The house was lovely and spacious. As the cuckoo clock in the next room ticked and crowed, she sat on the couch and waited for him. She absentmindedly twirled a lock of her hair around her finger and systematically smoothed her dress. Gowns and dresses were all she ever wore along with her ballet shoes and high heels. It was just one of her things. She never cut her hair because she wanted to be like Rapunzel. Her blood was substituted by caffeine. She constantly desired sound instead of silence and tapped her foot in rhythm to the clock ticks. Finally, Byron came out of the kitchen with two mugs and a fresh pot of coffee. She outstretched her arms with an expectant beam.
“How do you like your coffee again?” he asked, holding the coffee above her head.
“Black. Like my metal.”
“Oh, you,” he laughed. He gave her a cup and a kiss. “Well, do you like the place?”
“It’s really nice.”
“Well, now my home is our home.”
He placed his arm around her and she leaned on his shoulder. She studied his profile— his high-arched nose, blonde curls, and his handsome, scruffy face. He had the face of a young child — of a cherub — only with stubble. He had pale, flawless skin underneath his whiskers, and a smooth voice to match. He was perfect. With content sighs and similar smiles, they watched the blue of the sky seep into the horizon in splashes of reds and oranges.
“Oh god, I’m late for work.”
The taste of sleep was dried to her tongue and she stretched with a yawn. Her neck was cramped and she felt the permanent imprint of a hardcover book on her back. Sleeping on a leather couch was not her idea of comfort. She reached over for the cup on the living room table and drained the remaining dregs of her drink into her parched throat. She made a face at the taste of the cold, bitter coffee.
“Check on Grace in a bit, will you? I have to go. I’ll see you at dinner?” he asked, as he ran out of his room with a tie streaming behind his shoulder and a pair of socks in his hand.
“I’m sorry I can’t make you breakfast, Amelie. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen.”
He blew a kiss in her general direction and was out the door.
Amelie got up and rushed into Grace’s room. It was like stepping into a flurry of pink and white. It was a room for Grace; ten-year-old Grace with her ice blond hair, fuchsia pajamas, and collection of Noah’s Ark animals littering the room, leering with beaded eyes. Otherwise, everything was in its place. Not a wrinkle in the carpet or a scratch on the furniture or an item of clothing unfolded. It was very much like a microcosm of Byron’s apartment, just like she was a miniature version of his very image.
“Oh, it’s you.”
She didn’t quite know what to say to that.
“Would you like some breakfast?”
“I can make it myself,” Grace said. Her hair was plastered across her cheeks and stood at weird angles. She pushed back the draping, gauzy canopy over her bed and glared at Amelie, her fingers quickly combing her hair.
“Let me brush it for you, darling. Come to the mirror in daddy’s room.”
“I don’t like mirrors.”
“You… don’t like mirrors?”
“No, now go away.”
“Grace, I’d really like for us to be friends,” Amelie said.
Grace sat on the spindly stool and leaned her elbows on the glossy tabletop. Her eyes followed the movements of Amelie’s arms and she watched as Amelie placed toast on a plate and brought out orange juice. She placed it down in front of Grace.
“I’m getting cereal.”
Amelie did not say anything; she picked up the plate, dumped the toast in the garbage, and tipped the glass of orange juice into the sink. She began to rinse the dishes and stared out the open window. The rusty swing set swayed as a breeze rushed by, taking the seeds of dandelion clocks with it. Buttons of black and yellow suckled at the azaleas and pansies and geraniums by the window. She also became aware of the hanging plants that dangled from the plaster ceiling.
“You like flowers?” Amelie asked.
“Iguessho,” Grace said, spooning cereal into her mouth.
“What’s your favorite kind?”
“Daisies. My mom liked them too.”
Grace stopped abruptly then began to eat quicker, pushing more and more pieces into her mouth as though she were preventing words from peeking out, as though she had said too much.
“Do you have any in the house? Outside, maybe?”
“Hi, Mr. Stoddard,” Amelie called to the flower-shop owner as she stopped in front of his store.
“Hello there, Amelie. How are you today?”
“Just fine, I want to get home before it gets any darker. Your shop is open later than usual tonight. I see you’re finishing up a sale?”
“Damn autumn and its early nighttime. I have to sell these things. And hence, the lights,” he said, and gestured towards his many newly-installed light sources. “Would you be interested in buying some flowers? Everything that’s left is 20% off. The daisies and tulips are half.”
Amelie stepped forward and touched the white petals.
“I’ll take these, please,” Amelie said.
“Lovely. Davina, these flowers for the young lady,” Stoddard called to someone in the back. A small woman rushed over and deftly began to place them on tissue paper.
“Mm, spitting image of Greta,” Stoddard mumbled.
“Huh? Oh, no. It’s just, I couldn’t place my finger on it. But I finally realized. You look just like this woman that used to come here. She loved the daisies.”
Amelie unwrapped the bunch of daisies and tiptoed into Grace’s room to the window. Streetlights and moonshine slipped through the window blinds and spilled onto the carpet. She lined the window frame with the flowers – supported by masking tape – and placed the rest on the sill between ceramic animals; a garden for the elephants. She was about to leave with the remaining flowers when her eyes noticed a small, dingy, dirty mirror on the bedside table. She picked up the remaining two daisies and pressed the stems into the grooves and curves and indentations. For a few minutes, Amelie watched Grace’s sleeping figure as it rose and fell and rose and fell. Keeping her eye on her, she crept to the door. She stubbed her toe and hissed to herself.
