You will decide to knock on her door the day you turn twenty-one. It will be late at night, or early morning, and you will knock three times. See the door move open along its orbit, just enough to see a black parting. Finger, finger, then a third, poked through the gap, wrapped around the edge of the door. Liftliftlift, then taptaptap, the fingers will dance and you will know the beat and your own fingers will patter against the side of your thighs along to it.
Flown wide open, the face of the fingers is female. The face is melting, but only the eyes, from the tear ducts. Tears made of eyes; weeping mascara pulling eyeball and flesh down pale cheeks. She will spread her arms wide, though not in invitation. They’ll be thrust behind her, pushing her neck forward, her hands splayed and her chest puffing. She is seething, eyebrows pushed all the way up to her hairline while her eyes drip their melted corners onto the wooden floor. When the bluey-green and the black and the white of the fleshy tears land on the boards, your instincts will make you drop down and paint. Stars pattered over the floorboards, you’ll catch the liquid flesh before it dribbles between the cracks.
When you stand up you’ll taste air rich with stale breath, striking you with a bloodied-metal stench. There is a new fury in her swollen, thumping huffs. Behind her, hands curl into fists. You will stand still as she flings her head up and frees a shriek that spats flecks of white-bubbling spit at you. Sudden winds support her, ripping the air and biting your skin; cackles down your eardrums. Your hair stays stuck on end when she stops because her saliva has glued it straight. Your eyebrows have joined your hairline from the gale-force wind scream; eyes water. You both stare at each other, neither of you speak. She stands straight, blank, stilled. The whisper of an invite, she moves aside. Walk ahead, past her, see the fireplace warming two chairs, sit on one. Pat the chair next to you, invite her to her living room, offer her a seat in her chair.
You are sitting together by the fire. This is when she first holds your hand. You feel the charm, her hands pulsing in time to its glow that beams through her skin. You wonder if she can share it, you wonder if you want to have it shared with you. You offer to boil her kettle and make her tea. Set about the kitchen, in the same room as the fireplace, the burning fire making the room warm and orange and matching with the copper-everything kitchen. A teaspoon of sugar, a slosh of hot water, a dip-dab of a tea bag because you couldn’t find her loose leaves. Raid through her cupboards and find Turkish delight in an old sugar pot and shortbread biscuits with cardamom flavour and satsumas on display; star anise stabbed into them. Take it all, plus the red and gold checked towel cloth and lay everything out on the thin copper tray she had by the oven. The little bronze cups clink around their saucepans as you walk back over to her. The tea is taken, held, she blinks at you and a drip of eye falls into her teacup. Offer her a spoon, watch her stir it in. Raise your saucers to each other, each take a sip. Taste that bloodied-metal flavour and breath it back out. Let her nose wriggle its disapproval then offer her one of her biscuits. Look as she takes one, snaps it in half on the tray. See her mouth open for the biscuit and the way her teeth strike dirtied gold against baked gold; brittle nuggets bite into the sugar-dough. Watch the same teeth crumble on impact, splintering into a rocky dust. Keep patient as her tongue stirs shaved teeth into wet biscuit, pulling the mixture into goopy tendrils between her deep dark lips as she smacks her mouth open and closed. Let her swallow.
Feel the echo of a chill bulging out of her, the fire undulating in the presence of her creeping freezes. Notice how you stay warm. Weeks later, notice the same when the snow comes. Wonder whether a person who is cold everywhere could think they are warm everywhere. It’s all relative, you recall from somewhere, and rustle off the song tune your memory sings. Consider that the pink on her cheeks was not really that pink, but it flushed like a prick of cherry on skin white as hers.
In these searching moments, stretch crooked fingers, frown your brows down. Run your tongue over your teeth, tap them, eat a biscuit and count they are still there.
