no more stories
angela jane fountas
"We're traumatized," they say, the eldest, curled up on the couch, the youngest, splayed out on the floor, the middle, stranded.
Their mother died; she's dead.
Outside, three pink tulips wrench their stems toward the sun. "That's us," the youngest says, pointing. "They used to sing and dance while their mother played piano, sometimes violin. She kept them home from school on days when she was blue. 'They're under the weather,' she told the secretary, and they crouched under a rain cloud, shivering with glee."
The middle stands and says, "No more stories."
"You're right, of course. Once upon a time there was Mother, but she is no more."
"I would if I could, but I can't, so I shan't."
"How many h's do you spell that with? How do you spell h?"
"I'll smack you, I'll smack you both," the eldest says. "I'll count to ten, and if you haven't stopped by then, you'll get the spoon. One, two, three."
"Four, five, six."
"Seven, eight, nine."
"Nine and a half."
The middle and youngest stopped long ago; the sun has set.
"It's time for bed."
"I can't. I don't want to sleep alone," the middle says.
"Shall I get the spoon again?"
"You're only trying to comfort us, but you're not Mother, you can't be," the youngest cries, and runs to her room.
"We've let dinner get cold again, poor Cook. And she slaved all day. Whatever will she think of us?" the eldest says.
"Oh, stop being so dramatic. I'm really getting tired of the two of you. I could almost forget about Mother," the middle says, and then bursts into tears.
"Now-now, dear, you didn't mean it."
"Oh, why won't you stop?"
"You're right. I'm sorry. It's just that this house is too big for three people. I'm trying to fill it."
"There's the staff."
"They don't count. They never counted. They can't count now."
"Oh, you are just hilarious."
"I'm sorry. I really don't know what's become of me," the eldest waltzes around the room, and then stops. "I am Mother," she says. "I'm possessed. That must be it. She's trying to tell us something."
"Yes, oh yes."
"I can't seem to stay still. I've had this sensation all day, like somebody is pulling me, strings tugging at my lips."
The middle's mouth falls open. "I hink I in hock. I han oh I ow."
"I ow oh oh."
"Your mouth won't close?"
The middle nods.
"Oh dear, now we're really in trouble."
The middle nods again.
"Shall I ring Cook? I'm sure she's still up serving her husband. Remember those ridiculous stories Mother used to tell?"
"You're not Mother anymore."
"And your mouth closed."
"Me too. Shall we dine?"
They skip down the hall to the dining room. Congealed meat, crusted potatoes, and sodden salad fill four plates.
"We mustn't have eaten for days. Why is there an extra plate?"
The middle's mouth falls open: "We're dead."
"Don't say that."
"Mother killed us, then she killed herself. The servants ran from fright."
"It's not true."
"It must be true. Give me your hand."
They walk through one wall, then another, and another, until they find themselves outdoors, neither hot nor cold, and the world is silent.