WHAT IS MAPPALUJO?


CHAPTER 16

IN THE BLUE dark colours of the evening, Miss Spencer lies awake. Shadows move along the ceiling, bringing sleep, the terrible dream it carries.

Each morning Mister Teardrop leaves a silver tray by her bedside, the same meal every day: cereal, yoghurt, sliced apple. After breakfast, she might sit reading by the gramophone, or else spend hours searching for a way to unlock the door. Cameras examine her, hidden behind the walls. Miss Spencer knows they are there. She can feel their eyes, caressing her body.

The bookcase contains only bound editions of the Miss Marple mysteries, a few old copies of Vogue. The gramophone has a single long-playing record made of shellac. A woman's voice sobs from the machine, a pained but defiant song. Miss Spencer will listen to the song, and think of her wedding day. Mister Teardrop leaves notes for her, on the breakfast tray, the nightstand, beneath her pillow, inside one of the magazines. She never sees him, she never sees Mister Teardrop. His notes are written on scented paper. 'My dearest own Princess of Shadows...' He makes lists of the many promises, all the love he will show her, once they are married. Why does this courtship leave her so cold?

There are no mirrors to look through, and no windows. In the afternoon, Miss Spencer will take her nap. The dream will visit her, the scorpion that crawls across her body, its tail of glass curving around. Upon awakening, she will find another tray beside the bed: caviar, melba toast, tinned peaches, wine in a plastic cup.

Is this my life? My only life?

Miss Spencer might visit the en suite bathroom. She has found a space there, a tiny space where no camera can reach. In this one dark corner she will perform a certain act involving the throat, and the fingers. Miss Spencer has seen the stretched, translucent skin of the fashion models and knows that by this method she might vanish altogether, become a mere trembling of air, a falling of dust.

There are no clocks, only the slow beating of the heart.

The solution to one of the murder mysteries rests upon the fact that shellac is made from the resin secreted by a female beetle.

With the blunt caviar knife, Miss Spencer might attempt to draw some blood from her veins. The song plays on, her only true possession. Every passing hour she will dance alone to the melody. There is no escape. And then, late one evening, Miss Spencer finds that she can no longer listen to the woman's voice. The record breaks in her hands.

The beetle lives in Southeast Asia and uses the resin as a protective coat. Music can be printed onto it.

Cameras examine her. What blood she has managed to draw is thin, watery. Only her tears give any measure on the bathroom scales. Miss Spencer slowly turns through the pages of Vogue and wonders what costume she will wear for her wedding day. She gathers together the pieces of the song, the broken song. One in particular has a familiar, reassuring shape. The tumblers of the lock move easily, turned aside by the thin piece of shellac. There is a flight of stairs beyond the door, leading downwards into a room filled with glass.

The mirrors are curved in various ways, and each one throws back a different reflection. Miss Spencer sees herself; attending a charity ball, stepping from the royal carriage, kissing her husband on the palace balcony. Strolling by a lake with her trusted dogs by her side -- Stalker, Jollyboy, Lightfoote. She sees herself holding the hand of a young man with a terrible disease. Further along, she walks through a foreign field, dressed in protective clothing. So many images. In one mirror, Mister Teardrop's eyes stare back at her. In the final reflection, she lies trapped in the back of a limousine. Blood covers her face.

The princess places her hand against the glass. There is no escape.

In the blue dark colours of the evening, Miss Spencer lies awake. Shadows arouse themselves, slowly approaching.

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WHAT IS MAPPALUJO?