When you wake at night, in her house you call home, check for sweats and thumping heart. Look around at your bedroom and feel spoilt by all her gifts. The rocking chair you took from her shed and the hand-sewn quilt you moved from her bed to sit in it with. That large oak wardrobe brimming with outfits of every colour, all taken from her closet. Matching hats and gloves and the most decent shoes you have ever been offered. Look for the pride and joy inside you, check for it everywhere. The checklist ends with the white goose model propped on her mantel, the one you took your first day because it reminded you of something. Make a mental note to find out what that something was. Write it down because that’s what you used to have to do. Hunt for your human.
Now, seeing her will be a rare occasion. Tea-time doesn’t happen since she ate her teeth in wet biscuit. The corridors run long without her company beside you, their carpet patterns so detailed they make your head swirly. You learn to not look at the floor. At the end of corridors there are only identical doors, staircases. There are three; two reach the lower floor, meeting face-to-face at the foyer and one for the upstairs floor, where her bedroom is. Stop at the bottom of this staircase, watch it wind up to a door that looks too small. You won’t go up yet. Study the paintings spat on the walls, some too high up to see, some so close to the ground they are blackened by the rising dust as people have tread by. Stand in the room of clocks, all ticking but no moving dials. Leave when you think you see a clock that tells the correct time. Wonder if such a thing exists anymore. Listen to the piano and violin and the harp and what you think is a percussion set. Try to find where they are and who is playing them. Consider how when you arrived, the house seemed to be just a few rooms; living room, kitchen, an assumption of somewhere to sleep. Note that you probably have more to find. Note also that you haven’t remembered why you wanted the white goose model.
Decide then, to carry the model with you at all times. Feel the soft of its china shell, run your fingers over the ridges where each limb has been lumped on — delicately lumped. Practically perfect in how it was lumped. Make tea and drink it with the goose, notice that she comes more often when it’s around. Watch the goose watch her charm glow, all inside her. Think that you must look as impressed as the white goose does. Let her hold your hand, see the stain of liquid flesh grow as her eyes drip onto her white trim blouse. Notice the black of the goose’s eyes melting, take the model away from the fire, out of the room. Do it immediately. Feel her croaky hands cling to your skirt as you leave. Turn to see her melting eyes spewing ink blots from their liquid pupils. Her face, her neck, her blouse, your skirt. Stained. Tear yourself away from her, backwards from her clawing hands. Run when she starts to wail from her toothless mouth, blooming into a withering black hole that fills her weeping wet face. Up the stairs, into the corridor. Take the wrong turn, a new one to you, hear the white goose honk from your hand. Know the goose understands, let it guide you. Pass new doors, all different, until one is the same, but not the same for her house. Feel the goose’s feathers furl to impatient wings. Touch the door, hear the piercing screech and turn. See the thunder in her steps as she swoops a wave of flesh-tears into a wall sloshing high behind her. Know she’s going to make the wall hit you when she draws her hands behind her; slip your sweaty hands over the doorknob, struggle to open it. Run your hands through your hair and dry them on the sticky saliva she styled it with when you arrived. Blind in a wash of white as the goose dances in fright. Try the doorknob again, feel the first chill of your visit as she slings her boiled breath over your shoulder. Push yourself through the door, the one you once called your front door. Reach for the goose at the same time as she does, feel the heat of her fury run through its feathers. Win that fight, slam the door, hold the white goose, feel it shake and hold it tighter.
A few days later, boredom will find you. So you and Goose find the bottom of her stairwell. Goose is hot, you think still from her fury. Top of the stairwell; you open the door that actually is too small. Shuffle through. Wardrobe, clothes, quilt, rocking chair. You’re in your own room. On the mantel, no white goose model. Back outside, there are no more corridors, paintings, no music. You make tea in a copper teacup, you can’t find the second. By the fireplace, the light makes Goose glow. Pick him up, he glows his own light. Stroke his beak, feel his heat. The fireplace flickers, his glow thickens. When the heat and the light of the goose and the fire meet, which they do right then, their bright turns white and that’s all you see for a second. And then you are back. Goose is sitting on his chair; you are drinking your tea. Take a sip. When you hear the plop, see the liquid flesh you have teared into your tea. Goose nudges you a spoon. Stir; sip.