Something was catching up with her and it wasn’t age. Worms don’t spill out of your mouth every time you talk when you grow old. It certainly wasn’t the case with her mother. She wondered what would mother have said to all this, had she been alive now. She had always been pretty good with explaining things.
It sounded like a blasphemy at first. But Agnes had enough roam in her life for blasphemies now. There was a void that needed to be filled.
Well, explain this to me now. You lying friggin’ bitch. EXPLAIN THIS!!!!
Yes, she wanted to ask her, see the look on her face and laugh. Just the way when she decided she had had enough of mirrors and smashed them all with her fist, croaking with laughter and feeling her fingers give away against the impact of the jagged shreds.
For the past couple of weeks, she had felt periodic bouts of dull pain in her gums and that awful taste in her mouth she often woke up with; staying with her for the best part of the day. She thought it smelled like dry weeds. The kind of smell you get while being near to the swamp. Contaminated.
The pain only worsened and the smell of her breath was almost unbearable at times. Her tongue had taken a darkish hue, turning purplish, if she could tell the color right from the old smoky mirror view she had in the bathroom. Teeth have acquired a yellowish streak and gums looked badly swollen and misplaced.
At first, she was horrified and worried to death. She could tell something was really wrong with her.
The tongue has turned truly purplish; there was no mistaking the color now. Teeth looked holed, battered and no longer felt firm, loosely hung. She spotted small irregularly carved holes running all over the heavily swollen gums. And that at times unbearable taste in the mouth now has a striking semblance in a form of that strange bile secreting from the inside, tasting like contaminated water.
Few days later, she felt a movement between her teeth; as if something has found its way and learned to squirm there. Panic started to set deep inside of her as she rushed to the nearest mirror to see.
For a moment she couldn’t believe her eyes. To be honest, she didn’t really want to. She saw something move between the crumbling teeth and reached for it. Carefully she took it out.
On her palm, she saw a dark worm, alive but apprehensive; apparently feeling displaced. It looked so wet, she thought. So full and throbbing with juice. Her juice.
Soon looking at a mirror made her look away with disgust, always finding that the mirror continued to stare at her, never shying of amusing itself with what was happening to Agnes.
She started to lose hairs rapidly, as they weakened and wither. The skin on her face slowly thinned and peeled away. Like a changeling, but with one crucial difference; nothing else grew back from where the skin was displaced. What remained was a reddish layer holding the flesh underneath intact, giving her an obscure grim look.
All within the span of couple of weeks.
Then one day, she found her husband in bed, shaking and coughing. Complaining about how bad he felt in the stomach. When he started vomiting, most of what came out looked like blood.
Only when she tried to clean up the mess, she spotted the strange thickly coated things moving in the pool of her husband’s blood. Slimy little beings stirring in the quickly drying out patch of blood and whatever her husband had for lunch, their shape reminded Agnes of white worms, only they looked darker.
Of course she knew the worse has happened. Victor had changed everything.
Six months pregnant, she had already started to feel holy, important. Feeling another life deep within her, a life ordained by God alone, sacred. She felt closer to Him than she ever had during those days. Though she felt cursed, stigmatized and extremely hard done when Victor came into this world. She recalled the day he was born, a dark and cursed day of her life. She began to question everything, and put forth her questions to Him, her beloved God, and when she received no answer, she was puzzled. She had always been God’s favorite child; a belief she seriously questioned from the day she first laid eyes on her son. Gradually, she learned to care less, or not care at all.
It was not that she simply stopped believing, she only chose to ignore and change. Trying to take charge of her life, doing things her way.
But the sense of objectivity seemed to have dissipated from the canvas of her diligently drawn life. Something was dreadfully missing. She often found herself confused and in a state of perpetual mental absence. It was not a question of Agnes wanting to take charge of her life; the primary challenge lay in the necessity to devise a way she could call her own. She never had one because she never needed to till now.
