The midnight chime of the old grandfather clock in the hallway woke Amanda up. For the first time in what felt like years something other than a nightmare interrupted her sleep, and she was happy for it. She rubbed her eyes and shifted her position on the easy chair in the living room, stretching as she woke, alarmed at the popping of her stiff joints. Her fingers felt dry on her soft eyelids, her head swam as she tried to wake up fully. The chiming of the clock could only mean that it was midnight. Midnight in autumn. It was why she was here, in the chair in her living room and not in her soft warm bed. It was midnight on Friday in autumn, and Amanda needed to be awake because Molly was coming home.
She forced herself to stand, the popping of her knees went unnoticed because she was listening to the low sound that began to filter into the room, like distant wind-chimes. She drew in a slow breath and caught a hint of an ephemeral chalky smell that dissipated as the scent triggered memory. She instinctually closed her eyes to try to pull at the thread of memory, but opened them immediately when she heard Molly's voice from over her shoulder,
“Hey, Mom! Told you not to wait up!”
Amanda turned to see her daughter, the girl took the staircase that led to the upper levels of the house two stairs at a time, and Amanda’s heart ached to see it.
Molly's laugh flickered throughout the house, dimming the lights with its rhythm, and Amanda almost found herself smiling.
“Can't, Mom. Deb and Scott are outside waiting for me, I'm just gonna grab a sweater. It’s cold out there!”
Amanda caught herself looking outside into the empty street. It was dark, and shimmered from the recent rain. One autumn there was a car parked outside filled with excited teenagers.
Not anymore. Tonight there was only the Richardson’s den light, a dim beacon from across the street. Amanda looked to the stairs from her spot by the recliner, she rubbed her hands together.
“Molly,” Amanda's voice croaked, “don’t go out again.”
Molly's smiling face peered out from the top of the staircase, her hair in disarray as she hastily pulled on a sweater.
“Of course, Mom! You know I always am!”
Amanda didn't say a word, she stood by the easy chair and watched. Molly's voice continued from upstairs and Amanda remembered perfectly the cues of that conversation that occurred so long ago. One autumn, long ago, Amanda asked her daughter if she wanted to break away from the group to spend some alone time with Jim, the boy she was interested in.
“EW! Mom! He's nice, but I don't like him like that! Besides we're just going to the beach to sit on the boardwalk. I don’t even know if he’ll be there.”
Molly came gliding down the stairs in the two-sizes too big sweater she had knitted for herself four years ago, Amanda had forgotten the actual color of it. Now it was all the colors of the changing leaves.
“Yes, mother!” The girl said in mock frustration and stood by the front door smiling, listening to a conversation long past.
“No, mother, and you know that I'd drive if she had too much to drink.”
Amanda's heart sunk looking at her daughter like this. She wanted to run to her, to embrace her, to warn her somehow. She’d tried it all before but nothing effected the eidolon of her daughter
“Tell me you love me, this time, Molly. Please.” Amanda whispered.
“See ya tomorrow, Mom!”
Molly turned to smile at her mother as she flickered through the closed doorway, and even though Amanda hated this part, she forced herself to watch the memory of her daughter leave her one more time. For one instant Molly's face sank, became hollow-eyed and skeletal. Her warm grin turned into the broken-jawed rictus that Amanda was forced to look at while identifying the body. The too-big sweater transformed in a time-lapse decomposition of broken, corkscrewing threads, and a rust colored stain spread from shoulder, to breast, to belly. The girl's left arm popped painfully at an angle that an arm should never be able to.
Amanda forced herself to watch it all because in the next second the girl was back, and beautiful; in another she was gone again, and the chiming clock in the hallway struck the twelfth and last tone of the hour.
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