The waves cradled Her arms. The silver ring slips from one finger to the other. A sister looks on at Her sinking reflection with mismatched eyes, brown against the sinking blue of her cheek. She rows the boat ashore and skulks home, her dress wet from the moon-soaked river.
At the door, Kalu pulls off her shoes and sets them on the welcome mat. Not a creak wept through the old hacienda. The cool wood floor softened beneath her feet, tracing over the chipped floorboard beside her bed. She falls atop the pallid sheets. A heartbeat slowly fades like the pulsing currents outside her home.
Summers ago, they used to sleep in the same narra cot as Bai. Cool nights swept the scent of ylang-ylang leaves, cloudy remains dripped on the old metal roof as Bai would weave stories of her youth, a wrinkled hand holding a cigar. From the wandering Banig to the Kaperosa her granddaughter once read in a komik. All kinds of rituals and folklores satisfy the morbidly curious child. On her deathbed, she spoke one last story, one for Kalu to enact. Though Kalu missed her greatly, she would not tie Bai to a life she can no longer live on earth. Days had passed since she uncovered the last mirror.
Metallic rings shake the frame of her metal bed, unanswered. Routine plucks her body away from the damp sheets and towards the screeching phone downstairs. In the few steps she could take, Corvid eyes glanced at the invisible creature. Kalu pulls back from her descent and sprints to the bathroom. The call stops. The deep rumble of Father’s voice fills the air. Her father shouts for the woman whose shoes clack beside Kalu’s ear. A breath catches, replaced with the muffled irritation of a sunken name. Although the house could not bear an echo, the hum of their irritation carved into the walls.
A silk handkerchief marrs the paint on Mother’s eyes, a practiced tear smearing shadows on a sullen cheek. Kalu rushes to the tub and closes the curtain. A silver hand claws at the light switch, illuminating the damp grey of Kalu’s white dress, the lace torn and hanging like willow leaves. It took a few moments for Mother to return her face.
“Are you sure someone broke in, Dear? Everything important is still here,” her Mother’s tinny voice tightens.
Father mumbles underneath her cry.
“Oh, that’s nothing, Love, not even real sterling. We should have brought Lulu with us. Much too young to be left on her own now, still playing hide and seek without her to keep her distracted. Always so lost in the world, almost as if she owned it.”
Keys rattled into a now open door, followed by the deep grunt of a man unwilling to continue a conversation. The red slit on Mother’s face opened into a fluorescent smile to apply another layer of lipstick. Adding minutes for his impatience. Finished with the taunt, she leaves. Engines disturb the cicada air before fading across the bridge overlooking the river, the house still hollow. Unchanged.
Coldwater slips through her fingers. The morning light splits from her face to the mirror—Her face. A breath winces through Kalu’s nose while the warming faucet brings her to reality, needles pinching into her body from the cramped tub. If they looked at her, they would know. She grabs a towel and throws it over the cabinet mirror. Chlorine splashes from her lips, unable to drown the river from her mouth. They must be looking for someone else or reporting a mishap; Father often had a problem with the neighbours. She looks at the silver band. They would be suspects if she was lucky, the thought whispered and waned. All that remains of Bai was tied to Kalu. Their scheduled return slipped past her mind. For a few hours, she was an only child, the only child. Without Her, the title belongs to Kalu more than ever. But she would still be there. Same clothes, same face, same name— they shared the same first name; the second, a forgettable rhyme. She was Kalu before she was Kalu. Damp clothes clung to her body. It wrung the air from Kalu’s lungs. The matching set.
Inside their—her wardrobe, she tears Her collection of burial clothes. Cheap silk for the mirror opposite her bed— meant to make the room seem bigger. A hand-me-down velvet bag stuffed with polished silver spoons. Layers of tulle and lace for each wall and corner in this house of vanity. Kalu grimaced at each turn, followed by Her, confronted by Her, and, finally, buried by her. The days spent freeing Bai could have saved her the procession. What was once Hers would always be Hers, never in life or death would She allow Herself to depart.
The tremors in her palm twist the last room awake. Her face catches in a small frame among the facial cutlery before she could throw the final pile in her nescient anger. On the vanity, beneath her real self, stood Her. And Her Mother. And Her Father. All neatly cut into a family portrait.
