The Chrysanthemum Cradle

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“I’m on my way home right now,” I drove with one hand on the steering wheel, phone in my ear.
“Okay, well, then I’ll come home for lunch.” He said over the telephone. A supportive tone rang in Alex’s voice. I hated it.
“No, no, it’s really okay.” A bird hopped on the side of the road; its companion laying lifeless to the asphalt. The chirping was almost cheerful. How nice that the dead were relieved.
“Lydia, I’m just as excited as you are for this.”
I pressed my lips together. “Okay.”
“I’ll see you soon,” he said.
“Great.”
I took a sharp turn into our driveway. The box, double bagged, lay in my passenger seat. I carried it, away from my body, by the plastic. I unlocked the door and spread the mail over the kitchen counter. Bills, bills, magazine, Alice Montgomery. Montgomery in the trash.
I left and with reluctance grabbed again at the plastic, carrying it with me to the bathroom. My eyes ballooned rather lifelessly, beyond the skin pulled tight and lubricated. I was one of those many women who adhere to Estée Lauder. Never matched the eyes. A Post-It clung to the streaked mirror glass. “This is a new start!!!!!!!!” it read. As many exclamation marks for as many times Alex had actually felt guilty. How sweet.
I stared at the masked box that littered my countertop and finally reached before me. Three loud knocks shook the house. I jerked my hand away as the thin plastic fluttered towards me.
“Hello?” I called and peeked from the bathroom door. I inched it painfully. Carefully my feet skidded across the tile, into the living room. After relaxing my eyes to the distant and uninviting door, I decided I might ignore it. The knocking erupted, even louder than before, this time incessantly. “Alex!” I called. The nerve.
I paused, feet glued to the faux hardwood floor. The knocking was coming from the bathroom. I ran towards it. The mirror convulsed and the box landed on the bathroom floor. Stop!” I cried, clutching the roots of my hair. My face burned red. I threw my hands to the mirror. As my palm slapped the surface, a waxy black hand grabbed my forearm. Panicking, I tried to jerk backwards. My feed skid without traction. Another hand escaped, pulling me closer. They had sharp edges, going without nails.  I flailed my free hand, digging it into the creases of the vanity, in any effort not to die. My feet could no longer catch the ground as the grip seized me and pulled me scrambling from safety. My captor began to drag slower. I avoided the sight of the arms and looked into the reflection as I grew closer. My eyes closed for the impact. It was malleable as I passed through.
An awful ringing pounded to my ears. I pressed my hands to my head but was no use.
Miss? Miss, oh Miss, I apologize.
The hurried voice patted foggy in between my ears. The sound of feet patting along flowers to soften the beat.
    Oh, tell me you can hear me. You
    really should be able to hear me.
    Are you alright?
I scrambled to my feet and searched for the voice’s owner. She laughed at me. But it was just darkness I felt around me like sticky summer rain. The ground was rugged like concrete. I sunk to my heels, where my captor placed me. My arms outstretched and… a wall. I exhaled pleasantly and rested my head to the wall. Thank God there was a wall.
    Tell me you’re alright. Did they
    pull too hard? I tried to tell them
    not to do that. They always do.
    Always so violent. An absolutely
    unnecessary way to get to people.
    When it’s me, I say, I’ll go down
    with a bottle of comfort.
“Get away from me!” I warned.
    Oh, there’s no need to shout. I’m
    Not really there. Well I’m here but
    not entirely.
“Leave! Leave!”
    Now that’s just rude, my dear. I told
    you I’m not here. I promise I will
    not touch you. Spirits don’t touch.
I believe you might understand that?
    Good. This is the best of news.
Now I thought maybe I could
    show you around. Oh how rude of
    me! My name is Miss Phym.
The voice sounded oddly electronic and aged. I looked around again. Maybe I could ask Miss Phym to turn the lights on? A warm trickle ran down my leg.
    Don’t let them smell you, dear. Oh,
    don’t worry. I was told not to worry
    you. I don’t want to worry you.
My arm was aching too.
    Follow me.
The floor began to glow a soft green, revealing an odd empty hallway. There were long panels of glass breaking up the wall to my left; that was where I’d come from.
    There are several phases.
Miss Phym carried over the intercom further down the hall. I followed it, dragging one leg behind me with a crippled man’s limp. Just a walk back to the bedroom, then you can lay down. You’re almost there. I watched them graze the green glow of the concrete. It illuminated the veins like sickly weeds.
    You’ll see. It’ll all be ok.
Short walk to the bathroom and it’ll all be ok. Keep blinking. If you keep blinking you won’t have to dream anymore. I kept my head down and skidded across the green glow. I tried to blink. Down the hallway was just a walk to the bathroom. A walk to the bathroom and then to the bed where I’d lay down on the bed and drink a bourbon in high hopes of the negative sign on the piss stick.
But there was a man in the hallway. Always a man in the way. And he slunk down against the wall and let his accordion arms splay out like children’s toys. His briar fingers scratched along the side of his thigh just to watch the black blood on the black skin while he waited for the real victim to sputter closer because curiosity killed the cat. Is he really there?
And he was gone. So the cold shiver tingled in my spine, reaching its way up knob by knob to sink in all the crescents and call it home. I had to look behind. I meant to look behind but I couldn’t. The knobs were secure and so I was walking. There was no start and there was no end.
I snapped at the sound of Miss Phym’s voice clearing. I stared into the black panels and waited for the mirror to illuminate before me.
The shrill girlish voice returned.
    Keep going. This one isn’t yours.
    You really shouldn’t waste too
    much time. Phase one is coming
    for you. Yes, phase one I believe.
    Don’t focus on them. I try not to
    look. Foolish to look at all, really.
The silence stung worse than the voice. Bruising on my wrists gathered like clouds. I knew it was real but maybe if I just blinked… I was blinking and I could feel the tossing and the turning on the bathroom floor that was weighed down with shower noise. My neck stretched towards the higher power that you were always told was very forgiving. Or at least sympathetic. My pink eyes squirmed and rolled in their swollen sockets and so I stopped. My world became black again but the bathmat still stuck to the perspiration of my skin. The intercom was turned up two notches too loud. Just two.
    Try not to focus on them!
“Let me out of here!”
The intercom halted. The tape started to spin with a screeching sound while to bolts ground together. My feet stumbled again and the panel became clear. One step was all it took. You’re here.
    This is very important. You’ll
    regret it if you do. Yes, yes,
    very important. I hope you’re
    ready to play.

