3:35 am: THE RECKONING NIGHT
It’s only a noise complaint that brings the county police to the door of the Glasslowe house. Such is the case with neighborhoods like this one, where tattletaling is a sport. After a moment, a gentleman opens the door. He seems as if he has been up for a while, and perky as ever, aside from the flush in his face and sweat around his forehead.
“Is everything alright? We had a noise complaint.” The officer eyes the clothes tossed beneath the stairwell banister, and a younger boy at the foot of the staircase.
“Yes, only a nightmare,” the gentleman says. His voice has a resounding yet calming bass quality.
“Alright, you all must be night owls, huh?” the officer jokes.
“My wife, she has a sleep issue. It happens often, but this time she got a bit loud.”
“Well, I hope she feels better.”
The door finally closes, and the gentleman brings his hand away from the doorknob in shock. His broad shoulders had just barely covered his wife’s severed hand on the kitchen counter, and his daughter’s blood-soaked clothes hanging from the stairwell.
10:41 am: ONE MONTH BEFORE THE RECKONING NIGHT
She wasn’t pretty in the usual sense of the word, and neither did she have talent, but it was a purposeful obsession with fame that she gave off. She didn’t care if she was hated or loved; she just wanted to be noticed. Never before had more than three-hundred people ever “liked” her posts online. She figured she could mount fame on her own, through her cracked iPhone 11 and an athlete’s dedication.
It had been months since she started her endeavor, slowly landing on the tricks that would increase her videos’ viewership. She danced, true, but her dances now included fewer clothes, more personality, and a winning smile at the end when she leaned back to press her phone screen. The leaning smile had won @Kaceygirl seven new followers, while her refusal to wear a bra has cost her the same amount.
No one in her family would ever object to this occupation, as it was legitimate. It reflected current market trends, and perhaps even hedged upon “innovation.” She wasn’t, however, pretty enough to go viral just yet.
One time, and one time only, a man commented that “she knew what she was doing” and then reposted her video on a site that other men go to when their wives are asleep. Kacey found out about this through a friend, with whom she is no longer on speaking terms.
Any doubts end today, she thought, because today my room is going to be refitted to encompass an entire studio space. True, one fourth of the room will be used as a cold-storage area where her Mom will keep her excess food in case of a “Third Wave” virus, but otherwise the entire room is being dedicated to video making. Light will stream in like the flats of Los Angeles, where going viral is as easy as scrambling eggs. Now, her room will echo the famous enigmas of her generation, with lush lives and carefree incomes. Kacey didn’t want to be known for her videos. She just wanted to be known.
“Peter, get the paint,” Kacey’s mom yelled down from the stairs.
“The hardware store is not even open yet,” Peter yells from inside his own room.
“I want you there when it opens. We have the furniture people coming at nine and the contractor coming at ten. These are rushed deliveries.”
“And why is it so rushed?”
Kacey bounds down the stairs now. She’s beaming, absolutely heaving with joy on this glorious day when her room is completely redone. First goes the paint: a solid white for the best cream-colored videos. Then goes the furniture, sparse and modern like a home gym furnished with a Peloton. Finally, the lighting fixtures, which will be specially made to accommodate the size of her studio and even equipped with a cooling system to ward off heat and keep her comfortable during long nights of countless edits.
“It’s rushed,” Kacey explains, “because inactive accounts lose followers, and my account has been inactive since I released my remodeling video, promising to show updates on our construction. There hasn’t been any construction to show my audience yet.”
“There will be today,” Kacey’s mom sings.
The forty-five year old pads down the hall, her skin pulled tight around her cheekbones. She wears the satin pajamas of a thirtieth-seventh birthday present (still fits) and a liposuction-ed stomach which fills in the logical gaps. She has the voice of a nursing assistant, one that can only be helpful until a point, and a tenor that escalates to holy octaves when she is scared, excited, or mad. Now is one of those times when a songbird would have to compete to uphold her frequency.
“If we are going to do this, we are going all the way. That’s what your father would say, and that’s how we are going to build your room.”
“I just don’t understand why she gets this huge expensive redecoration and I have to produce music on my laptop,” Peter mutters as he opens his bedroom door.
“Because you don’t make your own music, sweetie: you produce other people’s music. Where’s the creativity in that, my love? At least your sister’s making a name for herself.”
Kacey brings her shoulders down and backs away from the exchange. She’s never seen Peter as a failure, just as someone who has compromised in life. No longer does he reach for fame — now he just scours for a paycheck. It has brought him to the field of audio engineering, and to the brink of depression.
“I’ll get the paint in an hour,” Peter spits.
“You’ll get it now, Peter” their mother replies.
Kacey can’t recall when this conflict had gotten so heated. It only seemed natural, after her father came home with the recent promotion, that the entire family would be dumbfoundedly excited about her new career as an influencer, and would jump at the idea of the room addition. It had never been more than a whim on her part, and now that this plan was coming to fruition, Kacey couldn’t figure out if she or her mom were more excited for the new room.
“She’s got talent,” Sarah says. “And that’s something I wish I saw in you.”
Sarah bounces back up to her bedroom, and Peter waits to release his stare and pushes out tears. He cries without squinting his eyes, without even knowing what he’s doing. He walks up to close his door.
The mornings rarely go this way. Usually, Kacey’s mother won’t be ready until after noon. She has a rigorous skincare routine that she conducts privately and by heart. All these years inside, Kacey has only known her mother’s shower to turn on at precisely seven in the morning and for her to walk about only after the clock read “PM.” It wasn’t experimental, Sarah’s process, but rather a regimen of refined beauty. As a child, Kacey thought this skincare prep was simply the effect of being a nursing assistant, and was some high-concept ploy at hygiene. Recently, Kacey has understood it as Sarah’s attempt to stay young. Ever since learning of the failed Hollywood starlet attempt that Sarah made in her mid-twenties, where the lights cast her out without reason, Kacey has connected the trends in her behavior.
