It was a strange light coming from the closet.
All she could do was pull back the covers and slip out of bed. Marla stepped on a square thing. Her books lay strewn on the floor. She kicked them aside, and for a moment thought herself very brave.
She reached the closet door well before morning.
Turning the handle wasn’t the problem. It was the darkness inside that bothered her. “Damn,” she said. It was a very bad word in her language, and she seldom used it. Flipping on the light, she found that everything was normal. The closet held her clothes, practical wear for the climate of the world, as well as a few frills for those who liked her. There were so many of those, the ones who liked her, that she seldom knew what to do about all the attention…
There was a small cylinder on the floor. It was a roll of film. Ever since she had opened her drapes that afternoon and seen Mr. Evers being treated in that awful manner… Ever since that moment, nothing had gone very well for her. Her throat still hurt from screaming. A small roll of film was little consolation.
She stepped around the books. In her dreams, she often thought about burning them.
The sun was bright. She always put strawberry powder in her cornflakes to turn the milk pink. On the radio, a man reminded her of a broken fish bowl, all elongated and perfectly whole in its ugliness, but really very useless after it was broken. She lived in a sort of fish bowl, too, but it never bothered her. The only thing that really bothered her was what had happened to Mr. Evers.
When she opened the drapes, memories stirred. There was a spot on the sidewalk that
glared back at her. She felt like apologizing, to Mr. Evers himself if only she could. Instead, she turned her attention to the roll of film. “What are you doing here?” she asked. Opening the grey cap showed her an intact spindle. There was a small brand label off to one side, the likes of which she had never seen. “You’re an old one, aren’t you?”
Marla went to the closet. The house was old, over sixty years or so. A lot of the boards were cracked and things were sometimes not as strong as they should have been. Sometimes…
She ran her hand over the top of the closet. There was a small gap in the boards, and fresh wood spears. Why the roll had chosen to fall now, Marla did not know. All she knew was that someone had chosen to hide a roll of film up there, and that she was now the rightful owner.
It was universally true that a Saturday walk to the mall was enchanting in any season. Marla whistled. Inside the mall, she noticed, people were bent on buying things no matter what the circumstance. Occasionally, she would latch on to the hems of a family for a minute or two, just to see where they were going. But there were other things to see, too. A fountain roared up in the centre of the atrium, diverting her attention for the better part of an hour. A few kids tried to steal coins from the water, but stopped when she looked at them.
When she walked by the photo shop, she paused.
“Yes? How can I help?” asked a lady.
“It’s all digital, isn’t it? It’s all gone that way, hasn’t it?”
“I’m afraid so, but it’s not a bad thing.”
“I have a roll of film,” confessed Marla.
The lady had pink hair. Glasses sat on the edge of her nose. “We don’t get many of those anymore. But we get some. We’re one of the few that still has a lab.”
When Marla tried to explain just how old the film might be, the lady smiled. “It’s okay, we’ll take care of it. No problem at all. We deal with these things all the time.” She tagged the roll and dropped it in a bin. “In one hour, come on back.”
“Thanks,” said Marla. The lady was already talking to the next customer. Marla found herself on the main concourse, looking for ice cream.
Luscious vanilla swirl was her favourite. In that way, she ate up half an hour. For the rest of the time, she shopped for books. Not text books, but real books. When Marla walked back to the photo shop, she was chewing on her hair, wondering why older married men would risk the wrath of their wives by looking at her.
The photo shop lady didn’t say much when she handed over the package. On the way home, Marla tried to walk at a reasonable pace. At the apartment, she slumped on the couch.
The pictures were black and white.
On the first one, all she could see was a wall. At first, it looked very plain. But as she looked closer, she could see a crack in it, almost from top to bottom.
The second picture was the same, only the crack was bigger. Marla began to shuffle through the photographs. In each picture, the crack was wider. She could almost smell what was coming through. Somehow, the crack didn’t break in the proper way, almost as though it were the grin on something horribly tilted. They weren’t exactly teeth at the edges, but they were close. Marla slowed down as she went through the last of the photos. Her heart was beating alongside the sick sensation in her stomach that usually came from having eaten too much sugar.
She slid to the last few photos. The crack in the wall couldn’t have been more than three inches apart, but she could feel the vileness coming out of it. Eventually, she began to see a stirring in the darkness back there. Wasn’t there always something bright on the other side of a wall? She had learned that in a text book, one she had burned long ago. When she got to the last photograph, it was the afternoon, and she froze at what was happening in the gloom within that crack. The smell was unfathomable.
Then the screaming started outside. She jumped from the couch and ran to the patio, the last picture still in her hand. The drapes flew open – she was on the balcony, watching a figure on the sidewalk below her. There, Mr. Evers was melting.
People started to flock around him. Some wore the white smocks of doctors, others the nondescript clothes of people who wanted to be nondescript. But they were all talking to him, holding his arms. Three vans pulled up to the sidewalk as a ruckus started to build from the apartments and houses along the street.
“Mr. Evers!” screamed Marla. “Mr. Evers, over here!” She didn’t know what else to do or say. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand.
Mr. Evers was hoisted onto a stretcher and was suddenly in the back of one of the vans. There was still something left of him, enough to be a pair of arms. Marla could tell, because those arms were upright and rigid during the last few moments that she could see him.
Then the people jumped into the vans and vanished down the street. They had left some tire marks on the pavement, nothing more. Mr. Evers was gone. In the spot where he had started to melt, there was a small glare of red with black fingers running through it.
Marla went inside crying. She put the photographs together, and burned them in the sink. The smell of chemical was in the air to stay. She didn’t know what to do about it. She just didn’t.
She cried for three hours, then tried to study. To take her mind off poor Mr. Evers. She spread her books on the table, started to read. But the connections were fuzzy, and by the evening, the floor and desk were littered again.
She went to bed. She had to go to bed. There was nothing left to think about. There just wasn’t.
She was disturbed, finally, by a feeling that rested uneasily on her black hair. She woke slowly, opened her eyes, wanted badly to close them again. Kept remembering all those things she had seen, the pain that she didn’t like to remember. It was dark, and she was in the gloaming, caught between two slips of wall. As she stared hard, she saw something coming from the corner of the room, a light from the back places that she never travelled. It came from her closet, and with it were hands reaching, tendrils that slipped out to take understanding away. She pulled her covers close. The grin in the crack stretched, wider and wider – it stretched, and then it grew, telling her to come closer, whispering that something was waiting for her in that blackness, something she had to find. In time, it said, it would explain – it would explain everything. All she had to do now was sleep, and then wake to a strange light spilling from the closet.