The twins—whose spite for Ellen was shared—were fueled with enough jealousy to dismember her locks while she rested, to tug at her breasts at the oddest moments, to sprinkle spices into her piccolo so that when she played she coughed and sneezed. They had come to her with their usual mischief one afternoon when the town was renewed with the rains of the previous day and doves lapped the sparse puddles in the streets. Their father was away on business in Norwich (or frolicking with white supremacists), their mother out on the streets testifying to the glory of God. Music tinkered from the sunroom where Ellen sat, playing a rendition of Schubert.
“Ever tried playing with your ass?” Hazel asked, a crooked smile lining her face, the kinds you saw on paintings of Lucifer. Melanie followed keenly behind. “Yeah. Play me some Chopin with your butt. Play it pretty.”
They lurched out to seize her piccolo. Ellen, as small a frame as any, squirmed away from their reach and suddenly the years of unsated resentment came roaring out like carps rushing up to the clear surface of a lake.
“Get away from me. Get away,” Ellen barked.
The twins stood with their feet frozen to the earth, stunned by the once small and timorous Ellen who stood enraged, rasping heavily with her fists balled, ready for combat. Hazel—infuriated by Ellen’s confidence—gripped her arm. Ellen, still brimming with rage, yanked away and shoved Hazel with a force that neither she nor her sisters knew she possessed. Hazel faltered back and struck her head against the lavabo. So there, in the sunroom, with the light warm against her face, she slipped into the next world. The blood pulsed down her head, a rich carmine that would become unbearable to look at long after Hazel had surrendered to the earth, such that years later she would loathe the senseless parade of valentine’s day, avoid alighting red taxis and cuff her son when he requested that his cake be frosted red.
“I’ll remember to send you white roses only,” Walter laughed as though unfazed by the story.
Ellen’s expression was flat.
“What did your parents think?” said Walter.
Their mother returned from evangelism when evening had descended and discovered Melanie asleep beside Hazel’s languid body, her head cradled in Melanie’s arms, her spirit already in banquet with the dead. They searched for Ellen and found her in the nursery sitting amongst the tulips and the mouse ears and the azaleas, humming the tune of the afterlife.
“We buried her with her treasures and belongings in the backyard. I carved her epitaph.”
When her father returned they led him to the spot where Hazel had ascended into the clouds and showed him the patch of earth in the backyard where she rested.
“If you were Africans,” Walter said, “you would have believed her spirit still pranced.”
They relocated to Newport two weeks later where they dwelt in a bungalow nestled in the centre of woods that became lanced with sunlight at noon. There they led a furtive life of outlaws, careful to avoid the keen stare of the diviners that swarmed the bodega fronts, playing truant on the festivities that ringed the town on limpid spring nights, preferring to watch the swirl of colour and dance from their nestling in the woods, behind their fogged bedroom windows.
“We all became estranged. Hazel’s presence remained heavy.” Ellen blew on her palms. “We never spoke of her.”
“You miss her.”
“I don’t. I’d kill her again if she returned.”
For a moment, silence enfolded them. Ellen’s words had created a pressure that lingered between them both.
“It’s cold,” Walter said.
“And late,” Ellen said.
But what was time when one had become cocooned in the navel of the deep, groping for edges and vines through which she could climb out of the hollow black and out into the glinting sunlight. One had no use for time, only chance and luck.
That night, while they slept, their dreams raced back and forth. Walter found himself flopped on the golden sand of a beach. From his vantage he saw the estuary that spread out towards the vast blue of the ocean and the point in which the tides of the West reconciled with those from the East. From somewhere he made out the distant scatter of bongos tapped to the cadence that prompted birds to their mating dance, and immediately Walter knew he had found his way to the land of desire. Tottering at the edge of a cliff in tightly clad briefs were two chiselled men, they raised their arms and let themselves plop into the solid blue below. When they emerged their hairs were slick with salt water, their pectorals shone and they beckoned to Walter to join in the sensual pleasure of sea and salt and skin. Walter could not help but imagine himself in bed with them, their limbs intertwined, their skin hot against his own, for we are no more than sexual beings seeking pleasures from each other’s bodies which do not belong to ourselves alone but are now the properties of Eros. Aware that the men before him were a fiction, Walter disrobed and waded into the immortal blue.
Behind Ellen’s trembling lids her dreams happened. She sat in the calm of a garden, the air was frigid and she could feel the dew beneath her feet. At first, Ellen thought she had died and awoke in the company of the dead, but she caught the scent of pines, the same that bloomed in the nursery of her childhood home and she saw that she was back amongst the flutter of the tulips and the mouse ears and the azaleas. At the corner of the nursery stood Hazel in a silk white dress that accentuated her firm breasts and luscious thighs. Ellen looked down at herself and noticed she was draped in the same white gown but appeared less voluptuous than her sister. Hazel walked towards Ellen, took her hand, and they walked a great length, past showers of fog, into shaded meadows. Hazel lay Ellen on the grass and in the cool glade they made love. The act was pure and simple and filled them both with waves of intense pleasure. When it was over Ellen walked away from the dream, back into the solid world which was too neutered, too moral for those whose needs were fleeting.