It soothes Kacey to think that through all the adulthood trauma that her mother has kept, it ended with marrying her father, The Doctor. Curtis exuded success in his craft, success that led to fame. Kacey thought once about being famous by being a doctor like Curtis, but Curtis’ fame came from over twenty years of dedicated schooling, and she did not have that kind of time.
Curtis and Sarah were a perfect match. He worked late but came back with accolades and stories to entertain them. He won a promotion when clearing his hospital entirely of patients in the midst of a disease peak they called the “Second Wave.” It was a summertime disease that sparked panic in the world. He stabilized all his patients within a day, thirty-five people, and was thereafter heralded as the only doctor to do so. Thirty-five people left that hospital with only Curtis, her father, to thank.
It was funny to think that Curtis was the famous one in the household. Sarah only wishes she were. Kacey is on her path to be, and the stardom flew past Peter as he reached out to grab it. If the odds of fame were twenty-five percent in the Glasslowe household, Kacey would take those chances.
It is morning time for Sarah, in that it is now past noon and Peter has gone out to get paint. Sarah saddles her hips against the counter (as standing while eating has proven to boost digestion) and takes out the leftovers. She used to eat egg whites for breakfast, but now that she has learned how eggs are manufactured and processed, she opts instead for chicken. Not the meaty part though, or even the dark meat. Sarah nibbles around the veins and bones of the birds, sucking on the innards of the skeleton until the marrow juices come out, as these have the most nutrients. She plucks away at the drumstick until it is a fossil, and then throws it away into the waste bin below the sink where the rest of the bones go.
Curtis is expected home any moment now, for his night shift has ended and he has done the last round at his hospital. Sarah used to work there too, so she has grown accustomed to the schedule. Curtis likes to think Sarah only became a nursing assistant in order to flirt with him, considering how fast she opted to stay at home with the children. She has never liked the line of work, with all the blood and guts to mangle and manage. Instead, she likes her guts organized correctly, in her refrigerator with the rest of the chicken leftovers.
Kacey spends the afternoon inside of Peter’s room as she wells with excitement of being in her bedroom anymore. Peter’s room is different: he has weights and bars above his bed. His book shelves are stuffed with mats, elastic bands, plastic contraptions, ointments, juices, powders. A shrine to testosterone.
Kacey has already said goodbye to the striped maroon wallpaper and her girlhood headboard. She has bid adieu to the faded curtains and the stuffy windows. She wants, instead, to wait by Peter’s workout equipment until he returns so that he knows she is not the enemy.
Peter should be the one apologizing, she thinks, for the long mornings and lazy afternoons he has spent away at University while Kacey kept her Mom company. No matter what her Mom says, Dad’s hospital shifts never end reasonably and start back up almost immediately. She is kept holed up with her aging mother who wards off wrinkles like uninvited guests.
At the most eerie of times, Kacey might peek through her bedroom grate to see into her mother’s bathroom on the other side of a wall. She rarely saw anything, maybe an ankle or calf. One night, she peered from boredom at the metal grate and saw her mother touching her neck like an artist does a sculpture. Her view was distorted through the slits in the grate, and only if she bent down with her butt in the air and her forearms on the floor could she peek up to see her mother. Inside the bathroom, Sarah bent her skin this way and that way until her age spots disappeared around the back of her ears. Kacey watched as Sarah kept pulling, stretching, no, tearing her skin. The middle of her neck grew red and inflamed as Sarah kept pulling on both sides to flatten herself. The wrinkles vanished for only as long as Sarah held her hands across her neck. When she let go, the skin retracted and bundled up.
Kacey had never considered her mom old in the same way that Sarah never considered her daughter as a woman. Kacey imagined her mom turning around, sharply, and calling her name out. Would she have enough time to run back to bed before her Mom caught her looking through the grate? Kacey’s toes were always pointed, ready to leap. When Sarah was out of view, Kacey’s eyes darted around the room in fear that she had been caught, or that Sarah’s face would press right against the metal slits.
In this instance, Sarah hadn’t seen the spy. She was too preoccupied with mangling her skin and letting it compress back together to ward off time. Suddenly, blood started to spill from Sarah’s neck. She kept pulling. Kacey could have sworn she’d seen the inside of her mother’s neck that night, right through her throat into the bone. Kacey lay awake that night, thinking her mother might’ve killed herself, or was bleeding out only feet away from her.
When morning arrived, her mother came out precisely at noon with a scarf around her throat. Those mornings, Peter was never there to stare back at her, or question Sarah. So it was silence, and within a week the scarf went away, as if the whole thing had never happened.
Peter walks through the door carrying cans of paint just as the contractor comes bearing planks of plywood and an electric saw.
The rest of the day is exciting. Saws scream and wood ruptures under the blade of a screw. A mess of sawdust and paint chips collect on the floor of Kacey’s room. The entire house smells of pine and paint thinner. Peter stays inside his room.
Kacey records the entire process from a 1.25x zoom lens on her phone for safety. She adds music to the footage of burly men taking down the skins of her house, wallpaper, and then plywood. They seem to be doing away with their frustrations as they gut her room. She thinks of how fragile a house really is and how exhilarating it is to see it treated with such violence. If only more things were able to be fixed by way of violence, perhaps the world would be a less violent place.
At one point, Sarah comes up to the construction workers and leans into the doorway. Her hair is flowy and drapes down. Ever since becoming a housewife, she has found the vocation of designing and remodeling a nice change of pace from her otherwise idle lifestyle. Although never formally trained in the craft, Sarah has made ad hoc attempts at interior design across the entire house. She first refitted her master bedroom with new carpeting. With the hands of a novice, she incorrectly measured the height of the door frames and chose a plush carpet that the door brushes against whenever it is open. Except for the constant circular imprint of the door’s circumference in the carpet, it was a menial mistake. Now, whenever any remodeling is done upon the estate, she wants to be present. Especially at a time like today, when the glorious union of Kacey’s bedroom and her own pantry unite to form one. She steps through the door frame, taking note of the wood screws and nails along the messy floor, careful not to step anywhere near them in her bare feet.