Grace’s eyes opened immediately. She resembled a porcelain doll with her flawless skin, smooth lips, and unwavering stare. It was blank and cold.
“What are you doing in here?”
“I was just…”
Then Grace’s eyes landed on what was behind her and she howled. Amelie’s eyes landed on what her foot had collided with— a fallen, ragged canvas revealed a mirror.
“It’s just catoptrophobia,” Byron said.
Grace had screamed for an hour, even after Amelie frantically draped the cover back. Grace had then knocked the small mirror (“But sweetheart, look! Daisies. God, I’m so sorry”) onto the carpet and proceeded to the window. She swiped the blinds and stared at Amelie’s daisy wall that seemed to grow from, suck at, and crawl across the glass plane like charnal vines. Grace picked each flower and plucked the petals and threw the stems out the window, dropping a stream of noise and indistinct words with them.
“It’s more than catoptrophobia,” Amelie said.
“Calm down. Jesus, I’ve never seen you like this.”
“Byron, I can’t believe you. Even if it were just that, why would you leave the damn thing in her room?” Amelie jammed a cigarette in her mouth.
“I… don’t know. I was planning to clear it out.”
“And what were you waiting for?”
“Certainly not the death of her mom.”
“Elephants mourn their dead, you know.”
Amelie looked up, startled. Grace had not spoken to her in a week.
“Oh. Well, that’s very interesting.”
“I’m like that.”
Amelie walked into the living room to Grace trying to tug at a screw in the floor. The floorboard was slightly crooked, revealing a jagged black crack— a crooked smile.
“Darling, come away, now. You could hurt yourself. How did that happen?”
“I don’t know. I dropped some of my coins and it rolled behind the plant and in the crack. I never noticed it was there.”
“Let me get a screwdriver and we’ll get your coins back.”
The left side of Grace’s lips turned up, but just a little bit. Something seemed resolved between the two of them.
“God, these screws are tough. Just…a…little bit…more. Hah!”
With a final turn, the other screw came loose and she pushed the board aside.
“Now we can get your…” she stopped.
Grace screamed. Amelie closed her eyes and tried not to breathe in.
A half-eaten yellow eye stared back. The other socket had four quarters and a dime.
She was sure it used to be a handsome kitten— a dusty grey one with white markings and a bottlebrush tail dipped in ink. Not the one cramped and jammed in a “coffin” with congealed blood, stubby tail, sour stench, stray hairs, missing eye: a rotten cat. The smell slinked into Amelie’s face, curling and crawling and clawing at the inside of her nose.
Apparently, it was Grace and Byron’s old cat. After disposing of the kitten corpse, Grace whispered, “We buried her in the backyard of our old house.”
Amelie suggested that Grace go to bed a little early. After the door closed, Amelie stared into the area where the cat once was, held her breath, and leaned in closer. To the left and to the right— ceramic flowerpots.
It struck her as odd. She reached for one and blew on the film of dust. The particular one in her hand was blood red with black slashes and foreign characters. She peered inside. She retched and trembled, it slipped from her fingers. Contents spilled.
Human bones, crushed petals, mirror shards.
“I can’t live here. I’m leaving. But I want you to tell me what the bloody hell is going on,” Amelie screamed. She fumbled for her lighter and held the cigarette between her shaking fingers. She shakily exhaled, the smoke unfurling into the tense air and soaking in it.
“God, isn’t this familiar? No, I’m not going to. I want you to explain this to me. This is absolutely unreal.”
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Somehow, I don’t believe you.”
“Grace has been traumatized since her mom died. She could have… brought the cat and the jars with her when we moved here.”
“You can’t be serious. She was horrified when she saw what was there.”
“Kids pretend, you know,” he said with a shrug.
“Don’t be so condescending. She’s your daughter. You’re acting as if you don’t even love her.”
He stood up and the stool scraped against the tiled floor. He raised his hand. “You shut the fuck up.”
Amelie took a step backward. She breathed in the cold atmosphere and shuddered.
His voice reverted. “Amelie, I’m sorry. That was out of line. Come here,” he said, extending his arms to her.
She didn’t move.
“Amelie, come here.” His voice grew a little harsher, his eyes wild. He had no more stubble in his face, but he had the lost the young boy look and mien. He seemed out of place in the white-tiled kitchen with his business suit, pursed lips, and infuriated expression.
“It wasn’t Grace and you know it,” Amelie said. “She can’t even touch or look at a mirror because… it’s too much of a reminder of what caused her mother’s death.”
“Maybe,” Byron said.
“Tell me the truth.”
“So I get a little attached to things,” he said slowly. “My cat, the first love of my life. Those aren’t things you just toss away.”
“…Of course not,” Amelie said.
He took a sip from his mug and stirred in some sugar. “Coffee?”
She did not respond and he shrugged. He continued to slowly stir the black coffee and he watched his little hurricanes. She inched closer to the door.
“I don’t do well with good-byes, dear.”
And Amelie too, became a keepsake— dresses and all.