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The Way It Is Now

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Merricat, said Constance,
Would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat.
You'll poison me.

-- Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived In the Castle

They can't find us now. I've made sure of that. I've put all the marks on the doors to make us invisible. I've chanted all the right chants and sang the song, that song, at every lintel. The song they sang at us, I took back. It is our pride, our joy. We are the family they sing about, and it's all true. In their song, we are neverending, and so I sing it to celebrate.

She lets me take care of her, Constance does. Lets me out to find the berries and kill the little birds that I roast over the fire and take in to her. Me. I'm the big sister now. How father would laugh, to see me head of the household. Not him, not mother, certainly not uncle. Not even sweet, confused Connie who lied to the world to save me from them knowing that I did it.

Now, I shout it out into the ruins of the house. I did it! I did it! I did it! Me, all me. Cat the first last and only, I did it. Come down on me now, lightning. Strike me down if you think you can, if father was right about such things and I'll get my just reward, for I did it. Will they hang me? Shoot me? Lock me in a room with a bucket of water and pellets of cyanide? I know the true poisons; such things don't frighten me. I am Rasputin; they would have to kill me seven times to make me stop dancing.

Connie lets me take care of her. Did I say that? I did. I heard it in my ears, so I must have said it out loud. She lets me feed her, pick out her clothes. Tell her stories about the world outside. She won't go now, won't leave the one room, but I will. I sneak out and pick, and catch with stones and snares, and dance by the water, and I come back and offer my tribute to my lady Constance. My sister. My little sister, for all the difference in our age, in our height. For I am tall in the ways of the world, and she has shrunk into this room.

Only at night am I the small one again. At night, when the creeping and the singing and the dancing is done, when dinner is done and the stories are over, I slide into her arms as she lies in the bed, and she is again my older sister. She is the one who can enfold me, who traces my cheek with her fingers and says, "All for you, Cat. Little one, all for you."

I am small and safe and wise in her arms, running my fingers over the sculpted tip of her nose, making her laugh and sneeze. Tasting the fine hairs of her eyebrows. Touch and tickle. Begin the dance again. There is no wrong, for there are only us two left in all the world. The ones outside are nothing, are not the same species as us. They don't know the secret name of the poison toad, or the death cup mushroom. They don't know how to walk with head held high; they don't know what we are. They are shadows, and we the only things real.

"I did it," I can tell her now that we are the only ones left. "Me and I alone. I put it in the sugar, but never in the tea. No one made them eat it but Merricat and me."

"I know," she says.

"Tell me I'm a good and clever girl?"

She runs her fingers over my hair, pulling out all the leaves and snarls one by one, my Constance does, and tells me I'm a good and clever girl.

We are happy here.