The Uninvited Guest
Light from the overhead chandelier warms the table. The reflection of my mother’s eyes in my water glass glares into my own, telling me to sit up straight. Reluctantly, I lift myself up in the chair, and my napkin falls to the ground. I tear my eyes away from my mother’s watery scowl and look back down at my china plate where my own reflection is a blurred portrait of shadow.
“Your napkin,” my sister hisses, gesturing one thumb at the plush red carpet that comforts our feet. I roll my eyes, then push my chair back before leaning down in my too-tight dress to pick up the stray white linen. As I straighten, I hear a stirring of voices intensify as if they are tuning themselves like violins before a performance.
“Oh look,” my mother says, turning in her chair. Everyone in the dining room, it seems, has turned in their chair. I look around at all the wide-open mouths, the absence of teeth and gum.
And then I see her. Our uninvited guest.
She is robed in a beautiful, deep green strapless dress—the fabric swooshes with her every movement. Her shoulders gleam in the light, and her hands flutter like bird wings. Everything about her is grace and style except that she is headless.
After I adjust to the shock, I see two eyelids struggle to rise above the neckline, to see the world that surrounds her. She glides, in black heels, over the red carpet as though it were a moving escalator in an airport and finds herself at our table where she greets my parents and sits down, elegant as a decapitated swan. My mother mutters niceties about the green dress, my father orders more wine, and my sister consumes herself with tearing bread into small pieces and then rolling them into balls.
The air is stifling. I wonder if the headless woman is sucking all the good air down the hole in her neck. I shift uncomfortably in my seat—my dress is sticking to me like plastic packaging. I have no idea how my parents know the headless woman, and they do not introduce us, or explain why she is headless. Was it a horrific car accident? The guillotine? No, they whisper amongst themselves, as though my sister and I are invisible. So, I sip water, bite a nail, spear my fork into the pile of creamy lettuce that has just been plated in front of me—anything to avoid staring at the headless woman or seeking out the tip of her roving eyeball.
It is during one of these moments, when I am distracting myself with a useless task, perhaps pulling apart a piece of bread, that I see my sister squirm in her seat. I steal a glance at my parents, whose own glances are transfixed on my sister’s face. Together, we watch, as a needle, threaded with red thread, pierces my sister’s bottom lip. The needle moves, by itself, in and out, up and down the length of her mouth. Her lip swells as the needle punctures the skin and the thread is pulled through like someone trying to rip off an unruly seam. Her mouth jiggles from the effort. Rivulets of blood stream down her chin, drip to the china plate, already smeared with tomato juice.
There is giggling to my left. Horrified, I turn my head to the headless woman, whose hands are moving in time with the needle. “It is an art, sewing,” says a voice that I realize comes from the depths of that neck.
I get up and throw my napkin on top of the chicken carcass that lies on my mother’s plate. “Stop,” I scream, as the needle rises in the air, pulling the thread tight, my sister groaning as spittle joins the now streaming river of blood that cascades onto the front of her dress, the plate, the tablecloth, but the needle does not stop. The sound of violins swells along with my sister’s mouth, and the headless woman keeps flourishing her hands in an elaborate orchestration of thread. My parents pour more wine, and the light dims, and dinner will only come to an end when there is no more red thread. “To tie up the loose ends,” the voice says, and someone, perhaps my mother, perhaps the headless woman, laughs giddily.
Adrienne Weiss is the author of the poetry collection, There Are No Solid Gold Dancers Anymore (Nightwood, 2014). She lives in Toronto, Canada.
A Song for Adrienne