Dinner (4)

They were ghosts in the hallways of their own home. She followed her brother, his shadow since she could walk, through the ivory paneled corridors and landings. Time had passed; the traces of them were now wiped from the pristine surfaces and exorcised from the spaces. Her old bedroom was a cold unused study, his, a sleek guestroom without personality. The lonely spaces swallowed any noise they made, quieting them like their father’s disapproving eye had in the past.

Their erasure was not complete. They were still here. Beneath layers of paint and buried in the garden she remembered crayons scrawled on walls and improvised pirate treasure. Those things remained here, and thus the house remained the only home she’d ever known, still frigid as always.

The aloof parents and their staff had never been able to quell them. Especially her brother. He was always too loud, too bright, too angry. He never let them ignore him. She smiled to herself, trailing behind as his designer shoes cracked against the tile.

Summer afternoon sun filtered into the foyer as the twins descended the staircase. Her brother’s car, a sleek and loud thing he’d bought himself, waited outside in the courtyard. He didn’t let the staff hide it away in the garages. Dinners with their parents sometimes required a quick escape.

His hand was on the french doors when they found him. She inhaled in alarm, darting back to hit the stairs. Her form broke, dissolving into the air with only whispers of static. Softly she breathed again, safely hidden and dissipated into the cold tile and polished oak.

Her brother sighed and turned, abandoning the path towards the gardens. “I’ll be there in a moment.” He said. The servant left without argument. Her brother paused for a long moment at the space she’d occupied the second before, frowning at the emptiness in the air.

He shook his head and turned away from the empty foyer. She watched tension spread up his spine and through his shoulders as he walked towards the dining room alone.

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Legal Theft: Petri Dish

If not for the soft chatter of the machines, she would go mad. Today their thrum was muffled. It barely permeated the thick glass of her containment tank. She pressed the side of her face to the curved edge to hear them better. Her cheek collapsed into smoky electricity and fanned over the clear glass.

Voice meant nothing to them, but she moved her lips anyway, Hello.

The soft surge of a power switch greeted her. Hello, it said without words. She smiled and placed a finger against the glass, concentrating to keep the digit firm until she could see the outline of a fingernail. It was the palest blue but there.

This was how she passed most mornings, holding the wafting pieces of herself together while the machine’s computers prattled on about her vitals and their tasks. Sometimes they let something interesting slip, not usually, but often enough that she kept listening.

That was until the men in lab coats arrived. The door of the lab clicked with heavy locks, beeped, and finally unbolted letting them in. She scattered, dropping into crackling vapor to pool at the bottom of the tank. Three doctors entered this time.

Like the machines, their voices were soft, rendered flat from the glass between them and volume with which they discussed her. She strained to hear, licking up against the base of the tank to peer into the room.

The computer reported her frequency levels before moving on to other metrics she’d yet to decipher. The doctors took notes and murmured with their soft deadened voices. They circled her. The edges of their crisp white coats blended them to the sterile white of the walls and machines. In comparison she felt loud, bright and crackling at the bottom of their petri dish.

One doctor pressed fingers to the surface of her tank. She flinched down flat against the glass floor, limpid bits of herself dissolving into the air in alarm. His motion was strange, and for a moment he seemed familiar. The move summoned old memories of the doctors she’d had before. Men and women with calm hands and crinkled eyes who’d set broken arms and listened to her lungs.

That was a long time ago though and these people in their white coats were different. She remained without a body to scrutinize.

The man who’d touched the tank stayed silent while the others began to talk, their voices audible so close to the glass. Neural activity remains constant. The monitors show cognition and control over her matter. No cooperative action. These were all things she’d heard before, repeated through the machines and discussed at length in the closed circuits of the lab.

The silent one continued to watch her as if trying to catch hold of her attention, unaware he’d already captured it. His face was familiar but unrecognizable, like they’d only once been briefly introduced at a very large party. And the tailored shirt under his lab coat looked like something her father would wear, which bothered her more than anything else about him.

The familiar one stood at the edge of her tank for some time until a decision hardened in his eye. He turned away then, snapping orders to the others that made little sense to her. The machines around the doctors broke into activity under their fingers. She rose a little, fingers once again reaching out to the chatter. Their answer was simple and terse, as they had work to do, but it came. We are trying something new. 

Not a thief this week at the very least, but perhaps a victim. If there is a theft of this setting I will report it with due diligence. 

