There is an accepted order of things, and she is upsetting this intricate balance. He just can’t seem to kill her, she simply refuses to die. He has tried everything, poking at her eyes with knitting needles, cutting the skin in between her fingers with garden secateurs, burning the backs of her earlobes with a cigarette lighter, everything. But, she will not bleed out, this atrocity stapled to the bed. She resolutely, will not have the decency to expire. And now, because of her inexcusable betrayal, he carries an unceasing constriction of grief around his chest. A nameless, simmering rage consumes his waking hours, and this piteous loss pierces him just above what is left of his heart: limping and inert. She must suffer for the torturous agony that she has caused. He cannot forgive her for what she has done.
There is another she in his life and now she is made of a shadow of a whisper, and her veins run with the memories of spectres.
She is called Minerva, and she used to be so beautiful. Her rose kissed cheeks, and pearlescent little teeth, all in a row. She has hair like honey, and a crooked smile, her lips curling ever so slightly downwards, giving her mouth just an occasional glimmer of melancholia, as she played in the flowerbeds, looking up at him with one eye closed, the sunlight glinting off the ends of her liquid honey hair and the freckles bursting across the end of her nose. Her tinkling laughter would give him endless hours of soaring joy when they played together out in the garden.
They would waste away those endless hours making daisy chains and collecting buttercups. She would chase the butterflies in the golden twilight, until she was breathless and her skin was glowing and scratchy from the course summer grass. Then, she would have a cup of cold milk, and tickle and scratch at his unshaven face, as they counted up the innumerable glinting stars spread out over them in a cascading canvas of shimmering light.
Even now the echoes of her memory are burned into him, scarred and etched into the surface of him. Now she looms, floating at the corner of his peripheral vision, pulling at the delicate fibres of his sanity. Her mournful eyes, once made of crystal, glittering with hope and incalculable possibility, now look like glowing embers and they beg and plead with him to release her: but he can’t let her go.
Sometimes, she sings him to sleep, with all the old lullabies that they used to sing together. All those cheerful songs about gentle things, but now her voice so thin and distant, ever so slightly out of tune. She is the solitary incandescent star in his infinite black heaven, her ethereal silver light shines down into him and makes him whole. The constant thought of her cuts into him and leaves him hollow.
Her favourite song is the one about the happy little turtle that lived under the ocean, she insisted that they sing it together at least twice before bedtime. He always knew there would be trouble when she got that defiant twinkle at the corner of her velvet rosebud lips, a staunch stubbornness that she inherited from her devout, reverent Mother. So, they would sing and sing long into the night, until her eyelids fluttered and the embrace of sleep would sweep her from him on undulating waves of blissful contentment. Then, he would turn on her music box and cautiously tip toe over to the doorway, stepping over the discarded toys and stuffed animals, trying not to nudge anything that would make a noise. He could never resist having one last glimpse of her as he stood in the light of the doorway. He would hold his breath and watch her chest rising and falling, silently promising her that he would never let her come to harm.
Everything changed when they moved into the new house. He still remembers all those cardboard boxes sitting around the place, partially emptied and in complete disarray. He never admitted that he was totally unaware of the contents and how they had managed to accumulate so much stuff in such a short space of time, dusty old plates from who knows where, carved wooden curtain rods, superfluous cotton tablecloths embroidered with sunflowers: so many useless things.
He fondly replays images of his two favourite girls gleefully chasing each other around in all that disorder and slightly organised chaos, then building a fort with all the half empty boxes, scribbled with permanent marker. They were the only two essential aspects of his life, everything else seemed so vapid and meaningless. As long as they were with him, nothing else mattered.
He will never forgive himself for not listening to her when she told him about the man who whispers to her at nighttime. She would tell him that she sees him standing in the corner when he turns on her music box. She said that he would scratch at her face and tell her that everything would end. She was only four years old, so he always assumed she was just having bad dreams and he made sure to trim her nails after bathtime, when she would smell sweetly of lavender and her hair was still slightly damp.
