“-and would you like some more tea, Mr Bear? Yes, of course you would. Here you are- careful, it’s hot!”
Elise giggled, placing her plastic teapot back onto the plush, red carpet, where she has been holding her weekly tea party on. Mr Bear sat opposite her, gazing at her with a solemn, unchanging expression on his face. The scarlet bow adorning his handsome white chest was neat and not the slightest bit lopsided, and his buttoned eyes glinted merrily under the lamps hanging from up above. Elise gave Mr Bear a giddy grin as she brought her teacup to her lips, taking a long, appreciative sip of what she deemed to be the finest tasting tea in the world. Never mind the fact that it was only air- a girl could only dream, after all.
“You’re probably wondering where Miss Mary is tonight, aren’t you, Mr Bear?” Elise reached over to make Mr Bear nod his head before settling back onto her heels once more, satisfied with his response. Of course Mr Bear had been worrying about his dwarf-sized counterpart who was currently absent, what with her silky brown hair and Alice in Wonderland-esque frock. “She’s away for the night, Mr Bear- she’ll be staying in Nanny’s room until her dress gets fixed.”
Elise gasped, pressing a palm to her mouth. “Oh, did I tell you about what happened, Mr Bear? I didn’t? How silly of me! Well,” Elise said, leaning forwards conspiratorially, “it was just this morning. Mama and Daddy were arguing about something again- wait, no, not arguing, Mama told me not to call it that- talking. Yes, they were talking about something again, and then Daddy got that scary look on his face the way he always does. And then-” Elise lowered her voice slightly, casting a suspicious glance to their surroundings before continuing with a grin on her face- “he picked up Miss Mary and nearly broke her in half! Can you believe it? Isn’t that shocking?”
Mr Bear didn’t say a word, but Elise was sure he found it just as scandalous as she did. “Anyway,” Elise said briskly with a dismissive sweep of her hand, “That’s that. Now-”
There was the sound of a door swinging open and some urgent-sounding footsteps. Elise looked up curiously, a wide smile taking over her face as she caught sight of who had entered the room.
“Mama!” she exclaimed, immediately jumping to her feet. “You’re here! Would you like me to do your nails? You said you would ages ago, and I have the polish all ready, look-”
“Sorry, Elise,” Mama interrupted distractedly, giving her daughter only a brief glance before focusing her gaze on the door at the other end of the room and continuing to walk quickly ahead. “I’m very busy tonight, I need to talk to Daddy in his study-”
“But you’re always talking,” Elise complained, sinking back down onto the carpet with a huff. “I want to get our nails done. You promised-”
“You could always do your nails yourself.”
“I want to do it together.”
Mama sighed, stopping in her tracks and turning to look at Elise exasperatedly. “Elise, you’ve got to learn to be a little more independent. Don’t keep having to rely on people like this. Maybe tomorrow, okay?”
Elise picked at a loose thread on the carpet, fixing it with a derisive glare as Mama’s footsteps faded away and a door clicked open and shut. “Independent, huh.” she muttered.
“I’ll show you, Mama.”
Half an hour later, Elise’s tea party ended with sullen expressions and loud stomping all the way to her bedroom.
The talk in the study ended with the sounds of gunshots and screams.
One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two-
There was a crack in the sidewalk, chipped and stained grey with dirt and soil. Elise hopped nearly over the offending crooked line, landing gracefully on the other side of the pavement and continuing to step on each individual brick as she walked, artfully avoiding any grooves or holes. The sun had just begun to set, yet the sky was not marred with its bloody reds and pinks this evening – there was a smooth sheet of grey obscuring most of the flaming entity and the colours it wrought instead, paired with a faint scent in the air that signalled an oncoming storm.
Elise hummed as she walked, each note coming in time with her counting. One, two. She stepped neatly over a plant. Three, four. She stepped right onto a different one, crushing it beneath her heel as if in sacrifice for her previous mercy.
The neighbourhood was silent save Elise’s lilting staccato. All the children had already returned to their homes for the evening, leaving the darkened playground eerily empty. No screaming, cawing birds soared across the dull skies in search of shelter before the storm hit – they had either already reached that shelter, or would not live to have to try another day. Elise danced around a pretty, newborn flower forcing its way out of the cracked sidewalk. Mr Bear, her dearest partner for over a decade, swung merrily from his string tied around her bag zipper like a hangman on a noose.
The quiet was something to be revelled in as Elise turned a corner. There was no shouting, no yelling, no throwing or cracking or smashing. It was simply quiet.
Then her phone rang.
Elise sighed, knowing it had been too good to last. She fished her boisterous phone out of her skirt pocket and glanced at the caller ID.
Ah, it was Mama. Probably calling for the billionth time that day to talk to Elise about her university applications, her life decisions- what she should and shouldn’t study, where she should and shouldn’t apply to, how much she would or wouldn’t need in monetary form to survive on her own out in the real world. Who would she need to talk to? Who would she need to make connections with? Who would she need to rely on-
Elise spoke the word by way of greeting. There wasn’t much else to say, anyway, since Mama always began her tirade right away. This time, however, Mama’s words were slightly more unexpected- in a completely different vein from the usual.