Swim Away

Bell kept her eyes on the black waves, elbows on the railing of the monstrous yacht she was trapped on. Well not trapped, she allowed, it wouldn’t be an impossible swim to shore. She could only imagine the glee that would illicit from the other guests.

She set her jaw harder, until her teeth started to hurt. This night, like most nights her family thrust her upon the mercies of her peers, had been a trial. And like those nights, Bell had been found wanting.

Attempts at small talk had been met with weighted silences, or worse, mocking reciprocations that she did not catch quickly enough. Any of Bell’s genuine attempts to display interest in the piddling details of her peer’s lives had been met with mild skepticism and unease, both of which also turned to mockery when Bell had turned her back. She didn’t like them, and they didn’t like her. Bell could coldly appreciate the parallel nature of it all.

Still, their whispered words, audible behind thin doors, left a twisted feeling deep in her bones, like cold water shot into her veins. Bell realized she hadn’t blinked in a long time and shut her eyes against the bay’s stinging cold.

A scruff of heavy shoe on the deck interrupted the comforting dark behind her eyelids. Bell turned her head to the side. There was a young man standing there, looking at her with the even calm of parade rest.

He was dressed like the rest of them were, in outfits borne of long obsessions with public eye. But unlike the cultivated slouches of the nation’s young and obscenely wealthy, whoever he was, the stranger held himself with a stiff and discernible stillness.

“Hello.” Bell said, she tucked her sheet of pale hair over an ear so she could fix him sideways with one of the unblinking stares the others found so unnerving.

“Hello.” He smiled and moved his large frame to her side deliberately. Now close, they both looked over the water to avoid going cross-eyed. He didn’t lean against the railing, just placed his fingertips lightly against it. Bell noted the knotted knuckle bones crowning his hands, and the calluses in the crook of his trigger finger. That was different. “Bell, right?”

Bell’s mouth went tight; everyone at this party knew who she was. Pretending he didn’t just felt like the beginning to another game she was going to lose. So she didn’t respond to his question, her interest in the military career his hands betrayed dissipating at the prospect of more small talk.

The waves below them hit the yacht’s hull loudly, and Bell thought again about simply diving in and swimming to shore. Or maybe not to shore, maybe out into the ocean and so very far away.

 

White Dresses and Blue Jackets

Bell’s whole day was destined to be ruined by a dress. With her sharp cheekbones and pale hair, the prim white lace gave her a decidedly skeletal cast. It was neither flattering, nor in theme, and no one involved was happy about it. However, the school would never suggest the daughter of such a prestigious family stand out in something else, or heaven forbid, be uninvited from her own graduation.

Unfortunately her parents were also unwilling to challenge tradition. Bell’s mother had managed to wear the dress and matching sun hat with grace, Bell should be able to do the same. It was Bell’s fault that the sweeping hat shadowed her eyes into sightless hollows. “Perhaps if you smiled?” Her mother suggested over a martini. “No, don’t do that. It makes it worse.”

The matter was exhausted and then dropped. Bell would wear the dress and try to look less like the ghost of Christmas future. This graduation was good press, her mother’s publicist explained to Bell, not bad press like what she’d been caught doing in Toulouse last spring. But something instead to herald her entry into the corporate elite where she would attend better parties with better dresses. Dresses her parent’s stylists could pick out.

She left her parents table at that point in the sell, leaving her father with a scowl and her mother calling for another drink. Bell didn’t say anything to her classmates as she joined their lines. She hooked arms with the girls who wore their white dresses better than she did, and allowed herself to be escorted by young men in red striped ties and blue jackets.

They called her name. She cradled the bouquet of white flowers they handed her, and climbed the stairs to be given a framed piece of paper she’d never look at again. Bell sat back down and waited for the Dean to make his way through the rest of the alphabet.

It ended and the Dean declared them adults. The young men next to her tossed their caps, the girls hugged each other.  No one tried to hug Bell, for which she was grateful. She would not miss these people. They were also the corporate elite now, she would see them at the parties wearing the clothes their parent’s stylists picked out for them.

Bell watched the others filter towards their parents tables. She could hear the pop of cameras starting to go off. Everyone’s business newsletter would include the CEO’s family standing next to a white dress or blue jacket this month. Bell was gone by the time her mother’s publicist came looking.