The child was small, smaller for an average new born. Thin, weak, and strangely without a noise. As if he came down to Wetland with a feeling of guilt, unbearable and eating him inside his little puffing chest. The guilt of the disease he brought with him and suffering his birth ordained for the rest of us; that motionless march between living and dying we call the fungus disease.
The fungus disease has devoured most of the child’s left chest, and an overwhelming portion of his face was gone. The nose and the lips looked swollen, as if an exquisite waxen object has melted itself willfully into distortion. His chest looked sunken with patches of gray going all the way down to his pelvis; they were poorly drawn circular marks, as if sketched by a child or by the hands of a mediocre artist. His left ear has shrunk considerably, like a dried out flower, sunk to the level of the temple. The other good ear was all he had from which he could acquire a partial hearing ability.
His right eye was clamped down by the jaws of a bulging mass of tissue, and his eye brows were ashen due to the famished nature of the disease he had. In fact, the child would never grow any hairs; his awe struck parents were told by the doctors.
But the child will live on.
Agnes was visibly torn between a mother’s natural love for her new born and the inability to acknowledge the obscurity she saw in the hospital as something that could possibly have protruded its way out of her womb; the horrifying realization that this thing, this malign of nature, could have come from within her, from the most deepest, private part a woman could possibly allot for another soul; or worse, that it had lived in her for nine months and had survived on her blood and tissues.
Looking at her child for the first time shook her, shook the very foundation of faith she stood up for. It took away everything she had, a life of comfort that sought to strain itself with ideas of suffering and a profound sense of belief. It brought a huge void in her life, unfulfilling. Feeling the deep gnawing emptiness inside of her and trying to fill it again and again. With the newly arisen questions she had, complains that has reared their ugly little head by the grave injustice done to her. She felt the whorls of bitterness sweeping her entire life around her and dumped them all inside of her, trying to fill that void.
God gave her child that half torn face, that patch of skin that is not skin, but a jagged patch of moss, looking green with the tinge of yellow. Like an alien reptilian skin badly torn off by sharp nails maddened by some destructive desire. And of course, the huge round wound covering his left eye completely. The dripping mass of rotten tissue which never seemed to dry out completely.
Why did God give her this child? She often wondered. Knowing it wasn’t really the child she questioned but the disease.
At first, the idea drove her nuts, and more she attempted to love and own the thing handed to her by the woman in white with a smile on her white knuckle face, who just didn’t want anything to do with this baby, the more the touch of the thing repelled and sickened her.
But as the woman in her grew morbid, strangled by ruthlessness of the fate she faced, the mother in her thrived in the nurturing of her baby, as years went by. Somewhere along the line, she lost Mavelin, the kind of Mavelin she knew and loved passionately. Though she continued to live with the man who shared the house with her; the man who stank of stale alcohol and madness, whose eyes refused to notice her and who lay next to her on bed, night after night, immovable and impassionate.
She grieved for the loss of her husband and at the same time silently acknowledging that all she had now to live for is her son; though a son makes a poor substitute for a lover…
And she went on. Because she failed to see it any other way. She learned to love her child, to hug him and to kiss his half torn diseased mouth with a smile. Over a period of time, she successfully learned to cherish one thing that have destroyed everything she could call her own; Victor.
But there was Victor, there was only mother.
A woman with an indomitable will who dictated the terms of her life with an iron approach; and also the lives of others around her in a likewise fashion; though Agnes wouldn’t like to think of her that way. Of course, her mother had always been right; ever since she was a little tyke, wide eyed and receptive, gobbling down every precious little idea thrown by her pig headed mother, idealizing her.
Mother’s only apparent draw back has been her excruciatingly plain looks with a large physique and a face that always appeared a little too round. She possessed large hands, stone like pair of legs, and a round buxom torso. Everything seemed large about her, except her little round head; with all the little round ideas about Life, Death and God neatly tucked inside.
Her other drawback has been the day she passed away; a panic stricken old hag kicking and screaming her way to the unknown, dying as much of despair as of the cancer that ate her from the inside. Agnes could never believe mother was capable of doing something like that, die for once and never come back. The spectacle of her mother’s wild and roaring episode of dying got into Agnes’s head and clamped down its thousands little sharp stingy legs, like a centipede to its prey. Agnes longed to be like her mother; her body fragile from the worldly troubles, her soul battered by the inflictions of fate she had long endured with a passive face and a plain smile.
