Painted Faces

Once a year I take time from home to visit a cabin in Chesapeake Bay in which I sit next to the fireplace, with a notebook on my lap and pen grasped tightly in my palm, and I write. I write for hours, submerged in my work until in my peripheral I notice the sky darkening, the vibrant streaks of pink and yellow fading into a cobalt canvas. The surrounding forest grows darker by the minute, dusk’s damp dew settling into the soft earth. And with this spectacle I take a breath and smile; it is time.

It’s only seconds after sundown that I excitedly shove the key into the lock of the back room and reveal my private play pin, the place in which my creativity blossoms and my block for new material fades. Finally, I will have material to start the new chapter.
For the most part, the room is empty – the windows are smeared with black paint and sheets of newspaper – save for the little beauties: my best friends. I turn on the radio sitting on a dust covered three-legged table. There is no radio reception this far into the forest, but I find the crackling static exhilarating, as do the others.

Sitting around a cream table are the figures of my three perky friends. Each is dressed in the same apparel in which I discovered them: Penny is in her pink-checked nightgown; Timothy is in his denim shorts and white t-shirt; Charlotte is dressed in a gorgeous yellow sundress and white stockings. But something is different. Something is very wrong.

“Charlotte!” I scream, rushing to her limp frame, but she’s already gone. One of the others must have done it. “Who did this?” I demand, pointing to my darling girl’s corpse.

My eyes well up with tears as I imagine one of my own friends doing such an unthoughtful thing.

The others remain quiet. How dare they say nothing! If neither of them speaks, then both of them are surely lying. Could they both have been so ruthless that they murder one of my most precious friends! How can they sit there with that smile plastered on their face, while I handle the body of their dead sister? God, I’ve raised a bunch of psychopaths!

But I have to keep it together. There is a way to work this out. I have two options: I could forgive Timothy and Penny, or whoever had murdered my precious Charlotte – no, I surely can never do that, what is done has been done – or they both should be punished. Regrettably, that’s exactly what I have to do. I must do what is right for my beautiful Charlotte.

There is a hammer in the kitchen cabinet, and I return to the playroom with it in my hand. I used it last year to nail Penny’s drawing of a flower to the wall. How ignorant was I to fall for Timothy and Penny’s devious antics! But before I punish them I have to explain. They have to know.

“Timothy, Penny, I have known you both for three years. Three! And during those years I believed that we each loved and understood one another. I set aside a slice of my life to spend it joyously with you all. Getting to play with you is what I look forward to doing every year.” I glance at the cold, metal head of the hammer. “And because somebody so callously murdered Charlotte – and neither of you will confess – I can’t play with any of you anymore. That’s why I have to do this.”

I open my mouth to mutter, “I love you”, but my lips are shut as firm as my babies’. How could I ever have thought of doing this if I loved them? Did I even love them? Is it my love for Charlotte that drove the other two to destroy her?

Oh, God, it is my fault. It is not Timothy or Penny who should be punished; I should be! For not devoting my life to taking care of each of them initially, I am to blame for Timothy and Penny’s negligent behavior. While I slave restlessly on that computer, typing chapter after chapter to meet publishing deadlines, I destroyed everything. I tore my family apart.

I do not have any options. I must atone and prove to my children how sorry I am for leaving them. So I grab the pair of scissors I used to cut the loose thread on Charlotte’s sundress last year and firmly run the blade against my wrists. My tears finally start to fall as I lie down and rest my head against the icy, shattered face of my darling Charlotte. I try to hear her voice once more, but hear only empty static.

My other porcelain children do not make a sound, nor do they budge. And I am left staring endlessly at their perfect smiling faces.

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