The subtle scent of hickory wood wafts through the air of Abigail’s home. On days where the afternoon sun cascades through the windows, she positions herself at the heart of her dining room. There, just before her, stands a weathered table encompassed by mismatched and decaying chairs. Beneath the wooden legs of the furniture lies a psychedelic shag rug begging to be cleaned.
Abigail burrows her toes into the plush carpet and places a yellow mixing bowl at the center of the table. She arranges various dishes of ingredients around it, taking a census of the food. Then, mechanically, her hand drives an egg against the rim of the bowl, fracturing its shell. Fragments of the eggshell eject in every direction as the yolk drains into a concoction of sugar and vanilla. Beads of sweat form above her eyebrows, glistening against her porous, dry flesh.
A playful knock at the door disrupts her concentration. “They let me off early today,” Abigail’s husband announces as he dances inside. His hungry eyes land on her hands as she whips the ingredients into a cream. “What’re you making for me?”
“A surprise,” she teases. Their lips lock for a moment before he plunges his finger into the bowl and steals a bite. The taste of her lips disgusts him.
His body slumps back in ecstasy. “I can’t decide which treat I want more; you, or this mystery dessert.” He finds a seat at the table.
Abigail returns to baking, staring intimately at the empty wall. A glaze falls over her eyes while her husband attempts to initiate conversation. She doesn’t answer. An ocean of heat crashes against her body and produces streams of sweat upon her scalp.
“There’s something wrong with our wall,” she mutters.
“I thought you liked the color yellow.”
“No, Howard, there’s a hole in it.”
He cranes his neck. “Where? I don’t see any hole.”
She drops her wooden spoon against the table, expelling a cloud of flour into the atmosphere. Her eyes lock onto a dark section of the wall just below the height of her waist. A sudden stillness envelops the room as she creeps toward it. She cringes with every step she takes, breaking through the silence with her hulking feet. Abigail kneels inches from the wall, peering into the minuscule cavern.
“How can you not see it?” she asks.
“It’s far too small to be of any concern. Go back to baking.”
“But it’s there. I see it, and it bothers me. I can’t just bake like it’s not even there.”
A dense pool of darkness populates the hole. Howard glowers at his wife as her nose rests against the wall, pulling her attention into its depths. Her grimy hands, which are far too big for her size, stabilize her on the floor. After several minutes pass, she gets to her feet and brushes off particles of nonexistent dirt that cling to her dress. The pink, floral outfit is far too tight for her body, accentuating the pudginess of her stomach.
“I think we should cover it up.”
Howard groans. “We will do no such thing.”
“Hanging a picture over it should do.”
“Abby, no one hangs a picture three feet off the ground. It would be an eyesore.”
“Then we’ll just have to put a table in front of it.”
“I’m not having this discussion any longer. We don’t have enough room for two tables. The hole is practically microscopic. You’ll just need to learn how to ignore it.” Howard rolls his eyes as he gets to his feet.
Abigail watches him leave as the streams of sweat begin trickling down the base of her skull. Just before he disappears around the corner, she shouts, “What if there’s someone watching us?”
He jolts to a stop. “You aren’t serious.”
“It could be like you said, a microscopic camera.”
Howard doesn’t turn to face his wife when he marches out of the front door. She looks to the place he sat as if a phantasm of his body inhabited the space. Her eyes, delicate as glass, trace the room around her. Waves of tears well in their ducts and spill over slowly, then, all at once. Abigail curses under her breath as the salty drops splash into the bowl of cream. The sunlight quickly dissipates into shadows, casting streaks of twilight across the room. She cries too much.
Her vision narrows to the hole. She wipes her eyes and takes several steps back. She can still see it. In a fit of desperation, Abigail positions herself in countless locations about the house. She mounts the countertop, reclines the living room sofa, and straddles the toilet. She will always see it. She closes her eyes to escape, but the darkness of the hole is waiting for her there.
