Nora Jones watched everything she knew come to an end before her almost like she was watching a movie. Not a horror movie, she’d never seen one of those, but one of the black-and-white French movies that her mother used to watch before she started spending so much time on the Internet and everything changed.
Now her mother lay in a pool of blood with the bouquet her stepdad had bought still grasped in her hand, her legs sprawled like she was trying to long jump her way to Heaven. Her stepdad was crouched next to her and touched Mom’s neck like he was looking for something. He was breathing heavily and throwing glances at Nora, who had crept behind the kitchen islet so only her head could be seen. His mouth was moving like he was saying something, but Nora could only hear a dull ringing in her ears. Stepdad got up and stared at Mom and kept opening and closing his mouth, circling the pool of blood, his hand stroking his chin up and down, his hands shaking.
Finally he left, slamming the door behind him. Mom hated it when he slammed the door, but she wasn’t likely to care about that now.
After he left, Nora made herself a cheese sandwich and ate it by the fridge. They were out of OJ and she was feeling shaky. Mom had told her that it was really important to eat something immediately if she ever felt like that. She tried not to see Mom on the floor, or the puddle of blood that was moving closer to her.
Mom’s phone was still blinking on the marble countertop. It was the phones’ fault that this had happened. Her stepdad had come home with the flowers, telling Mom he was sorry and Mom told him she was sorry, and everyone had been happy for a while, Mom unwrapping the flowers and twirling her fingers in his, the two of them pressing their hips together in the way that always made Nora feel left out. It had been fine until the phone had beeped, and spoiled everything.
He hadn’t even read the message. All he did was glimpse at the phone before he jumped all over Mom, shaking her and calling her bad names, and Nora imagined it was all black-and-white and not real, and then there was the gun, the one she kept in the locked top drawer of her bedroom, but of course he had the key since he was the one who had bought it. There was a flash of metal, Mom trying to wring the thing from his hands, and then Mom flying across the kitchen like a wet rag. No one seemed to notice Nora standing there, like it really was only a film, and she was sitting in a movie theater, munching on a great big box of popcorn, watching strangers die. It wasn’t her Mom. How could that be her Mom, the same one who just told her to clean up the hamster cage, the same one who combed her hair this morning and said she needed to book her a dentist’s appointment?
And now, the phone was blinking at her like it was the gateway out of the scary film and back to reality. Nora would have to try to use it. She’d seen enough movies to tell her that now was the time to call an ambulance. But what was the number? How would she press the numbers into the phone and make the ambulance come? Hesitantly, she picked up the phone and looked at the screen. She glanced at Mom, who didn’t like her touching her phone, but she wasn’t moving. She pressed on the screen gingerly, then harder and again and again, swiping and pressing and tapping. The phone had stopped blinking now, but it wasn’t doing anything else either. And then Nora remembered. Mom had set a code on her phone to prevent Nora from using it. All she could do was swipe upwards with her finger to use the camera. The phone was every bit as dead to her as Mom was.
Her sandwich finished, Nora got up. She skirted around the blood, and went up the stairs to her own room. She took her rucksack and placed in her favorite toys, the Chinese doll she called Day, the Littlest Pet Shop figures and her Tinkerbell costume.
Finally she petted her pet hamster Jonas and fed it. She spoke softly, so Jonas wouldn’t be scared. “I’m sorry you can’t come, Jonas. I know you’d like to. But someone’s gonna come and look after you, I promise. It might not be me. I have a feeling things are going to change.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. She was going to miss Jonas so much. Jonas crouched in the corner of the cage and his sides moved up and down quickly like they always did when he was worried. He always worried so.
Nora lifted her hand from his soft fur and closed the cage carefully. She blew a little kiss at the hamster that was now approaching the fruit stick she had left in the cage next to the water bottle, moving one foot at the time. “I’m never going to forget about you, Jonas,” she whispered.
She took the rucksack and walked down the stairs, looking down at the stairs, looking up at the ceiling, looking into the living room, looking at the kitchen cabinets. She walked the edge of the kitchen and tried not to look there, like she did when she was smaller and thought there were monsters in her wardrobe, monsters, which wouldn’t come out if she didn’t invite them in with her eyes. When the dark puddle appeared around the edge of her vision, she squeezed her eyes shut and walked like she was blind, staggering to follow the furniture, holding on to the wardrobe and feeling around for her jacket, reaching the rough hallway carpet like it was dry land after a month at sea. And then, the safety of the door handle in her palm, firm and cold.
It was curious, going out alone. Mom never let her go out alone, even though she was already six years old. She pressed on the door handle and stepped out. There was no sign of stepdad. No one was around. The sun had gone down and it was really dark. Somewhere a dog was barking.
The yard seemed so vast. The surrounding houses were so big. The orange glow from the big lamps seemed to set the street on fire. Nora took Day from her rucksack and squeezed her in her arms. She caressed Day’s hair and started singing to her. Together, they would come out of this okay.