And then comes Mavelin, her husband. One she embraced with the most passionate fervor a woman could muster for a man, any man. She served him from the deepest recesses of her soul, and never refused a thing to him, laying down bits after bits of herself at his disposal, even her self esteem; a virtue previously only bequeathed to her beloved God alone and no other soul prior to this inexplicable fall.
In a passage of few years, she was slowly devoured, and not just physically, but on levels of human self that are too unnatural to be shared. Her beautiful visage, though yet mildly intact, had been violated by brush strokes of most crude variety. Her eyes had distant look about them and the face looked exhausted, drooping from the burden of love she had received over and over again.
But it could only be love, she often repeated to herself in few moments of quiet reserved when she did nothing else but think about her life. Yes, it could simply be love and nothing else; though the very nature of this love often left her sore and sick to the stomach in the mornings to follow. Gave her round hollow shades of black around the eyes and an indifferent walk.
Because her husband was an indifferent man; though Agnes’ life has been nothing if not accommodating; spaces within spaces of compromise.
As with time and age every marrow of her glorious mortal visage was slowly quenched by a beast that cared little of anything else except to satiate itself, she remained willfully selfless, without a moment of susceptibility, greeting the pain and the pleasure that accompanied her downfall with open hands and with a passion that many moral minds would find either questionable or mad.
And then of course a child is born…
Though, by then, Mother was already gone. A giant of a woman who succumbed to the wily promises of her overly ignited mind and mistook the sluggish procession of living as symptoms of immortality. Needless to say that death, finally at her disposal in a sinister masquerade of cancer, came as a surprise to her. For Agnes’s mother, death had always been a mere rumor.
If only dying could be avoided by one’s consistent forgetfulness of death as a reality.
The next two months were a tear jerking experience for Agnes, though she did recover eventually and consoled herself with the notion that mother had been transported to a better place. A place where she would have to endure no more the painstaking experiences of earthly life and where, Agnes was sure, she would finally have a Mavelin of her own to serve her most audacious notions of bliss. In the meantime she must forget all about her mother and be mentally and physically prepared for her future child.
For Mavelin, a hammer of misfortune and shock came down on his oval shaped head with a silent bang and stripped him of all his mental faculties except fear and madness. It brought a voluminous increase in the amount of alcohol shrilling in his veins, accompanied with a high strung wariness of all things young and innocent; the little round byproducts of marriage, with soft flesh and creamy skin, bleary eyed, tenderly occupying their tiny little space in this world, called babies.
And he could never love his wife no more.
He looked older than he was, sick and in bed. All the hairs on his body have gone ashen white, even the eye brows. His breathings are prolonged and coarse, noisy; the sound of life struggling to cope with the burden of living. Instinct of survival is a strange thing, it compels one to take the most silliest of measures to stay alive. He doesn’t move much these days, but he can see and feel his ever weakening heart throbbing maddeningly inside his chest.
He sees a dark shadow looming over him, a silhouette, a face in love.
Darling. The face calls him.
It feeds him and takes care of him day and night, tirelessly. The eyes are compassionate and sympathetic, but the face…
The face looked as if the skin has been peeled off from the back of its head all the way down to the chin. The bald head had numerous dabs of wound all over, and the blood seeped and trickled down to the face, and the wounds would never dry. And the face looked like the layer holding it together was struggling to main its composure, and when the lips widen to smile at him and words whispered, Mavelin could see tiny little heads swarming inside the dark tunnel of the opened orifice, restless little specks moving about on the purplish tongue and protruding from the widened gap between the set of crumbling teeth.
The face drives him raving mad and the smile makes him wish he was born blind; inside the deep seated darkness of his house, Mavelin screams and screams and screams.