The men don’t look at her long enough, which makes her furious, and she sees Kacey in the corner getting shots of the power tools.
“Kacey, love, you’re getting too close!”
Kacey turns her back on the electric tools and walks away to post another edit. Sarah drops her voice while motioning the workers into a huddle. She whispers some instruction and struts out, this time bumping hips with her daughter by the staircase.
“You see what they’re doing?”
“Putting up a new wall?” Kacey responds.
“No, they’re helping you become a star.”
Sarah brings Kacey’s head under her chiseled chin and kisses her hair.
“Days like these you’re going to remember.” She continues, “because years from now you’ll look back and realize that your entire career started here.”
Kacey looks up to her mother and smiles, and then brings the iPhone camera up to show her face.
“Don’t record me now! I’m a mess,” Sarah trills.
With their new task, the workers begin undoing a section of the wall and organizing planks across the side of the room like a picket gate. It is here that the storage closet for the food will be built.
The Doctor walks through the door as Sarah sets plates for the family. Dinner is hotdogs and beans, as Sarah has never learned to cook, or had any formal education in her current occupation. Curtis isn’t fazed. He strolls across the floor littered with drop cloths and finds his place at the table, as if the house were not being taken apart. He plucks a hot dog directly from the boiling water and holds it like a Popsicle.
“One of the contractors told me he would go overtime, since he has a late call tomorrow morning,” he says between bites.
“Should we let him?” Sarah asks, ever thrifty.
“‘Should we let him?’ I said thank God! If we get this done within the next day or two, we can have Kacey making videos by the weekend, and doesn’t everyone spend more time consuming content on the weekend? I think so. We certainly have enough to cover it.”
“One thing, though,” Curtis directs at Kacey, “I do think it would be best if you slept in our room tonight. I know Peter would throw a fit, and we have enough space, especially if this is a rush-construction like they say it will be.”
Sarah shifts from the oven to the counter.
“For one night? No. Is it okay with you, Kacey?
Kacey has lived in this house her entire life: sixteen years. She can interpret every creak in the wooden panels and bump in the copper pipes. Tonight she lies positioned towards the edge of her parent’s bed as Curtis and Sarah take up their usual spots on the king sized mattress. Kacey cannot fall to sleep. Instead, it’s the ice maker in the refrigerator that keeps her company with its whirring, and the sounds of cars whooshing by that reassure her.
It is past one in the morning. Curtis has a lilt in his breathing that can be mistaken for a snore, the snore of a hard-working man. One who wakes up sore and aching and still goes to work the next day. Sarah’s breathing is trained. She has her lips pursed and her face entirely mushed inside a pillow; she inhales through her nose and exhales from her mouth. She sleeps facing the wall, she and Kacey the farthest from each other with Curtis in the middle.
At sixteen years old, the act of sleeping next to her parents is not boosting Kacey’s confidence. She is considered a woman by law, by faith, and by anatomy, but not by her mother. The videos she admires are all made by women, yet she feels her videos still scream girl.
Kacey observes when Peter is straddling the same border between man and boy. He decided to cure himself of the term by bulking up with his metal plates and sour powders. He has a lofty goal to reach for: her father, ‘the heroic savior or thirty-five patients’. It must spur envy in Peter to know such a manly force exists within the same walls.
She would like to turn over and see what her parents look like while sleeping, but she decides it might stir the bed and wake them. The room is shrouded in black except for the streetlamp’s scintillations. She would have rather slept on the floor of her room. Just past the thin wall of her parent’s room she feels her gravitation toward the new studio space. She can almost see it through the slits in the metal grate.
Kacey can no longer hear the breathing of her mother. About to roll around, Kacey stops when she hears the familiar breathing. Then a creak on the floor, another step. Two steps away from the bed.
Maybe, Kacey thinks, Sarah is going to do another facial routine. Another secret ritual that adds onto her already insane regimen of skin care. Maybe Sarah has to use the bathroom, but Kacey has never known her mother to stoop to such impurities as using a toilet. Has she ever even seen her mother use a bathroom? Sarah’s footsteps pass the bathroom. A flimsy bedroom door brushes against her chic carpet, and Sarah steps out to the hall.
Kacey sees the hallway from outside the door. She makes out the construction tools and residual mess that the contractors promised to clean up the next day. Her mother takes a left turn, and then disappears into the stairwell. Is Mom going into my room?
The sounds stop. Kacey can’t decipher the noise coming from inside her new room. Given the house’s recent gutting, , the resounding squeaks and bumps are entirely alien to her. Kacey slips out of bed and leaves her father alone. She shuffles over the carpet and grabs for the door handle.
Kacey crouches down onto her forearms and peeks directly through the metal-slotted gate. No Mom. Kacey’s back is pointed in the air, and a chilling breeze finds its way under her shirt. She stiffens up and stands. Kacey decides to go into the room herself.
When she rounds the corner of the doorway, her mother stands inside, her shoulders slumped and her feet wide apart, as if performing a standing birth. Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. She’s not fully awake, rather in that restful state where her actions won’t be remembered. Her eyes are fixed on the metal grate. “Do you watch me, darling?”
“What do you see?”
“Just — only sometimes to make sure you’re okay — ”
“You watch me through that grate down there.”
She twists her head and crouches down until the grate matches her face. Then, she tucks her back feet and rises, once again aligning with the door frame.
Sarah’s head twirls, looks to Kacey, and then back to the wall. Kacey tries to align her gaze with her mother’s, to see if there might be something so arresting as to warrant her behavior. She can’t find anything except a floor riddled with nails and paint chips. Kacey looks back to her mother and realizes she hasn’t blinked in minutes.
Kacey will swear that she sees her mother’s neck open up, just a bit, at the spot where her skin was pulled tight all those months ago. She can recall almost seeing into her voice box — is that a part of the anatomy? — because it is what she sees now.
Suddenly, Sarah’s face twists back into shape.
“I thought the tools were still plugged in,” Sarah snaps.
