CHAPTER 22

SHINING MORNING FACE

Consider then, if you will, as I a future Miss Nobody sat upright in bed in the deep center of the night, brow moist with sweat in a panic most severe, filled with anticipation most dreadful, picturing my Chloe becoming me, shifting her murderous eyes upon a student body that for me held nothing but disdain. Flashback with me to that critical juncture at the top of the stairs — Chloe, arm extended like a fortified beam, cold metal governed by something, but what? This was my dismay, that as she dangled our mother in her final waking moments, Chloe was but a mere vessel, for it was too soon indeed after Chloe’s own rebirth for her to initiate any such perceptive violence. Chloe simply had no purpose within to destroy our mother. She was acting without. So, in the middle of that night, it was as if the mathematics slapped me and wrenched me out of that bed. Of the stair-top triumvirate, I was the only one sane. Chloe acted because of me, and me alone. It had to be.


There was a moment, just one of those beats of Time’s hammer that in the coldness of dawn seems as frivolous as any other moment, lost in the tyranny of forever. Only after the fever wakes you in the middle of the night can you put any weight on it. Then it appears frozen, as if all other moments revolve around this one in fright. Chloe held out our mother, just dangled her there, and paused. As I shifted ever so slightly to gain a look at Chloe’s face, Chloe herself caught my eye. Her face betrayed no reaction, for she was still incapable. Permission to kill had to have come from me. I couldn’t remember if it was conscious — had I nodded, or otherwise given some consent, perhaps with my eyes? Or was any physicality actually necessary at all? Wasn’t she my self/other, beholden to my thoughts, paired with my whims?

I spun my legs off the bed to feel the cold floor on my heels. Blood rushed from my brain and I was satisfyingly dizzy, but it didn’t last. A hot-flash overcame me.


Chloe murdered our mother because I thought it.

It was the only explanation. It could have even accounted for Chloe’s bizarre physical strength, like some twisted translation of rage into deed. (Do I dare think upon this?)


I don’t remember wishing consciously for Chloe to do what she did. There was no voice in my head that said, “throw our mother down the stairs and do it hard so she dies.” But this fact only made my situation that much worse. It meant that Chloe had acted upon some other impulse I had, some other urge buried deep within me, something repressed but still alive, something in my subconscious, forged undeniably when Doris had turned on me so viciously in those last moments of her previous life. And if this was indeed true, if my subconscious was indeed being made manifest, then the potential damage to others I could cause was monumental. It could make my slightest notions a loaded gun, with Chloe as my instrument of harm, a soldier who could act upon every destructive desire I ever had, mere quirks which in private were simple unspoken fantasies, never intended for fruition in the slightest, but now, bitter, precarious reality. This Goddamned “twins’ thing,” which to me before had brought such ecstasy, was now the source of the most fearful of powers, for it would force me to do the impossible and contain my thoughts — but before I could consider this latest horror, I realized my affliction was even worse than this, for not only would I need to never think harmful thoughts again, I would need to purge them from my subconscious, which I knew was soaked and dripping with malice most keen, hatred most foul, spite most wicked, disgust most profound, toward all and sundry, the multitude of persons near to me and far, none so much as the world at large, everyone my enemy, all my opponent, each my pitiless prey. I rose to my feet in the middle of that rotten night, determined to proceed somewhere, destination unsure. But my knees buckled at these my sodden thoughts, and I hit the ground in a hard forced slumber.


I was unconscious until the first morning light broke through my windows, but my waking wasn’t gentle at all, so intense was my heartbeat, so palpable my fear. My mind rushed off to quieting rationalizations, anything to keep me sane. Perhaps Chloe was hard-wired to protect me, and she saw Doris as a threat, pure and simple. The twins must survive, after all. And wasn’t my dominion over Chloe indeed comprehensive, at least to the present time? I quickly concluded in the whole that any firm conclusion was premature, that much data had yet to be received before inferences could be made. This did not make my apprehensions any less troubling, it simply allowed me to function on current matters, which demanded my attention in the now. As I lay on the hard floor, I felt buffeted by its rigidness — it was a call to arms. My designs to convert Chloe into me would continue unabated. But before you judge me as hasty, foolish or both, allow me my vindication, for it dwells at the very heart of who I am, Anna, in this final act.