The house Victor lived in was quiet, and a state of living it endured was dim, apathetic. Lights that brought visage to its interior were dimmed; making the place look like its forever dying in its weariness.
Little Victor lay in the cradle, rocked by the hands of one he had no name for; the one with bitter sweet voice who never ceased to talk to him, though making little sense, but never failing to please him.
The voice became his only consolation in the age following his birth. Till vision started to unravel from the veil of darkness and things took shape. Color streamed like a fountain out of the bursting chest of eternal blankness and brought everything to life, and little Victor realized that there was more to this place than mere blindness.
And the voice with soft cuddly touches against his skin also had a face. Victor saw the face for the first time and had immediate reservations, doubts of a mind too young to reform confusion into queries. He had nothing to ask, but plenty to question.
The face would bring him food and tell him to eat. Sometimes what it served was white and so thin you could dip your fingers into it; and nothing would happen. Other times, they would be darker and not so soft; tiny little shapes that would stir appreciably if you touch them; who would squirm and melt noiselessly once he had devoured them.
You will eat it. You will eat it and like it. The face assured Victor.
He found food curious. Once he took hold of one of the little food thing between his thumb and a forefinger and pressed hard, holding his breath. It made his fingers wet, he realized. It has pulped open between his fingers and it didn’t stir no more. Something had gone wrong as Victor realized that food didn’t look the way it did a moment ago.
Oh, look what you just did, honey. The face approached him with a smile. Look what you just did.
Victor looked up at the face staring down at him and found himself in awe of the beauty of the face.
You killed it. The face loomed over him, closed in, and kissed him on the lips. I love you, the voice told him.
Love tasted like dry weeds and contaminated bile. It left a soft wet spot on his swollen drooping lip; it left an everlasting impression of love on the little boy’s heart.
Yes, the boy understood. Food is alive and it can die. Comprehension dawned onto him as the boy had learned to understand words, or even form them in his own succulent way, with the passage of time.
Victor had a vague notion of what death meant, it was something that happened to people from time to time; he has often heard face talk about it. Mostly at night in bed, with his eyes lidded with sleep and mind roused for a new story the face would come up with tonight. Stories were exciting, it seemed to Victor; they helped him draw pictures in his mind, the kind of pictures that moved and had words of their own. Where most of them went on to live night after night, though some of them died; because they deserved to, Victor was sure. Face has said so. Bad people deserve to die because they always make other people feel bad.
However, his favorite story was about a young boy who turns into a toad till he is kissed by a beautiful young princess; the mysterious kiss bringing him back to being a young boy again.
Victor often wished he was a toad, having seen a slightly fading picture of one in a book Face had shown him. He had also seen the princess, though the way the princess looked only made him feel uncomfortable. There was something missing, something not quite right with her. But what exactly, the boy was ill at ease to understand. His curiosity about the princess grew; because he was sure that princess always made him feel bad. Deep in his heart, he had formed a secret notion that princess must be one of the bad people and that she surely deserved to die.
He hoped and prayed that the young boy would someday kill the princess, eventually seeing things the way Victor did; though it hasn’t as yet happened, as every time the face repeated the story to him, it always seemed to have ended in the same way.
Every night he heard a story and went to sleep. And in his dreams, he always dreamed of one thing; mirrors.
He recalled how once the Face had shown him a mirror, telling him in an unusually different voice, how mean and ugly and evil mirrors really were. All mirrors are liars, remember that Victor. The face told him with a steady stare. And God has punished them for their lies and made them look the way they are; hideous and ugly. See the ugly lies stamped upon their faces, marking them for the rest of us to see and believe.
Victor nodded slowly. The stare had only emphasized the importance of the idea conveyed to him.
And of course, the Face also taught him how to kill them, all of them inside the house. Victor was pleasantly surprised to find that, in spite of their unspeakable ugliness, mirrors would die very easily.
Victor hated mirrors.
The room wasn’t always quiet like the rest of the house. Strange noises were often heard from the inside, in a language the little one couldn’t yet fathom.
Though the face offered him an explanation that it was only father inside, and father likes to stay in bed and scream, but for Victor, the confusion stayed.
