Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Here, forever, is a dream. A fragment, a petal fallen from the rose, a feather from an angel’s wing.
Dreaming, waking. How can I tell the difference? Perhaps I can’t, and when I open my eyes, I’m only dreaming still. Does it matter?
I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. Behind me, Damien talks incessantly about his own latest dream, and Raven runs us a bath. Who can say which calms me more: the words of flying and roses, or the sound of rushing water. I pull the angel boy into my arms, stealing his warmth like shades of the morning sun. Is this how it was for my mother, too? I have no charms, no despair, which would allow me the power of such creation, and yet—
You always knew, Raven. You never said anything, but you always knew.
He turns off the tap, and the last of the rainbows fades from my sight. As he loops my hair up in a bun, I can tell he’s been crying. But soon, my love, I will break your heart and scatter it to the waves and the wind, and there’ll be no time left for tears.
I allow him to take my hand and guide us down into the tub. He snuggles in behind me, and I watch our child float languidly in a sea of bubbles, all the while he washes me reverently.
But with you, my love, I am already clean.
The bubbly water takes on such forms as the ocean’s foam, tears of mermaids, tears of my mother, washing over my body to drown me. Do I dare go under?
I blink, and Damien’s pulling me up, and I breathe. Time to get out, then.
Raven watches us from our bedroom door. The strangest of smiles plays over his lips—lips I could not kiss too often if I spent the remainder of our final days together doing nothing else—as Damien helps me pick out something pretty from the small collection stashed in the closet.
“This one!” He yanks it off a hanger and holds it out: some short, white angora thing. I pull it on over my stockings and stuffed bra, sitting on the edge of the bed. He grabs the brush, and runs it gently through my hair. I can see his frowns of concentration in the mirror. He’s being so careful not to hurt me. We could be here all day, but I wouldn’t mind. I have no real wish to face the world most deem to be reality so soon. I could remain, safe within this dream, forever.
If only so.
I glance at Raven and pat the mattress, inviting him to sit. After a moment’s hesitation, he wanders in, lost and wary. I watch his face in the mirror, lonely, his fingers stroking mine. I love you.
He takes the brush from Damien and ties my hair in a white ribbon, then dabs at my lashes with mascara. I look away from the pretty girl in the mirror as he falls to his knees, kissing each of my fingertips in turn, then buries his head in my lap. “Hold me,” I whisper.
Obediently, he pulls me up with him into embrace, then places one finger over my lips. “I’ve got something for you.”
Saying only this, he leads me outside. Icy leaves and moss crunch beneath our feet as we follow the overgrown garden around the side of the house. Just beneath what might be our window—or Damien’s—he halts, and beckons me forward. And here, among the ferny weeds and wildflowers, hides a miniature rosebush, each of its white petals dusted with crystalline tears.
Confused, I turn to face him. The morning mist swirls around us like wisps of silk. How? How did you know to find this? Or is this your own creation, made real within my dream? The cold air nips at my skin as I take in a breath and shiver. Don’t ever let me go, whatever the answer is.
But even as I make my wish, a small frown crosses his face, and he draws away. “Come on. It’s bloody freezing out here. The journey will keep us warm.”
No, that’s the coldest part. I’d tell him so, but he’s only referring to our journey into civilisation, risking contact to gather what we need for the birthday tomorrow. You’ll protect us there, won’t you?
I allow our fingers to drift apart, intending to follow him inside. But not yet.
I glance at the rosebush, hesitating. Remembering—
I remember watching from her bed, and how her lacy skirts swirled about her ankles as she danced before me, and how her silken gown was the perfect compliment to a trio of white roses she held at her heart. Presents from my father, from Nicholet?
Sweeping me into her arms, she handed me a single stem, then danced me over to the window, to the end of love. Here we looked out across the ocean, a fearful creature: beautiful, changing, but ever true. “I am as Rapunzel in her tower,” she told me, “but when the sky opens for us and the rainbow appears, he’ll come to save me. Until then, this is all for us.
“And afterwards, it will be all for you.”
