skin has acquired a ruddy cast. Leathery, almost. “I'm glad you
brought me here,” she tells his back. She's not really. She hates
being here, stuck at the top of some quiet lonely mountain with
nothing but the snow and her husband and the board games of her
youth: Clue... checkers... backgammon, of course.
turns. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
rubs her left wrist where arthritis has recently settled in. “Very
much.” Another lie.
took up skiing three weeks ago, some midlife crisis, she guessed, and
she humored him, knowing it could be much worse, understanding that
he would eventually return to the man she married: quiet, studious,
cautious in every way.
do you do while I'm out?” He returns to his chair.
hasn't asked her to accompany him on the slopes, and for that she is
grateful. “Catch up on my reading,” she says, then blows on her
tea. “Watch some movies. Stare into the fire.” God, it's boring
here. When he'd told her about the trip, he said she didn't need to
go; he'd be happy, he assured her, to go alone. Now, she studies his
lips, chapped and flaking. “You need lip balm.”
waves away her comment; arranges his men on the board.
go first,” she says, and he scoops up the dice, drops them in the
shaker, lined in black felt. She likes listening to the muted sounds
of the dice as he shakes and spills them out. She laughs.
He moves a man forward three spaces.
remembering my Raggedy Ann doll.” She picks up the dice and rolls.
“A Christmas gift from my mother. Hand made by my babysitter.”
She splits the roll, moving one man forward two, another six. “I
remember untying the strings of her white pinafore, slipping her arms
out so I could lift up her dress to see her little heart.”
“It was chain
stitched in red thread upon her chest. And inside that heart were the
words I love you.” She
passes him the dice. “I was always a light sleeper. I absolutely
could not sleep without her.”
“You still wake up a lot.”
“You know about that?”
“I hear you, Celeste. Prowling through the house, opening and
closing drawers and cabinets, like you're looking for something
It's true. She wakes frequently, blinking wide eyes into the
darkness, heart racing, breathing too fast, knowing that death will
eventually come to her and feeling afraid. “Every night, I woke to
the soft sounds of my parents putting the house to bed. Grown-up
sounds.” She smiles. “The clink of the dishes in the sink; the
dog's final trip outside, his nails tapping on the linoleum; the
checking of the doors.” Then there was the quiet settling of the
bedsprings, accompanied by her parents' easy conversation; the
television clicking on to The Tonight Show. “Do you remember those
Philip nods. “Of course.” He rolls the dice, moves a man forward
“Every Sunday, my father would clean and refill his.” She
remembers the metallic sound of the lighter flipping open. His
thumbing of the wheel. The smell of butane. She remembers the flame,
dancing like a genie upon the blackened wick. “That was safety for
me. Johnny Carson and butane and a doll in my arms.” Her mother
would laugh at something Carson said and her father would join in
and, surrounded by their laughter, she allowed herself to drift back
“One time, I smeared grape Chapstick over Raggedy Ann's mouth.”
“No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't scrub it off. For years I
fell asleep with the scent of grape in my nose.”
They fall silent. Celeste has the sense that Philip is just going
through the motions. He's tired, she reasons, from skiing all day.
The reporter talks about cooking oil bombs; people starving for lack
of fuel. She imagines the children, chewing upon uncooked grains of
rice dropped from giant birds in the sky.
“What happened to it?”
“Oh.” She frowns with the memory. “One day, I was holding her
by the shoe, really just black fabric sewn to her leg. I swung her
around over my head. And her leg just split open.” She remembers
watching that red and white leg tear, watching her doll falter and
crumple. “Her leg was stuffed with old holey nylons,” she says,
blotting her eyes with her napkin.
“It just made me so sad. I hated her then. Hated her for what I did
to her. I buried her in the trash compactor after dinner that night.”
She remembers her profound sadness tinged with that little thrill in
knowing that she could take a thing and destroy it.
“It was just a doll, Celeste.” Philip goes to the kitchen and
returns with a plate of cookies. “Hungry?”
She takes a cookie and breaks it in half. “One day,” she says,
looking at his face. “I went and found the cat. Took him outside to
the front yard.”
Philip sets down the plate and sits. He leans in, listening, his chin
upon his hand.
“With all these cars passing by, I held that cat by his tail; stood
there just watching it swing like a flailing pendulum, back arching,
paws curling and reaching, claws extended, grasping at empty air
desperately trying to find a purchase on something.” She glances at
his face before continuing. “In a sick way, I enjoyed it, feeling
the cartilage strain and threaten to give. And I knew again, with
complete certainty this time, that I had the capacity for evil. It
was frightening and thrilling and, Jesus, it felt so powerful knowing
I had the ability to harm another creature.”
Philip's face blanches.
“I was afraid of getting scratched. So I dropped the cat, watched
it land on his feet and run away to hide.
“And I hid, too. I ran inside and hid in my bedroom, waiting for
someone to stop; waiting for the telephone to ring.” She stares at
Philip. “But no one stopped, Philip. No one called my mother. No
one ever said a thing.” She blows her nose. “I've never told
anyone that before.” She smiles at her husband. “I was so
relieved when you told me you didn't want children.” She feared her
power, knowing what she was capable of. She smoothed it over, this
knowledge, frosting over it like the makeup she applied to the
smiling plastic Barbie's head, bright eyes perpetually staring, while
she rubbed a bit of blush on her cheeks, rolled pink curlers in her
hair, shoved a pair of her mother's earrings through unpierced vinyl
lobes. Her face, her home, her entire life was a pretty cake of
a sudden snap. She startles. “What was that?”
follows Philip to the laundry room. Stares at the mouse stuck there,
alternating the frantic yanking of its legs with an awful gnawing.
She reaches down, releases the bar, watches the mouse drag itself
free. Before it can get away, Philip brings his boot to the side of
its head. She hears the crunching of the fragile bones.
He picks up the mouse with a balled up tissue, opens the slider, and
tosses it into the night. A gust of frigid air blasts into the room
and she wishes to move closer to her husband, but finds she cannot.
He resets the trap; washes his hands in the kitchen sink; takes a
handful of chips and carries them to the dining room. “Celeste, I
want a divorce,” he says and at the same time she speaks, too.
“I want a baby, Philip.”
They stare at each other. “That was years ago, Philip. I was just a
“I'm seeing someone. Your move,” he says.
rolls double sixes. “Oh, how lucky,” she says through her tears,
capturing two of his men and moving a man twelve towards home.
sorry,” he says. But somehow this isn't enough. “Look,”
he says. “If we were to dissect our marriage, we'd find it's empty.
Full,” he says, “of old discarded nylons.”
She leaves the game. Pushes away from the table and goes to their
bedroom. She prepares for bed while her husband shuts off the radio,
throws the deadbolts home. She pretends to sleep when he comes into
the bedroom and rummages through his drawers.
When his breath comes slow and even from the living room couch, she
rises and goes to the window. “Nothing feels safe anymore,” she
tells the night. She wide-eyes in the dark, wishing for the old
comforts: butane, her doll, and Johnny Carson. She feels a hand upon
her shoulder; refuses to turn around. “What's wrong with me,
human, Celeste. That is all.” He gives an easy laugh and she
laughs too. Tomorrow they will begin the slow dismantling of their
lives. What's for him. What's for her. What to throw away.