The beldam, with her sewing-needle-hands, sits in Coraline’s knuckles, her sweet voice drops down her throat until she is as silent and still as the Other Wybie. “I’ve fixed you”, she smiles and her button eyes flash white. “Come home, my love.” Her thin, too-many-legs wrap themselves around Coraline’s torso, always there but never touching and Coraline chokes on the honey soft cooing dripping into her lungs.
“Breathe, Jonesy”, not-Other Wybie says, with his rough hands covered in slime and his wild curls brushing her cheeks. “Breathe for me.” He touches her arms and the beldam recoils, grows tall and slim and porcelain cracked. “Vermin”, she says. “Why have you brought vermin here?”
“Deep breaths, in and out”, Wybie says and the porcelain cracks and falls to the floor. “Why does it speak?”, the beldam asks, her sewing-needle-hands hovering over Wybie’s warm not-button-eyes. Coraline gasps for air as the acid in her voice dissolves the gooey honey and lets her breathe.
“She’s here”, she says and claws at Wybie’s sweater. There’s a tapping behind the walls, and somewhere, Other Father is crying, wailing for help as his own machine tears him apart, a pumpkin once more.
Wybie presses her to his chest. He is warm, his sweater is scratchy and his grip is a little too tight. The beldam bangs against Coraline’s rib cage, in her mother’s skin that is breaking and falling off of her. “Don’t leave me”, she screams. “Don’t let your mother starve.” She ties sewing thread to her ribs and ties them close to Coraline’s lungs. Coraline screams. Wybie presses her closer.
Later, when the beldam’s anger is a sizzling flame in Coraline’s guts, when Wybie has helped her untangled all the thread from her bones and wipe all the honey off her tongue, they check on the door. There’s a faint tapping, but it is locked and Wybie reminds her that they threw the key away. Coraline nods. Her fingers feel cold.
“Come on, Jonesy.” Wybie smiles. “Let’s go visit my grandma.”
“Be clever, Miss”, the little ghost girl says, with her curly hair pulled into pig tails, somewhere in the back of Coraline’s mind. Her and Wybie have the same mouth, the same hair and Coraline grins. “Sure, Why-were-you-born.”
Wybie laughs and pulls her to her feet.
Grandma Lovat is a quiet woman with an accent as thick as Coraline’s primary school teacher’s. She offers her biscuits and Coraline takes it. Wybie hugs his grandma, he is taller than her, even with his back bent and his head held to the side. “Your sister is safe now”, Coraline wants to say, feels the beldam’s laughter in her throat. “She is no longer caught behind a mirror with buttons for eyes and ache for a soul.” Instead, she tilts her head and asks about the cat. Grandma Lovat puts the tray away. “Oh, he comes and goes whenever he wants. He’s a street cat, that one.” The cat jumps on Coraline’s lap and grandma Lovat laughs. “There he is now!”
The cat purrs and Wybie grins his wide toothed grin. Coraline thinks about a mouth stitched up too high, about trembling hands and a black trenchcoat flowing in the wind. She puts her hands on the cat’s warm ribcage and the beldam’s button eyes crash to the floor.
„I love you, Coraline“, her mother says and kisses the top of Coraline’s head. Her hands feel cold and bony and Coraline jumps up. Her mother furrows her brows, her not-button-eyes warm and brown. “What’s wrong, honey?”
“Come home, come back to me, don’t let your mother starve, come here to me, my love”, the walls cry
“Nothing”, Coraline says and tries to concentrate on the bags under her mother’s eyes, on the rain outside and on the squeaking sound of Mr Bobinsky training his mice. The smell of rotten candy rests in her nose, around her wrist, like hands grabbing her, pulling her in. Her mother smiles.
Coraline burns all of her dolls that day, rips the buttons off her clothes and smashes them, feels the beldam scream and plead inside of her, thrashing against her bones and her blood. Die, she thinks as she watches the plastic melt and the cloth catch fire. You are not my mother.
“I love you”, the Other Mother says, needle-hands soft and caressing, teeth sharp, button eyes glinting in the fire.