June 14th, 2019

The girl started tallying the footsteps on the stairs. They were too careful, she thought, as if the signal she desperately wanted to take them for was being denied her in the very course of the trodding. But then she realized she'd lost count. To something vague, she added one foot on the landing's small carpet, paying special attention then to the scratchy shuffle of bare feet on cold, clean tile. The soft swish of feet approached like proffered tissues from a box. She wanted to take them all, as she sat crumpled behind the door of the little room, straightening her back and looking pitifully at the handle. She wanted them almost as much as she wanted the sound of the door being flung open, and the sight of different feet, feet that never softly shuffled, and were almost never bare, on the tiles in front of her.

But the sound passed her by to set up some grand festival in the kitchen next door. It was afternoon. How late, she couldn't tell; she'd lost her sense of how the sun's shade told the time. The connection kept changing, and she wouldn't trust what wouldn't stay put once in a while. Not even herself. It was a later hour than when she'd been sent to sit there, in the little room, at least. Enough time had passed for the urge to pee to become unpleasant, and the stale air laying unpersuaded in the close corners and around the tiny window stifled her mouth and nose with the temptation of opening the door.

She heard five eggs crack and longed for something to do with her hands and eyes. She remembered bitterly the times she'd complained of separating white from yolk. If only she could do it now, and slowly, and well, a hundred eggs to be responsible for, organizing yesterday's difficulties one by one. Then the smell of lemons stabbed its way into the door's bottom gap, and the girl felt a pang of hunger. Whether she really was hungry or already missed the dinner she knew she wouldn't have, she didn't know. She heard a cabinet open followed by the tell-tale rustling of the bag of coffee beans. Whole ages of uncounted time before she'd told herself she would, she took the luxury of shifting her weight onto her other buttock, relishing the sudden relief and the pins that instantly sprang to life in her legs. Her body sighed against itself, despite itself. Surely, if there was to be coffee in the kitchen soon, surely she would be remembered....

* * *

Each descent of the stairs, she knew, would make the girl in the little room jolt with fresh anticipation, hanging on her steps all the way down, positioning herself just right for the hoped-for opening of the door. It felt cruel going down; almost as cruel as going back up, but there was no helping it. Each time she laughed somewhere in the house she wondered if she thereby sent daggers. Whenever silence fell long enough to remind her she was relaxed, she felt an urge to remind the floor below that it was not alone, even if it was sequestered. The girl stepped lightly on the boards where she knew they'd creak a little, but the least, and picked her way into the kitchen to start a cake.

She weighed out everything meticulously, keeping notes in case this one turned out right. Three hundred twenty five grams of eggs, she wrote down. She separated them, lingering a moment to fish out a tiny splinter of shell that'd fallen in the whites. Her spoon joined the growing pile of dirty dishes. A long time now, since she'd been responsible for dirty work, but she felt a strange thrill in the return of the monotony. She wondered if the girl envied her the washing of these dishes. She let the water --serene against the kitchen's heat-- lap over her palms, feeling deeply indulgent even as she regretted the noise it made. Certainly, by now, the girl would need to pee badly.

With one sixty six gram egg left on the scale, the girl made herself find how many grams off this one was from the average. For a split-second she shrugged off the task, but the silent, invisible presence of the girl's contrition next door instantly called her back. One; good. She zested a lemon and brought the grater and fruit closer to the door, knowing the lazy hot day in the little room would cool and contract with a whiff of citrus. She looked at the door and the door did not look back.

She put the coffee to simmer and wished that she could set a bigger table, but she knew it'd be a while yet before the girl's liberation.

2 Responses to “Duplex”

  1. nicoleci says:

    You my friend, can turn anything into art.

  2. It's easy when you know what you're doing!

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