There was a rhythm to it; knock-knock knock-knock-knock pause knock-knock.
It was like a little song.
Nan hurried down the staircase, blotting her makeup sponge on her forehead.
"Cheese and Rice," she muttered. "Who is-"
But she stopped short, as she came to bottom of the stairs, facing the foyer adjacent to the living room. From where Rachel sat on the couch, she couldn't see who her grandmother was looking at. Her grandmother could see who was at the front door, for the bottom of the stairs faced a large front door with stained glass sidelights, and an arch of glass near the top. It was a beautiful door, but allowed little privacy.
Nan's eyebrows knotted together.
"Rachel, go find your dance bag."
Dance class wasn't for another two hours. Nan was trying to get rid of her.
"I have it right over there, Nan," Rachel argued, pointing to the black and pink bag next to the armchair.
Nan said nothing, but drew her shoulders back before striding purposefully towards the door. She pulled it open and stood there a minute.
Rachel scurried after her and stood partly behind the staircase railing so that her grandmother wouldn't feel her hovering and send her away.
Nan stood in the doorway. She didn't greet the visitor. She didn't move or speak at all, in fact.
In front of her stood a pale, skinny woman, dressed all in black and beaming vibrantly. Even under heavy black eye-makeup and long fake lashes her eyes sparkled. She grinned, making her many freckles dance on the bridge of her nose and she raised her arms with her fingers spread wide, as if to say "Ta-da."
Nan sighed heavily. "What are you doing here, Helene?"
Rachel's breath caught in her throat. Helene. Her mother. She must be here because Rachel had called her. Nan wasn't going to be happy to find out Rachel had called her.
Rachel's blood sped up. She stood on tiptoe and placed her chin on the banister. Her mouth watered with all of the questions that she wanted to ask, but she pinned her lips together tightly, her tongue furiously jabbing at a canker sore on her bottom gum.
She hissed at herself in her mind, 'Just stay quiet already!' She reminded herself how silly she could sound when she didn't give herself a chance to form the sentence in her mind first, when she didn't put all of the words into their proper places before opening her mouth to speak them. Rachel had to make this woman like her. She had to seem cool and smart and talented. She had to impress Helene, so that Helene would want to come back!
For a moment, Rachel allowed herself to revel in a moment of awe. She was sharing space with the woman she'd grown up staring at. She'd only ever seen Helene through the silver of a picture frame. Now the woman was standing in front her. Rachel might even get to interact with her. The woman on the wall.
Rachel knew the pictures of young Helene well. Pictures of a smiling freckled teen. She wore a coy, self-satisfied smile, and Rachel now saw this same thin-lipped smile emanating from the stranger on the threshold, and she wondered at the surreal quality of the situation.
Nan held the woman's gaze, a perfectly-manicured hand resting on her hip. Nan was annoyed. Rachel could see this in her posture, feel it in the taut energy wafting up from her. But Nan avoided conflict, and so there probably wouldn't be a big fight or anything. Nan's dislike of conflict was the reason she rarely interacted with Papa. The two mostly avoided each other and when they did speak it was only on topics of mundane household tasks, bills to be paid, appointments to be scheduled. Nan would rather sit next to her husband in silence at dinner than to raise the possibility of a fight, and Nan would rather stand awkwardly in the doorway in silence, than contribute in any way to the possibility of an altercation.
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***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...