Amber Switly burst through the kitchen door of her house. Her face still streaked with tears. Her dark pigtails dishevelled and frayed at the edges. Her breath was heavy and laboured. She had not stopped running since she had left the Bradley house, with only one purpose in mind: to get her mom to call Jeffery Squire’s mother and tell her of Jeffery's fall. She ran into the living room to find her mother sitting in a solid brown fabric chair watching television, knitting needles dormant in her lap, crossed in an X across folds of formless wool.
“Mom! Mom! Something terrible has happened!”
“Sussssh!” Her mother brought an ivory nail slowly up to her lips. Her speech was slow and slurred. “It can wait for a commercial.” She lowered her hand back to the chair fabric and sunk her nails in to its rests like talons. She seemed statuesque as if she’d been hewn from stone in ancient Egypt.
Amber shook her head in disbelief.
On the TV the PVR’d program was Oprah and the studio were cackling over some witty remark a guest had made.
Amber’s mother reached for the remote and paused the program. Oprah was rendered motionless with her mouth open, her teeth gleaming in the studio lights, eyes bright with fervour. “You know how I hate being interrupted when I’m watching my shows baby.” She turned to her daughter. “What’s so important?”
Amber’s disbelief changed to bewilderment. “Mom you’re bleeding.”
“What? I am? Nonsense!” Amber’s mother reached lethargically for a tissue box on the table next to her chair and pulled a layer free. Her knitting slipped to the floor as she dabbed at her nose then pulled back to look. “I don’t see anything.”
“Not your nose. Your eyes! Your eyes are bleeding!” Amber felt the tears swell up in her own eyes again and pour from her.
“Oh,” her mother answered, hardly seeming surprised. She dabbed at the corner of her eyes, quickly changing the tissue from off-white to red and smearing the blood into tattooed stains. “Get me a wet cloth baby. OK?” She then nonchalantly pressed play on the remote like a master puppeteer and Oprah sprang to life gesticulating to the audience. Her mother turned back to the program and sank into the comfort of the chair.
Amber ran to the bathroom and grabbed a face cloth, running it under a cold tap before ringing it out quickly. In the mirror she saw a frightened child, pigtails in disarray, eyes streaked with tiny rivers of tears, gazing back at her. What is going on? The reflection in the mirror had no answer.
She ran back to her mother, the face cloth still dripping in hand. Her initial thoughts of Jeffery pushed aside while she attended to this new anomaly.
On TV the audience screamed with delight as Oprah informed them everyone was going home with a brand new washer and dryer.
Amber found her mother coughing into her tissue while saying “Well, isn’t that nice....That Oprah.” The young girl knelt beside her mom to wipe away her tears of blood as she finished her coughing fit and wiped the corner of her mouth. The odour of the yellowish phlegm in the tissue made Amber gasp and almost gag. It was the same smell as the one from the dead bird. Amber began to sob. “Mom, what’s happening to you?”
“I don’t know. Ask your father. He’s upstairs reading....I think? Leave me be. I’m alright..... Would you like to eat out tonight? I don’t feel much like cooking lately.”
Amber left the cloth with her mother and brushed her hair back from her face. She ran up the staircase to the den. Her father would know what to do. He always did. He was the one who expelled the monsters from under the bed. He fixed the pedals on her bike when they came loose. He helped her see the equation through the mathematical fog and he would help fix Amber’s mother.
Amber found herself on the landing of the hallway leading to the den. The door was closed. A sudden sense of dread engulfed her every nerve and a paralysis all but kept her from approaching the door, but she willed herself to do so. Her mother’s illness depended on it.
She knocked. “Daddy?” No answer. Again she rapped- louder this time. “Daddy? Come quick Mom’s not feeling well.” Still no answer.
Amber reached up and turned the door knob, her hands shaking, her knees on the precipice of total collapse, panic and shock choking the very breath from her. The door was unlocked and swung inward. Her father, still in his pyjama bottoms hung from a beam in the ceiling, an over-turned chair sat on its side like an incapacitated drunk. The belt she’d given him for Christmas slung tight around his neck and the beam, his flesh pale, his arms dripping blood where he’d torn at scabs on his skin. A maroon stain had formed on the carpet below. Her father’s eyes; glassy and open; staring directly at Amber- hollow, empty, lifeless eyes.
She began to scream.