Joan Sterling – (an excerpt from the novel Twelve)

He wasn’t home. Why isn’t he home? The white gloves are hot but she knows not to take them off. She remembers. That she remembers. The house is dark and it looks like he’s standing in the living room. Paul!  She turned on the light and she shrieked. It took her far too long to comprehend that was not her husband. It was a mirror with a dusty quilt over it. It was her father’s old full-length mirror. The one they’d brought over from England during the war. Her hands were shaking. She noticed it more and more. She looked at the gloves. She looked at the mirror. Her hands were sweating and they felt somehow smaller and more loose or something like that. She couldn’t really explain it any better than that. It made her feel afraid-something about the covered mirror, something about her clammy white gloves-she flicked the light off quickly. Matthew? Where’s Matthew? She hobbled sorely to her youngest son’s room but he wasn’t there. The room was empty. Someone had taken him. Where were the others? Paul? Why wasn’t he home yet? The square patches of slightly more lustrous paint on Matt’s walls shouted to her an awareness of their existence and the proof that they had once been protected from fading by posters of Matt’s favorite athletes and rock music band. She looked at one of the now vacant patches of Matt’s wall and in her mind she saw a medieval knight with armor so black it sucked in the light that floated around it. The light swirled in what seemed to be half-time as it was funneled into a dark metal pentagram emblazoned demonically on the knights helm, flanked between two gnarled horns. In the service of evil! Where’s Matt? The dark anxiety returned and she slammed the door. She stood there a moment, feeling only faintly protected by the solitary pocket of light that marked the divide between herself and the blackness that enclosed the living room with its ominous aura. She felt her hair stand on end. Her hands were still sweaty but her skin felt tighter somehow and that taught feeling made them feel even smaller. She stared again at the gloves but now she no longer remembered their original purpose. Or maybe she didn’t have hands. Maybe the gloves are to keep the pieces of her hands from crumbling apart into a disconnected mound of frail and yellowing bones, the weight of which were not even enough to press aside the dusty and often crusty fibers of the brown, white, and orange shag carpet. Paul himself had wanted that carpet. She always thought it was ugly. He did it anyway. She looked down at the space by her feet where the imagined pile of her brittle, dismantled hands lay and her gaze slid over to her shoes. She hadn’t always worn shoes in the house. She would get after the kids for doing it but she knew there was some reason she always wore shoes. Only bones? She realized that her shoes, like her gloves, might be what maintains the form, the illusion of having feet. What she thought were feet would collapse into disordered bits beside their companions from the white gloves. She was wearing a modest, long sleeved blouse that was tucked into the white gloves. Her long dress hid the rest as the trim of the dress almost kissed the thick tubes of shag carpeting underneath. I’m a skeleton! She needed to see herself. It couldn’t be true. No! There was no mirror in the bathroom in the hallway, although there was the telltale patch of uniquely vibrant color that expressed its presence in some past time before it had been taken. By who? She went to their bedroom and was frustrated by the effort that it took to move about the house. She felt frail and unbalanced and for a reason the letter r. That thought made her stop for a long white at the threshold of her bedroom, blinking silently into the darkness. She moved past their bed and flicked on the bathroom light. It stung her eyes and she shut them tightly. The space on the wall above the sink where she knew the mirror was supposed to be mocked her instead with that same section of brightness surrounded on all sides by a dull, more aged, and yellowed shade of itself. She went to the living room again and tried to call Paul at work. He should have been home for hours. Where are the children? Did Paul have the children? Maybe they were all over at Marjorie’s house. Yes! Maybe that was it. Maybe they had some kind of dinner plans and she was late. It wasn’t like her to be late. Or to forget. Although, things were disappearing and things were changing . . .  But she always hosted the best parties. She was always on top of her social graces. Whenever she had guests over she would always send them a card of gratitude in the mail. It was proper etiquette. She was always proper and a proper English woman is expected to be on top of such things as her memory. When she called Marjorie’s number a woman who claimed to be Beth answered. Something was wrong. Something was terribly terribly wrong! She knew that Beth was only fifteen, the same age as Matt. The imposter who claimed to be Beth sounded far more mature than that. The liar who called herself Beth began to fake tears when she asked to speak with Marjorie. The liar tried to convince her that Marjorie had been dead for years. She immediately hung up. She was about to try to dial Paul again when her whole body shuddered, jerkily as a faint light from outside began to slide across the carpet toward her. A pillar of distant light let her know that the monsters were back. She realized her blinds were open. She usually kept them closed. Why are they open? The blinds usually kept the monsters outside. She could hear them growling with their mechanically vibrating voices. They made what sounded to her like a collection of various noises superimposed over one another; part vibration, part hum, and the third she could never really pin down but it sounded like someone with a handful of dirt was sliding their hands across one another, back and forth. She didn’t think they had vocal chords. She often wondered how it was these monsters were able to communicate. This time there was only one lone monster. She could hear it getting louder as it neared. At night, bright pillars of white light signaled the presence of the monsters that followed behind it. Inside the light were demons. They forced their way into their home through the casement windows of the living room. The light allowed the shadow beings to enter their house. They jerked and flickered around maliciously from one side of the room to the other until she was once again standing in the darkness of the living room. Aside from the constant twitching of her hands, or maybe just her bones, inside the white gloves, the paralysis held her even after the demons had faded back into the dimming pillars of light they had bled out from. As the paralysis drained, she still remained standing mutely holding the telephone as it beeped at her. She was fixed on the dimming red lights that glowed behind the monster as it passed and eventually disappeared completely in the darkness of the night.

 

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