Abigail forgets how to sleep that night. To apologize for their argument, she invites Howard to get on top of her. He accepts the apology by finishing inside of her. He only wants her for sex, and he certainly doesn’t love her.
“I love you,” he says.
Abigail doesn’t remember how to sleep for weeks. Howard holds her and mutters reassurances in her ear, but it isn’t enough anymore. One night, she stumbles out of bed to fetch a drink. The kitchen light illuminates her ratty hair and the bags below her eyes as she pours herself a glass of water. A sudden blip of light in the dining room startles her alert, and her legs instinctively carry her toward it. She inches closer to the hole, quietly convincing herself that it came from a device stationed within the wall.
Getting to her hands and knees, she scans the surface surrounding the suspicious cavity. She takes a lanky finger and caresses the brisk, rigid exterior of the wall. With the tip of her fingernail, Abigail punctures the hole and carves into it. In a matter of seconds, she begins manically working away at the wall like a ravenous dog, digging at the earth. Chips of yellow paint collect under her nails as layers of plaster start to break away.
“Shit,” she recoils, noticing the hole’s increased size.
Abigail inspects its interior, effortlessly inserting her finger inside. Its depth travels further than she anticipated. She falls back against the floor in frustration as her lavender nightgown sags across her body. Her hands, engulfed in flakes of yellow paint, run laps across her lumpy, unkempt skin. She is disgusting.
Hours elapse as paranoia visibly chisels at her mind, detaining her in consciousness. A ray of dawn slices through an open window and shimmers across the hole. Abigail’s eyes burn into it with contempt. At once, she rises to her feet, leaves the room, and returns with a large mirror, hammer, and nails. She aligns a nail above the small opening in the wall and strikes it with the hammer, feverishly pounding it into the wall.
Her fingers lace around the oak frame of the mirror while she stares into the sleepless eyes of her reflection, hanging it over the hole. Immaculate etchings of budding flowers decorate the wood; Howard’s gift to Abigail to remind her of her blossoming beauty. Abigail leans back in satisfaction, wiping away the sweat that condensed on her palms. The exhaustion consumes her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Howard hisses from behind.
“Fixing the wall,” she remarks, hammer still in hand.
“Fuck the wall.”
“Be my guest; the hole is just your size.”
He ruffles his hair. “I thought we talked about this. We will not be hanging anything up.”
“You told me it belongs wherever I’ll use it most. So here it goes.”
“I don’t need people coming to our house and asking why we have a mirror dangling just above the floor. Take it down.”
She doesn’t move.
“All right.” Howard crouches beside her and yanks the tool from her grasp. “I’ll do it.” With a single swing, the hammer collides against the mirror and obliterates the glass into severed shards. The reflective fragments splay across the rug, gleaming under the light of the morning sun. Abigail leers at her husband. “Pick it up,” he seethes.
She doesn’t move.
He slugs the hammer on the table, sending an echo throughout the house. “Are you really going to start this again?” Howard brushes past his wife and stops just before the front door.
“I need you to believe me.”
“There’s nothing to believe. I’m tired of being trapped in your unrelenting spiralling.”
Howard’s frame collapses forward and he looks to the still world beyond the window. “No. I won’t be the victim.” He exhales. “I’m going for a drive.”
Abigail watches her husband’s shadow disappear from her sight and proceeds to study the carnage encircling her. She collects a fractured piece of glass, revealing her disheveled appearance. It’s no wonder Howard loves to run away from her. She will never make him happy. Salty rivers flow down her cheeks and splatter against the mirror shard, distorting the reflection of her face.
She looks up at the oak frame, still hanging by its nail. She crawls toward it, careful to avoid puncturing her knees with the glass. Abigail removes the frame from the wall, revealing the hole. Its size increased exponentially from the recent impact. She slips three fingers into the expanding cavern; her body shivers upon contact with its interior void. She cannot do anything right. She is worthless.
A melody of birdsong seeps into the house, refocusing her attention to tidying the mess on the rug. Using only her hands, Abigail spends hours gathering orphaned fragments of glass from beneath her. She watches as glimpses of herself flash across the reflective surfaces.
Howard does not return that night, nor does he return for the following week. Abigail toils at home in solitude, balancing her time between watching the hole and the front door. She notices various scars carved into her home, remnants of explosive anger, reminders not to step out of line. She doesn’t collect the courage to eat until her husband stumbles into the house and collapses on the sofa. It is well past midnight, his hair is tousled, and his belt is unclipped; he cheated on her. She heats up a bowl of soup and starts a shower. The warm glow of the kitchen casts a streak of light across his unshaven face.
Abigail coddles him through the night. To apologize for their argument, she lets Howard get on top of her. His foul breath nearly singes the hair within her nose as he exhales vehemently with every thrust. She lies lifelessly on her back, making no sound, feeling nothing. He says he was with his parents, but he lies. He says his father has fallen ill, but he lies. He says he has the medical report to prove it, but he lies.
He never accepts the apology. He does not forgive her. He will want a divorce. The marriage is over. She falls asleep.
The next morning, Abigail awakens to the sound of a door creaking shut. She rolls to her side, finding a note from her husband. It says that he left for the grocery store. He’s not coming back. He’s having an affair. She propels herself out of bed, freshens herself in the bathroom, and puts on her favorite floral dress. She looks dazzling, but no one would ever care to notice her. She makes her way to the kitchen, opening every window in sight.
Abigail does not bother to wait for the afternoon sun; instead, the songs of the morning birds would inspire her cooking. She assembles the necessary ingredients, places her yellow mixing bowl at the center of the table, and ignites the stove. Her hands reach for the flour and gingerly measure five cups to add to the dish, followed by a dash of sugar. She takes a wooden spoon between her fingers and massages the powder together. Abigail smiles in delight as she takes the bowl to the stove, allowing the mixture to heat, and adds a gallon of water to it. Once finished, she returns to her position behind the table, chirps to herself, and dumps in a container of pulverized rocks, sticks, and mud. She whisks the concoction together until it produces a viscous paste.
She stands back in awe of her creation, studying the consistency of the gummy mixture. She retrieves a spatula and the bowl of paste, bringing them inches from the hole. Abigail lowers herself to the floor with a sparkle in her eye. Then, mechanically, her hand drives the spatula into the bowl, collecting a heap of paste on its metal end. She laughs in triumph as she slathers the wall in the tacky substance, streaking it across the yellow surface. The dark cavity within the wall is quickly sealed shut. Abigail collapses onto her back while the lumpy adhesive hardens in place.
“I’m back from the store,” Howard says as he makes his way inside.
Abigail’s smile curls across her face as he rounds the corner. Upon seeing the condition of the wall, a carton of milk slips from her husband’s grip and crashes against the floor, discharging the liquid in all directions. His jaw becomes slack as he fumbles for words. Nothing is said between the two. Instead, Abigail rises and begins placing the dishes in the sink. Her skin glistens naturally under the light. All tension in her body expels from her pores as she exits the room.
She thinks covering up that hole will protect her from her problems. She thinks it will protect her from Howard. She thinks it will protect her from me.
It’s not that easy.
I don’t simply exist in the hole of her wall. She should know that by now; she should know me better than that. I watch her from the crevices of the floorboards, the splitting ends of the wallpaper, and the fissures in the ceiling. There are dark shadows that cluster in the corner of her bedroom or the depths of the basement. That’s where she should look. I take residence in the places she cannot escape or cover-up. So long as she is alive, she will always live with me.
I watch her to protect her, to keep her safe. I am the part of her that never leaves, the part of her that she can always rely on. She needs me, and I need her.
I will never let her go—no matter how many times she tries to cover me up.
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