The night her mother died, we met for drinks.
In a corner booth at Vincent’s by the door,
she leaned across the tabletop and kissed me.
“What’s that for?” I said. She sipped my beer.
“Ding dong, the witch is dead,” she said, laughing.
Her vinyl pants crinkled as she crossed her legs.
“Let’s get you home,” I said. “It’s fine,” she sighed:
“Finish your drink. She’ll still be dead tomorrow.”
At her house, we climbed the staircase in the dark
and walked across the east-wing gallery
to the master bedroom where her mother lay
under the covers, still gripping the old brass bell
she’d used to call the hospice nurses with.
The bedside table teemed with pill bottles.
Her long straight hair was tinged with blonde accents
like white curtains discolored by tobacco.
I told her she should close her mother’s eyes,
but she just stood there staring at the floor.
As I dialed, she grabbed the phone out of my hand
and said to leave her for the morning nurse.
I’d never been inside a house with wings.
Crowned with crow-stepped gables made from stones
she said were shipped from Croydon in Great Britain
(something about a church the Germans bombed),
her old Victorian loomed on the hill,
lording it over the rest of Regent Street.
She’d make me take my shoes off at the door,
and keep hers on, laughing at my white socks.
Cold drawing rooms we weren’t allowed to enter:
consoles and chiffoniers shrouded in dust,
huge canvases of men in uniforms
scowling as we passed—their horses, too.
Whenever we crossed the foyer to her room,
I’d slide across the marble in my socks.
I wanted to knock the lacquered vases down
and watch them smash to see how she’d react.
Of course she was upset about her mother,
but there was something else, a greater pain.
We’d be watching an Adam Sandler movie,
and she’d start to weep uncontrollably.
First time we slept together in her bed,
she rummaged through the contents of a bin
for the Barbies she’d played with as a girl.
She’d burned their faces off with a lighter—
their coarse hair singed, their legs and arms
torn off. She’d melted their torsos together
so they were conjoined in charred pairs
and would always have to look at one another.
Once, she said she needed me to see
and drove me out to Spider Gates in Leicester,
a Quaker cemetery by the airport.
The moon, at quarter-sail above the trees,
luffed through the dark as we climbed the gate
and moved toward the center of the yard.
She told me about a presence she’d seen there:
two lights over the hill—one red, one white.
“They glowed red-hot behind those trees,” she said,
then tapped out the bowl against a headstone.
“I’m not conceding I believe,” she said,
“But what I saw that night, or didn’t see,
made me consider where the spirit goes,
how long a battered soul stays here on earth.”
I said maybe she saw the airport lights
flick on and off, or maybe she was stoned.
“Either way,” she said, “I saw something,
a figure in the dark, an empty form
the night, the trees, the headstones all showed through
as I booked down the hill toward my car.”
When I asked what she thought it was, she laughed,
her voice hissing like wind through winter grass.
I crashed on her floor that night, and woke to rain.
I looked around the room—she wasn’t there.
I saw the door of her mother’s room cracked open
and found her lying on the king-size bed
with her arms stiff at her sides, her eyes squeezed shut.
The hardwood creaked. She said she couldn’t move,
something was forcing her down on the bed.
“Every night,” she said, “she sucks out my eyes,
and every morning they grow back again.”
Her face gleamed with sweat. I promised her
I’d call someone but couldn’t get reception.
“Be right back,” I said, touching her shoulder.
“Help me,” she screamed, as I clicked off the light.
She kicked her feet, making the blankets spark.