Edition 10: The Visiphorical Art by Michelle Ann King
There is much that is not plain to the naked eye and Marcy is someone who can see past the every day into the shadows of the past. A clever and emotive short addressing the gritty underside of life we all suspect is there. SY
There are remnants of lives all over the house, drying out and growing mould like abandoned plates of half-consumed meals. They lie in wait under the surface of reality like landmines, like unexploded bombs. Waiting for the unwary, the ones who don’t watch their step, to explode them back into the world.
But Marcy isn’t one of the unwary, the clueless. She’s careful, she’s a bomb-disposal expert. She picks her way through the booby-traps of memories and the tripping hazards of lost opportunities with skill and delicate flair. She’s intangible, untouchable, an interloper in the territory of the dead. A ghost among ghosts.
The image pleases her. Ghosts have power, after all, even if they don’t know it.
A coffee mug sits on the floor by the side of the sofa, brown stains on white surfaces. Drips, clouds, concentric circles inside like the rings of a tree. Can you tell its age the same way? Maybe. World’s Greatest, it says on the side. World’s Greatest what, she doesn’t know. It’s been scratched out. Mum, Dad, Granddad, Son, Teacher? Probably. They’re all here.
She likes Harold the best. He was a son, a dad, a teacher. But not a very good one. He killed himself in the second floor bathroom; slit his wrists and fell asleep in warm water. And then felt bad, because it didn’t really hurt. If things are real, important, they’re supposed to hurt.
Or maybe the mug is real, a physical object. Maybe it said Flatmate, and one of the others is trying to be funny. Make a point. Passive-aggressive is the modern language of choice, after all.
Marcy crouches beside it. She could pick it up, drop it, explode it. If it’s physical the pieces will seed the floor with hazards of their own, sharp jags for unprotected feet. If it’s not, the pieces will seed the air with secrets and nightmares, regrets and yearnings. Sharper jags for the soul.
Part of her wants to do it. Set them all off, one by one. A chain reaction, a controlled detonation. Let them out, set them free. Except that they never are. They’ll settle again, eventually, into dust and plaster and filthy carpet fibres. Into clothes, into skin and hair and mucous membranes. It doesn’t help, in the long run. It doesn’t help anyone.
She pushes her index finger through the air towards the mug. Adrenalin sends tremors through her blood, whistles air through her nostrils. One of the boys, he’s cagey about his name, was a soldier. He defused bombs for a living. And, eventually, for a death. He finds that amusing, which is something she aspires to. She’s always found such sanguinity admirable.
Her nails are long and square, made of fibreglass and plastic. Does it change anything, that they’re not really a part of her? Will it mean it’s not her fault?
The blunt artificial tip strikes the rim of the mug, flicks it. A note rings out, sad and hollow. The mug doesn’t shatter, on any plane.
Marcy picks it up and takes it into the kitchen. She leaves it in the sink. Elizabeth, one of the faded housewives, will try to wash it.
The house is beautiful in its own way, a work of organic art. Layers of the real and the not, the living and the dead, intertwined. They say life’s a play, but Marcy knows better. It’s an exhibition.
It runs in the family, her special sight. Special appreciation. They’ve all been artists or audiences, in their own way. Sometimes both.
What would happen, if there were no more like them? No more to understand the warp and weft, the direction of the brushstrokes, the thickness of the lines? If a ghost releases its life in the bathroom and nobody is there to feel it, does it still hurt?
Her mother had collected newspapers, moulded them into towers and spires and cathedrals. Monuments. But nobody buys newspapers any more, and horror can’t stick to a computer screen.
Light works its way through smudged and dusty windows, captured and fractured by patterns of fingerprints on all spectra, visible and metaphorical. Visiphorical?
Marcy smiles. The birth of a new word is a celebratory occasion. Cathillion is a poet, and she says novelty is how you take part, how you move forward against the wash of what has already been. Originality is as dead as the author and everybody knows everything’s been done, but not right here, right now. In the moment, all of life is art and no one wants to die. Not even the ghosts.
Marcy suspects that Cathillion isn’t her real name.
The floor tiles, fake flagstone, sink infinitesimally under the weight of cornflake crumbs and cobwebs and consciousness. Marcy pulls a plastic broom, unused, out of the alcove and sweeps it all into a matching plastic dustpan. She empties it out the back door, sets it free to find a new home.
The kettle, that she’d neither filled nor boiled, whistles merrily. She takes the World’s Greatest mug out of the sink, washes it free of detritus and fills it with coffee instead. She takes it out into the garden, sits on the wooden bench and watches a pair of starlings squabble on the grass. Do they worry, do they dream, do they get left behind? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
Marcy drinks her coffee, sliding her thumb over the side of the mug. Maybe there isn’t a word missing, after all.
Michelle Ann King writes SF, dark fantasy and horror from her kitchen table in Essex, England. Her stories have appeared in various venues, including Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra Magazine, and Drabblecast. She has worked as a mortgage underwriter, supermarket cashier, makeup artist, tarot reader and insurance claims handler before having the good fortune to be able to write full-time. She loves Las Vegas, vampire films and good Scotch whisky.