Trigger warning: suicide
The water creeps up to my ankles. My shoes and socks are soaked through. Across my body, goosebumps break out, the tiny hairs standing up on their tiptoes.
From under the door, the water trickles in. And I, I stand and wait, wait until it fills up the room, fills up my lungs and drags me, gasping, choking, into silence.
I was not an angry child, In fact, many of my parents’ friends found it eerie how placid I was, how I would simply stare with my big eyes until someone deigned to feed me, clothe me or love me. The latter never happened. I was not so much a child to my parents but more a prop to be used once they had become too senile to save themselves from the sharks that lurked around us.
I had an aunt that I once thought might have loved me. She was not like my mother, did not hold herself with rigid posture and vicious words. Instead, her hair was frizzy, and her smile was too wide. Unlike my parents, she insisted that I be fed enough and given the requisite number of hugs.
My mother hated her and would complain incessantly whenever my aunt would come to visit. But there was nothing my mother could do to stop my aunt from coming as a condition of her inheritance was maintaining good family relations. It was ironic, considering the only reason my grandfather placed that in his will was to torment my mother, knowing she despised her sister.
I did not love my aunt. I did not have the capacity to love her but I did enjoy her company. It always made me feel warm. When she would get ready to leave, I would beg her not to, not to leave and take the warmth away. And she would look down at me, down at this gangly thing clinging to her dress and frown.
“I’m sorry, my love,” she would say. “I have to.”
With a swish of her ugly, messy hair, she would leave. I never weeped when she was gone, merely counted on my fingers how long it would take for her to come back and chase the cold away. It was always too long. By the time she would come back, my teeth would be chattering and she would have to take me into the warm folds of her clothes to stop me from turning blue.
As I grew, the arguments between my mother and my aunt grew more volatile. They would screech at each other and my mother would throw the chipped china plates around, letting them shatter across the marble floors. The fine china was, of course, never touched.
When these fights would break out, my aunt would always tell me to head upstairs. Whereas, my mother would sneer, the edges of her lips sharp as knives.
“Let her stay,” my mother said. “She should make her own mind up.”
And my aunt would look at me and sigh.
It all came to a head when I was eighteen years old. My aunt came to me the night before my birthday, her eyes almost bulging out of her head. My bedroom lights were dim, casting her face half in shadow. I scrunched up my eyes.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
She grabbed my arm with her short stubby nails and pulled me off of the bed.
“You can leave,” she said. “You don’t have to follow in your mother’s footsteps.”
So that was what my aunt wanted. She wanted me to throw away the pearls and the champagne and the parties in exchange for frumpy clothes and a house that no one’s ever invited to.
Before I could answer, my mother opened the door. Her nails were long and pointed and tapped on the door frame.
“Really? You’ve resorted to this,” my mother said, the words rounded and plucked with her perfect diction.
My aunt let go of me. She didn't leave any marks on my skin. There was no proof she had ever held me.
“I thought she should know that she has options,” my aunt said.
My mother tilted her head. “You shouldn’t tell lies. I know what you really want.”
“What I really want?”
“A chance to earn back what was stolen from you. Using my child as your way in. You think she’ll save you once she has her inheritance. That she’ll steal it from me and that she’ll give it to you.”
The lines on my aunt’s face tightened. My mother did not have wrinkles.
My mother stepped forward. My aunt stepped back.
“Make your choice,” my mother said, looking at me. “Choose me and I’ll finally love you.”
My aunt’s eyes twitched. “What the hell are you on about?”
My mother watched me expectantly. Waiting for me to make my choice. If I squinted hazard enough, I could see the outline of the knife she had hidden up her sleeve. All it would take for me to keep my aunt safe was to open my mouth.
I stood there, frozen all the way down to my toes.
Faster than a scream, my mother lunged, driving the knife through my aunt. And she toppled to the floor, clasping the handle.
“Help,” my aunt pleaded. It was too late. I had made my choice. Because, you see, it was better to have earned love than to have it spoon fed to you.
My mother embraced me for the first time that night, as we stood on the banks of the river, watching my aunt float away.
The police found my aunt’s body three weeks later. I thought they would catch us but they never did. Not even with the letter I sent them, confessing to the mistake, the choice, the murder that I had made. Turns out everyone was susceptible to my mother’s deep pockets.
My mother was kinder to me afterwards. I was given proper food, not just the stale crust off of a loaf of bread. She dressed me in the finest clothes money could buy. But even the warmest winter coat didn’t erase the chill that had burrowed its way into my bones.
I gave all the money away. All of it, apart from what was needed to buy a loaf of stale bread and a packet of candles each week for the rest of my life. My mother raged and raged but there was nothing she could do. She didn’t adjust well to being poor, and without all the finery, she finally looked as cracked on the outside as I knew she was on the inside. Then she stopped talking, and became an empty shell that spent all her days lost in her own head. I’m sure. in there, she was still young and beautiful.
I wasn’t lonely. How could I have been? I spent most of my life alone even when I was surrounded by other people. Instead, I was waiting for my day of reckoning, for the day someone figured out what I had done and arrested me.
No one ever did.
Eventually, my mother died, and with it, I could no longer enact vengeance by torturing the person who had taken everything from me. With her dead, there was nothing to keep the flood at bay, the flood that had been waiting for me, I think, all my life.
And now, the water reaches my chest. The door is unlocked and I could push it open, swim out to freedom. But even if I leave, there’s nothing to keep me from the cold, not even basking in sunlight. I'm already frozen.
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