Rough feel of the carpet against her legs. Grandma behind, hand on shoulder, gentle, ready to clench so tight at any movement too close to the red-gold flicker. Sound, color, shadows, warmth; uncomfortable heat, wishing for outside. Subtleties, nonverbal, interpersonal, flashing across and above and around her—too young. Smiling dimly at the shadowed face of Layla: beautiful, lithe, graceful, large. Will be like you, someday. A Woman. Ignoring Nurse standing just paces away—don’t like Nurse. Nurse is naptimes and lullabies and nothing grown, but here am I beside the fire, staying awake into the morning with sister, with Layla, like grown up—this night excites, Nurse should not ruin it.
Frail bones, papery skin, bleeding heart. She should not care anymore, why should she care anymore? The blood is freezing in her veins. Is this grief? Is it dying? Hips and eyes and a bladder like hers, every day feels like dying. And she had tried, she had tried to love that beautiful dark-eyed girl, to care for her, shadowed mirror-image of her mother—and what agony, now that she should not care, to learn that she always has. And the memories are rushing back, those recollections that cling to her like deadened autumn leaves, that will not fade until life itself has ceased—the screams, the sobs, the cruel male voice and hands—these memories are not her own, but perhaps she took them on, inherited this pain brighter than steel when she watched as her only daughter was lowered in the ground, threw a wedding ring into those ashes: no burning, no heat. Oh, Layla—could she blame her? Was it really so wrong?
Twitching mouth, sharp eyes darting across the room with keen, perplexing bite. This was insanity, the police should be called—oh, please, let them come and take the dark-eyed woman and wash that blood off of her hands and neck and breasts and return the world to bright sterile perfection as it had been only this morning. She took care of the little girl because the money was good, and should she just call the police herself, she was so far from sure. Is betrayal rooted in apathy, in love, or in loathing, and which of them had she started to feel? She looked at the dark-haired woman behind her and thought of what that woman had done, and as she turned towards the young one, the loved one, her own hand moved slowly, protectively, towards her.
All right, so maybe I meant it. So maybe two women dead is too much for one bloodline—maybe one pretty kitchen knife isn’t any less deliberate than that handsome fist coming down upon me again and again and fucking again, splitting my lip wide with the gleaming wedding band. Pain as bright as burnished gold. And fire burns and burns and then it’s gone—like him, like me—I thought I loved him, my god I really did—and you don’t know what it’s like with the fighting and the fucking and the burning and the dying and if you felt steel split flesh, that sensuous rush, that ecstasy as I cut away at him, at it, at everything I could no longer bear—you would understand. And that twitchy blonde bitch of a nurse, all caught up in her conscience—she wants to turn me in; I’ll turn her innards out if she tries. Two steps forward, fingers extended towards flame: Grandma can protect little Cassie from pain she shouldn’t have to feel, but I know agony, yes, and what of it? This fire will burn me clean. If not of the blood, then of bruises and of skin, and I can’t let them find me here I can’t, I can’t, I can’t—and my poor little sister alone now and what would my mother have said?