“Why did you get out of bed? I was just checking to see if the tools were plugged in.”
“Do you need something?”
Sarah’s neck looks normal now. She blinks a few times and cocks her head, confused.
“No, I just, I heard — ”
Sarah leads the way back to the bedroom. She slides into bed first, wrapping only the thinnest cover over her body as she inhales deeply. Kacey follows after a few moments, still shaking. Her eyes are adjusted to the darkness now, so she uses the toilet and steps back into the room. She shuts the door.
“Good girl,” whispers Sarah.
Kacey scans the whole room for a moment before deciding to get into bed. There will be no more surprises that night. When she wakes up, her father will be at work, and her mother will be locked away in the bathroom for her rituals. She will never discuss it with Kacey, and Kacey will never sleep in that room again. The last image she has before falling into an unrestful sleep is of her mother sprawled out onto the bed, a wood screw wedged into the pad of her foot.
4:00 am: THE RECKONING NIGHT
Officer Emeral walked around the property. It was a nice place, this Glasslowe house. You could see only by the light of the streetlamp that these people lived comfortably, elegantly. It made him a bit angry, to be honest, to have to check in on this elegant family when much more destitute people had much more to do than complain about noise.
Noise was all around him constantly. Files and cases flew across the Officer’s desk about people missing in large batches, high crime in the wealthiest of circles, and yet most of them went unresolved. Time was not a friend to his line of work, and especially not at this hour, when the summer grass is heavy with dew.
After a few moments, he hears noise from inside. The Glasslowes probably thought he left, and were coaxing their children to sleep. The noise is only chatter, but a kind that sounds like conspiracy, hatred. “Self-protection,” someone spits from inside, “sacrifices.”
Officer Emeral peeks around the side of the house, hoping tonight doesn’t lead to a tray of paperwork or a leaked bodycam video. Can’t anyone do anything in the name of public health without being scrutinized? Thus goes the logic of minds like Victor Frankenstien, for only when one thinks of the public good are they trying to defend an ethical wrong. Officer Emeral feels like a snake navigating the Glasslowe’s lawn on a thin hunch.
It is the flimsy belief that something in his gut is churning, an intuition is calling upon him to investigate. In reality, he should have learned to disregard these feelings years ago.
Nevertheless, Officer Emeral looks into the downstairs window. There’s a small person, naked on the floor. Her back is to the wall and she crouches on all fours and sobs. Emeral runs to the front of the house.
“There’s something wrong at Dr. Glasslowe’s residence.”
ONE DAY BEFORE THE RECKONING NIGHT
Lunch was ham sandwiches, which Sarah proudly set at the table as if she should have earned a Michelin star. Peter and Kacey ate in silence, and then returned upstairs to their rooms.
Curtis was coming home later and later from work, but no one seemed to mind. After a second promotion, Peter was given his own workstation for music. It was a bulky computerized thing with knobs and buttons that looked metallic and expensive. Sarah still existed within her own universe, preparing herself for the man who came home more exhausted each night. Sometimes Kacey saw her mother sit inside with her hands on her chin (never her face, because of the makeup) and not know what to do with herself. When she would see Kacey she would always ask how the videos were going, if there were any sponsorships, or how best to angle the light in the room. Rarely, Kacey would give her mother a video to review.
During one of these interactions, Sarah’s makeup had started to melt down her face after an attempt to pan-fry a steak had led to a burn on her wrist.
“Kacey, get me a towel, quick!”
Kacey ran to the linen closet and then downstairs. She bundled ice into the towel and then gave it to her mother. Sarah pressed it onto her wrist and sat down at the table. She was weeping.
“How are the videos going?”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. You need to focus. You shouldn’t have even heard me if you were really working on the videos. Do you know what they told me back in Los Angeles when I would stop for lunch? They would say you aren’t pretty enough to take a lunch break. I would have to work and stretch and primp through lunch if I even had a shot at being anything besides a body double. That’s what they would tell me.”
Sarah’s skin turns red and then black as she places her hand under water. Steam came off of the wound but she never winces.
“You are like me Kacey. You work hard, but you can’t afford to think this will come easily to you. I need to tackle it down, strangle it, suffocate it. Our bodies were made this way. Do you understand?”
“Go back upstairs and make another video. You’re like me; you’re not pretty enough to think this will work out for you without sacrifice. I make sacrifices all the time, after all; I had you.”
Sarah stood up and walked back to the kitchen counter. Kacey stood too, and dragged her feet across the tile floor. She trudged upstairs. She could only glimpse her mother as she pressed her hand onto the metal. Her eyes rolled back into her head. Her chest heaved. Kacey could smell the burning flesh.
Everything had a place inside of Kacey’s new studio bedroom. The walls were left pristine white and never touched. Kacey was convinced that if she touched the walls with greasy hands the varnish would somehow stain or crack. Her furniture was a few feet away from the wall, so as to not bump it. The room was arranged in a way that followed the Rule of Thirds: the basic rules of video call for objects to be placed in the right and leftmost thirds of the screen.
When her phone was secured in its tripod and the ring light was set around the lens, the entire room screamed of excellence and poise. It was modern: white with black furniture accents. Her bed was low and unkempt, as if trying to relate to her audience. The central shot was always of her white wall with an upholstered black chair off to the left side, her bed to the right, and a bookshelf off-center. It made her look smart and studious, but really the books inside were those collected from the basement, for which Curtis has no use post-medical school. This was, to be sure, the bedroom of a woman.
Her biker shorts are riding up her legs as she films, so it’s a good thing she’s also wearing an oversized shirt. Ever since becoming verified, her comment section has gotten more sexually explicit. Sex sells, though, and with these empty remarks comes attention and a following. Her videos have been known to gain traction as soon as they go live, raking in more than a thousand likes within the first hour and then spiraling towards infinity throughout the day. She has committed herself to a diet of two-thousand calories and three videos a day. Today, though, there’s something unappetizing about the smell of the house. It’s almost like-
“You little shit,” Peter says, barging into her room.
