Taking Apart the Mansion by Amy DeBellis

I grew up in the house where my mother’s body crumpled and dried, brittling into a flower. It was the same house where my sisters lost parts of themselves, their ignorance blissful and fleeting and quickly forgotten. It was the same house where I discovered that the danger hiding in every dark room did not come from strangers after all, but from familiar hands on my body—on my chest, legs, throat, skull—places I would later slide needles into on dolls that were supposed to be me.

Finally it was ours. We didn’t even wait for the foundations to finish rotting before we hauled it down. We hollowed all the rooms, dumped the furniture in the yard and took our grandfather’s axe to it, shredded every book to ribbons: tatters the color of sand, confetti for nobody’s party. We scooped out the surrounding sky, blacked out a circumference free of stars. We emptied that house the same way we emptied ourselves: our stomachs into toilet bowls, our minds into screens, our hearts into strangers’ blank faces. We made our bodies into smoke that we blew over mirrors, turning the glass ash-white and blind.

It took me decades to realize I was haunted. Not the house. By then it was too late to go back, by then that mansion was filth and rubble rotting in a landfill, and still I found myself full of the dark of that place. I am full of it even now; its haunt teems inside me like summer mosquitoes. It sprawls through my guts, my throat, my veins. I can’t cough it up. I can’t puke or bleed or scream it out. And so I choke my fireplace with wood, close every window, lie down and try to sweat it out like a bad fever.

AMY DEBELLIS — Amy is a writer from New York. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications including Pithead Chapel, HAD, Maudlin House, Monkeybicycle, Atticus Review, and JMWW. Her debut novel is forthcoming from CLASH Books in September 2024.

Art by LAURIE MARSHALL — Laurie is a writer and artist working in Northwest Arkansas. Recent stories have been awarded the 2021 Lascaux Flash Fiction Prize, included in the 2022 Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, and nominated for Best Small Fictions 2022. She reads for Fractured Lit and Longleaf Review. Words and art have been published in Cloves Literary, Twin Pies Literary, New World Writing, and Flash Frog among others. Connect on Twitter @LaurieMMarshall. Buy her a chai latte on Venmo @LaurieMarshallCreative.