She’s ready.
    Phase one please.
I looked through the panels, the window to the bathroom. There was a bang against the door, rattling of the knob, precarious laughter and unintelligible words. The door swung open to two figures encased in one another’s arms. She looked straight at me through the mirror, pale blonde hair ruffled by that of the man. I didn’t know who he was; I didn’t know who she was with the odd twinge of familiarity. She gave me a skeptical smile and climbing onto the counter and opening her robe to reveal herself. He looked past her. I looked away.
He came to her and with soft adoration, “Lydia.”
I stared at the familiar woman.
    Look familiar?
“That is not me. That is not my husband.”
    Ah, but you did.
“No.”
    An eye for an eye, my dear.
“Lydia.” He said again with a flat annoyed voice. She looked to me again. He flickered to the dark figure, encased in a matte suit of darkness. His features melted into one. “Lydia!” The mouthless figure burst in rage.
    We all make mistakes.
She was grabbed with the prickly black fingers. “Lydia! Lydia! Lydia!” He shook her.
I turned and began to start for the hallway. I was screaming. Or were my lips twitching against the bathroom floor?
With a harsh blow I felt green glow. I scrambled and looked but there was no figure. And the lights flickered out.
    Don’t let them see the soft
    spot. It’s really time to go.
The inky blackness made movement impossible. What was before me? Did the panels keep going? And what about those people with the oval mirrors and the small mirrors? Where were those mirrors? They’re all the same here. 
    Phase two.
A glaze formed over my eyelids, forbidding me to see. The sound of lights shutting on sputtered neatly and individually for each panel. The room started to spin as I pressed my palms to the ground, as if somehow this simple action could protect me from them. The glaze was too weak and there was a girl looking into the mirror, not at herself, but my stomach. I tried to cover myself, somehow embarrassed but I was chained to my stiff shoulders. A spider web of concrete.
“Honey,” My lips moved before I had control. A hand swept over my lips. My voice was outside of the door.
Does she know? Does she know you slept with the devil?
A prickling hand touched me, mocking my inability to move, to be heard. Her pleading eyes let me know she was mine. I tried again to touch my stomach, but there were no forms of comfort to be achieved. She dragged a razor against her paper skin, so soft. Her lips outstretched to the distraction of pain. As did mine.
    See? Children do not fix. They
    feel all the mistakes you’ve made
    and somehow, that only makes
    it worse. Useless entirely.
When she looked like she was done, it continued. I fell to the floor without green and looked back up at the mirror through the comfort of bathroom tile. Condensation crept up and danced around the ceiling, fogging the portal to the green.
Shower music tortured me on the floor. But I could blink now, past the sobbing and the slaps against the linoleum. A hideously worse noise than pounding water.
The black figure was before me. He held the piece of juxtaposition against his cloudy black skin. The mirror glass shard in his prickly fingers caught an enticing glimmer of light.
“Thank you,” I took it upon myself and wedged it deep between my legs.
So then the sobbing stopped and it was no longer worse.
Miss Phym, as imagined, a withered woman of grey hair and odd speech laid a bundle of chrysanthemums to the crimson tile.
I lost the ability to blink again, locked in direct view of Miss Phym.
    Phase three is complete.
 






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