“I should get a ‘On Air’ sign. You can’t just do that. What if I was recording?”
“You would record it again. Listen, why did you make the cutesy video for my song?”
In exchange for Peter’s help with the construction cleanup, which had been finished in five days instead of three, Kacey told her brother she would use one of his songs in his videos. He felt overwhelmed, and spent the next week fine-tuning his own recording constantly. He barely left his room for meals. During that week, the house felt like how it was when Peter was back at college, with Sarah staring at Kacey until she complimented her cooking. Most of their conversations during construction were about the priority of her mother’s pantry, which would take a day to set up, and then she would be able to use the room. Not fair, Kacey thought, but this conflict was quickly reconciled by a father-daughter shopping spree.
Curtis’ way of shopping was like taking a wedding registry: everything was assumed to be bought until it was not. Kacey never realized how lovely shopping must be when you are wealthy.
Now though, Peter isn’t satisfied with her use of his new song:
“Peter, the video got one hundred thousand views. That’s not bad!”
“No, it’s not bad, but you could’ve gotten more! Your dancing videos get millions. Why didn’t you make a dancing video?”
“Because the vibe was different. I like what I did.”
“You did a ‘cutesy’ video. I see them all the time where you stick out your tongue and look away and straight down the camera lens like you’re going to kiss it. Everyone does those.”
At that moment, Sarah came in as if called upon to restore the peace.
“What’s going on?”
What was going on was that Peter was hinting at something rather twisted. Kacey knew when she posted it that the song with her brother’s music would get fewer views. It was a video she felt comfortable posting, because Peter was family, and she had the authority to post a video using his music, fully clothed, without jumping up and down. It was a video of decency, which is why it was unpopular.
By contrast, she was always hesitant to post what became her most popular videos. Their trend was one of short skirts, pouty lips, and the occasional perky shirt.
“Kacey put no effort into the video with my music. She didn’t even dress up.”
“Kacey…” Sarah sang.
Kacey’s mother walked over and put her hands on Kacey’s waist. Almost in an embrace, Sarah stripped Kacey of her shirt. Sarah ripped it off her back and tossed it to the ground, then she pulled the biker shorts up her daughter’s hips until the elastic ripped.
“Put on a sports bra and do the video again. Now.”
“Mom, what?” Kacey squeaked.
“We are going to watch, and you are going to do the video again, this time dancing and using your brother’s song. Do you understand?”
Sarah walked into Kacey’s room and sat with her back to the wall of her pantry. She invited Peter in to watch, and he looked around for Kacey’s eyes before stepping in.
And so the scene: a mother woman steps into her daughter’s room. places her back against the farthest wall and slinks down to watch as her daughter juts out her hips, arcs her back, sticks out her ass, flashes her chest, and rolls her body. This must be what separates a girl from a woman.
That video became the most popular video on her page. Commentors raved about how little she wore, and how forced the dancing was. She attracted a new group of followers who fetishized the video. Something about it engrossed her following. It was obsessive, erotic, and demeaning. Kacey danced without a smile, staring down the barrel of the iPhone lens. Tumblr pages were dedicated to the dissection and recreation of every frame of her video. Why had it been so compelling to watch this tiny girl, not pretty enough to be famous, but becoming an exhibition in the name of notoriety? It was hard to make out, but if you went online (as so many did) and scoured through the thumbnails, you can just spot the tears sprouting from Kacey’s eyes.
Curtis came through the door and immediately commented on the scent. “What the hell is that?” he said to Sarah before coming to aid and spotting her wrist. Curtis was accustomed to this smell at his hospital.
He once told Kacey over dinner that he treated three burn victims with skin grafts that got rejected. Just wanting to hear her father’s booming voice, she asked him to explain more. The conversation turned clinical as Curtis explained how the skin of the same person (or otherwise, a cadaver) surgically replaced the skin of the victim. If a skin graft gets rejected, which it often does, the skin dies on the living patient: turning yellow and purple until you can see the places where it was stitched in. Kacey thought how insightful this was. Sarah stayed seated and gnawed on her chicken bones.
The scent of burning flesh was not one that Kacey tolerated. It made the rest of her day unbearable, causing her to produce subpar videos. She didn’t want to shed her sweatshirt for fear of the smell attaching to her body. How easy it would be, she thought, to trip or bump or burn her skin and need a graft herself. Where would they take it off of her, and where would it need to be placed? The smell of flesh felt like it doubled in the film lights of her bedroom. She went outside that afternoon and sobbed.
She came back inside, resolute to spend the entire night making videos. And she did, beginning with complicated dances and clever puns. She added titles and effects and animations throughout the night, until the only thing stopping her were the processing speeds of her computer and phone. She worked through the scent of flesh that still clung to her nostrils, and she worked through the hushed sounds from inside her parent’s bedrooms.
“I think we may be in over our heads,” her father boomed.
“We did everything we could already, and it will start to get colder soon. Cold will do them well.”
“They keep offering a stipend each month, but this can’t last.”
“I don’t see why not,” Sarah remarked, “I don’t see the problem.”
“Of course you don’t, darling. At least you and Kacey are of the same mind.”
This was odd, Kacey thought. She didn’t understand the context, nor why such a conversation was necessary in the middle of the night. She saw the bedside lamp turn off and Kacey waited until the deep breathing started. The smell had stopped.
Kacey finally went to bed around four in the morning. Once her videos were posted, she couldn’t bring herself to turn off the light without the promise of a sunrise in the next few hours. It was when she was in the darkness, under her covers, that she felt the same sense of dread that she did the night she had slept in her parents’ room. She felt the same unholy gut instinct that she should stand up and look around, but she never did. She slowly lulled herself to sleep despite the sounds of the creaking floorboards, a door pulled across a carpeted floor, and a familiar inhale through the nose and an exhale through the mouth.
THE DAY OF THE RECKONING
The next morning she woke up sweating and with an awful headache. The room smelled of rot and death. She wanted so badly to spend the day updating her feed. This was quickly stifled by the many visitors to the Glasslowe house.