I stare down at the rosebush. Faith, and you found these, or dreamed them into existence. All for me. Eternity.
“I haven’t forgotten, Mother,” I tell the roses quietly, before returning inside.
The walk into town is longer than I remember it being. This time we take turns giving Damien a piggyback, or leave him to toddle along between us. And when one of us isn’t carrying our child, Raven takes hold of my hand, or smokes. Despite our exertions, the cold never does let up. I focus on my frozen toes and my every next step; I’m not allowing myself to think about my own exhaustion or what might happen once we get there.
On the edge of town, Damien stares at all the children playing in a schoolyard. His fingers curl around the chain link fence, sad incomprehension too plain for his father or I to miss. But Raven hides his face from me.
By the time we fall into a chair at the local café, we’re each ready for an early lunch. The little town doesn’t seem as deserted as I remember it, either. Bronzed farm wives, spindly men, and a steady procession of flannel-clad teenagers charge, amble and drift down the main street, and that mountain, ancient and ominous, casts its shadow over all of us. I gaze at it, feeling cowed and trapped, until Raven returns from placing our order. After neatly extracting the salt and pepper shakers from a curious Damien, he allows his fingertips to brush mine, smiling at me briefly, his eyes darting from stranger to stranger as though they all might be able to see the blood on our hands.
I reach up and touch his face. Being in here is a little death. Even as my mirror self, my heart is not free to love you as I wish, wild and unrestrained. They all remind me, in their ways.
Still. I love you, Raven.
Food arrives, and Damien makes short work of two whole sandwiches and a donut, while Raven and I pick over our meals with too much apathy. He’s the first to give in, abandoning his plate and indicating his son with a nod. “So, how do we go about this? I kind of wanted it to be a surprise.”
The birthday present. I brush a scrap of lettuce off my dress, before pushing aside my own plate and taking a sip of my coffee instead.
Leaning forward, he sniffs in amusement. “Mind you, with the size of this place, if we find him anything, I guess we’re doing well.”
I arch a brow. “This coming from someone who found me a rosebush in a winter garden overrun by weeds?”
My taunting rewards me with a rare laugh, before he wanders up to the counter to pay our bill. Damien’s watching me, his lips covered in sugar, his nose dotted with jam. Then he disappears under the table and resurfaces on my lap. I wipe his face, and whisper little nothings and everythings in his ear, while we wait for his father to come back.
“Your stories are so pretty, Peggy-sis,” he murmurs, snuggling into me. I stroke his hair, and wish I could curl up this same way against his father. Am I so tired, or is it simply the dream, trying to reel me in, to reassemble all my broken fragments in some weak attempt to quell this dread of separation?
I’m startled out of my half-sleep, he and I both, by the sudden appearance of an old lady, right up in our faces. Mindless of our reverie, or the way Damien shrinks back from her, she coos at him and tells him what a handsome young man he is, what an angelic face, and finally, the killing blow with a wrinkled smile, “He looks just like his mother.”
She ambles out the door, leaving me to face the sight of Raven, standing before us with his hands in his pockets. He’s grinning.
Peggy-sis is my mama now.
Taking hold of my hand, he ushers us out of the café. It’s only when he winks at me that I realise she wasn’t talking about Wendy.
Mother to an angel, and the circle does not end…
He wasn’t wrong. Nothing in this street seems fashioned with the world of a child’s imagination in mind. A bank, an outlet for farming machinery, the single hotel, the café, the corner store and service station. Everything seems so concerned with the mundane cycles necessary to maintain human existence, but not to nourish it. I’m more amused by the looks some of the younger women are treating me to…jealous, jealous, why are you showing me such jealousy? If you had any idea… And then there’s the way Raven makes a habit of finding my hand or my waist to grab hold of anytime another man wanders by, only to let go of me a few paces later.
This time, when it happens again, I’m ready for him. I pull up and dig my nails into his skin, forcing him to turn and look at me. Even now his beautiful eyes narrow, their gaze wishing death upon some lumber-jacketed yokel as it pushes him aside and glances back over its shoulder. Not seeing me, though. Only through a cracked lens of the most base desires, focused on a mindless slavery to putrescent meat and primal reactions and bodily fluids. I know how these things work far better than you do, Raven. Is this why you’d keep me so close?
