This is a work of fiction.
I look more closely and see that their window is covered with something black. Then I see some yellow. I stare at it. The yellow smiley faces where Victoria’s eyes should be. My heart leaps. She’s staring out at me. Nothing moves. The rubber mask is too flat. There are no contours behind it. She’s using it to cover the window. It’s time for me to go inside. I inch to my right.
I hear a faint sound, and as I move, it gets louder. Is it Mona? I go even closer. I stand eye to eye with Victoria’s mask. There’s a tiny gap between the edge of the mask and the window frame.
“You know you want to.” It takes me a second to realize that it’s Victoria who’s speaking. She sounds like someone in a porn movie. Don’t ask how I know.
I hear Mom’s voice, but it’s too soft for me to make out the words. She sounds sick.
“You’ll feel so much better afterwards,” Victoria says. Her tone is probably meant to be reassuring, but there’s a false undercurrent. “After the first sip, you’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to Heaven.”
“I don’t want to feel like I’m dying,” Mom says.
“Let me try to put it another way. You’ll feel like . . . like the rest of the world is unimportant.”
A sip of what? Wine? Some kind of medicine? Some kind of drug?
Mom whispers something.
“Awww.” Victoria’s voice is gluey sweet, like a thousand pounds of caramel eaten all at once. “I was just a teeny bit scared too, but everything will be ay okay.”
Mom says something.
“Remember Mona,” Victoria says. There’s an edge to her voice, as if she’s desperate for Mom to do whatever she’s asking her to do. “Come here, Karen. Come into my arms.”
My heart is racing and I feel sick, but my brain is telling me to leap through the window, grab Victoria, and throw her out of the house by the nearest exit, because if I don’t, she’s going to rape Mom. If Mom doesn’t do what she says, she’ll hurt Mona, and I can’t allow either of those things to happen.
“We have a problem,” Victoria says. Her voice is now guttural, and I really wish this wasn’t happening.
I take a couple of steps toward the back door. I hear a cough and something flies past my head and hits the neighbors’ house.
What was that?
I take a few steps to my left and put my elbow through the window. I grab the ledge and pull myself up. I jump down and land on the floor.
Victoria’s holding her mask in front of her face with one hand, and a long knife in the other.
Why the mask? She can’t hurt me with it. Must be some reason she wants it.
I tear the mask out of her hand and toss it out of the broken window.
Victoria turns around and runs for the bedroom door. It’s covered in black rubber, and I’ve got to stop her. She gets there first, but her suit seems to be stuck. She hisses like an angry cat and I trip her. She still has the knife but can cut only my shoe before I get between her and her suit.
I look at her. She’s completely naked.
She lets go of the knife, and I don’t think she wants to fight anymore.
“Billy?” It’s Mom.
I don’t know what to say to her. I keep looking at Victoria, sitting there on the floor, with sunlight streaming through the broken window. Her hair is brown, and so are her eyes. Her lips are very red but the rest of her skin is quite pale. At her throat, there are two red wounds.
“Give me my cover,” she says.
Her voice is quiet but commanding.
“Billy,” Mom says.
I press my back against the door and stand firm. I don’t speak.
Victoria starts to look like she’s drying out. Locks of hair fall to the floor, as if the rays of sun touching them were some kind of cosmic chemotherapy treatment. Her ears dry up and come off like mutant prunes. I wonder if she can still hear, but I don’t want to say anything. Before she became what she is, she was one of God’s babies.
Her eyes bore into mine like hard, aged raisins, but I don’t look away.
It doen’t take long for her arms and legs to dry up and fall to pieces.
I hear cracking sounds and watch her ribs breaking apart.
Her heart, or what I think was once that, is gray.
I look up at her face, and her eyes are still burning with awareness and probably pain. I almost wish I’d let her have her suit.
Finally, when there’s just some of her head left, her eyes go out. She’s free.
“Rest in peace,” I say.
“Billy,” Mom says.
“Did she do anything to Mona?”
“No, just . . . just to me.”
“What did she do to you?” But as soon as I’ve asked the question, I know. In my mind, I see a spot of red on a shirt collar. “You don’t have to answer that. Dad and me will take you and Mona to the hospital.”
It takes me a few minutes, but I finally pry the suit off the door. Victoria must have used some kind of sealent to secure it around the edges. Thank goodness she did a bad job at the window, or I probably never would have heard her talking to Mom.