As the little boy learned to walk, the face took him to the room upstairs one day, while also warning him that father might decide to scream like his usual self when he meets Victor; letting him know that it will be all right if father does, that it would be perfectly normal.
The idea of having a father was new to him. Victor hesitated and merely gawked, wide eyed, at the bed before him.
This is your father. Face looked at him and said. Say hello to him.
Two paternal eyes glared at him and the shape, an obscure silhouette that baffled the logic of little Victor; impossible to make out on the matted bed sheet at first. Victor peered closely with his good left eye and gradually Father came into vision.
It occurred to him that father seemed familiar. Victor has seen this one before. But where? He wondered. He sought to struggle with his faculty to recollect and stuttered. Thinking never came easy to him. Victor had always sensed something inside his head, something wild, beyond his control. Prudish and unresponsive. Something that would eventually serve him the images he sought but at its own pace, always making a point of humiliating him first.
Finally, the thing inside his head told him what his father looked like.
Father resembled one of those tiny little things the face fed him for breakfast or even lunch at times. Only bigger. Longer. And Father didn’t move much, only stirred.
Victor wondered what would happen to Father if he did to him with his fingers what he did to those things he devoured. Would Father open up and die like they did.
It seemed perfectly possible.
You are a sweet boy, Victor. Now say hello to your Father. The face asked him again.
The boy didn’t want to say hello to his father. The boy simply wanted to leave the room and never come back. The thing inside his head told him to leave immediately, urged him.
Instead, he found himself saying.
Hello … Father. Victor realized how silly he made it sound. He couldn’t make it sound important. His melted lips were a distraction for him and ruined the music of his voice.
But Father only stared at him.
Victor was sure that Father didn’t like the sound of him. He was disappointed because deep inside, he knew part of him wanted to please his father.
Looking at his father made his stomach taut; he felt hungry as he turned and left the room in a single abrupt motion.
He was glad that father hadn’t screamed as the face told him he might.
He wanted to see his Father again, but his visits to the room upstairs, administered by the face, were less frequent than he expected. Once he asked the face that he wished to see his Father, everyday if possible.
Your Father is not well, honey. Face told him, looking concerned. When people are not well, they don’t like being seen every day.
And the way Father looked at him, the stare. Victor shivered at the thought of it. He doubted that is how all fathers looked at their little Victors, or supposed to.
Of course, father is not well. Victor could tell. It must be unnatural for fathers to look the way he did, to look like food that is.
And for a food, father made a lot of noise. That seemed like the only apparent contradiction to Victor. Father was indifferent in the way he behaved most of the time; never at peace like those squeamish little dark worms, or calm like the face that looked after him.
From within the room upstairs, Victor continued to hear the noises made by his father. The sound of it seemed both detached and futile to him. The sound his Father made brought no images to his mind; no little moving pictures to please him.
Little Victor tried to forget his father, but failed. For the next few weeks, he tried to stay away from the room. He listened to the stories, he thought of all the mirrors his mother has killed, and he fondled in fascination with the food served to him.
Often, He would peer down at the water dancing on the surface of his bath tub, and see a shadow of himself rippled in thousand minute pieces. Envisioning the composition, the wholeness he could foresee in the wavering dotted reflection, delighted him. It reminded him of the face he had grown to love and cherish.
He felt himself to be different, more … prominent. He stroked his thin boy’s body, hairless and taut, and liked the sensation; dry and surreal. At times, he fondled with himself, in awe of the silent change he was going through.
He also remembered the first time face had caught him doing that, while Victor was busy touching himself; it was confusing because he didn’t think he was doing anything bad, though he was surprised how nervous he had been, by being discovered by the face of one who called itself mother.
Victor saw water trickling down between the pairs of restless eyes on Mother’s face. The kind of water that reminded him of his father. Till now he thought only father was capable of drawing waters from his eyes; as Victor had often seen him do.
Mother wasn’t beautiful anymore. Her face convulsed and twisted in ways he hadn’t imagined it was capable of. Her whole stature shaking, trembling with something inside of her that made her look red, made her look bad...
