[happy halloween]

In honor of today's holiday, I wanted to share a little something I wrote over the summer.

Have a spooky day everyone!!

Read the story after the jump-->

She kicked her shoes off and rubbed her feet the instant she came in the door. We were both quiet, having been jarred from a late afternoon nap by the sound of the key in the door.

            “Oh guys I just don’t know how some women do it. This whole being a professional is exhausting. And these women? They’re just so fit and always on point at work.” She sank to the floor and rubbed her feet. Her face was pinched and drawn. Not understanding what she meant, we went about our normal routine. We welcomed her home, telling her about our day. As usual, she ignored us and went straight toward the sofa. The TV clicked on and we were suddenly in competition with the noise it made.

            “Hush. Mommy’s trying to watch television.” She curled up in the fetal position on a white leather couch. She would stay like that for hours some days. Other days she’d be gone for hours, only to resume her position on the sofa the instant she came home. Images flashed across the television screen as she flipped through the channels. It took her a few minutes to find the right channel but finally she settled on what appeared to be a crime drama. We finally admitted defeat, turning instead to preen our feathers and take a short nap.

            Her dinner that night was a bag of tortilla chips and salsa. She had debated, flitting back and forth between the fridge and the pantry, pulling each open in turn and then shutting it. She’d shake her head with disgust as she shut each and return to the other to repeat the cycle. After a few rounds of this she settled on the chips & salsa. This was not an unusual dinner for her. When she first brought us home she used to cook elaborate, wonderful smelling meals. Sometimes she’d be in the kitchen for two or three hours, slicing and dicing and filling the small one bedroom apartment with intoxicating aromas. We loved to watch her cook, dancing around the kitchen and singing to herself.  She usually had her phone tucked into a pocket or her waistband, headphones snaking into her ears and occasionally tangling around a drawer pull or pot handle.  Her dancing lacked rhythm and her singing was abysmal but in those moments she seemed so free. She really was beautiful when she danced like that.  More importantly, she was alive.

            After polishing off the chips and salsa, she eventually turned off the TV and the floor lamp on the corner. It was bedtime. We clambered up onto our perches, awaiting the green blanket that would drape our cage. She would tuck us in before heading back into her bedroom to watch more TV on her computer and probably eat more chips or cookies. Sometimes she would disappear with a full pint of ice cream and return with only an empty container.

            We could tell she was happy before she even uncovered our cage the next morning. It was mostly the flourish with which she pulled off the green blanket that betrayed her exuberance. There was something else too: somehow there seemed to be another presence in the apartment. It almost seemed like there was something sitting on her shoulder. This sort of pinkish red glow seemed to emanate from her.  We couldn’t see or smell or hear anything out of the ordinary though. It must have been our overactive imaginations. Life in a cage when you were meant to live in a jungle can be quite dull.

            “This is it guys. Today I’m going to make a change. I’m going to lose this weight,” she lifted her shirt, pinched a roll of fat and wiggled it at us.“I can do this. I have to. I really don’t have a choice.” She started the coffee. While it brewed she grabbed a trash bag from under the sink and got to work, talking to us the whole while.

            Her excitement was palpable but that wasn’t why we were so desperately trying to get her attention. We shrieked, flapping our wings and throwing ourselves from our perch to the front of the cage and back again. There was something maniacal about her. She scared the hell out of us. And that eerie presence seemed to be growing, taking form there on her left shoulder. It was less pink and more red now.

            “Guys I’m just so tired. I’m tired of being alone. I’m tired of being ugly. I want to fall in love, to be beautiful and desirable. I want to live for a long time. I want people to look at me and think, ‘I wish I had what she had.’ I’ve been hiding for so long. But I feel like I’ve finally figured out a way to get what I want. And this time I know it’s going to work. I just know it.” As she spoke, the red glow pulsed brightly as if in approval of this new life direction.

            She started with the fridge. She pulled item after item out of the big eggshell white fridge, dumping them into the trash bag clutched in her left hand. She was singing as she cleaned out the fridge, wiggling her hips and bouncing oddly around.Cleaning out the fridge was a normal activity for her, so we couldn’t understand quite why this time she would be quite so excited about the process. Normally when she did this she would inspect the item after pulling it out of the fridge, reading the label, checking the expiration date or looking for mold. This time she didn’t look. She didn’t read, or check or look. She just removed item after item and placed each and every one in that big black trash bag.From our cage we could see in the fridge. In fact, we could see everything in that apartment but the bathroom and the bedroom but only when she shut the bedroom door. The rest of the time we could see in there too. All that was left in the fridge by the time she was done was one lone piece of fruit. It was an apple, shiny and red, sitting in the crisper all by itself. Something was not right. The presence on her shoulder was growing. At the same time, it was disappearing. It wasn’t really external anymore but seemed to be digging into her shoulder, through the flesh and bone and gristle and down into her very soul, the very essence of our mother.

