All the Windows and All the Doors
by Damien Angelica Walters
Originally published in September 2017 in Chopping Block Party: An Anthology of Suburban Terror
Mom is shrieking for Sarah again, her voice high-pitched and wavering. I stand at the bottom of the staircase and pinch the bridge of my nose. My other hand clenches into a fist, releases, clenches again.
How many times did I run up and down this staircase as a child, not bothering to hold onto the railing, sometimes taking the steps two a time? I fell down it when I was nine or ten, my socks slipping on the wood, bruising my tailbone on the landing. Forty years ago, a sobering thought.
The master bedroom that once smelled of laundry detergent, Chanel No. 5, and Old Spice now reeks of stale urine and old flesh. Whenever I open the windows, Mom insists she’s cold, even though it’s early September and not even chilly yet.
“Who are you? I don’t know you. Where’s Sarah?” Mom says, her gaze moving from me to the wall and back again. She’s propped up in the center of the queen-sized bed with two pillows behind her. Beneath the sheet, her body appears unsubstantial. On the verge of disappearing.
“She isn’t here today, Mom. It’s me, Marianne.” I shouldn’t let it bother me—Mom rarely recognizes Sarah when she’s here—but it does.
“You need to lock the door,” she says in a husky voice.
Mom points to the wall, decorated in floral wallpaper in shades of pink, cream, and sage green. There’s no door. Only a dresser with a small television at one end and a lamp with a low-wattage bulb serving as a night light at the other.
I fish a pill from one of the bottles on the nightstand. It’s technically too early to give her another dose, but she’s eighty years old. Comfort reigns over schedule.
“Here, it’s time for your medicine,” I say.
Mom shakes her head, her cotton puff hair bouncing with the movement. “You need to lock the door,” she says. There’s fear, real fear in her eyes—dementia often resembles the Victorian concept of madness—so I walk to the wall, mime turning a lock.
“See? It’s locked.”
I playact rattling a handle. Mom stares at the wall for a bit before opening her mouth for the pill. Soon enough, she’s softly snoring. I hear her clock winding down in every breath, see it in every flutter of her eyelids. She would hate this. Would hate being bedridden and dependent. Would hate the frail state of her mind even more.
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