She was hissing. Her mouth widened and a strange dark hole had appeared on mother’s face and boy saw something inside it; moving, writhing, peering back at him with curiosity from the darkness inside mother’s face.
He leered greedily inside the dark way, the way to the dark little things squirming inside. His face beamed. Mother had food inside her mouth.
When Agnes grabbed her husband by the face and shoved a bottle full of strychnine down his throat, she didn’t mean to kill him; it was only to keep him quiet. He never failed to infuriate her, made her feel guilty of being herself with his mindless screaming and yelling every time he laid eyes on her. The fact that he couldn’t even stand her presence saddened her above all else.
As the quiet in him refused to go away, she decided to take him out, away from the gloom of his room, where it smelled of despair and lost hopes. It took an effort on her part but she eventually managed to move him to his study room, once an intellectual refuge of his father; a learned and respectable man of Wetlands.
On his father’s old arm chair was where he should always have been. He looked revived, almost. She looked into his wide blank eyes and knew she would never have to fix a glass of scotch for him again.
Her husband was as good as dead already.
He has become so difficult to love, in these final few years, when she needed him the most. So difficult to understand what went on inside his head.
She left the room, but not without slowly taking out the bottle of strychnine dangling from between his jaws, knowing he must have lost the appetite for it by now.
Taking sullen steps, she was back into her room. In the bathroom while washing her face, she found herself staring at the wall where the mirror should have been. She thought she could see herself, clearly, or was it she was day dreaming, and so vividly. And of course, you could never truly get rid of mirrors in your life. Only for so long you could keep them away.
She wanted quiet now; too much went on inside her head. And the wounded markings on her head felt as if they had been kissed by cancer stricken corpse of her mother; wet and molten.
She hadn’t had a quiet night for a while now. It was always people talking behind her back, saying things about her. How sick she had really gotten. How sick she really looked. The whole town had abandoned her, the people whose company she has grown to cherish. She couldn’t recall the last time she had been outside the house.
There was a lot about her these days that was hard to explain and Agnes had never been good with words. Not sure they would have believed her anyway, people were so much like mirrors. They would rather believe a lie. Rather believe the worse and muse over it, the way mirrors did.
And what did she look like nowadays anyway, perhaps the way mother always wanted her to look like; if merely to prove her point.
And didn’t her mother wanted her to suffer, and what did she know about suffering anyway, that little divine bitch … what did she KNOWWWWWWWWW!!!!
But mother died from cancer. A voice reminded her. Remember how mother died.
Yes, she remembered. Rolling around in bed, coughing blood and spilling feces, and always making so much noise. Relying on Agnes to do the dirty work for her while she died, how friggin’ convenient for her!
Yes, she remembered all right. How could she ever forget that? It was Agnes who had to clean up the sheets every morning for her. While mother lay around in bed, watching her beloved daughter strangled by the foul odor emanating from the bed.
She reached for the cabinet and found what she was looking for.
Her hands trembled as she felt the cold blade slicing into the critical nerves of her wrists. She could feel her mind growing numb as she made her way to the bed, with blood dripping profusely from her wrists. She managed to tear off a piece of blanket and wrapped it tightly around the gashed wound. Hoping for it to absorb the blood, and make as little mess as possible.
She lied down on her bed and waited. Anticipating the gates of heaven to flung open, to draw her in and spare her the pain of mortal death. As she felt life draining out of her, she realized how afraid she was of death, of the slow and impending weariness that have started to overwhelm her. Surprised to know how much she had in common with her mother.
She had kept the room dark, deliberately so, but now she wished she hadn’t, because she dreaded the infinite strands of darkness that awaited her. Swallowing her. No human eyes could penetrate it, and unravel the secrets that exist in the void of the unseen.
She felt drained out, light weighted, going down into the abyss, not falling down, but faintly floating her way in, with a gnawing sense of vertigo that made the nerves of her forehead throb wildly and strangle her throat.
She wished for the light.