joyful cries of “Momma” when she got home. She had no masculine arms to run into for safety, no one to tell about the strange man. There was never anyone, but that was okay, she only needed the Lord. Elizabeth pulled herself from her dingy couch, and thought she'd call it a night. She would feel better after precious sleep. She lit a kerosene lamp, and her tiny bedroom, in all of its wretched loneliness, illuminated in dim rosy light. Her pitiful excuse for a bed, a simple mattress in the corner, looked like sweet heaven and dismal hell. She would go to bed alone like she had done the night before and the night before that. The bitter cold of the autumn night crawled into the room through the rat holes that littered the walls. Elizabeth lit the wood heater and then began her evening ritual. She stripped clothes off until she was bare naked. With timid trepidation, the same trepidation she had the night before and the night before that; the same trepidation she had had for fifteen years when she first started the ritual at twenty four, she stepped in front of the mirror of her chintzy dresser. Her breath quivered from her trembling lips, materializing in a gray fog in front of her. The warmth of the wood heater had not yet claimed the room for itself, and her pale bare body danced in vain trying to find warmth. Her shivering, her breathing, was all that filled the quiet void. The only conversation she would hear. No husband to share a bed with or even a simple talk. She stared at the pale face gazing back at her with a mingled look of wonder and confusion in its eyes, as if her own reflection did not know her. She stared at the crows feet that gripped at her eyes. At the tangled unmanageable brunette mess that fell onto her pasty shoulders. She stared into her listless hazel eyes. Had they always been that dull? Dull and dreary, wary of the unforgiving world and wretched life? She remembered staring into the eyes of the stranger at the library. She remembered the emotion that burned within his soft, yet hard opals. There was no such emotion beneath her eyes. They were beady and dreadful, accurately portraying the dreadful soul that lied beneath them. But alas they did come alive; she saw a bit of emotion in them. She could see a faint shimmer in her eyes, made barely visible by the dim rosy glow of the kerosene lamp. They always came alive when it rained. Salty tears flowed down her skinny cheeks and trickled onto her breast. Her feet took a couple of steps back, the rotten oak floor was like a sheet of ice beneath them. She could see herself from the thigh up now in the mirror. Oh, her unsightly thighs with their raised keloid scars, jutting from her skin like purple tribal tattoos. She had been such a stupid teen. Cutting herself with her father's stiletto had been comforting at the time; pain was comforting. She remembered watching her blood ooze from the wounds, almost in awe, and poured down her leg like a slow moving stream; the crimson fluid contrasted with her pale legs making candy canes of them. Elizabeth had felt like an artist. Each evening she would paint her bath water crimson with her father's serrated brush. But now, so many years later, she regretted it. The raised scars made her even uglier. “ Who will ever love you? What man will ever marry you,” she whispered to the woman in the mirror. “Not a virgin ... and yet you never even had a lover. Raped by your own father.” With those words Elizabeth's ritual was complete. The wood stove had won the long bout against the cold, and she got dressed in to her night gown. She buried herself under a mountain of quilts, and precious sleep soon found her, putting her soul at peace. What a life to live ... a life with peace only in sleep.
Elizabeth didn't know what she was doing. The pentagram of candles on the oak floor illuminated her living room in an eerie glow. Should I go through with this? Adrenaline coursed through Elizabeth's veins