“Elise? Is that you? Thank god you’re safe- you wouldn’t believe, I- there was a tipoff, Elise, a tipoff, he said I’m going to be killed-”
Elise’s blood ran cold.
“They said-” no, no. “Who told you? Did they say who the culprit was? Do you know?”
There was only the sound of frantic breaths over the line for a moment, and Elise knew that her mother was probably shaking her head, having forgotten that the gesture wasn’t usually one that could be caught over the phone. “No, we don’t know who the culprit is. But the person who gave the tipoff was-” Mama’s voice tightened- “your father. It was your father. Oh, Elise, I can hardly imagine-”
A tipoff. Why had there been a tipoff? “You’re sure it was him?”
Her words cut cleanly through Mama’s rambling, and there was another bout of silence. “I wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”
The makings of rage began to stir in Elise’s gut. Father. They’d made a deal, the two of them. He’d promised he wouldn’t do a thing, wouldn’t breathe a word-
He’d promised he wouldn’t kill Mama.
“I’m coming over.”
Elise hung up and broke into a run.
Streetlamps slowly flickered on, one-by-one as Elise raced through the ghostly neighbourhood. She paid no heed to the cracks or plants in the sidewalk any longer, trampling over whatever she came across, nearly stumbling just as Mama’s porch came into view. She darted up the steps to the house, knocking urgently on the front door, chest heaving for breath as she waited for a response.
Ah, she’d almost forgotten – Elise swung her backpack around her shoulder and grappled at the zipper. She swore, unable to catch hold of the tiny piece of metal, and opted to grab at Mr Bear and tug his body sharply to the side instead. The zipper connected to the string on Mr Bear’s head was dragged along with him, finally exposing the contents of the bag to the cool, night air. Just as Elise was about to take what she wanted, the front door swung open.
“Oh, Elise, you’re finally-”
Elise shoved her way through the doorway, wrenching Mama into the house with her before shutting the door behind them with a slam. “Mama,” she gasped, whirling around to face her mother who now had her back to the front door. “Mama, I’m so glad you’re still alive.”
Three different expressions passed over Mama’s face – one of gratification as Elise voiced her sentiment, one of slight curiosity as Elise reached over to dig around her open bag –
And one of shock, the most beautiful, satisfying shock as Elise tugged a shining blade from her backpack and lunged.
Within seconds Mama was pinned against the front door, eyes bulging and lipsticked red lips trembling. She struggled in Elise’s grip, but it was hardly enough to dislodge the knife that lovingly kissed the bob of her throat. “Elise,” Mama gasped, fingers scrabbling at her daughter’s wrists. “Elise, I- but you said-”
“Daddy said he wouldn’t kill you,” Elise stated plainly, brow furrowed in troubled thought. A slight frown tugged at the corners of her lips. “We made a deal, you know. He said he’d help me get to you, and that I’d be able to do the deed myself. But he also said he wouldn’t say a word about this, and yet he gave you a tipoff. I was worried he’d taken you before I could.”
“You know, if Daddy had done that, I’d never get to learn to do things myself.” Elise counted off on her fingers as she spoke, careful to keep the knife still firmly in place. Oh, this was as if she was a child again, counting the hours off on her fingers as she waited for Mama and Daddy to finish talking in the study. “‘You could always do it yourself’. ‘You’ve got to learn to be a little independent’. ‘Don’t keep relying on people like this’.” A glance up into Mama’s nearly petrified eyes, and suddenly Elise was desperate, needy for approval. “Right?” she asked, looking up at Mama with pleading, innocent eyes. “Right, Mama? I’m doing it like you wanted, aren’t I?”
Mama made no reply. Pale, shaking hands reached up to fumble at her own neck which streamed a deluge of deep, mesmerising scarlet, the smooth liquid cascading over Elise’s nimble fingers. “Elise-”
“Am I doing it right, Mama? This is the way, right?”
Oh, she’d never said anything that severely before. A wave of giddiness flooded Elise’s veins, filling her from toe to crown with the utmost childlike joy as she pressed the blade closer and closer to home. “Yes,” Mama gasped, and Elise’s soul crowed with delight. “Yes, Elise, now please, take-”
Elise giggled, pupils blown and wide, a grin digging almost painfully into both her cheeks as she carved a grotesque, bloody smile deep into her mother’s throat. Mama spasmed in a distinct, senseless dance before finally going still.
The knife clattered to the floor.
“Independent,” Elise whispered, and her grin grew impossibly wider. She giggled again – once, twice – realised just how inherently good it felt and let it morph into pure, unadulterated laughter. She stumbled away from the mess at the door, nearly tripping over her blade as she did so. “Independent. I’m independent!”
No more relying on Mama. No more insistent calls. No more controlling, no more setups, no more let downs.
She lifted her hands to examine them. A thin, dripping layer of blood coated her hands, traveling all the way up past her wrists. She dipped her fingers wonderingly into the colour like her skin was a palette before lifting them into the dim light of the overhead lamps, admiring the way the tops of her fingers gleamed red like nail polish with a slight, polished sheen.
“Well, will you look at that,” Elise giggled. “Looks like I finally got to get my nails done with you after all, Mama.”
By Deryn Goon