Dad wants to call an ambulance, but I don’t want people coming into our house and asking questions about the mess in their room. He finally agrees to take Mona to the car while I help Mom. Dad tries to sit in the driver’s seat, but he looks half asleep, and the last thing we need is an accident.
“I’ll drive,” I say.
“I can drive,” he says.
“I know, but I’d like to do it.” He shrugs.
“It’s too late anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“I haven’t heard Mona cry. She’s dead.”
How can he say that with Mom right there?
I don’t have anything to say, so I put my foot down and the car moves.
The emergency room is almost empty. Dad carries Mona and I practically carry Mom.
Dad walks up to a woman at the desk but doesn’t speak when she asks about the baby.
“Hi,” I say. “Mom and Mona need help. I think Mom’s lost a lot of blood.”
Dad won’t let me come with them.
“No, this is only family. Get a cab somewhere.”
He turns his back on me and leaves me standing there, hurting more than any wound Victoria’s knife could have caused.
I sit down on a plastic chair and cry harder than I’ve ever cried in my life.
A nurse asks if she can help, but I shake my head.
I’ll find out if Mom and Mona will be okay, and then I’ll leave.
A while later, a man in his forties comes up to me.
“I’m Dr. Sampson. Mona’s going to be fine.”
“Thank you. How’s Mom?”
“I’ll ask the doctor caring for her to come and talk to you.”
“Thank you,” I say again.
“You’re welcome. Would you like to hear more about Mona?”
“Sure, if you have time.”
“I do. She’s lost a lot of weight, but with feeding and hydration, she’ll make a full recovery.”
A few minutes later, another doctor comes to see me. She’s about thirty-five, and doesn’t smile.
“Your mom needs a blood transfusion, but there’s a problem.”
“We’re out of O negative blood.”
“We don’t have any blood that matches her blood type.”
“Your father isn’t a match.”
“He isn’t my father.”
“I’m adopted. It’s probably not allowed, but can I be a match for Mom?”
“It’s not likely, but we can check.”
They take a tube of blood and I go back to the waiting room.
The doctor comes to find me. Instead of standing like before, she sits down beside me. She looks professional in her white coat, but I notice that her hands are shaking.
Poor Mom must have died while she was waiting for blood.
Tears start to fall from my eyes and roll down my cheeks.
“Don’t cry. You’re a match. Will you donate blood for your mom? I sure hope so. I saw your labs. Your blood is beautiful.”
“D-donate b-blood? Y-yes.”
I donate as much as they’ll let me and eat the snack provided. The juice is nice and refreshing, and I’m growing bold. I ask if I can see Mona. To heck with Dad.
A nurse shows me into a room.
Mom’s lying in the bed, with a bag of what looks like blood hanging from a pole at her side.
Dad’s sitting in the only chair looking out the window, and there’s a crib on the other side of the bed.
“Who’s that?” Dad asks.
“It’s Billy. I just want to see Mona once, and then I’ll leave.”
Mom opens her eyes and looks at me.
“Why would you leave?” Her voice is a little bit quiet, but nowhere near as faint as before.
“I told him to,” Dad says.
“Because I lost my job, forgot to buy food, and didn’t protect you or Mona.”
“Well then, you’d better apologize to Billy,” Mom says. She points to the bag of blood. “He’s my son. Always.”
“You’re right,” Dad says. “Billy, I’m sorry. Please stay, and then come home with us.”
“There isn’t enough room, but I’m renting a house. If you want, we can all live there. Remember those watercolors you gave me?” I walk over to the crib.
“Watercolors?” Dad says.
“Yes,” Mom says. “I remember.”
I look down at my baby sister.
“I started painting and I posted a scan on the Internet.”
“Somebody commissioned illustrations for a book and I’ve already been paid some of the money.”
I reach for Mona’s small, white hand.
“I don’t know when, but Dad, maybe you can go to college and get a marketing degree.”
My fingers touch Mona’s.
“But what about your college?” Dad asks.
“I don’t want to continue. I prefer painting.”
“But you can’t make a living by painting.”
“Mona thinks I can. She’s squeezing my fingers. Wow, she’s strong.”
“I agree with you and Mona,” Mom says. “If painting’s what you love, and you’re being paid to do it, then for Heaven’s sake, paint!”
A nurse walks in.
“It’s time to feed Mona.”
“Should I leave?” I ask.
“You’re her brother, right?”
“I’ll show you how to give her a bottle.”
Less than a minute later, I’m holding my little sister in my arms.
This is the end of the story.
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