First was a central air-conditioning repairman. Sweltering sunbeams cooked the family inside of their home. Curtis agreed to greet the man in the morning, for Sarah was still in the bathroom. Kacey sat at the top of the staircase and listened to the repairman explain that the system had been damaged through overuse, but that it was fixable. He asked to scan the rooms for a possible misuse of air-vents, one that was working improperly. Curtis thought it best for him to stay in the basement, since his wife was upstairs and quite fussy in the mornings.
Kacey felt inclined to go plead to her father for the repairman to go to her bedroom. It was unlivable, a petri dish for bacteria with the heat, which forced her to make the staircase her new home. She wished she could film a video to gather sympathy for her situation, but she already had posted a sweaty-exercise vlog, and it disgusted her viewers more than it intrigued them.
Instead, she opened her window next to her bed and behind the bookshelf. There used to be one more window, now taken up by her mother’s pantry in the back of the room. She pulled on the door handle but it was locked. The handle was cold, so maybe the air conditioning had kept the food cold despite its own failure.
The second house call was from a hospital worker, who was arranging a fundraising event for donors. He called on this one-day-per-month that Curtis allowed himself to work from home. Her father dressed only in joggers and a T-shirt and was still working during his deserved break. He even worked through lunch, much to Sarah’s approval.
Sarah joined the two men over coffee in the afternoon, and Kacey posted on the staircase until Sarah told her to go outside while the guest was here.
“What about Peter — does he have to leave?”
“Peter isn’t stalking the kitchen like you are,” Sarah spoke.
Just then, Peter walked past Kacey on the staircase holding a barbell. “Why is it so fucking hot?”
“It’s being fixed,” Sarah said.
“Who’s that in the kitchen?”
“Rodger. You met him at the Christmas party.”
“But why is he here, for you?” Peter looked towards Kacey.
“Why don’t you shut up and go back to college? I don’t need you here.” Kacey replied.
“You’ve never worked for anything in your life. You don’t need me here but you would die without Mom and Dad giving you money” Peter answers.
“You don’t even have a job!”
“At least I’m not a slut!”
“Just stay away,” Sarah said before she stomped to her bedroom and shut the door. Kacey and Peter looked at each other, and without a minute passing, she opened the door again.
“Do you understand the amount of sacrifices we make for the both of you? Forget Curtis — the sacrifices I make! And what do I get in return? Nothing! You lazy shits.”
She then turned her expression upward and her voice came down in fear of being heard by the guest downstairs.
“Through all of this, there are still people in this world who — just — your father always says if you are going to do something then do it all the way. You two — ”
Sarah beckoned both of her children closer. The two children who emerged from her scrawny body. Two people whose existence seemed an impossibility when looking at their mother.
“You might hear things about your father over the next few days. They are not true. He is a good man. People are jealous of us, of you, and of our family name. I don’t care about these little issues, the heat or your videos. We need to stick together, as a family, and help each other.”
Kacey had never heard her mother speak like this. She shot eyes at Peter and his expression echoed her thought. Sarah stood straight and went back into her room, forcing the door shut and grazing the carpet.
It was during these times of intense anger, followed by maternal wisdom, that confused Kacey. Sarah could be the perfect mother. She had spent money to facilitate her children’s dreams, she had given them everything she never had. Kacey recalled the mornings spent with her mother, when Sarah dolled out stories from Hollywood. Life had not treated her kindly, such that the smallest of infractions sent her spiraling into delirium. In a few years, Kacey would be able to identify her mother through terms of mental illness, but now it was just confusion. Kacey would never wish to live inside her mother’s head. Sleeping within the next room was more than enough.
Kacey spent the rest of the day outside, as instructed. With only herself as company, she could not help but think of ideas for posts and new content. What if she made a video with one of her idols? They could lip-synch together if she reached out to a good sample size of popular influencers. At least one would respond, right?
She thought of different outfits and trends to use. There’s one where you can show different outfits as you jump-cut between hops. She might try that — expect wearing bikinis? That would stir the pot.
Today, there is a small breeze that wards off sweat as Kacey walks laps around the house. She contemplates her videos, her tasks, and the other ways she could skip the ladder of fame. A live stream may help, or maybe a collab. She walks and walks.
She takes in the siding. It is faded and worn from the summer sun and the springtime rain. The plastic white has discolored to the yellow of coffee-stained teeth. Her house, to a visitor, might not even be described as white anymore. She eyes the plastic shutters across each of the house’s windows. What an odd thing, she thinks, to want to replicate the look of shutters without the actual thing.
She peeks into Peter’s room and sees bottles and cans lining the windowsill. He probably drinks to clear his mind of the family drama and then records his music when the buzz hits. She walks around to her mother’s side and sees the window above her parents’ bed, and then her mother’s bathroom. She couldn’t even term it her “parents’ bathroom” because of how her mother overtook the space. She can’t see into the room now — she never has — but she assumes that only the most expensive primers, combs, lotions, and moisturizers live behind that screen.
Finally, she aligns herself with the open windows of her own bedroom. It takes a moment for her to realize it is her room, as the white interior doesn’t yet feel comfortable to her. From the ground she can only gaze and see the fresh ceiling of the second floor. On the last of her windows, the white ceiling is now blocked by the darkness of the small pantry section. Kacey believes her mom to be quite selfish for taking an entire window for her pantry. Sarah should have seen the conflicts in building her storage where there would otherwise be sunlight and fresh air.
Now, her room lost a touch of itself with that window boarded up to make room for food. Kacey squints at the offending window, hating what it represents. She can see only blackness inside, and then a small sparkle of metal. As she navigates the house, she spots the twinkle of more metal. Much more, she finds, new and polished. Her mother must be storing silverware up there as well, because from her vantage point she can only see shiny metal installments glistening and refracting down to her level. The sun hides itself behind a cloud and the window turns to black.