“What?” he snaps, after the latest presumed danger has passed us by.
“You think I’d prefer to be with them, yes?” Not letting go of his hand, I skip a little closer. Damien’s the only thing that comes between us, and, as it stands, his only protection. “Do you think I’d allow one of them to just carry me off?” I nuzzle against his neck, pressing in as close as I can with a child on my hip. “Or do you think maybe I’d leave you here, all by yourself?” And force his hand down to brush between his legs. “Taking your love, your child, your soul—leave you to face the consequences of what you did for us all—this is what you think?”
My words are cruel, but necessary, if he’s ever going to see. Let them stare. Let them judge. I would make love to you right here, in exactly this spot. They stare anyway, and they forever presume to know. Your androgynous whore, this is me. Only for you, the meaning is different.
Already he’s growing hard beneath his jeans, and my own reaction is making me uncomfortable, tucked away inside my stockings. His breathing ragged, he’s giving in. Then he snatches his hand from mine, betrayal and jealousy and all the things he fears the most forming a barrier around him. “Fuck you, Pegasus,” he whispers, and runs his hands through his hair.
I move in again, kinder to him now. “I want you, Raven. You, and only you. I want to take you home. You’re the only one with the blood on his hands, and the roses, and the child, and the wings.”
With a frown, he shakes his head. But when I embrace him, there’s nowhere left for him to go. “Pegasus…”
“I am no longer their whore.” I speak the words in a low voice, pressing my face against his.
“No. It’s all for you. Tell me you know. Tell me.”
He meets my gaze halfway. Admitting what he could mean to me terrifies him. That’s okay. This is something of him I want inside me, too.
“You wish for all of me. Only me.” The statement lingers in the air, with the uncertainty of a question. I nod, encouraging him, bringing him too far. “You give up your wings for me, every time we make love. White feathers and rose petals. You on the other side of my cage, breaking through. Everything you are, my salvation.”
Damien seems to be watching him very carefully. I ask, “Don’t you know you’re these things to me, too?”
He sneers, but it’s only self-preservation instincts that warn him not to believe me. “I want them to know that.”
“But do you?”
“Yes,” he hisses.
“Good.” I let go of a wiggling Damien, who bounces to the ground and runs a little way ahead. “Because they have no right at all to ‘know’. I don’t belong to them.”
And so they keep staring as we continue on, all the way down the end of the street. The mountain still shadows us, and all the shops remain uninspired and uninspiring. Raven sighs and puts his hands on his hips, just as Damien disappears into the final store. Stopping to exchange a single glance, we scrabble to part the beaded curtain and follow him in.
Inside, the shop floor is dimly lit, not enough to hide the wallpaper, its colour scheme straight out of a 70s nightmare. My nose twitches; the stench of mothballs and cheap perfume is soaked into everything. Ahead of me, separated by aisles of gaudy clothes and antique furniture, an elderly lady, her hat stuck with peacock feathers, turns up her nose at us over a cash register. We step forward hesitantly, still holding hands.
Our son is easily found, at least, over by a hatstand, playing among a pile of soft toys. I try not to look at them; the idea of such trinkets will forever make me sad. Father had all of mine removed before I left, except for the rabbit Wendy already stole only days after my mother’s death. Unloved toys are a symbol for man’s disassociation from childhood. Forced disassociation.
Raven squeezes my hand, and we kneel on either side of Damien as he points to the toy of choice. A white velveteen horse with satiny silver wings, blue eyes more suited to a porcelain doll than some stuffed creature of myth. “Look, Daddy. It’s a Peggy-sis!”
From the startled look on the old lady’s face, it’s obvious Raven’s willingness to pay the first price she names is something of a rarity around here. He even wishes her a good day, much to her chagrin, and leads us out of the shop. Damien sports a contented smile as he clings to his newest prized possession.
