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19. snakeskin

HILDA LEEK

I hear the TK Wanderlad movie reel end as I exit back into the hallway. Flip-flap. Flip-Flap. Flip-flap. My bones hurt as I go up the metal steps that lead to the main floor. My lungs burn. I feel a peculiar nausea. I think it’s the spirit book. Like it doesn’t like my blood. But I won’t let go of the tether in my hand. I know from experience that I can hold the tether’s connection to me. That I can maintain it. And I will, until all this is finished. And oh, how I want it to be finished: being so old, feeling helpless and unloved. I have to stop and lean on the doorframe as I get back to the top of the steps. When I was younger, I couldn’t have imagined a time when I’d be grateful for being able to breathe, or just feeling clean for a little while. I feel unclean so much of the time. Being able to see spirit stuff doesn’t help that feeling; I know it’s not just old age. Having that much spirit stuff on you makes you slower. It tires you out faster. And there’s so much on me. Too much for me to ever wash away, I’m sure, even if I knew how. And now I’m leaning on the front counter of the pawn shop. As I catch my breath, I look to make sure that the windows are closed. And I see Friedrich’s forgotten, so I have to take extra time to do that. I’m angry with him for a moment, but then I realize I might not have said anything about that. I’m too eager, like I said. After I close the windows, a feeling of fatigue comes over me. More of the spirit book’s work? I don’t know. But I shake my head and force myself to keep walking. I think about how perseverance is celebrated. Which is, I guess, an achievement for some people. The mere act of perseverance. But survival isn’t enough. I need more. I want more from the real life that’s waiting for me, once I shed the wrongness. So I go back to the door that leads to the next set of stairs. “Friedrich?” I call. My voice is dry and dusty. I hate hearing it. “Friedrich?” I call again. There is no answer. So I ascend the second set of steps, throwing up a little in my mouth about halfway up the stairs. I spit out the vomit on the stairway. This place has served its purpose, and soon enough I won’t need it. So what do I care? At the top of the second staircase, I have to stop again and lean on the wet bar that separates the living room and the kitchen. I look at the kitchen counter and see it’s been wiped down, and the utensils I used to make the sandwiches have been put in the dishwasher. Good of Friedrich to do all that. Speaks of his character. I’d been so careful to put away the drugs I put in the sandwiches that I’d left everything else out. And now I walk down the narrow hallway, passing the door to my bedroom and reaching Friedrich’s room. I open the door. He’s lying on the floor on his stomach. The plate I fixed his lunch on is on his bed, empty. I check his pulse, and find it strong and steady. I lift his eyelids with my thumb one at a time. He’s unconscious, and his eyes are rolled back. And that’s when I feel the sensation I’ve been waiting for. The room getting colder. It makes me shiver, it gets so cold. But I simply nod my head. “He’s ready,” I say. And then I begin to slowly drag Friedrich along the hallway. I feel a tingling sensation at my shoulders. I shake my head. “No — I’ve got it,” I say. Slowly, with Friedrich’s head in my lap, I drag him down the stairs back to the pawn shop. His feet make big clomping sounds as I drag him. Those absurd shoes the children wear. Much too big to be sensible. I stop to catch my breath again. So much pain, running all through me. A good kind of pain, though. Because it reminds me of what I’ll soon be rid of in my life. All the pain. I drag Friedrich across the hall and down a few of the steps, climbing back to the pawn shop door to pull it shut and secure the locks. The place is soundproof now. I pull open the control box in the wall and switch the ozone generators up to maximum and I hear them roar to greater life behind the soundproof walls. So many precautions to have taken. So much work. Wearing heavily on me now, but soon enough to bear fruit. I start to laugh as I move to drag Friedrich the rest of the way down to the shelter, taking another moment to sit at the table and get my strength back. I’m angry at how long it’s taking, but I’m also trying to be mindful after so much time that just a little more isn’t going to kill me. Then, I drag Friedrich into the Grandeur Room and collect Friedrich from the bedsheets, which I then pick up and leave by the door. I heft Friedrich up into the chair that’s back-to-back with Armando’s. And then I begin to strip Friedrich down until he’s naked, throwing his clothes over by the blankets. Now, I’m walking over to shut the door to the Grandeur Room. I set the time lock on the keypad under the metal plate. With Friedrich sitting up now I reach down and secure Friedrich’s wrists in the clamps. Then I slip Friedrich’s wrists and legs to the chair and clamp the manacles shut. Then, I snuff the torches of the Grandeur Room, and we’re all in darkness now, except for the branding iron, which is glowing dull orange. And this room is getting colder, moment by moment. And I’m so grateful for all I’ve been given in life. I take the handle of the branding iron into my hands, and use the faint light to find Friedrich in the dark. How like an angel he looks, with his sweating face glowing from the branding iron’s light. He looks in that moment more like his father than his mother. Which strengthens my resolve. But the iron isn’t quite hot enough yet, so I put it back in contact with the heating element, waiting until the moment is just right to use it on my grandson.

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Published inpart 2

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