Just then, the front door opens and her father lets out the guest with a handshake and wave. This man, Rodger, was older and softer than her father, but not entirely irrelevant. He still maintains a well-kept beard and a sense of youthfulness with his stride. He carries the latest iPhone, a good sign, and walks towards where Kacey sat in the lawn. His car was parked along the curb, but Rodger seems to beeline for her. When he reaches her, Rodger crouches down and speaks closely.
“How’s it going down there?”
“Cooler than inside.”
“Yeah, it’s a hot house you got. I was sweating in there.”
Rodger shifts, glancing down to Kacey’s neckline and chest,
“That’s not an issue for you, huh. Keep making those videos, we all get something out of ‘em.”
He walks into his car. He smiles from outside the window, and Kacey shudders, bringing her knees in towards her chest. She squeezes herself into a ball for protection from him, from men, from the world.
And then, her sense regained itself. An anger bubbles inside her. Her legs flop down and she thinks, Am I only famous because of who my Dad is?
That night saw no videos. The humming of computers fell silent and Kacey’s iPhone was on Safari instead. Who is Curtis Glasslowe?
And why the hell does her house smell like shit?
THE NIGHT OF THE RECKONING
Curtis Glasslowe is a doctor. A trained medical professional who worked his way up to helm a popular hospital with one of the quickest turnover rates in the country. He has a LinkedIn, a company Twitter, and a Facebook group. Awards, accolades, compliments, friends. He works long nights and early mornings, all with photographic evidence from newspapers and personal blogs and lifestyle gurus. He has saved lives and mourned over the lost causes. He is in perfect health and will stay that way. His tax reports are in order, and his income is astronomical. His smile is photogenic.
In the most recent news story, Kacey finds her father’s promotion that has afforded her the new bedroom. She reads and researches by the light of her phone screen until her eyes dry. She is reminded to blink, and thinks of her mother with her jealous tendencies. She must hate her father’s success, with his promotions and bonuses and grant-writing.
She finds the news story of his great victory in stabilizing the thirty-five patients of the “Second Wave” within twenty-four hours. Blogs include astounding heartbeat charts and medical reports. Scientific journals ask for his secret, and other articles hint at his background of cold-therapy, which must have been the key factor for success.
Still, Kacey questions, why haven’t any of these patients made house calls? Wouldn’t they be thankful, or is it just people like Rodger who call upon Curtis, because that is what fame feels like: empty? Her new room, for all it was worth, wasn’t going to make her happy. In a singular moment she understood that fame is only a stepping stone upwards, and the glance downward is damning. She has no recollection of how far she had come in growing her audience, only that she still has so far to go. Her father must have felt the same way, curing thirty-five people and being thanked only by employees who come to make house visits to plan events on his one-day-off-per-month. Fame, she knew now, was a terrible thing.
Suddenly, a scream alerts her. It’s a scream of pain, and it’s coming from downstairs. Kacey bounds down the stairs, three at a time, and rushes to the door. Sarah stands behind the kitchen counter with a knife in her right hand, and a deep slit over her left. The top half of her hand is practically separated from the rest of her arm, and Kacey can see the bone coming through. Peter runs up directly behind her, and screams when he sees the wooden cutting board soaked with his mother’s blood. Sarah just stands, frozen. She’s almost calm.
“What the fuck!” Peter screams.
“Get a towel, Peter.”
“Can’t a grown woman have a bit of fun?” Sarah replied.
“She’s going insane, and she’s losing blood. Where’s Dad?” Kacey yells.
Curtis runs down the stairs on cue and appraises the situation.
“Two plastic bags, ice, towel, orange juice. Now!” he asserts to Kacey.
“Darling,” Sarah replies, waving her bleeding flesh around, “Why don’t you go get it from the pantry?”
“No,” Curtis says, “Peter, go get the towel in the linen closet, and Kacey, wait with your mother. I’ll go to the pantry.”
At that moment, Sarah’s hand falls. It frees itself from her wrist, as if of its own volition, and lands upon the cutting board. Sarah looks down and smiles.
“Why don’t you just let her go to the pantry, Curtis — or should I slit my wrist too?” Sarah holds the knife in her hand against her bleeding wrist. “If I’m going to do something I might as well do it all the way, right, sweetheart?”
Kacey sees her father sweating now. He’s crying, but he doesn’t reply.
This was never how Curtis Glasslowe was supposed to react in a situation like this. The Curtis Glasslowe that Kacey knows is someone who wouldn’t bat an eye at a situation. So who is this Curtis Glasslowe?
Kacey stares into Sarah’s eyes. It is the stare of a young girl, bereft of her mask and her stardom and her phone. She sees only her mother, wielding a knife in one hand and, in the other, losing blood all over the kitchen. Sarah only smiles, calm as ever, and looks to Kacey as if to say, “your move, sweetheart.”
Maybe this is a test. This might be Kacey’s way to prove to her mother the resolve that she had never seen. This hand on the cutting board, with the skin of a serrated blade still stuck onto the weapon, is her mother’s best distraction. A good girl she would be, and walk away from this whole situation, this whole house. She might head out to the West Coast and look for stardom in the places her mother never dared. And when she had reached the peak of her career, her mother, with a scar to show at cocktail hours, would only lament that it was her actions that ultimately made her see the necessity to escape. As far as Kacey knew, this was Sarah’s final act of love to her daughter.
However, a deeper urge presents itself: the need to help her. Kacey drops her gaze to Sarah and rushes up to the second floor, this time reminded of the intense smell of flesh that never seems to leave her house.
Kacey climbs up the stairs and sees the carpet imprint from her mother opening her door. She sees a handprint on her bedroom that Sarah must have tried to open after she had cut her hand. Kacey walks into her own room, the one she had been sleeping in minutes ago, and finds the pantry door unlocked, and ajar.
Kacey eyes adjust to the sobering darkness of the room, and the overpowering scent of rot. Through the shadows of the streetlights, she can make out metallic hooks stranded from the ceiling. She begins to survey the area, brushing past cold dividers to find the supplies. She squeezes past cold silicone-padded cabinets to reach the back. How does anyone find anything in here?
