I had to think fast. Doris needed attending to, but I could hardly leave the new Chloe on her own. Still, my two obligations were for the moment mutually exclusive. What to do? I was heartened by something I remembered from my Vodou reading, something which Mr. Spellman had validated to me in his class, and something as well which had just played out before me in practice. Chloe had followed my command to stop. There was no thought in it, she just did as I had told her to do. But of course! This was the basis, the whole purpose of the Vodou to begin with: control. Wasn’t that what I was trying to do with James and his dirty gym sock? I was slow to pick up on this, for I was so unused to being in, or seeking out, any form of control, my whole life to that point having been a process of surrender, with intermittent bouts of spine. So in a rush of realization, my decision was made for me. I gave Chloe another order, which I trusted she would follow, though I had no choice.
“Stay here,” I told her, “don’t move.” It worked, as even Chloe’s trembling stopped, and she was frozen as a statue. I backed away from her for a moment, testing, seeing if it would stick, and when I saw that it would, I ran from the room to find Doris.
I entered the house through the front door and everything was still dark. I called out “Mom?” several times but there was no answer. But before too long I heard footsteps and rustling about upstairs. I knew it was coming from Chloe’s room. I ascended the stairs to investigate. Once I stood in Chloe’s doorway, I beheld the sad sight: Doris was frantically reassembling Chloe’s room, picking up the mess I had made much earlier that evening. Doris knew I was standing there, though I don’t think she ever looked directly at me. She spoke in a broken, manic tone.
“What have you done?” she said. “What have you done?”
“Mom, I was going to tell you.”
“It was you who did it! You killed her! I knew it! You killed her! You knocked her from that cliff! It was you! YOU!”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to this, but I know it made me very, very angry. “That’s not true,” I told her, calmly.
“You killed her! And now… Now…” She couldn’t process what she had just seen. How could she? Perhaps I should explain it, perhaps once she knew…
“Mom, let me explain, I...”
“No!” she interrupted. “After your father left, she dealt with it! She dealt with it! She got on with her life! No bullshit! But you… You…”
“Mom!” I said, my ire increasing.
“That thing downstairs! What have you done?”
The way she kept picking up Chloe’s things, trying to put everything back in its place, I couldn’t take it anymore, this whole pathetic display, the ranting, the raving, it filled me with so much shame — to think I sprouted from this? I had asserted myself over Doris once already, so I approached her again, ready to subdue her. I made an attempt to grab her completely around her waist, where perhaps I could slip into a full-Nelson grip if need be, but to my surprise, Doris was hardened against me, and ready. She slipped from my grip with dexterity, as she turned to me to assert herself.
“Get away from me,” she yelled, “I’m still your mother!” O please, not that tired old invective. I made another step toward her, and she retreated from me, so I took the cue and lunged and grabbed her by the arm, but again she slipped from me, passing by me and back toward the doorway to the hall. Her escape seemed to bolster her, as she straightened up her posture, and turned to me with more confidence.
“You don’t scare me, you little bitch! You’re nothing compared to her!”
Much time would have to pass before I could process these my mother’s words. In that instant though, I reacted as any child might upon hearing such things from a parent. I was overcome with equal parts furious hatred and debilitating shame, and for every murderous urge I felt toward her, every matricidal impulse which screamed at me, beating me back was an overwhelming sense of my own worthlessness, which rendered me powerless, meek, a void. I did not deserve to live, and so life was draining from me in growing increments by the second. I was my own puddle at my feet, while my mother towered over me, mocking, laughing, domineering every aspect of me, like I was some joke, a mistake, an afterthought ready to be flicked off the planet and never thought of again. I couldn’t even cry, for that would have signified emotion, and I didn’t deserve to feel, I didn’t deserve to be anything at all. Doris, despot, she walked away from me, in disgust, out of my sight. I closed my eyes and tried to die.
That’s when I heard the strangest sound.
It was Doris, screaming. But not for long. In a second the scream was muffled and throaty and gasping for air. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. I went quickly to investigate, stepping out into the dark hallway outside Chloe’s room.
The sight was so unreal it left me numb and in awe. Doris was facing me, but she had been lifted off the ground. Her legs dangled, kicking nothing but air. She was suspended there by a single hand that gripped with impossible strength the back of her neck. Doris must have seen me, because she reacted through what must have been severe pain, her eyes bulging, as if to cry for help. But I was frozen at the spectacle of this, and there was no way I was going to move, except to angle myself in place to get a better view. That’s when I saw Chloe, still naked, standing behind Doris with her one arm outstretched, showing no effort, just holding our mother up there like some weightless rag doll. I saw Chloe’s eyes, and she saw me, and I saw that the staircase to the ground floor was just to one side, and I looked at Chloe, and I said nothing, for nothing had to be said, once and forever, as Chloe raised up our mother a little bit more, and she gasped a little bit more for air, but before her life could be asphyxiated out of her, Chloe so casually and with no bother whatsoever flung Doris right down those stairs, where she hit with great violence, and tumbled and contorted and spun and hit her head and her neck and everything in her seemed to snap! and she lay at the bottom of the stairs all dead, all super Fucking Dead.
It was all so much to take in, but I realized quickly that I had to seize control of the situation (who else was going to do it?). I looked at Chloe, who was expressionless, staring down the stairs at her handiwork. I wanted to ask her any number of things, but I felt fairly certain that she would not respond, that answers to complex questions would be well beyond her current faculties. No, it was better that she appeared now to me at ease, and certainly no threat to me, somehow I knew that, despite what had just happened. So my attention shifted to our mother, or, rather, what was left of her. I descended the stairs, arriving to where she lay, all twisted and grotesque, empty and dead. I knew I should have felt some level of satisfaction at it, given the monster she had become to me just moments before. But I felt nothing but sorrow, and pity. She had only just endured the loss of her most beloved daughter, and then come face-to-face with her ghost. No wonder she went insane, and flaunted it to me, for who else was there? She had no control of herself, it was all some deep primal id that wasn’t even her, some shared universal evil that floated around us all like plasma. She had acted like she was possessed, and perhaps she had been, and death was a viable option, a release, a savage grace.
But be that as it may, I had a more pressing concern that had impact beyond the hypothetical. My mother was dead, but she couldn’t just disappear. I mean, granted, it’s not like she knew anybody in our sad town, this was one advantage of having lived here for only a couple weeks. But still, she couldn’t simply vanish forever, questions would eventually be asked, and I knew I couldn’t stand up to that. I looked back up the stairs at Chloe, there, naked in the dark at the top, watching me, innocent and blank, like a child. It didn’t take me long to decide in full what I had to do.