Chapter no 29

A Flicker in the Dark

I’m out the front door in less than five minutes; my shoes are barely on, the fabric on the back of my sneakers digging blisters into my heels as I run across the driveway.

“Chloe,” Daniel calls after me, his open hand slapping the door, pushing it back open. “Where are you going?”

“I have to go,” I yell back. “It’s my mom.” “What about your mom?”

He’s rushing out of the house now, too, tugging a white T-shirt over his head. I’m fumbling through my purse, trying to find the keys to unlock my car.

“She isn’t eating,” I say. “She hasn’t eaten in days. I have to go, I have to—”

I stop, drop my head in my hands. All these years, I’ve been ignoring my mother. I’ve been treating her like an itch that I refused to scratch. I guess I thought that if I focused on it, on her, it would be overbearing, impossible to focus on anything else. But if I ignored it, eventually the pain would just subside on its own. It would never be gone—I knew it would still be there, it would always be there, ready to begin prickling across my skin as soon as I would let it—but it would be less noticeable, like background noise. Static. Just like my father, the reality of what she is— what she did to herself, to us—had been too much to handle. I had wanted her gone. But never, not once, did I stop to think about how I would feel if she actually were gone. If she passed away, by herself in that musty room in Riverside, unable to express her final words, her dying thoughts. The realization I have always known settles over me; it’s thick and suffocating, like trying to breathe through a damp towel.

I have abandoned her. I have left my mother to die alone.

“Chloe, hang on a second,” Daniel says. “Talk to me.”

“No,” I say, shaking my head, digging my hands back into my purse again. “Not now, Daniel. I don’t have time.”


I hear the jangling of metal behind me, and I freeze in place, turning around slowly. Daniel is behind me, holding my keys in the air. I grab for them, and he yanks them back, out of my reach.

“I’m coming with you,” he says. “You need me for this.” “Daniel, no. Just give me my keys—”

“Yes,” he says. “Goddamn it, Chloe. It’s nonnegotiable. Now get in the car.”

I look at him, shocked at this sudden flare of anger. At his flushed-red skin and bulging eyes. Then, almost as suddenly, his expression shifts back. “I’m sorry,” he says, exhaling and reaching out toward me. He puts his hands on mine, and I flinch. “Chloe, I’m sorry. But you have to stop

pushing me away. Let me help you.”

I look at him again, at the way his face has completely changed in seconds. At the concern bunching his eyebrows now, the folds in his forehead, shiny and deep. I drop my hands in surrender; I don’t want Daniel there. I don’t want him in the same room as my mother—my dying, vulnerable mother—but I don’t have the energy to fight. I don’t have the time to fight.

“Fine,” I say. “Drive fast.”

I recognize Cooper’s car as soon as we pull into the lot; I jump out before Daniel can even put ours in Park, running through the automatic doors. I can hear Daniel behind me, his sneakers squeaking on the tile, trying to catch up, but I don’t wait. I take a right down my mother’s hallway, run past the collection of cracked doors, the quiet murmurs of televisions and radios and residents mumbling to themselves. When I turn in to her room, I see my brother first, sitting on her bedside.

“Coop.” I run toward him, collapsing onto my mother’s bed as I let Cooper pull me into a hug. “How is she?”

I look over at my mother, her eyes closed. Her already thin frame looks even thinner, as if she’s lost ten pounds in a week. Her wrists look as if they could snap, her cheeks two hollowed out caves draped in tissue paper skin.

“You must be Chloe.”

I jump at the voice coming from the corner of the room; I hadn’t noticed the doctor there, standing in a white coat with a clipboard pushed against his hip.

“My name is Doctor Glenn,” he says. “I’m one of the on-call doctors at Riverside. I spoke to Cooper this morning, over the phone, but I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“No, we haven’t,” I say, not bothering to stand. I look back down at my mother, at the gentle rise and fall of her chest. “When did this happen?”

“It’s been a little under a week.”

“A week? Why are we just now learning about this?”

A noise erupts from the hallway that diverts our collective attention; it’s Daniel, his body slamming into the doorframe. I see a bead of sweat trickle down his forehead, and he wipes it with the back of his hand.