In a mere span of days, my catalog of sin had accumulated triple-fold. My sister and my mother, the only family I know — gone, taken from me by my own hand. But I am no monster. I don’t qualify myself as independent of Guilt. I’m reminded now of those faces of immorality we see so often in the media, as the accused stands in court before the judge and jury. Guilt is certain, and far beyond question, and he or she has accepted fate, because it’s the just thing to do, the only thing to do. And when they find that balance, and the Universe is restored to equilibrium, that’s the wellspring of Peace, and it reads on their faces — that curious and common look, not of resignation, but of calm, and knowing, and participation in the gambit of their choice. They knew the risks, and proceeded, confident in succumbing to the Gods, aware that forces could shift in the instance, such is the nothing that separates ecstasy from doom. They see themselves not in terms of pity, but as fallen combatants, afforded the smallest amount of grace, just for the trying. However mad this may seem to the observant layperson, it satisfies the criminal mind, and even makes them free, for control has been abandoned, and in the wait there is rest, and in the rest, absolution, for in their eternity, no one can judge. I feel as yet I barely merit inclusion amongst the fold of felons of crimes abhorrent, but I have taken my first step down that endless plank, leading in ever-darker increments from the world-at-large. Like my fallen brethren, I will accept my fate with nary a reservation, nor twinge of regret, for just as the Gods gave me power to restore life, so must I accept their power to take mine.


So I stuck to my plan.

It was time for my self/other to fulfill her destiny, and blossom into me.

But first, it would require a transformation.


After checking on Doris, who seemed in a safely groggy state with the gag in place and the ropes still tight around her, I went back upstairs and entered Chloe’s room, to find her lying prone but awake, as if awaiting instruction. I took this as a positive sign. Chloe seemed an agreeable blank slate, as without emotion she followed my command to sit up on the edge of the bed. I stared at her for a moment, and this she didn’t seem to mind. I wondered what was inside her, what thoughts she could possibly be having, or if there were no thoughts, as her appearance suggested. The next hour of activity would give me a better idea.


I gave my commands sternly but tactfully, emphasizing a directness with no tolerance for dissent. First stop was the bathroom to fix that godawful blonde hair. Of course we were both natural brunettes, so each of us did the dye thing, and I had plenty of black for us both. Chloe was a model of patience, leaning over the bathtub as I massaged through to her scalp. I wasn’t too worried about any streakiness, and the color didn’t have to match perfectly. This was one of the many advantages of being the school weirdo. Everyone expects you to fuck with your look. This edict would serve me very well today, I thought.
 

They say that one loses one’s skin tone when you die, and I can confirm, thankfully, that this is true. Where Chloe was once the tanning try-hard Cali girl and walking billboard for early- onset melanoma, she was now the pasty pall of Death, and all the better for it, at least in terms of color. In calming Death she had the shiny hue of plastic ivory that even I could envy, whiter than whiter than white. No need for a time-consuming cosmetics job here, thank God. In fact, I had to remove some of the funeral-home-grease from her face, they really did layer it on there. She would now be going au naturel in the makeup department. Easy, and cheap.


Another fabulous advantage of attending Griffin Hills High was the mandatory school uniform. Chloe could wear mine, or hers, it didn’t really matter. No need then to worry about making a statement, or, should I say, making no statement, such was my way. The more complex dressing chore also offered me an opportunity to see how Chloe might respond to a multitask, one that required some initiative on her part.


