She sat starry-eyed, her twilit face doubled by the mirror, staring into the infinite nothingness contained within the apparently empty space between her desk and the room’s sole window, its thick curtains swaying lazily in a breeze seen but not felt, saying nothing; doing nothing, except allowing tears of blood to lovingly caress her cheeks, streaming down, before hitting the floorboards with the ominous hiss of acid.
It’s my last memory of her at home.
We knew then she was unwell, but not the extent of her illness, nor its consequences.
They took her after that.
I remember the faraway lights of the ambulance and the police cars. The panic and commotion in the house. The unknown faces of doctors, government agents, physicists and whoever else, gliding darkly like ghosts along the upstairs hallway, down the staircase, into the living room and beyond the open front doors, where the floodlights assaulted the house with illumination.
Keep her in the light, someone shouted.
They handcuffed her and beat her and would not let her cover her eyes, dragging her into the ambulance.
She did not want to go.
I wonder how much she knew, how clearly her fate had been revealed to her. They say one often senses disease, but would that still be true?
They kept us—my brother and I—in a building near the facility where they were irradiating her. Every three days, they allowed us to see her. She was always in the lightbox when we came: that brilliant cube of horror. They dimmed the light so we could see her, her burnt but living body a splayed out shadow on the glass floor, dripping with salve. It was unbearably hot. She had barely the strength to speak.
“Stars too deserve their nourishment,” she’d say, a line from a storybook she had once read to us.
The scientists whispered:
How I shall never forget my first hearing of that dreadful word.
It escaped their wicked lips as venom.
Even caught inside the lightbox, she terrified them. They hated being near her. Even as they made the walls shine and made her take the light, they recoiled from her extraordinary nature. “Soon,” they whispered. “Soon it shall be ended.” She no longer had skin. They no longer let us visit.
The accumulation of generators around the facility confirmed she was alive.
On sleepless nights, the electricity faltered.
The streetlights flickered.
Until one night they came for us. They transported us to the facility, and ushered us into a room in which an elderly man was waiting. The room resembled a hospital room. It contained a single bed, which was empty, intricate machines and one line of heavy curtains along one wall. It smelled of disinfectant. The man introduced himself as a doctor.
“Where is our mother?” I asked.
“Cancer is killing her,” he said, sliding open the curtains—and we watched in silence as in the night sky, the stars tore her mercilessly apart.