The Middle


by Anna Spence


There was a sinuous creature that occupied our house. It was brick-scaled, ivy- and stucco-coloured, as big around as a large man’s body. It wound its way from room to room, slithering with a dry rasp through doorways, between the sofa and the ottoman, under the dining table, between the kids’ twin beds, out one window, in another, always somewhere, always moving somewhere else. It made the family strange, that constant motion always, always, always in the peripheral vision, that hissing, restless sound, going, going, going and never leaving.

The sinuous creature never tried to hurt us. How could it hurt us? Its head, which presumably would have teeth or a brain for malice, was never seen, nor was any tail that might sting. It was just there, always there, and always going elsewhere and not getting there. Or maybe some part of it had arrived, a thousand miles away in some other suburban back split on a cul de sac in another town. Maybe it was already enacting its toothy or venomous violence on some other family and the rest of it was just catching up.

As craven as it was, imagining some toothy malice visiting someone at the end of an endless serpent that was passing us by, it was better than the other idea, that idea that stood looming-glooming at the edge of daylight thinking, the idea that the sinuous thing was going nowhere. It was just going and never getting there because there was no there to get to, that there was no head, no tail to do the going. Maybe it was all middle.

But that looming-glooming thought, which, like the sinuous thing, never stopped looming and glooming, had to make space for the immediate inconvenience of having an endless, headless, tailless, sinuous thing in our house, shifting always right-to-left under our legs when we sat on the sofa, our feet on the ottoman we got so criminally cheap when Sears went belly up that you swore the police were going to chase us home. There was the problem of the key rack, and how we had to hang on to the last post on the bannister and lean way, way out around the corner to hang up our keys. We had to turn the radio up loud in the kitchen to drown out the sound of the creature’s brick and stucco skin shirring on the vinyl tiling. Then we had to shout over The World at Six so that our most innocuous exchanges sounded like accusation and defence.

We couldn’t close the bathroom door because of the sinuous thing and felt jumpy whenever we were in there. If, in a moment of lapsed social nicety, someone forgot to scratch on the door frame and threw the blanket back, we had to pretend that we were not silent horror screaming but where instead fixing our mascara or trying to decide whether it was worth it shave for casual Friday.

I would sit in the car sometimes and look at the house through the rain smear or growing frost-feathers on the windshield and pretend the sinuous creature wasn’t winding in one window and out another. But I could hear the radio blaring in the kitchen and the TV blaring in the living room and the family shouting to be heard over the radio and the TV and the almost but not quite subliminal hissing of the thing slithering from vinyl tiling to Berber carpet. No one from the street could see it, winding in and out of our house, because it was the colour of suburbia

I’d carry the groceries into the house and we’d cook supper together, howling accusations like, “Did we remember to buy butter?” and defensive ripostes like, “There’s some in the fridge, I think,” and the ones who weren’t cooking tacked up the blanket over the bathroom door and stood silent horror screaming, or sat on the sofa with their feet on the ottoman with the creature slipping right-to-left under their knees like a sentence always unsaying itself.


 

 

 

Anna Spence is an academic by day and a writer by compulsion. Her work appears in Elephants Never, Ellipsis Zine, and Emerge Literary Journal. She can be found on Twitter @MSSalieri.