“What is he doing here?” Cooper starts to stand, but I put my hand on his leg.

“It’s fine,” I say. “Not now.”

“We are typically equipped to handle these types of situations; as you can imagine, it’s fairly common in older patients,” the doctor continues, his eyes darting between Daniel and us. “But if it continues on for any longer, we’re going to need to transfer her to Baton Rouge General.”

“Do we know what the underlying cause is?”

“Physically, she’s in fine health. There is no illness we can identify that could be causing an aversion to food. So, in short, we don’t know—and in all the years that she’s been in our care, we’ve never once had this issue with her.”

I look back down at her, at the sagging skin on her neck, her collarbones popping out like two drumsticks.

“It’s almost as if she just woke up one morning and decided it was time.”

I glance at Cooper, looking for answers. My entire life, I have always found what I’ve been searching for somewhere in his expression. In the imperceptible twitch of his lip as he tried to stifle a smile, the way his cheek dimpled slightly when he chewed on the inside of his mouth in thought. There has only been one time I can remember when my gaze was met with

nothing but a blank stare; just one time when I had turned to Cooper and realized, with sinking dread, that even he couldn’t help—that nobody could help. It was in our living room, our legs pretzeled on the floor. Our eyes illuminated from the glow of the TV screen, listening to our father talk about his darkness, ankle chains rattling, the drip of a rogue tear staining his legal pad.

But now I see it again. Cooper’s eyes, not meeting mine, but staring straight ahead. Boring into Daniel’s, both their bodies stiff as boards.

“Your mother is uncommunicative, of course,” Doctor Glenn continues, oblivious to the tension in the room. “But we were hoping, maybe by coming here, you could try to get through.”

“Yes, of course,” I say, peeling my eyes from Cooper and looking back down to my mom. I grab her hand, hold it in mine. She’s still, at first, until I feel a gentle tapping, her fingers moving slowly against the thin skin of my wrist. I look down at the tiny flicker of movement. Her eyes are still closed, but her fingers—they’re moving.

I look back at Cooper, at Daniel, at Doctor Glenn. None of them seem to notice.

“Can I have a moment alone with her?” I ask, my heartbeat rising into my neck. My palms start to feel slick with sweat, but I refuse to let go of her hand. “Please?”

Doctor Glenn nods, walking silently past her bed and out the door.

“You, too,” I say, looking first at Daniel and then at Cooper. “Both of you.”

“Chloe,” Cooper starts, but I shake my head.

“Please. Just a couple minutes. I’d like to, you know … just in case.”

“Sure.” He nods gently, placing his hand on top of mine and squeezing. “Whatever you need.”

Then he stands up, pushes past Daniel, and walks into the hallway without another word.

I’m alone with my mother now, and memories of our last meeting start rushing through my mind. The way I had told her about the missing girls, the similarities of it all. The déjà vu. And if Doctor Glenn’s time line is correct, that would have been around the time she had stopped eating.

I don’t know what I’m so worried about, I had said. Dad’s in prison.

It’s not like he can be involved or anything.

The tapping of her fingers, frantic, before I had rushed out of the room, our visit cut short. I’ve never told Cooper or Daniel or anyone else about the way I believe my mother can communicate—the gentle movement of her fingers, a tap means Yes, I hear you—because, quite honestly, I wasn’t even sure if I believed it myself. But now, I wonder.

“Mom,” I whisper, somehow feeling both ridiculous and terrified. “Can you hear me?”


I look down at her fingers. They moved again—I know they did.

“Does this have something to do with what we talked about the last time I was here?”

Tap, tap.

I exhale, my eyes darting from her palm to the hallway, the door still open.

“Do you know something about these murdered girls?”

Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap.

I pull my eyes away from the hallway and back toward my hand, at my mother’s fingers twitching frantically across my palm. This cannot be a coincidence; it has to mean something. Then I pull my gaze higher, toward my mother’s face, and immediately, my body flies backward, a jolt of adrenaline and fear that causes me to rip my hand away from her palm and cover my mouth in disbelief.

Her eyes are open, and she is staring straight at me.

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