We cross to the quieter side of the street, past a fruit and vegetable stall and a dog grooming shop, and we’re standing on the corner, right outside the hotel. Raven’s slowed to a pause, eying the front window, desiring that which he has no control over. So it is with all things in your life, and no more than with me. But you have the power to control all your demons. I have watched you. “Do you want to go in?”
He hesitates, glancing down at Damien who stands between us, oblivious to everything but the toy. I lay my hand on his. No longer for destruction of the self. And if not for this, then what for? “It’s no longer the same. You love me too much. You have no power to hurt me. And you never had any power to hurt him.”
Closing his eyes, he brushes his lips against my neck. I nip at his earlobe, feeling that same need to be free, to express desire, to fly without wings. This is why. This is what for.
“Music!” Damien squeals, as the door opens and an erstwhile patron slouches into the street. I catch a glimpse inside the foyer, before the door swings shut again. More than enough time to recognise the shape of a piano at the far end of the bar.
A little hand grabs hold of my index finger. Damien still, using all his strength to pull me closer. “Want to watch you play music!” he adds, in case this wasn’t already obvious.
Music. Another means of expression. Oh, but I haven’t played for so long. Not since Lenny took that from me. Only fear stays my will. The oldest fear, reminders of how such an opening of the soul always led to such destruction, rape, blood, torment. Except with you, Raven. You were always the only one, and even then I—
But now, I want— Could I allow myself, to want…?
“I don’t think they’d say yes,” I hear myself say, part of me relieved to hear a snort behind me.
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” he says.
“Really.” I give him a look, just to confirm we’re playing the same game here. My fingers are already tingling.
“So prove me wrong.”
“Fine,” I say, feigning stubbornness. “I will.”
I pull on the door, and he saunters straight up to the bar. It’s as though, the minute he steps inside, something of the old confidence returns, revelling in the knowledge that what destroyed his father will surely destroy him, every bit as slowly, so to hell with everything. He needed as much of an excuse as I did, that’s all.
Or maybe the ordering of the familiar scotch and coke is merely uncontrollable habit. Either way, you’re beautiful.
The bartender grunts at me suspiciously. Raven must be asking permission. I suppose I don’t meet anyone’s preconceptions of a concert-grade pianist. “Well, s’pose it’ll be all right,” he grunts. “But if any of these bastards complain, you’re done.”
Glancing around the front foyer and into the back bar, I spy three elderly gentleman at a table in the farthest corner, smoking cigarettes and discussing the race section of a local paper over half-finished pots of beer. The rest of the place is deserted.
Raven takes the deal. He even smirks as he places our drinks on a nearby table, then leads me to the piano. I shudder at the sight of the grinning keys. If I ever actually wanted to pass out, right now would do just fine, thank you. Instead, my body gifts me a sudden flash of adrenaline and clarity. Raven lifts Damien and the soft toy onto the piano top, and pushes me onto the stool. I glance at him helplessly, but he only teases free my hair and whispers, “Play for us, angel.”
I close my eyes, place my hands over the keyboard, let the memories fall from my fingertips, hesitantly at first, then gathering in intensity, a slow summer storm of deep chords and legato melancholy. Some of the keys are sticky, some are slightly out of tune, but not so most listeners would notice. Also in music, often enough, ignorance is bliss.
But perfection. I’m unsure of achieving perfection. My mother was the most wonderful pianist I ever heard, drawing me in beneath her wings whenever her fingers graced a keyboard, and she taught me…she taught me everything, and she told me— Told me I was wonderful. That I’d inherited her passion, her perception of beauty. The only contact we were first allowed was through her music, those haunting melodies that crept down from her room during my sleeping and waking hours. She played with the fragile strength of a woman who knew that although she had lost her soul, she would one day take it all back, one great wave to sweep everything away. Death without despair. Feathers from angel’s wings. Waiting for signs from rainbows.
And here I am, aware of all these things, as though for the first time, as though for the last time, washing over me, drawing me down into the waves, falling through the world, up into the sky, soaring through all our hearts. For sorrow, for joy, for freedom. Taking on her form, inside and out. Right now, this is as much of myself as I have, and it has always been enough.