Kalu gently covers the mirror with the last dress, black with a white stiff collar. Fragile vials and plastic tubs rolled to the floor as she struggled to conceal Her face. Silk refusing to stretch. Pools of almond perfume spike the air. Broken scotch still emanated from the soaked wooden floors of her bedroom. Both acrid. A letter falls to soak the scent. She looks up for the last time before pulling the curtain, her cheeks plump from the cold air breathing through her.
All things fell from the vanity. Father’s straight razor remained on the table, once used on Mother’s dyed curls. Father had never looked so alive assuaging Mother’s age. Before her parents could punish her, Kalu bends down to pick up the lotions, make-up, and hair products from the floor. Mother’s perfume was shattered beyond repair. The old family photograph drowned in the almond blue, their smiling faces refracting in the rain of broken glass. Kalu touches the letter. She traces the seal firmly attached to the face of the envelope. On the table was everything but her Mother’s favourite lipstick. The nearly soaked paper pills inside her pocket, her blackened name smearing against the fabric. Absentminded, cold metal touches her fingertips.
Brown eyes, black hair, pale lips. She counts each pore and follicle that did not belong to her, measuring the length of Her face along a silver edge. Cold. It was cold the day She was born alongside her. Why was it always so cold without Her? Again, again.
The sunlight glints into her eyes. A metal snap cuts through the cicada hum. Scissors and hair fall to the almond-soaked carpet. Kalu sweeps the dress aside for one last look at Her, one last look at a face free from all the fear stuck in the river. What once was Hers became mutilated. Became hers. She feels the side of her short hair, sliding her finger across her nape, the threaded fold of severed skin, her head lighter than before. Crossing a finger over her cheeks, she finds a small cut close to her eye. Could she not bear the sight of losing Her, Kalu thought. What did it matter if She was gone when they had the same child standing before them? A child lives in spite of and for their satisfaction, warped by their despair and enunciation—say Her name now and ponder if it was the right child they lost. The name was empty in Kalu’s tongue.
Tires crackled to a halt at the doorstep. The knot snaps inside Kalu’s stomach. She covers the mirror and keeps the razor inside the velvet bag, tossing it underneath their bed before she runs down.
On the couch, her mother opens a compact and smooths the wild faded tendrils of grey hair. Kalu’s practiced smile falters, unable to find herself in the silver glass except for the distance leaning away into Mother’s infinity. On the recliner, her father’s stare caught on the dead television screen, his face unwrinkled from the lotions now strewn across the vanity. Kalu enters to take her place next to Mother, the letter crinkling as she sat. Though Mother wept in the morning her eyes never changed. The cracked wooden frame to the living room captured the portrait of the Family.
Kalu’s grip tightened as she tried to speak, an apology reverberating back into herself. She had echoed the chant many times before. An empty pool fills her stiff hands.
“Now that’s all over with, what do you suppose we eat for dinner?” Mother asked the figure exempt from the mirror.
“Anything,” Father muttered, unable to move towards the remote next to his hand as he was busy spinning his deceased mother’s ring. His Corvid eyes blinked in the twinkling light.
“I suppose we still have the basil from the garden,” sighed Mother, “if her mint hasn’t infected it yet.”
Father grunted, staring at the dead reflection of himself. Sat there in the room amongst her living family, Kalu looked nowhere but at the grooves pressed into her palms, the almond scent clinging to her torn dress. Confrontation awaited her exit. The performance always came before the punishment. Waiting, simmering, building up to one penultimate snap. They had not noticed the scar on her neck nor the twinkle on her hand. Nothing had changed.
Caught upon the windowsill, the river sparkles differently beneath the midsummer sun. By now, the body would be gone, hopefully having sunk to the bottom or floated somewhere ashore. The sun dulls on the ring of her finger. The small band contained a sliver of her world in a smear of colours. All except for her.
She looks up to stare at the three photographs hung on the wall, one for each member. Separated. Isolated. Alone. In the living room, her parents continued their perfection without Kalu, without thought of the spirit always trapped in their light.
MOORE QUERI is a burgeoning and burdened literature student who rifles through academic papers and novels for loose inspiration. Though they write horrors inspired by 'The Twilight Zone' and Satoshi Kon, they always approach the grotesque with a reluctant 'Who's Line' smile. A newcomer to escaping the drafts folder, their works have appeared/forthcoming on Gantala Press, Outlander Zine, Koening Zine & Papercrane Journal. Find them on Twitter @moorequeri.