a short story by Melanie Lamaga
This story appeared previously in Zahir magazine and anthology.
After you left I turned to stone: white marble woman at kitchen table. The cup of tea I’d been drinking when you looked at me for the last time cooled and began the slow process of evaporation.
This is it, I thought. Forever.
But even statues erode. Features, once chiseled, soften and blur. It began with tiny ripples from fingers to arm, gradual movements perceptible only over time. Eventually, I learned to navigate my new body.
Next I decided to scrub the kitchen floor. After eons of staring at the same spot, I’d become intimate with every spill, crumb and hair.
Routine at first, the procedure grew grave as the vinyl remained stained. I tried bleach, pine, even Comet. The scouring only highlighted thousands of small cracks and dents inflicted by shoes, appliances, feet, claws.
Deciding there must be something better underneath, I pulled up the grimy vinyl to reveal green and orange linoleum, circa 1950. Very exotic. You would have hated it.
I slipped on a slinky ballroom gown and danced the Cha-Cha-Cha, imagining a dewy-eyed couple in patent leather pumps and wingtips gliding over this floor, once upon a time.
I’m of the belief that things and places hold traces of what was. Go to a Neolithic temple where people have worshipped for thousands of years, or the dungeon of a castle where they tortured prisoners. If you’re not cold as rock yourself, you’ll feel it. And if those walls can hold the past, why not a floor?
For a while I enjoyed the linoleum, but then I noticed discolorations. Were they stains? There must have been a reason it had been covered with vinyl, after all.
I grew obsessed, imagining Patent Leather and Wingtip entangled in sleazy affairs and screaming matches that led to bloody noses, spilled Martinis, and drunken sex on that very floor. No wonder I couldn’t get it clean.
Not to assign blame, but this house was your idea. I liked the modern one we looked at, with skylights and open rooms. You insisted on history. And where are you living now? Some chrome and glass loft without any walls, high in the sky, looking down.
Vowing to eradicate its sordid past, I tore up the linoleum with a crowbar and discovered pink tile, of all things. Was this house once the refuge of some sensitive Victorian spinster?
Maybe so. I spent the next week crocheting doilies and writing erotic poems thinly veiled by religious symbolism, content in my candle-lit solitude, wearing high-necked dresses and corsets that kept my creeping passions contained.
All that ended last night, when the wind rose to a howl. I found myself rippling through the house in a white linen nightgown, writhing against the windows and hissing at the sky. What with all the billowing curtains and flickering candles, I nearly burned the place down. The pink tile had to go.
I shed my white gown, corset and frilly bloomers. Naked, I grabbed a sledgehammer and got to work.
It took me till dawn to smash the tiles and get the slivers up, aching muscles and cut feet be damned. The longer I worked, the angrier I got at the former owners who just covered old floors with new. Didn’t they know hidden influences are dangerous?
By this morning I’d reached the sub-floor: pine boards, gouged and marred. Before pulling them up, I took a last look out the window.
All around me I saw houses, bones obscured by paint, carpet and curtains like layers of veils. A knot of neighbors dressed in sleek gray suits and high-tech running togs stood whispering and darting looks at my house. I don’t know what they saw last night, but there’s no point in explaining. They wouldn’t understand.
With the claw of my hammer I slid nails out of the sub-floor, piling them in a tangle of twisted rust. Lifting the planks I found, under the joists, a well of dark blue water, illuminated from somewhere deep below.
On the edge I dipped my ravaged feet and watched the blood wreath my reflection in spirals: red snakes, dancing around the head of a woman I’d heard of only in stories. Lies.
The last bit of stone melted to flesh. Eyes wide, I uncoiled, down into her blue light, shedding this house, this worn out skin, this apocryphal life.