It has always been enough.
I can see them now, waiting for me. Raven holding his son, being held by my mother, thorns and feathers and roses.
Angel. He stretches out his black wings, and reaches for my hand. Something shines inside the wings, some dream we’ve yet to share. As our fingers touch, a greeny-silver sludge bleeds out of my fingertips. But this poison never did belong to me. And once there’s nothing left of it, my heart will be pure, for you. For sorrow, for joy, for freedom.
“Teach me how to fly,” his voice whispers, the words right against my ear, and I sit up, choking on my own breath, opening my eyes. Damien’s gazing at me in adoration, and the song—music I recall feeling but never hearing—is over.
Trembling, I turn to face Raven, who sits only a few feet away. The elderly patrons are cheering me on. What more could I give thee? Blood?
Not here. “I want to go.” I grip his hand, watching his smile disappear as the first tears form on my lashes.
But I can’t, don’t you see? You don’t already know? Not here not here not here, dammit. I shake my head, feeling the tears trickling down my cheeks, biting my lip to prevent them swelling to sobs.
“Okay,” he whispers, and with this final granting of permission, I slide off the piano stool and dash outside, ignoring the bartender’s crude compliments on my way through the foyer.
“That was beautiful!” Damien cries, pushing open the door not a moment later, staring up at me expectantly.
“Thank you,” is all I can bring myself to say, trying to pull myself together. Why did I run?
Perhaps it’s not what you’re running from, but where you’re running to.
This voice in my mind, it’s too much a mix of Raven’s and my mother’s to pull apart undamaged.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, and I fall against him, weak at the knees. Oh, my love, please don’t…
Damien tugs on my fingers again, this time pulling me in the opposite direction. “We go home now, Peggy-sis,” he says. Nodding in agreement, Raven puts an arm around my waist and leads me away without asking. Having no need, when one knows such answers, when one hears such music, when one kisses away such angel tears.
I lie in the bath while the candles burn low, and ever stranger distortions of myself flicker over the walls. I’m alone; Raven’s off somewhere else, playing with Damien before bed, before the big day tomorrow. I think he wants to ask me, about today. About many things, yes, but especially today.
I hold one hand in front of my face, then wave my fingertips over the nearest candle, wishing for butterflies of paradise, other creations that are too beautiful to survive for long in this place. I wonder about the rosebush, if that was not a dream, if this is not a dream.
It doesn’t matter, remember? So I create my own butterflies on the shadowed tiles instead, paradise beckoning to me from the flames.
It’s every bit as beautiful as I promised you, yes? Mother says to me, dropping rose petals upon the water, cradling me close as we lie naked together on the shores of the sea. Her hair shines like silver silk, her skin softer than the petals, her scent just like I remember it, my own scent of musk and roses, but something else as well, something feminine I can’t understand, though I want to. I reach out to her, my hand on her heart, while the dying rays of sunset dance over our bodies.
“I always believed you, Mother,” I tell her, closing my eyes as she wraps her arms around me, and so we go under. Even as we disappear beneath the waves, I can hear her singing to me. I don’t need to see, to know that she is smiling…
I’m nearly asleep when the piercing ring of the phone from the kitchen jerks me awake. Confused and dazed, I splash about in the dark tub, until the feeling flows back into my limbs. Damn, it’s cold in here.
Maybe Raven will answer it. I glance over at the towel rack, out of my reach. How quickly can I make it there before I freeze half to death?
The phone continues to ring. Perhaps Raven isn’t around to answer it, after all. With a sigh of resignation, I get up, though I lose my balance and almost fall back in before I manage to hop out of the bath. Two quick steps across the floor is all it costs me, and I hastily wrap one towel around my body and another around my wet hair, then dash down the hall, towards the kitchen.
My fingers are almost touching the receiver when a hot pain shoots down my arm, and a warm body pushes against me. It’s Raven, physically restraining me. I watch the phone helplessly as it continues to ring, wishing it would shut up, while he rubs my arm in the spot where it burns. “Our wake-up call,” he murmurs in my ear, and I feel my heart stop beating. Two more rings, before the house returns to silence and I can breathe again. But he still doesn’t let me go. “We don’t need to talk to him, not yet. We already knew what was coming.”