            She moved on to the freezer, throwing away bag after bag of frozen food. Only the ice trays survived the freezer cleaning. The bag was full, and apparently quite heavy. “OOF!” she said as she tried to lift the bag. After a few tries, she stood there staring at the bag and giggling. She shook her head, hands on her hips and left foot jiggling.  Eventually, she half-dragged the bag out of the apartment door. A few minutes later she burst back into the apartment without the bag.

            She repeated the process in the pantry with a second bag. The coffee filters, tea bags, and a box of crackers were the only things left in the pantry. Soon that bag was gone too, taken out of the apartment and out of our view. She sat down with a cup of coffee, looking pleased with herself. The TV clicked on and she watched, rolling the mug back and forth between her hands. The mug was one she’d had for years, white with her college logo on two sides. She drank the coffee slowly, as if savoring every sip, pausing to take long inhales of the steam coming out of the top of the mug.

            After an hour she popped up from the sofa. “I think I shall go down to the Inner Harbor today!” She all but danced into the bathroom. We couldn’t see her when she went in there but we could hear her making noise as she showered.  She sang the entire time, as she showered, as she dried her hair, as she applied her makeup. An hour later she bounded out the apartment door, camera in hand.

“Bye guys!! Be good birds while I’m gone!”

And with that, we were left to our own devices again.

            When she returned later something was not right. During her absence we had almost forgotten about the presence and the fear we had felt earlier that morning. But when she came back, the presence came with her. It was like she was pulsing with this red light. It emanated from her, yet it wasn’t her. She seemed tired, angry. She pulled open the fridge, the freezer and the pantry. Whimpering she pulled at the shirt over her stomach and lifted the cracker box from the shelf. “No. No,” she said, returning the box to the pantry. She went back to the sofa.

            That night she went to sleep early. Consequently, we went to sleep early too.  The next few days would follow a similar pattern. She would rise, waken us, have a cup of coffee, shower and leave. When she came home she’d eat a cracker, slowly nibbling on it as she watched TV. Bedtime consistently came earlier. She hardly spoke.

            All the while that red glow grew stronger. It slowly consumed her and radiated hatred throughout the apartment. It traveled with her, whatever that presence was. It left when she left and returned when she returned. We hated it.

            Within a few weeks her clothes hung loosely from her frame. There wasn’tas much of her as before. It wasn’t just a physical decrease. She was quiet, withdrawn, sullen. She never put her headphones in and danced anymore. She spent hours scrubbing every surface in the apartment. This cleaning was different though. In the past cleaning had been a joyous affair; she would dance and sing and we would dance and sing with her. Cleaning was angrier now. She often cried when she cleaned now.

            One day she went into her bedroom with empty trash bags and emerged with them full.  She took the bags with her and disappeared for hours. When she finally came back she had different bags. These were new bags, not trash bags. She pulled out item after item of clothing, spinning around and showing us her new acquisitions. This was the mother we knew, we loved. She showed each and every item to us.
            “I just love the color on this one. And oh my goodness the beading on this skirt is amazing. I mean, I know I can’t afford it but I can’t exactly run around wearing clothes that are a size too big, now can I? These are a 10, guys! A 10! Who would’ve thought I would ever be a 10?! Maybe I can do this. Maybe this was all worthwhile after all.” Her fingers stroked one of the new clothing items, a turquoise blue dress. The way she looked at that dress, you would have thought it was her savior. There was love in her eyes. She used to look at us like that, all full of pride and love and joy, like nothing else in the whole world mattered but us.  As she gazed at the clothes, the red glow surrounding her grew stronger, pulsing now instead of just the steady glow we were used to. She shook her head and the dreamyspell was broken. The clothes were scooped bag into their bags and whisked back into the bedroom. She hummed softly as she put them away.

