With the light of the morning, the world became a kinder place. All the demons of the night were gone, and Rachel was left wondering how a room could be so intimidating, filled with so many possibilities of torment in darkness, and with the light of the morning that same room became so placid, so harmless.
After Yasiris was picked up, Rachel decided she'd check the garage to ensure they'd left no evidence of their sneaking. Nan would blow up if she knew that Rachel and Yasiris had gone sneaking in the middle of the night. Her voice would become high-pitched and crack. She'd click her tongue and roll her eyes and shake her head. She'd let Rachel know with every movement and every infliction that Rachel had committed a serious wrong. But Rachel wasn't sorry. If Nan didn't want her to go sneaking, then she should tell her something about her mother. She shouldn't leave it up to Rachel to play the detective.
As Nan scrubbed the breakfast dishes at the sink, Rachel slipped past, moving quietly through the kitchen to the garage door.
"Where are you going?"
Rachel jumped. She twisted in Nan's direction.
The older woman pursed her lips, giving Rachel a pointed look. Before Rachel could answer, Nan jumped into one of her lectures.
"Because if you're riding your bike, I better not catch you without a helmet again. I know, for a fact, that last time you wore your helmet, you left it sitting next to the house. Ms. Baker told me she saw you take it off and stuff it next to the bush."
Rachel sighed. "Nan, I already told you I won't do that again. Besides, I'm not even going to ride my bike."
Nan raised an eyebrow at this.
"Then what do you need in the garage?"
Rachel gripped the bottom of her Hanson t-shirt, tugging it down again and again, one of her many nervous ticks.
"I think I dropped my book out there last time I went to get my bike. I can't find it."
Nan turned back to the sink, rinsing the frying pan she held.
"Um..The Babysitter's Club. It's a Mallory one."
Nan clicked her tongue. "Well, can't help you there. You have too many of those Babysitter books strewn all over this house. Hurry up and go look."
Her unease sharpened, a blast of energy adding to her taut nerves. She scrambled to pull open the door, shutting it behind her and bounding over to the wall of boxes. She scanned the pile looking for any obvious sign that the tower of junk had been disturbed. They'd put the boxes back. All of the items had been stuffed back into the cardboard. Her gaze fled over the pile from top to bottom several time, until finally feeling satisfied, she made to go back inside.
She stopped, heart mid-thump, with her foot poised. A coating of gray flashed in her vision. her unease speeding onward, gathering strength.
Dust. The dust from the top of the box. It covered the blue carpet in a mixture of powder resting in a fine layer like a dusting of gray snow, and large chunks of thicker dust, like tumbleweeds of clutter.
Rachel's gaze fled to the door. Still shut. But she didn't have much time. Nan would check on her soon. She had to be fast. She spun about, arms frantically flapping at her sides, searching for anything she might use to clear the dust away. A broom? A feather duster?
There was nothing. Nan kept all the cleaning in supplies in the closet outside the kitchen.
The sound of the water running in the kitchen ceased, and on the opposite side of the garage door, Rachel's heart pounded in time to the sounds of Nan's steps against the linoleum. They weren't coming in this direction. Not yet.
One last spastic jerk of her neck and Rachel found the possibility she hadn't seen before. A blue rag. She sprinted to the shelf across the room, a plank of wood that ended just before the roll-up garage door. She moved with a quickness usually reserved for a sprint through a room too dark, too filled with creatures and monsters and a man on fire.
Clutching the stained rag, she raced over the spot of carpet she'd littered with grime. Her knees struck the ground with a force that sent pain exploding from her kneecaps, zipping up her thighs. She winced, squeaking in pain. She pressed her lips together so that Nan wouldn't hear her.
She swiped back and forth, and the dust was sent scattering. She swirled the rag about, brushing the dust off the edges of the carpet remnant and onto the small sliver of exposed concrete next to the pile of boxes. She shoved the dust into the crevices of the box pile. Some of it she pushed under the blue carpet, pulling up the edge and stuffing it under.
When the dust was mostly cleared away, not completely, but enough that it wasn't obvious, Rachel reached up and stuffed the rag into the top of one of the boxes. She looked down at the carpet and tried to scrape away the remainder of the dust with her sneaker. It did not good. A lot of the dust clung to the carpet and the more she'd tried to wipe it, the more it pressed down into the fabric, smearing and staining. Still, it wasn't as noticeable as it had been. The rug was dark and the dust had been diluted. It would take standing in this exact spot and looking down to notice it.
Rachel ran over to the cement steps and then looked back at the area. Convinced it wasn't visible unless one knew where to look for it, Rachel went back into the kitchen.
It was empty now. Nan must have gone upstairs to do her make-up and get ready for the day.
Rachel walked through the kitchen and into the living room, plopping down on the sofa with a relieved sigh.
Nan would never know that Rachel had gone through those boxes. She'd never know that Rachel had gone sneaking and found that phone number.
She thought back on that short conversation. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to try calling again, when she felt braver, when she had the nerve to tell her mother that the burns weren't her fault and explain all about her spontaneous combustion.
It was then that it happened.
There was a knock on the door.
YOU ARE READING
***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...