In and out of the darkness, she slithers and skips.
I can’t keep up. My flesh weighs me down. I slosh and churn with blood and bile and something black and infinite that I can’t give a name to. It runs its fingers beneath my skin; a thin coating of decay to hold all the shapeless wetness in, and I don’t mind.
It’s wearing her face. Red eyes flicker in the milk white sockets with the peeling edges and unblinking shaved meat lids and I think of her trapped inside of me all those years ago as it runs its tongue along the inside of my skull.
They say birth begins the process of dying, that we are born rotting, but what begins when we die?
Something vast and unknowable.
My daughter knows, but she doesn’t tell.
I don’t mind. She came back.
For me. Only for me.
Back through the veil, back through the gates, back through whatever treacherous portal separates her world from this, back and that is all that matters.
She came back with some of the pieces missing, but I don’t mind.
She fills up the holes with dragonfly bones. Her teeth are sharper now; she smiles through a mouthful of broken wings. Her mouth is damp with colorless blood.
I try to smile back, but it’s not so easy now.
She doesn’t mind.
She disappears into the other world, and I am alone, slowly rotting in the middle of the night.
I keep walking.
I don’t mind.
I come to the water’s edge, still alone and patiently waiting, and I watch the fish.
Watch them destroy the peaceful calm of the water’s surface, careless as they leap into breathless space after the dragonflies that hover above them in halting, stuttering flight.
I want to kneel in the dirt, get my knees wet, put my hands in the water and feel my flesh go cold numb until I can’t breathe from it.
I want to open my mouth and vomit, thick stream of red-black sludge, purge myself of the guilt and the ache and the gray-blue sadness, that bitter glittering poison that writhes within me, until it’s all gone and finally, finally I am empty, a hollow shell of skin, and I can be rebuilt.
I want to grab the first fish naive enough to come near me and tear it apart. Slice it open with my nails and pull out its little frantic heart.
I want to feel it fluttering against my fingertips as she opens her quivering, greedy mouth to accept it.
The thought of it makes me sick.
I stand at the water’s edge, still alone and patiently waiting, and I watch the fish.
Inside, I am white hot and screaming.
The girl in the park watches me as I walk past.
Every night, she watches me.
She doesn’t wave, or say hello. She doesn’t move at all.
But she watches.
I wonder what she sees.
I try to lift my arm to wave, but it hangs at my side, heavy and dead. Only my fingers remain, curling themselves into a tight fist.
The girl in the park watches, her face a flaccid unreadable mask. She might be smiling. She might be growling.
She might not be there at all.
As if though somehow sensing my question, even in the vague, unspoken dream mist of its infancy, she lifts her hand for the first time and touches two fingers to the right side of her brow. A slow, sarcastic salute.
Lucy pauses at the edge of a glistening puddle of moon beam and smiles.
Her mouth is filled with teeth, much more than there used to be. So much sharper than I remembered. I can barely see the black slash of her tongue behind them.
“Last night she fed me a koi from her mother’s pond,” she says, and turns away. She skips and stumbles and hobbles, and my heart both breaks and swells at the grotesque display.
The girl in the park watches, watches and watches and watches, and then, finally, looks away.
She meets me at the park the next afternoon, though she is no longer interested in the play equipment, or other children.
“I’m tired,” she says, swinging her feet slowly beneath the bench. “I’m hungry.”
I feel such intense relief at these simple and familiar requests that I fear I might fall off my seat. “What would you like to eat?”
She looks up at the clouds. “Nothing you would give me.”
The shadows sway around us, and Lucy shifts uncomfortably beside me.
“Ice cream?” I try for conspiratorial. My voice breaks a little, unable to bend around the words I know she doesn’t want to hear. “Doughnuts?”
“There’s nothing to eat over there,” she complains. She doesn’t acknowledge my offers. “I’m hungry all the time.”
“Please, let me at least try.”
She shifts her gaze from the clouds to the water, shakes her head and sighs wearily. “I don’t want food.”
John is watching TV.
John never turns it off.
I don’t watch, but I dream about it sometimes, when sleep drags me limp and numb onto the cold, shell-smothered shores of a third world where even Lucy doesn’t venture.
The third world is small. There is nowhere to go but the circle. There I sit and watch TV.
There are no movies, no sitcoms, no documentaries.
It only plays the secret channels.
John doesn’t turn around when I come in.
“Your brother called,” he says through the back of his head. “He got full custody of the girls.”
He changes the channel. Changes the channel. Changes the channel.
“They’re moving to Willow Creek, just as soon as they can find a rental.”
He changes the channel.
“Won’t that be nice? We’ll get to see the girls more.” He waits for a response, but I am thinking about the dream TV, and how it changes the channels for me. “He even said that Angela might be interested in going on those walks with you. She used to do the same thing back in Pleasantview. Remember?”
The TV starts screaming. It reminds me of the secret channels.
“I think it would be good for you, Jen. Then you won’t always be alone.”
The TV starts crying, but it isn’t like the dream TV, with its secret channels, with its dirty screen and sad, frightening images.
It isn’t like John’s TV. The TV in the third world has a long, fleshy cord that it plugs into me.
John doesn’t turn around when I leave the room.
He just changes the channel.
Changes the channel.
Changes the channel.