The water trickles down my neck slowly, warm and silent. The heat in the shower does a poor job melting away the ice in my toes; it was chilly last night. I have been standing here for three thousand seconds, this bathroom. I know this, because I’ve been counting. Thinking. I’m too afraid to move. Too afraid to feel. I’m too afraid to look anywhere. Especially in that mirror by the door. Above that sink that’s now full of shards, and water, and my blood.
I saw her last night.
“Habibi, are you still in there?”
I can feel my skin break a sweat even under the water pouring on my skin. I open my mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. Three hard knocks on the door again. I feel my heartbeat in my leg.
I saw her last night. “
I’m leaving to get groceries. Take care,” the voice from behind the door says.
I nod in reply, although I know she can’t see it. My sister, I mean. Her footsteps fade away gradually as she leaves, and I hear a bang on the front door. Sixty-five seconds later, everything falls silent again. She’s gone. I know this, because I’ve been counting. Something crashes to the floor behind me. I try to scream, but nothing comes out. I look down at my hands and see blood running down my fingers, the ‘drip-drip’ sound on the floor slow and steady, in sync with the beat of my heart. Hushed voices are dancing about my ears, rough hands brushing my bare skin and tugging at my hair. It’s raining blood in my bathroom. On my skin. On the floor. On the walls. From the ceiling, seemingly. Something is walking out the broken mirror by the door. It’s coming towards me.
My voice erupts from within my throat, and I scream with all I am. There are rushed footsteps towards me. I hear them pound against the hard, linoleum floor. My head grows light, and my knees give away. A hundred seconds later, all goes dark. I’m not sure of this, because I’m too weak, I’m not really counting.
There are rough hands around my neck. A figure is standing before me, an axe in hand. I shut my eyes and slowly open them again. My sister’s bewildered eyes are staring back at me. Her arms are shaking as she grips the axe.
“What are you doing?”
Her cheeks grow red as she sets the weapon down. “I was trying to break the door. I heard you screaming.” There are tears in her eyes. “I thought you were –”
“Yes, but I came back to get my purse.”
Silence settles in the room. The room is back to normal. White walls, white tiles. There’s nothing on my skin. No blood. No water, even. I look back at the sink below the broken mirror. It’s intact; still full of shards, and water, and my blood.
“Can you see it, sis?”
“See what, Habibi?”
I blink again and look around once more. Our eyes lock again.
Jana sighs and sits on the edge of the bathtub, rubbing my leg while staring at the floor, in deep thought. “Is this about Mom?” “Forty-five seconds, forty-six seconds, forty-seven, forty-eight, forty –”
“Fifty-two seconds, fifty-three seconds, eighty-one seconds, twenty-two, twenty-six–”
I slowly turn my head and rest my gaze on her face, which is laden with lines of worry, and fear, and something else I can’t quite describe. I step out of the bathtub and grab my towel. While wrapping it around my body, my sister speaks up again.
“The police are coming in today to talk to us before they start the investigation.”
I look back at her for a while. Twenty-one seconds. I know, because I’m counting. I think she thinks I don’t understand what she is saying.
“The investigation? About Mom? And her dea –”
I put a finger to my lips. She becomes silent immediately. I don’t want to hear any of it, our mother’s death. Jana and I have been living alone for thirty repetitions of about eighty-thousand seconds. It’s been a month since Mom died. My sister said she came home that night and found her still on the white fur carpet, her blood drawing thick lines the same pattern on our curtains. And there was a knife in her lifeless hand.
“I so badly wanted to talk to you, but you weren’t home,” Jana said the next morning. I only nodded and walked away, pinching my nose as I passed the corpse of our mother, still on the carpet. I cried silently in my room always. For seventeen repetitions of about eighty-thousand seconds. But I never let Jana saw me cry. “Let’s go get something to eat. I’m hungry,” I say to my sister. She takes a hold of my stretched hand and rises to her feet. I can see her face bursting with questions for me, but I ignore her. One quick look at the broken mirror, and I step out of the bathroom after her.
“What happened to the mirror, Habibi?”
I hesitate. I feel a presence in the room. “Is there something in here with us?”
“Are you avoiding my question?”
There’s a rustling sound coming from the kitchen. The sound of fast, light footsteps fills the room. The hairs on the back of my neck rise. I saw her last night.
“The sound,” I whisper.
Jana laughs. A small dog comes into view. Its tiny legs are rapping against the floor as it breaks into a funny trot towards my sister. “Talking about this?” She carries the small Beagle and lets it lick her lips. “I brought him in this morning. It was meant to be a surprise.”
“I broke the mirror with my fist.”
She drops the dog. There are questions on her face, incised more deeply now than before.
“It’s nothing. I was just angry.”
I walk into the kitchen and begin preparing lunch. I count the pieces as I chop up the carrots, one by one. “Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, nineteen, ten…”
Jana walks in and leans against the door. “I know there’s something wrong, Habibi. Talk to me.”
I turn my head to look at her. I freeze in shock. Whispers are creeping up my ears again. Blood is pouring down my face. From the ceiling. From Jana’s eyes.
“Yes?” Everything’s normal again. “Did you see it?”
“What? You’re driving me insane, okay? I’m asking you to talk to me! But you don’t want to. And when I ask you, all you do is ignore me. I’m your sister, Habibi. What are –”
“Look,” I say, pointing at something behind her.
A figure is standing behind my sister. And its cold, icy eyes are staring at me. Jana turns around, and looks back at me, pissed. “What am I supposed to be looking at?”
I’m too afraid to speak. I saw her last night. But… I can see her now.
“What are you looking at, Habibi?!”
“Eighty-thousand, eighty-thousand-and-one, eighty-thousand-and-eight… Mom.”
I slowly point a trembling finger in Jana’s direction again. “Mom.”
I can see her now.
Jana runs to me and embraces me. I cry softly into her shoulder, never pausing to blink. The figure is gone. She takes me to the living room and turns on the television. She will be back with some food, she says. I flinch as my feet touch the carpet. Where Mom died. A thousand-and-one seconds later, I close my eyes to sleep. I feel cold hands on my neck again, which makes me sit up sharply.
“I’m sorry. I brought you food.”
I look down at the soup for a while, daring it to turn red like the blood from before. I shake my head and push the bowl away. Jana lets out a heavy sigh and pulls me close.
“Habibi, I know how badly this has affected you. The police are looking into this, and the killer will be brought to book soon, I promise you!”
As she speaks, Mom appears behind her again. There’s a knock on the door. My sister gets up abruptly, muttering something about the police arriving.
I look down at my hands again, and at the figure standing behind my sister, staring long and hard at me with its cold eyes. “Jana-” “Yeah?”
My body sinks to the floor, quivering violently with fear, shock, and everything dreadful. The pain that grows in my throat is unbearable, splitting through my head and coming out my eyes in the form of tears. My sister shouts back at the people behind the door, asking for them to give her some time.
“Habibi, what’s wrong?”
I shrug her arms away and look straight into her eyes. The figure behind her is moving towards me. I see the blood everywhere again, and then I don’t. Then, I see it again.
The figure points at its knife wounds, still red and fresh, and points at me.
I close my eyes. “It was me. I killed Mom.”