Something replaced my mother. I knew it when I first saw them standing over the sink, their eyes glassed over like marbles. They looked the same, had the same dye job and thick fish-eye glasses. They sounded like her, even moved like her, my mother, somehow, but off. The night before, she’d left for dinner with her girlfriends, to drink wine and complain about husbands and come home so late the night became morning. The house was asleep before she came home; that’s if she ever made it home at all.
I knew it when I said good morning and they looked right through me. Not hungover or tired, but with a great mushroom cloud shrouding the expanse of their head, as if they were floating downstream with only their eyes above water. The replacement had my mother’s smile and her golden laugh, but a grey behind their eyes that never was there before. They liked their toast too light, their chair unreclined, their nails too sharp. They even smelled different, spoke with a slightly different inflection. I knew it in an instant, that my mother was somehow gone.
At first, I didn’t tell anyone about it, for fear they wouldn’t believe me. No one else seemed to notice anything was different, even though the rice was stickier and the pasta was always undercooked. The replacement let the plants die and forgot to medicate the dog three times a day. I caught them hunched over her once, with their fists tightened, eyes narrowed. Only when they noticed I was standing behind them did their hands unclench as they made to pat the dog, but she growled and snapped, her lip pulled so her teeth bore the danger of non-release. She knew as well as I did that something had taken Mum’s place.
After some time, the replacement became a permanent fixture. They took my mother’s friends, her husband, her place at the dinner table, and even though I feared them for what they had done to my mother, I’d begun to accept she wasn’t coming back. I loathed being alone with them, and so found solace in the company of my father. We’d drive around for hours, just the two of us, going anywhere and everywhere and talking about nothing and everything. I had gotten closer to him than ever before.
One evening Dad decided to bring the bins in before bed. He kissed my forehead, told me he loved me, then slipped into the night through the open garage. The next morning, I found them sitting on the couch, their eyes glassed over like marbles. The same something that replaced my mum had somehow taken my dad too. Had taken his job, his house, his appetite, and his face.
This time I went to my brother. When I told him what I knew to be true, and what I thought, on some level, he’d know too, he laughed. My stomach sank. My family were slipping away by the clasp of darkness, and here my brother was, mocking the horror.
At dinner I could barely eat. When we had visitors, I’d scream for them to notice with the whites of my eyes. I asked my grandparents if Mum or Dad seemed different to them, but no one seemed to notice a thing. I had become an orphan and no one could see it.
When my brother said goodbye before leaving to meet his friends in the middle of the night, I begged him not to go. I screamed and cried and I clutched his arm while those two replacements wearing my parents’ faces hushed me and tugged me back from the door. He walked away and I was left to flail and scream under the replacements’ watch. They quelled me by insisting everything was okay and he’d be back before I knew it. But I knew he wouldn’t. Someone might return but they would not be my brother.
So, I did what any good sister would do—I ran after my brother, my bare feet smacking hard against the cold concrete. I heard yells behind me and relished in the striking of the cool night breeze against my cheeks. It was useless, I couldn’t catch him by foot, but I kept running anyway, until I was so far from home, I couldn’t hear the calls from the faces I loved anymore. A car followed slowly along the far side of the road, but I just kept running. I hadn’t ever felt so free and so trapped all at once. Even if I were to leave, I had nowhere and nothing to go to. I just hoped my brother made it home whole.
By the time my feet took me back home, the sun had made a U-turn in the sky. A car was waiting across the street and I realised it was the same car that’d been trailing me all night.
From the front seats the marble eyes of my adoptive parents looked at me. I fell into the back seat, exhausted and helpless. Alone. I met the gaze of my mother in the rear-view mirror. They smiled sadly, lips slanted, like they pitied me. I let my eyes close, battling sleep with every bit of fight I had left. I couldn’t shake the fear that I was all that was left, and the fear of what the familiar strangers in my father’s car would do to me. When I almost thought I might succumb to sleep, I was struck by the once-comforting voice of my mother in the front seat, now a whisper, so I had to strain to hear it.
‘She’s getting worse.’ Their voice shook.
They paused, swallowing hard. I heard the groan of the front seat, as if they were turning to look back at me. I slowed my breathing and kept my eyes closed. I felt my jaw click. The seatbelt grew tight around my chest, and I felt as if I were being bound. The voice spoke once more and my mouth ran dry.
‘We need to get her back to the doctor. There’s something the matter with Susanna.’