He would tuck her into the new freshly painted bed, and check in all of the closets and under her chest of drawers covered with rainbows. He would reassure her that everything was alright and there were no monsters under the bed, as he gently kisses her on the forehead and her tired, fearful eyes began to droop. As he walked towards the doorway, he thought he caught a fleeting glimpse of a shadow in the corner of the room, but he convinced himself that he was being irrational.
A few nights after that he saw her on the monitor screen doing a handstand on the windowsill, the window open and the star-emblazoned curtains billowing out into the night. Something appeared to be dangling her by the ankles and the fingerprint shaped bruises have still not healed. When he frantically entered her bedroom she was still in bed, tucked up snugly, just as he left her. He tried to wake her, but her eyes were blank and lifeless, revolving in the back of her skull.
The next night he awoke with Minerva standing over him, and he wasn’t sure if her feet were touching the bed. She was mumbling incoherently about the man with hate for a face who hangs from the ceiling. He helplessly shook his wife by the arm, but she slept on, her golden crucifix glinting in the anaemic moonlight. In the morning, he found Minerva sleeping upside down in the closet, with the belt of her fluffy pink bathrobe wrapped around her neck, and her music box in pieces on the floor. She choked back into life as he lifted her and she clung to his neck and wept. He knew even then that they should have moved out, but the bank refused to grant them another mortgage and they were already in negative equity on the house: there was no way out.
His wife became increasingly withdrawn and distant. They were strangers bumping into each other, her voice became an indistinct whisper, then she stopped speaking all together. The darkness around her eyes became deeper, and she barely slept. He noticed the sparkling strands of silver developing at the ends of her hair, and she gave up looking after herself, gradually becoming more worn, her emancipated cheekbones ever more apparent under her sallow, waxy skin.
He tried to discuss what was happening to them, but she refused to listen and seemed to look through him as she stared and cocked her head at an unnatural angle, her expression drenched with contempt. After that she began drinking in the afternoon and he would find her wailing in the bathtub, screeching about their second son, who didn’t make it. She would claw at the tattoo of his date of birth on the inside of her wrist, until the blood ran down into the mixture of soapy water, urine and drunken tears. She would burn her vagina with the candles she kept on the side of the bathtub and curse her womb for producing a stillborn son.
These days she would only speak when she was drunk and she would blame everything on him and call him a useless whore’s cunt. She would scream their son’s name over and over and over and then throw her glass at his head, the shards piercing his skin when he cleared it up, and the sticky residue of alcohol splashed on the newly painted lilac walls. He couldn’t look her in the face for weeks after she tried to push Minerva down the stairs. She told him that she was trying to cleanse her.
Minerva was never the same after that, she seemed broken in some way; irreparably damaged. The little girl he adored so completely was gone. She would refuse to sleep in her bedroom because of the man with ember eyes that tells her to forever succumb to sleep. She would scream and cry and beg him to protect her, as she knows that he will come for her at night. If only he had believed her, and not the child psychologist who told him that she was struggling to cope with change and it was “just a phase”. There was true terror in those innocent opal eyes, and he didn’t listen to her pleading. This is a searing wound that he will always carry, and it will never heal.
So, now she deserves all the suffering that she receives after he forced her onto the bed and bound her legs with electrical tape. And he feels nothing as he snips off her lips with a pair of nail scissors. She must be punished for what she did to his little Minerva.
That night, he tried so desperately to pull her out of his wife’s crushing grip as she pushed her face under the surface of the water in the bathtub, and her distorted voice reverberated off the lilac walls of the bathroom as she screamed that she must cast this foul, cantankerous darkness out of this lump of infected meat that was once her daughter, she must cleanse her of sin for her final redemption in the light of the Lord. He tore at his skin and bellowed like a skewered, butchered animal when she stopped breathing, her rosebud lips, rimmed with a pale blue kiss. There was no anaesthetic for the pain that overtook him.
But now, his precious little Minerva smiles, as she floats above his shoulder, with her ember eyes glistening and he reaches for the hacksaw, ignoring the muffled pleas for mercy. And then he starts to cut, and Minerva laughs and laughs. She knows, that the time has finally come.