpled from her thrashing body, a glass lies shattered on the floor, an empty pill bottle, the lone warrior, in the midst of the shards.
I am ancient now. Not so old as the land, but older by millennia than the fragile flesh that surrounds me. I have watched them from their fledgling youth, teetering on uncertain feet, coming to me for sustenance, never daring to venture far.