Poco moto, woman, Therese thought to herself, as she pulled herself up from the bed and towards the door. She felt she heard something scuttle away in response to the creak of the wooden floorboards as she padded, naked and content, through the hall. “They flee from me that sometime did me seek!” she sang to the living room door as it opened. Above the mantelpiece, a false widow spider was pretending not to have been weaving a web in the corner of the large mirror. She has found her perfect home, Therese thought, noting how the spider’s marbled, mahogany markings complimented the dark wood of the mirror’s frame. Catching her own milky reflection through a layer of dust, she was satisfied to note that while her skin retained its luminescence, the strands of grey were starting to dominate the front sections of her long hair. She felt a jolt of shock and delight, too, to see how bloated and distended her abdomen looked, which she now caressed appreciatively, and bit her lower lip.
Turning towards the record player, she scanned for “Für Elise.” A frisson as the needle made contact with vinyl, an erotic crackle, the titillating opening notes, followed by the sumptuous waves of the melody – all of this made her swell with happiness. The feeling of Saturday morning bloomed inside of her as she made her way back to the bedroom. The actual date and time felt irrelevant.
What to wear for such a blossoming, imaginary Saturday? The oxblood velvet, of course, and the amber scarf, draped like a shawl. The dress was pleasingly strained over her stomach … She felt certain people would ask her about it today. She loved these enquiries, and when people offered her seats on buses, and when people smiled at her, instinctively and knowingly. The communication was both coded and unambiguous. Her position was now confirmed and legitimized, it seemed, and she was now surrounded by quietly protective guardians. She knew that these protectors would defend her, when the time came, from the Apparitions.
She put on her mother’s pearl earrings, and collected her gloves and handbag. She hesitated for a moment at the front door, momentarily paralyzed by a brief piercing jab in her womb, a sudden pain that radiated outwards like a mushroom cloud. She understood this message and responded by removing one of her earrings, placing it on the nearby console table. But of course! Someone might want to speak to her to tell her she had lost an earring. A young woman, perhaps it would be, or an elderly gentleman. A good sort of person, the right sort, another Guardian from the Apparitions. It was only ever these people, these days, so she was able to navigate the city with more confidence than she had been able to in the past. The men – the other ones, who used to look at her with contempt, while licking their lips – also knew to keep a safe distance. Noli me tangere, she thought, patting her abdomen, for Caesar’s I am.
She decided to leave the record playing when she left for her appointment, as it pleased her to imagine passersby hearing it, and thinking it was someone, a son of hers maybe, playing piano in her house. She pictured a pale, slim youth with bony fingers. He would be modest, polite and emotionless. When Therese tried, she was also able to picture a daughter at the piano, who was similarly pale, but there was a haughtiness in her mien, and Therese couldn’t warm to her. She sensed the girl was talented, but plain and serious in a way that meant no man would ever love her, so Therese couldn’t bring herself to either. There wasn’t a clear name for the girl.
The air was sharp outside as the door clicked shut. The pavement was strewn with half-wet ghosts of leaves, their veins bashed into the ground by boots and high heels. She decided to walk the long way to her appointment, because she wanted to go via Regent Park, rather than Easter Road. The route had more of an aesthetic coherence, which struck her as important on a day like today, whereas the idea of facing the chaotic bustle of Easter Road gave her a chartreuse sick feeling. She wanted to be in the Edinburgh of James Hogg today, not Irvine Welsh’s version. She wanted the drama of the Crags as opposed to hi-vis drilling and Farmfoods delivery vans. Moreover, Easter Road was sometimes rife with Apparitions, and she could not risk encountering one today and jeopardizing everything.
The thing about the Apparitions that made them identifiable is they had perfectly white, symmetrical teeth. Some were the girls from school who had once owned coordinated Forever Friends stationery and had appalling names like Nicola and Lorna. Their mothers took them to Alton Towers and adored them consistently, despite their abhorrent pointlessness. They all picked barren pastel colors for their bridesmaids. On Easter Road, she had once spotted a University Apparition called “Steph,” who was supposedly now a doctor, because her father had been a doctor, and he had given her a car before she was old enough to drive. She was instantly recognizable from the gleaming white teeth, incongruous against her insipid grey eyes and sallow skin. The Apparition had done a double take when she had seen Therese, and had pretended not to recognize her, turning her head right round and whispering in the ear of the man who was still holding her hand, despite the fact she was virtually bloodless and not of woman born. Some of these Apparitions would smile before they attacked in broad daylight, others did so silently, in the dark, over the internet, maybe. Some of them employed a modus operandi so mysterious that even Therese wasn’t entirely sure in the aftermath quite how they had executed their sabotage, but she had to stay hidden indoors until they were all gone.
There were no rabbits in Regent Park, and the light felt thick. A vagrant on a bench looked at Therese but did not say anything, which she understood as a warning that she must be vigilant and look closely at all the teeth.
“Have you experienced pain since the laparoscopy? How has the bleeding been? Any nausea? Unusual discharge, anything like that?”
Therese frowned. “The crow makes wing to the rooky wood.” She replied, and pursed her lips.
The doctor hesitated. “Endometriosis can be very unpleasant but there are other options available to you. I know last time we spoke, you were concerned about your fertility. Further laparoscopy may improve your chances of getting pregnant – you mentioned last time you would be thinking of trying?” Therese stifled a cough. “Hormone treatments are also available and less invasive, if you’d prefer to explore that alternative. The potential impact on your fertility is obviously a concern we need to take quite seriously.”
Therese paused and glared at the doctor. “I know your game. Unsex me here, I suppose?”
“Sorry … pardon?”
“You want to give me a hysterectomy.”
“Certainly not, Therese. Why do you think that? That would only ever be a very final resort. I’m sorry if I gave you the impression bef-”
“You want to go deep into me, to the place from which life flows, and tear it out. Have you been talking to the one called Steph?”
The doctor looked at Therese and gave a quizzical, almost fearful little smile, revealing an immaculate top row of perfectly white teeth.
When Therese returned home the record had stopped, so she went to bed. It was only dusk, but it felt like the dead of night on a Sunday. She rolled onto her side and clutched her stomach. Don’t take my devils away, she thought, for my angels may flee too. She would not leave the house again until notified that the Apparitions had gone. She pictured Rilke and he told her to believe in a love that is stored up for her like an inheritance.
Kirsty McGrory is a writer from Edinburgh, Scotland. Her writing has appeared in Gutter Magazine, The One O’Clock Gun, The Common Breath blog and The Leither. She is a regular contributor to The Wee Review and The Skinny.