Those In Between
by Chelsea La Vecchia
It didn’t start with a bang, but with a whisper from the symphony below the stage, teeming with mysterious words. The drums started the rhythm, echoing throughout the theatre, making my insides shake. Not a pulse—for these people weren’t living in a technical sense—but a metronome dictating the life surrounding them, lulling us into hypnotized mercy.
My body froze, my eyes fixated on the stage in front of me as the red velvet curtain lifted to reveal a single ballerina centre stage. Brass joined percussion, then the whole orchestra began.
How did I get here?
Several weeks ago my mother announced she would visit from Ireland at the end of the month.
Sporadic. Spontaneous. Out of character for her, but welcome nonetheless.
The bar was doing well after a spate of murders we’d experienced. The bloody mob knew I was out of the game, but occasionally stopped in to remind me I was never truly out. I wish they cleaned up when they came over.
My mum announced she was coming two weeks after that. She’d bought tickets to a touring ballet company she’d been waiting years to see, and they’d finally turned up in the exact city I was in. Looking back, it was almost too coincidental.
The ballerina began her dance. Slow, melodic, rising into a crescendo. Her jumps were so high she could’ve been flying. She might’ve been, for all I know. I’d known these creatures since I was a baby, but thought my memory of living next to them was the obscure fantasy of a child.
My mother turned up in darkness on my doorstep on a late February evening, biting cold prickling my skin the moment I opened the door. She spent the evening fussing over my short hair, saying I looked like a boy, telling me I was getting fat, instructing me how to run the bar I’d owned for over a decade in a city that churned our restaurants after a year.
She spent a few days crying at dinner, and whenever I’d ask her why, she’d say she missed me so. I should’ve known then. My mother never told me she missed me. She gave me lace shirts, and scolded me for getting blood on them while fighting with the boys. Then she would cry in the laundrette, hiding her tears to seem as strong as I believed her to be. She would comb my cropped hair, lamenting its short length, but running her fingers lovingly through it despite. She told me she begged God to give her a daughter who wanted long hair and wore dresses and high-heels. A daughter she could instruct on how to sew and cook and do makeup. I was a boy-girl, she liked to say. Then she’d fight with the other mothers when they called me a disgrace. She loved me in her own special way.
It was February 28th. The sun set on the quiet east-end street I’d settled into many years ago. My mother pulled out two glossy-papered tickets that seemed to shimmer in the low-light of my living room.
“Get ready. We’re going tonight.”
She handed them to me and I read the performance. It looked like a form of Gaelic I’d never seen before.
I frowned looking at the date, which read February 29th, but before I could ask my mother what quack website she’d gotten these from, she was bustling us out the door and throwing my coat over the chair.
We got in a taxi that dropped us off in a strip mall in the suburbs. Every store was closed. No one was around. The cold seeped into my bones, the salt crushed underfoot as she led me to the side of the building beside the dumpsters.
I heard the whispering then. Slow. Silent. At first I thought it was a winter breeze, but then I realized the air was still.
It was nearly midnight. The moon overhead lit the side of the strip mall so the edges left no shadow. Safer, I thought, remembering the many times I’d used those to hide before my kill. I’d gotten so comfortable in shadows I wasn’t used to them being my enemy.
The light from the moon left a glimmer on the stucco wall. Or was that the start of it? I couldn’t be sure.
The whispers persisted, then got louder. Before long I could hear what sounded like a hundred people before me.
It glimmered more. I kept convincing myself it was the moon. It was the moon and I was a human and my mother was having a breakdown staring at a blank wall waiting for something to happen.
The glimmer got brighter, appearing more clearly as time went on. I could see the sparkles manifest, like splitting cells in an organism, multiplying and winding their way through the porous material. My breath caught in my throat, and it felt like my stomach had invaded my esophagus.
They multiplied until they made a perfect, glimmering circle as tall as I was. I looked at my mum. She had tears in her eyes.
“Time to go, my love.”
She walked through it first. I didn’t realize it was a door until she put her foot through the glitter, then disappeared entirely.
I hesitated—which she knew I would—so she reached her hand back into our world and grabbed my arm, lightly tugging me forward. I looked back at the wide road, the empty streets coated in a purple glow from the moonlight. She tugged my arm even harder.
It felt like walking through a warm waterfall. The shimmer was pleasant, soft, and made me feel at home from the dry cold of outside.
I walked into a grand hall that reached thirty feet in the air, with walls lined in golden pillars that shimmered from the light of the soft, shell-like lamps on the wall. The floor was a rich crimson velvet, winding in front of me and splitting only at the two grand staircases that led to the upper floors.
My mother was speaking to the usher as I took it all in. He pointed down the way towards the carved double doors that lay open and inviting, beckoning me into a dark room that I only could assume was a theatre.
“What is this?”
My mother grabbed my arm and led me forward. “A way out.”
We walked into the theatre and took our seats, gazing at the red velvet curtain in anticipation for the show.
That’s when the whispers began.
I gazed in their direction, trying to pick out words but finding myself unable. The whispers continued, growing in loudness and numbers until I managed to make out one sentence.
That’s when the drums began. That’s when the show started and I was entranced by the dancer and found I couldn’t move my locked body.
I’m not sure how long I was like that, but eventually the curtain closed and a man—or something else—walked on stage.
“Ladies, Gentlemen, and others,” he said. “Welcome to your new home.”
My heart raced up my throat. Sweat coated my palms, sliding against the mahogany arms of the chair I gripped tightly.
“We are the ones who lie in between,” he continued. “And you have now joined us.”
I looked to my right. My mother was no longer there. I don’t know how long it had been since she’d been gone, but the chair next to me was occupied by another wide-eyed woman wearing a turtleneck and jeans. Average. Unassuming. Like me, I suppose.
“You are here because your loved ones gave you to us. Whether from malice or love, they felt you were no longer suitable to live in their world.”
I felt the woman next to me tense and sit forward. A low, guttural cry escaped her lips.
“Suffice to say that you are welcomed here—loved, even—no matter who you are. Though it will take some time, I can assure you that this is a better place for those like you and I. We will field all questions later, but for now, enjoy the rest of the show.”
He left the stage to a slew of cries, people yelling at him to return and explain, wanting to know who sold them, begging to be released. I sat there looking at the crowd. I knew who sold me. I knew there was no way out. I knew every explanation in the fairy-tale book wouldn’t save me from my own fate, whispered by the wind the moment I arrived.