“I’m not doing this alone...” she called, glancing at the room reflected in the glass before her. Susan listened for furtive activity, the rustle of a bag as someone helped themselves to food, or the clink of purloined bottles. Slowly, she scuffed across the icy floor toward the door, hands clasped to her stomach, wiping her frosted nose and listening again.
The quietude was broken by three small, deliberate sounds, the sharp little tap of something metallic against formica. Curiosity pulled a frown across her face; some element of its isolated artifice urged her to consult the glass again.
A small, circular face, depleted by the paucity of tones and contrast in the reflection, floated between the rows of benches. Inside its annular outline two dark eyes and the oval-shaped hole that was its open mouth formed the entirety of its features. Flat and disembodied, it was as simple as a child’s mask lofted on a stick and yet it stilled her breath and clamped both feet to the ground. She sought to drag a name toward it, framing possibilities until a match was volunteered by a glimpse of sickly, pliant gold; it was Opal La Rue who stood in such purposive immobility, gaze fixed, her small mouth open so that she appeared not to seek with her eyes but to siphon the air. Her hand was poised upon the bench around the handle of a spoon, ready to tap another bar of feinting noise. The idea that she was the object of such a lure settled on Susan like the crystalline cold drifting around her and she eased herself behind the boxes, relieved that they were still numerous enough to conceal her, pulling the neck of her jersey over her chin to smother the steam that billowed with her breath. Securing the neck of a bottle with her left hand, her gaze fell to the white floor, ears tuned to any advance until the motor coughed and struck up again.
Opal sucked air past the wet walls of her palate, licking back the taste of prey, the girl's fragrant, salted warmth and the promise of the blood that it protected. Three quarters of a century had passed since she had claimed a first unwitting victim and the hundreds fallen to her since had imparted wisdom with the contents of their veins; the vampyre knew that fear and cold and prodding disbelief were on her side and savoured ragged, oozing thoughts that curled her cold tongue against her teeth. She failed to detect the presence seated on the counter behind her and William's stare, turned scathing apple green, met her wordless scowl with the same intent he had accorded the back of her head as he sat with his arms folded. Opal straightened slowly and looked around herself. setting down the teaspoon and turning toward the door. He slid onto his feet, stare remaining on her profile, and they exited together. After a while, Susan's wary consultation of the chiller door revealed that she was, to her bafflement, once more alone, the kitchen holding no sign of occupation beyond the stacks of dirty dishes. Rubbing her arms, she rounded a counter and leant over it to peer between them.
Opal glared blackly at William as they strode along the passage, desiring liberty from his determined chaperonage, but he shepherded her into the entrance hall and outward through the front door without obliging her. Rage had struck her mute, her glare clutching at his face as she slapped her phone to her ear, fury burning blue-white at the sound of Edward’s voicemail but he kept her moving down the driveway, putting out an arm to prevent her darting back toward the house.
“Paint a number on that little slut." she spat. "When I'm done with her, that is the only way you'll recognize what's left." At the threat he thrust her out between the iron panels of the gate.
"You go near her again and you’ll wake up in a fucking tin of catfood.” William promised as her driver drew up behind her.
A stripe of dull magenta had begun to flush the blue horizon as Susan looked toward the window and the encroaching dawn. Her shoulders ached; the valet squad had long since gathered their equipment and departed, leaving the house in peace, and she stood alone in the smaller kitchen, frowning at the distinct impression of stickiness beneath her slippered feet. Out in the entrance hall the stairs creaked but she was startled by the sight of Lilian in a black robe, her pale hair loose against her shoulders. She said nothing, standing curiously distrait in the shadow of the doorway as though listening to distant conversation. Her gaze fell slowly to the floor before Susan's feet.
“Can you smell something in here, or is it just me?” the latter asked. “I wouldn’t come in with nothing on your feet... there's broken glass.” She shook her head at the ceiling, indicating the blinking light. “And I have no idea what happened there.” Lilian remained where she stood, hands poised on the sash about her waist. Without the kohl around her eyes or the distractions of her wardrobe, the fair and almost gentle simplicity of her features were a surprise to Susan, the differences unsettling to her eye, as were the colours marking her neck and mouth. “Are you... alright?”
“Are you with...?”
“Edward, yeah. Whirlwind romance." Susan’s preoccupation with the damage to her face prompted her to smile darkly. “He's not the type to smack you in the piehole and just leave it at that. We're on the low, so...”
“Oh... no, I won’t say anything.” Susan promised quickly.
She followed Lilian into the porch, taking out her cigarettes and offering her one. Blackbirds had begun to sing in the garden like a chamber of tuning musicians as the eastern sky turned several shades of fuscine pink, the air already warming over the dew-cooled grass. The paper boy rode by and heaved a broadsheet over the wall; he caught sight of the women and turned his bike in a circle before the gates, craning for a better look until Susan lifted an offensive finger, prompting him to pedal on.
“It looks the same.” Lilian murmured, taking in the gardens with a slow turn of her head. The remark hung unaddressed as her companion struggled with its context.
"This place does my head in.” Susan confessed. “I see things, I can hardly sleep... half my brain is telling me to go upstairs and pack.”
Lilian took the stairs back toward Edward’s room, leaving Susan frowning after her from the shadow of the porch. Pausing on the landing, she leant in toward a painting, struck by the impression that the glass had conveyed in passing. Even in the darkness she saw it was her mouth that had begged notice, its half-circle of bruising already faded almost to nothing. She closed her eyes, dissolving something of the immuring unreality but her reflection persisted in confounding her, a thin, pale stripe remaining where the two sides of the wound had fused.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce