by Charlotte Reed
Content warning: Gore and murder.
“Aw come off it. Don’t you become one of them controlling bitches, eh?”
The phone line went dead.
The sound of high pitched buzzing the only response to her objections.
He hadn’t even waited to hear her response to that offhanded insult. She set the phone back on the receiver with a slam, running a hand through her perfect curls, messing them up. It didn’t matter, in the end, he wasn’t going to be home to see them.
Dinner with the dead animals again.
They glared at her, as if it was her that had caused the problem. Their glassy gazes full of judgement. She pulled the phone off the hook and launched it at a particularly rude mouse, knocking it off it’s perch to the floor. The cat shot forward, scooping it into his mouth before making a bee-line for the back door. He could have it – she wasn’t all that interested in getting a taxidermy mouse back. This just seemed to fill the rest of the animals with more judgement for her, glaring at her for her irresponsibility. She wasn’t prepared to go running out in the back garden after that stupid cat, the neighbours already thought her crazy enough. I’d heard their whispers about her.
“Leave me be!”
The animals couldn’t turn their gaze from her. They continued to stare, lifeless eyes communicating so much she wished she couldn’t understand. She turned her gaze from them then, sick of the sight of them. Of course, when she turned way from some of them, she ended up faced with another wall of foxes and owls and birds, all eyes on her.
I suppose she’s used to that.
The problem with Marie, is her whole purpose was to be stared at.
She would be flaunted around, dressed up in lace and velvet and silk, bright red lipstick slathered on, hair pulled up, bunched up, ripped down, whatever the occasion called for. She would smile, laugh, throwing her head back as she raised her champagne glass to some old man who’s jokes really weren’t that funny. I’d know, they never made me laugh. She’d make light talk, twirling strands of hair around her finger, putting on that familiar doe-eyed look, mouth parted whenever someone said something a little too clever for Marie.
Marie wasn’t stupid.
She’d gotten herself into her situation on purpose – even if I believe she thought she’d be having a better time than she actually was. She’d attended a party on a yacht, five years ago I think it was, not that my memory was all that good. Dressed in silk, the neckline hung low, she’d done what she did best and laughed, and talked, and wooed. She’d wooed herself straight into the arms of a very wealthy, very influential, very attractive man. I’d definitely know that one. All eyes in the room were on him, the way his teeth glinted in the light, eyes narrow and cunning, gliding through the crowds when he spotted his prey. Of course Marie was perfect for him – she was all soft curves next to his sharp edges. She made him seem trustworthy, her flushed cheeks making his devilish grin seem more mischievous than malicious. He noticed straight away Marie’s effect; the way eyes wandered, concentration drifted, the way people began to just agree with what he said when she was around. So they entered a mutual, unspoken of course, arrangement.
That’s how Marie found herself living basically alone in the manor house her and her husband shared. It was nice at first, I kept her company, she revelled in the freedom and time to herself, the money her husband didn’t keep track of. She’d never had a lot of money, I knew her when she was a young girl, playing in the mud with her sticks, making ‘potions’ out of grass and rainwater before her mother called her in to share a bath with her brothers. Now she didn’t have to worry about stitching up her hand-me-down clothes to try and make them look more like they belonged to a girl when she had a whole walk-in closet. I was jealous of that.
It got boring quickly though.
Slowly, one by one, the people she’d grown up with drifted away from her – they simply couldn’t relate to her lifestyle anymore. Her parents didn’t ever come to visit – her husband wouldn’t let them in the house. Her former friends didn’t like the way she’d changed, the way she spoke, the way she acted. She didn’t need them anyway. She had me.
Everything has to end.
Her husband was around less and less. The ironic thing about the whole situation is they got on quite well – she liked spending time with him, which made it so much harder when he was away and when he was cruel to her down the phone for requesting his presence. She wasn’t in love, oh god no, but she considered him a friend. I don’t think he felt the same way about her.
She wandered the halls as she always did, dragging her hand through the dust on the shelves, creating patterns in the dirt. Her husband wouldn’t allow any hired staff, said his house was his private business, so slowly the house itself wasted away, Marie losing her initial motivation to care for it.
After all, if the house didn’t care for her, if it sat groaning while parts of her began to crumble, why should she have to care for it?
She liked the paintings mounted on the walls – old and faded, forgotten memorials from generations past. Her husband was old money after all, not that he seemed to care about his history and traditions, a lot of the paintings of his ancestors covered in drapes or faded to the point the details of their faces couldn’t be recognised anymore. It seemed sad; the only evidence they’d ever lived slowly disappearing until eventually the canvas would be beyond repair. She was sure their bloodline was going to end with her and her husband too. A child would certainly liven her up, something to care for, nurture, run around the house after, a noise other than the constant drip drip of the pipes, maybe even laughter. There’s a certain activity that needs to be done for children though, something that they’d long ago stopped doing. Her husband had to actually be home long enough to do that.
She was sure he was cheating on her.
Not that she could do anything about it. Not that she would. Lose the life of luxury she’d gotten so used to and for what? She wasn’t in love, it didn’t bother her.
I think it did a bit.
Marie finished her usual round of the house and found herself back in the main viewing room, surrounded by the dead animals again. Their lifeless gazes fell on her again and she shivered. They’d always made me uncomfortable too. What her husband could possibly want with them was beyond us both, but she was under strict instructions they must all remain there.
I think her husband was odd. No wonder he was single when Marie first came across him.
The cat came pawing back into the room, clearly finished playing with the dead mouse Marie had knocked an hour ago and dropped something at Marie’s feet.
It was a dead bird, it’s beady eye splattered with blood, the wooden floorboard beginning to stain red as it oozed. Tabitha seemed confused about the problem with this and skirted out the room, instantly distracted, leaving Marie to clean up after her.
I didn’t envy her.
She got down on her hands and knees, face scrunched up as she moved closer and closer to the corpse. She tentatively reached her hand out towards it, and that’s when it started twitching. She jerked away from it as it began to writhe, flapping its wings in an attempt to get off its back, blood spattering. It eventually turned upright and began the manic dash to the open door – limping, half flying, red drops littering the floor where it trod. She watched in awe as the crippled bird managed to escape, getting up to follow the breadcrumbs it left that led to the open patio door. It stumbled out, flapping its cracked wings in a futile effort to get off the ground and to safety. I felt a smile creep onto my face as Marie watched the bird manage to get halfway across the garden, despite its injuries. I almost laughed when, inevitably, the cat shot out and began playing with it, passing it back and forth between its paws, seemingly unaffected by the loud squawks and shrieks of terror. Marie’s awe turned to horror as Tabitha struck her final blow and leapt up over the fence – probably to find some other small animal to torment. I did laugh then, not that Marie noticed, as she stepped squinting into the overgrown garden, dragging herself towards the real corpse of the bird.
This time she didn’t hesitate to fall to her knees and scoop the dead bird into her hands, blood trickling through her fingers, staining the patch of flowers beneath them both red.
A tear burst out from her eyes, and I felt bad for laughing – Marie had caught onto what this meant for her. The glassy eye of the bird seemed to stare straight at her, speaking to her with more than words.
“I’m so sorry.”
I wished then that I could put a hand on Marie’s shoulder, comfort her, let her know it wasn’t her fault.
Her tears began to stream, falling onto the bird as she got up and brought it inside, heading straight to her husband’s workshop. She left a trail of dirty footsteps behind herself as she padded through the silent corridors, never taking her eyes off the small package laid in her hands. She opened the door with her hip, knowing full well she shouldn’t even be in there. The room was dark, heavy black curtains drawn over any windows, not even a sliver of daylight getting in.
“You can rest here.”
She laid her new friend on one of the counters, still murmuring, and began dragging back the curtains to let the natural light fill up the room. Surrounding her were the remains of animals, dissected, pulled apart and put back together – long scrawny limbs on bulky bodies, mismatched eyes forced into the sockets that gave them a constant surprised look. She seemed unbothered by this, totally engrossed in her chore, gently cleaning the wings of her bird. She spent so long in a daze, disconnected from her body as she stood swaying, repeating that same gentle motion to clean the feathers. She didn’t notice the room grow darker, the sun hiding from what it knew was coming.
The front door slammed.
Footsteps came down the corridor.
He was home.
“And what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Marie flinched, spinning around to come face to face with those piercing blue eyes filled with rage. It’s the first time she’d seen her husband angry, truly angry, and she pulled the bird into her chest in one protective motion, doe eyed with fear.
“I- He- I wanted him to stay.”
Her husband looked down in disgust at the dead bird in her hand, curling his mouth as he saw her blindingly white summer dress had been stained.
“Are you insane? You can’t just find a dead bird and taxidermy it? Jesus, if I’d known you were insane I would never have married you.”
He ripped the bird out her hands and she gave a small sob, watching helplessly as he launched it at the window. She yelped as she heard it crack against the wall and began to cry as her husband roughly barged past her, moving all of the tools he had laid out into a box.
“Maybe you need to learn how to follow basic rules. I might have to start putting locks around the house and treating you like a child – if you’re going to act like one.”
This was the last straw for poor Marie.
With a scream she shoved her husband, watched his eyes go wide in shock as he tumbled backwards with a yell. Realising what she had done she ran, but with nowhere to go she ended up just back in her room, panting and hunched over. Perhaps once he’d had some time to calm down she’d be forgiven – so she crawled into bed, still in her same old dress and let herself sob until she was finally pulled into a dreamless state.
When she woke the house was cold, as was her bed. Her husband was missing, obviously still angry and choosing instead to stay in one of the guest rooms scattered around the house. I knew just what she was going to do as she got out of bed, heading straight back to her husband’s workshop. She couldn’t let go of that stupid bird.
The lights were still on in the workshop, and she went straight over to her broken bird, spending time to stroke its head before she moved it. She needed to clear a space on the table, throwing the bird down with a sigh, her arms weak and shaking before she got to work.
She had stood outside the workshop night after night watching her husband without his realising, so she knew what to do. First, remove the skin – cutting a seam up the belly then loosening the skin with a knife before peeling it off. She began to sweat with the effort and the delicacy of it, sweat mixing with blood and the birds bright blue eyes staring right back at her.
“I’ll fix you, don’t worry.”
The skin needed to be tanned, salt rubbed into it, salt that stuck to her fingers, stinging the small cuts she had all over her hand, a sharp pain that kept reminding her of her existence. The hide had to be in a cool dark place, so she closed the curtains again, letting herself work in darkness, never taking a break and feeling herself getting weaker. The skin needed to be soaked then hung up to dry, stretching out under the clips and the weight of it.
“Once I’m finished everything will be better.”
It needed to be stuffed next. I was sure the fumes were getting to us both, but Marie remained unblinking, on autopilot with her work. She used up almost all her husband’s resources on this, adjusting the positioning of her bird over and over again until it was perfect, exactly like how she remembered him. She picked out a pair of eyes, not the piercing blue like her bird’s used to be, but bird’s eyes all the same. She placed them into the sockets she’d recently made empty, humming in disapproval when they turned out too small. There was no larger bird’s eyes though, so Marie just had to settle. She stitched the bird up, hands shaking as she spent hours finishing it up, back aching as she aimed for perfection.
Then it was done.
She stood back with a soft breath, admiring her work, those bird eyes that were much too small for the sockets of her husband looking back at her.