            A month later she brought a man back to the apartment with her. She’d never brought one back before.  She talked to her friends on the phone about wanting a boyfriend, wanting to fall in love. But she’d never actually gone on any dates or taken any steps to meet someone. She sat on the sofa with him. They talked and the TV hummed softly in the background. Eventually the talking stopped and the petting began. They kissed passionately, growing more and more needy with each kiss, each touch of the other’s hand. Eventually she pulled him to his feet and led him into her bedroom.She glanced back at us and shut the door behind them. Even though we couldn’t see, we could still hear through the closed door.

The next morning he was still there. He left before breakfast though and the red glow grew stronger. Her left foot was gone, replaced by only a glowing red shape, somewhat akin to a human foot.The boy only came over a few more times. There was another one after that but he never stayed the night. Several more came and went.  None of them stayed long. They were interchangeable, these boys. Each one looked similar to the last. Each one said thanks baby before he left her.  Each one left before breakfast. After a while she stopped closing the door when they went in there. We wished she would close it like she used to.

            With each passing day she woke up smaller than the day before and quieter too.  She rarely opened the blinds, rarely spoke to us. We wondered if she’d noticed that we’d stopped talking to her. There was no point. She wouldn’t listen.  We had tried, chattering excitedly whenever she neared the fridge or pantry. One day she threw a cup at us when we did this. From that day on we made no noise.

            But as we diminished in her life, the red glow grew. It traveled from her left foot, engulfing and replacing her entire left leg. Then the right leg became nothing more than a red glow. Her right arm went next, then her torso. Soon she was nothing more than a red glow, a left arm and hand and a head.

            Eventually she stopped going out altogether. She never called anyone, never got dressed, never put on makeup. The woman we loved was gone and in her place was something gaunt and ugly. We hated this walking skeleton we lived with but she kept us fed so we didn’t complain. Her left arm soon disappeared into a red glow too.

            One day, things were different. One day, when only her head was left, she spoke to that red glow. She told it to leave, to go away and never come near her again. She said she regretted making this decision, this agreement. She would take being fat and ugly and alone over this any day. She didn’t recognize herself anymore she said. And not in a good way she said. She cried and screamed. She threw things, broke dishes, punched walls and swore mightily. The harder she fought, the more of her returned and the more the red glow shrank. Eventually it was only her left foot that was consumed by the red glow. She collapsed into bed that night, exhausted from the effort of it all.

            The next day she awoke and left the apartment early. She returned shortly after with a cup of coffee from Starbucks and a pastry of sorts. It looked like a cinnamon scone—her favorite before the red glow came into our lives. She ate the scone, drank the coffee and left again. This time she was gone longer and came back with even more food: eggs and produce of every kind.

            “I’m doing this right from now on guys. I’m going to be healthy, not just skinny. I can do this. I can do this on my own.”  She started cooking again. She started singing again. So did we.

            But then one day it all changed. She came out of the bathroom sobbing.  She told us, at least we think she was talking to us, that it just wasn’t working. She’d skip lunch she said. The red glow spread from her left pinky toe, engulfing first her left foot and eventually her entire left leg. The glow grew and spread, consuming her completely this time. Well, almost completely. For a while all that was left of her was her right ear. She protested meekly, complaining that she didn’t want things to be like this. Ultimately she shrugged and concluded that there was no other way. The glow consumed her right ear. Family tried to intervene, tried to tell her that they were worried about her. Her mom came into town, begged and pleaded with her. But that ended in disaster. They fought, screaming until their voices were hoarse. Finally, her mom left. As she shut the front door, her mom told her that she loved her but that she couldn’t help her. This was a problem she had to fix herself.

            For day after that visit she didn’t leave her bedroom. She rarely stopped crying, except when she slept.

One day our mother came back, but only for an hour. Physically she was still the same skeleton she had been the day before.  She danced up to the cage, all excitement and enthusiasm.

“This is it guys. Today I’m going to make a change. I’m going to do this.” She held a knife in her left hand, dragged it down the inside of her left arm. “Down the river, not across the street.” She held up her bloody arm and smiled. We pruned our feathers, unalarmed by the whole proceeding. She did the same to the other arm, holding up two bloody arms.

“Oh guys…” She sighed and slumped to the floor beneath where we lived.  A deep laugh filled the apartment. It was an evil sound really. The red glow left her body and hovered in the space near the apartment door. All that was left was the shrunken frame of the woman we once called mother. But we never called her that anymore. We hadn’t called her that in a long time. Truth be told, we didn’t miss her as that glow finally faded completely.

In that instant we began to sing. 

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