She can’t see for the life of her, as her father moans downstairs, unable to help his wife in the one field he knows so intimately.
A car on the street whooshes past and illuminates the pantry for only a moment.
Kacey sees thirty-five bodies, hanging by their exposed collarbones along metal hooks, perfectly balanced.
The car speeds by and the pantry is dark again. Kacey rushes out and runs downstairs, only thinking of the scent that is on her body. It touches her face and fills her nostrils. She can’t get it off of her, and swipes off her shirt on the staircase. She topples down, bumping her head at the bottom, and begins crying as she wobbles back to the kitchen. She kicks her putrid pants off and drops down to her forearms when she reaches the kitchen and weeps. She weeps on the floor in just underwear, her face and body soaking with cold-sweat and tears.
Sarah stares ahead, and Peter returns with the towel and ice. Peter is the only one to speak. “What’s wrong?!”
“The — my room — ”
Sarah wraps her hand up in a towel and places it in a bowl of ice without any help. She points the knife at her side and feels no pain.
Then, a knock on the door.
“Is everything alright? We had a noise complaint.” The officer scans the clothes flung beneath the stairwell banister, and a younger boy at the foot of the staircase.
“Yes, only a nightmare,” Curtis says. His voice has a resounding bass quality.
“Alright, you all must be night owls, huh?” the officer jokes.
“My wife, she has a sleep issue. It happens often, but this time she got a bit loud.”
“You’re Dr. Glasslowe, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am, Curtis.”
“Wow, I heard what you did during the Second Wave. Truly magnificent. Thank you for all you do.”
“Thank you too Officer. Serve and protect.”
“Well, I hope she feels better.”
The door shuts and Curtis looks towards his family. If only a moment sooner, he would have seen his daughter stripping herself of bloodsoaked clothes and landing naked on the hard tile floor. He would have seen his wife’s hand detached from her body. But nobody moved. No one made a sound.
It was in that moment that the Glasslowe family made a silent and unholy pact to protect their names. Kacey will reflect upon that instant, with Officer Emeral in the doorway as her naked back faces the hall, and remember this as her last moment of innocence. That night had shed her of virtue and morality. Her blood had thickened and her veins had been emptied of remorse.
Sarah strokes her severed hand, as if it were a small puppy.
“We made sacrifices in this house for you children,” she repeats. “My sacrifice was telling your father ‘what can I do?’ instead of ‘what did you do?’”
“Honey, we never meant for you to find out.” Curtis spoke.
“Who ARE they?”
Peter, confused, retraced his sister’s steps and crept upstairs and into her room as they spoke.
“They are a casualty. A small and sad casualty who needed a home,” Curtis says as he strokes her head. “Don’t be scared, please.”
“Curtis Glasslowe,” Sarah squeaked from her high-pitched voice, “tried his cold therapy method on all thirty five of them in July. What Curtis missed, we figured out, was when blood freezes, the tissue actually turns into ice crystals. He killed thirty-five patients.”
“Thankfully, though,” Sarah walks up to Curtis and places a bloody palm on his cheek, “I was willing to make sacrifices.”
In the same moment, Peter sees the bodies in the pantry and freezes. He doesn’t stop there. He walks into his parents’ room and looks into the master bathroom, where he sees a collection of hard drives, computers, and folders. He uncovers billing statements, visa passport photos, and printers, all belonging to thirty-five folders stacked in the center.
Sarah hands Kacey her elastic shorts and crop top shirt to wear.
“It’s just self-protection. You understand that, right, darling?”
Sarah walks up to her pantry, letting her blood trickle down onto each step. Her hand swings in a joyous gallop, as if she were completely unaware of the night’s massacre.
Sarah thinks back to the summer night when Curtis came to her, with his head in his hands, and said he had killed people. Good people, and he killed them without malice in his heart. Sarah knew there were enough ill-intentioned people in this world, so why would Curtis, her dear Curtis, have to suffer the consequences of a small mistake?
They had the resources: a rental truck and a willing household. Sure, it had felt wrong to lie to the children, or to make Kacey sleep in the room with Curtis’ mistakes night after night, but the ruse was only a means of protection.
Sarah reaches her pantry door and opens it to find her people. She is not the perfect mother or housewife, but she did what she could. She erased the lives of these unfortunate people, all of whom already had suffered enough. Issuing false emails and intentions of travel to all of their families, acting as their proxy for months and months until each of their loved ones thought they were only away on business or vacation, was an act of dedication. It took all of her mornings, and much of her nights. She had a full-time job because of Curtis’ wrongdoing, and she was a mother foremost and first. No one could argue that Sarah was not hardworking.
Sarah winced when the light of the hallway touched the cold rotting bodies of her panty. She walked inside and shut the door.
Motherhood was a series of non-ideal situations. For Sarah, she dealt not only with her children, but with how to keep her family together in the face of a death. In this case, it was the grief of thirty-five that weighed upon one woman. Sarah might be the best mother, for who else would commit themselves fully to the act of seamlessly storing these grotesque forms inside her own home? She opted to hang them vertically, like a crowded subway car, and she marveled at the beauty that the polished meathooks gave from inside the closet.
Yes, Sarah was someone who kept a family together. She gave to those people much more than was ever given to her. She hustled to transport those new installments to her home without hesitation. She locked the door. Kacey would understand, she thought, because Kacey was strong.
Those two women understood the importance of a good performance.
4:10am: THE NIGHT OF RECKONING
Just before he knocks, the officer rounds off the perimeter of the house. He can’t ignore the small shimmer from a second story window. A sparkling and shining effect bounces onto the street, almost as if from a chandelier. Upon a closer inspection, it looks more like metal.
Officer Emeral unhooks the flashlight from his belt and shines it around the window. The metal glistens and shimmers across his face. It reflects back the smile of a perfect woman, a trophy wife any man would dream of. She acts giddy as she cracks the window open. The scent of death wafts down to where Emeral stands, but the woman doesn’t notice. She waves to him from behind the meathooks. Her hand lands at his feet.