Him? I frown, while my mind runs through the limited possibilities. “Monty?”
Raven kisses my neck, crafting a pattern of goosebumps to follow his touch across my belly and chest. “Yeah.”
“In bed. You were in that bath for a lifetime.”
I turn in his arms. We already knew what was coming. So many repressed emotions, but once again I pick the easiest selection. “She’s dead, no?” But I already know the answer. I knew today, with visions of the poison dripping from my fingertips while I played.
He shudders. Our wake-up call. I’m not surprised he’s terrified they could take it all away, even before tomorrow.
“We could be anywhere,” I try to assure him, reaching up to touch his face. With a shrug, he turns his back on me, shoulders shaking.
So, now we truly are a family.
“Raven,” I call softly, “look at me.”
And as he raises his head, I let the towels fall from my hair and body, and here I am now, standing naked in the moonlight. I allow him his moment of adoration, before I open out my arms, and he comes to me, ever drawn and ever faithful, falling into my embrace. We move slowly, softly, against one another, across the centre of the floor, and I begin to understand that element—that third scent—of my mother.
This is enough. Almost enough. But soon, remembering, I feel her inside me, too. I peel off his shirt, pull down his jeans, trace spirals over his torso with my tongue.
I wish for abandonment, for loss, to be broken and reformed, for both of us. Love me, as I love you. So very perfectly.
After nestling against his balls and dick, and licking the moisture off the tip of his penis, I get up, too warm to think clearly. He shivers as my hand drifts down between his thighs and forces them apart. You’re scared, only because you plan to sacrifice yourself for us, my love. It’s always been clear to me, even hidden beneath the denial of my sickness, that day I last saw my sister.
But she’s dead now, the Wendy-bird. I don’t need to deny anything. Fear doesn’t matter. Even loss doesn’t matter. Only one thing has permanence.
“Come with me,” I tell him, leading him to the bedroom, where I open the curtains and windows. He huddles behind me, breathing in shivers. It must be so cold outside; already the glass is frosted over, ice biting my fingertips as I lean over and spread my arms wide, leaving myself open to everything. “Tonight is the last time we’ll look at the stars from this side, together.”
“Pegasus, please…” His hands splay across my chest, pulling me closer, need, helplessness, and love, all confused with desire. “You feel so warm. How can you feel so warm?”
I turn to face him, smiling, laughing, adoring the broken expressions crossing his face. Balling one of his hands into a fist, I lick teasingly at his fingers, inviting him down between my legs, whispering these things, once fears, always desires, forever dreams. “I’m not afraid to make love to you, Raven…to allow you to make love to me. Break me open, apart, free my soul, my dreams, my heart. We can fly, we can cry, tears of blood. I’m not scared, so why should you be, my darling?”
“I’m afraid to hurt you,” he confesses to my kiss.
“Then hurt me,” I say, my voice rasping in my throat, “and you need never feel afraid. I want this. Please.”
One of my fingers burrows up inside him, making him cry out. Does this hurt you too, my love?
But he’s parting his legs further, making room for more, biting down on the flesh of my shoulder, asking again how it is that I feel so warm.
I kiss him hard and deep, wishing for my wings, pleading with him. “It must be tonight. Tomorrow, we celebrate the birth of an angel. And then—?”
“And then we’ll call Monty.” He’s trembling, ready to break. Oh, Raven, this will be so perfect. Both of us, so willing. Both of us.
I fall into his needy embrace, laughing as he moans when I withdraw my fingers, my own dick throbbing against his tummy, the heat ever rising, mist and dreams to cloud my visions.
“And then we go home,” I finish for him. “The final days are upon us.”
Falling like music over my heart.
As he buries his face in my neck, I feel a tear crawl down my chest. So it begins, for there simply is no end.
Next Chapter: 23.RAVEN: Glass Embrace