“Chloe,” I said to her while we were still in the bathroom, “I want you to go to your room and get dressed for school. Just your normal school uniform today.” She didn’t hesitate, nor did she appear too conscious of her order, she simply did what I instructed, for in less than two minutes she appeared before me at the entrance to her room, perfectly attired for the day, from her collared white tucked-in Oxford, to her belted skirt over the knees, to her dark stockings over her calves, to her black leather buckled shoes, everything in its right place. She was expressionless, which, at least in this faux-happy Ohio town, equated to glum. Perfect. I grabbed my school bag from my room, then led Chloe downstairs for a final, crucial briefing.


I instructed Chloe to sit in the living room, as I took a pacing, authoritative stance over her. I needed her to feel as if what I was saying to her was very, very important.


“You’re going to school today, and you’re going to be me. So your name is Anna. That’s what people will call you.” I went to my school bag and retrieved a notebook. “See here, on the first page? This is your class schedule. You know where the rooms are, just like you knew where your bedroom was. It’s easy. Just do like the others do. Walk around and go to class, then sit in class and do nothing. It’s easy.” Chloe looked at me attentively. I could only assume she understood. I continued down the behavioral line.


“Being quiet is good, like you’re doing now. In fact, don’t say a word.” It occurred to me then that I didn’t know if Chloe even had the ability to speak at all, for she had yet to say anything since her rebirth. But I couldn’t bring this up, not yet anyway, so I went on. “People won’t care if you speak or not. Even if it seems like they do, they don’t, so don’t worry. Be quiet and they’ll just walk away and leave you alone. It’s easy.” I remember thinking that my words should have triggered some sadness in me, because wasn’t I really just describing my own pathetic life? But I felt nothing, only the focus of the task at hand, of teaching Chloe her new life. I thought then that a physical demonstration was a good idea, for we’re all better visual thinkers, right? I mimicked my own exaggerated walk, slumping my shoulders, keeping my eyes to the ground, cowering from imaginary others, being generally meek.


“See how I walk?” I said. “It’s easy.” This was my new catch-phrase. “You can do it. Stand up and try.” Chloe did as I asked, and then some. I watched her do the walk even better than me. It was kinda hilarious, and a little bit scary. I looked so wretched. Even I wanted to tease me.


I was satisfied that Chloe was ready, at least for Day 1. I didn’t want to put too much of a burden on her anyway. The first day at school is always the hardest, and that’s how I was envisioning it, a first day. If she could make it all the way through, and not speak to anyone, and thereby establish her true freak/weirdo street cred and set up the “new Anna,” then my work as a nouvelle bokor really did deserve high praise (from someone, someday…).


I had one more task to perform however before I could drive Chloe to school (unlike myself, Chloe had never taken the bus, she had always scored a ride). Just as Chloe needed to be transformed into me, so did I need transformation into my mother, just in case anyone saw us together in the car. I was familiar enough with Doris’ wardrobe, plain as it was ever since she gave up altogether on the old-person-dating scene. Sweats and a top, that was the easy part. But the new Doris now would never be seen in public without her big crazy floppy wide-brimmed straw hat, a goofy long sheer floral scarf, and her big dark black thick-rimmed sunglasses. I put on some mom lipstick as a finishing touch. Nailed it, I thought (and no one in town really knew good old Doris, so there’s that). What a sight we must have presented on the drive to school. Still, I took an indirect, less-traveled route.

I pulled up the car at the rear of the school a few blocks away, though still within sight so I could point it out to Chloe. I gave her a final pep talk.


“Remember, don’t speak. Be on time for class. At lunch just find a quiet place at school and sit. Come right to this spot after the last class and I’ll pick you up. You’re going to do just fine. Don’t hurt anyone.” I purposefully spoke this last command without any unnecessary inflection suggesting drama. I wanted Chloe to remain calm. I was rewarded with a moment of perfect silence, as the two of us looked out toward the school.


“Remember your name,” I said. “You’re Anna. Now go to school.” Chloe exited the car and walked off unceremoniously. I watched her until she was out of my sight. All appeared normal. I didn’t sigh or anything. I drove the car back home. I remembered my earlier forbearance. If the authorities discovered Chloe’s true identity, and came for me, I would accept my fate. It’s what I truly deserved.