Ritual of Insanity
She picks up the eyeball off of the floor with gentle fingers and murmurs soft regrets to the air. The warm brown color of the iris has been scratched and washed away to a cold, hateful black. Dried red ink spills across the smooth white surface like pulsating veins. Two rooms behind her, the phone rings again for the fifth time. She ignores it and drops the eye into her glass jar, then bends down to retrieve a carelessly discarded arm.
Hinamori knows this ritual all too well.
Her body has memorized the trail of body parts—here there will be a chipped fingernail, in the next room, she will find half of the head with an empty socket to accompany one of the two eyes rolling in her jar, and in the kitchen there will be a severed foot the color of whitewashed hospital rooms. She collects these pieces in countless containers and bags lovingly.
And why wouldn’t she? She loves her precious, wonderful, gentle Aizen too much to leave him like this—all broken and chipped and bleeding white.
The phone gives one last shrill shriek before she yanks the cord out. Be quiet. She knows that he means well when he calls, always so nice and polite and concerned (Momo, are you eating enough? Do you feel better? Would it be alright if I came over to check on you today?). She’s fine. There’s nothing to be worried about, poor Shiro. She’s just fine and so what if the shadows beneath her eyes are eating away at the rest of her skin? So what if her face is so thin that at night, when she peers into the mirror, she hallucinates and thinks of skulls in graves in cemeteries in hollow, haunted places?
As long as she can still hold the thread to her needle and sew, she is well. She is not sick.
When she has collected all the bits and pieces, all the fingers, all the cracked porcelain, all the shards of the glasses, she brings them to her seamstress table. She brushes the other unfinished dolls away, throws them carelessly onto the floor where their unseeing eyes stare at her accusingly as if to say, why fix him when you have not yet made us whole? She hopes they will understand one day.
Aizen is special. He is the only one in her heart—the only other life in her cage made of thread and stitches. She unscrews the cap to her paint and dips a brush into the clear water by her side (she dreams of red, red swirls, red paint, though the color is brown, warm brown, a shade of brown that makes her feel safe, protected). With a master’s hand, she brings the glass eyeball level with her own eyes, and paints over the black carefully.
She remembers the color perfectly. How could she forget with all those pictures in her room? Those precious framed snapshots of him, him smiling, him reaching towards her, him patting her on the head. He, who promised that he would be back later, who said that she was not to open her door for anybody else (as if she would ever invite someone else into their home). Poor, poor Shiro. Couldn’t he see? Couldn’t he tell? She was fine, she was just waiting….
She fits the left arm to the crack in the torso as the paint dries, runs the glue along the jagged edges and then presses down. The clock ticks away long minutes. She remembers holding his hand at the park, lacing their fingers together as they walked past old ladies and young mothers pushing baby carriages. She remembers the precious china doll he gave her for her birthday—cherry red lips, hair the color of black ink, and a kimono made of silk. Aizen, her first and only lover.
She shudders and her fingers fall from the incomplete body lifelessly. Cherry red lips…she hates that color. Hates. Despises. Loathes. It’s the same color as that woman’s mouth, that pretty and coy mouth.
What is she doing?
The doll must be put back together. It’s her gift to him for when he comes back, a token of her love. He always said he loved her dolls—her precious creations. And she had created him from porcelain. A miniature Aizen to carry with her through the house as she wandered from room to room.
She wonders, though, sometimes in the back of her mind why it is torn apart so viciously in the middle of the night as she sleeps. But these are dangerous thoughts, better left alone.
Ignorance is bliss.
She finishes as the grandfather clock strikes ten in the evening.
The fixed doll looks back at her with wide, unblinking eyes behind a pair of framed glasses. She imagines a twinkle in those listless brown irises and smiles contentedly. She kisses the pale forehead gently and remembers a time when he did the same for her—bent down to brush his lips against her skin lightly, lovingly.
She falls asleep with her arms around the figurine and dreams of empty sockets in emaciated skulls.
(“Hinamori, do you remember the doll I gave you?” He is sitting by her side, their legs dangling over the small pond. Her head rests on his shoulder and his arm is around her waist. They are the picture perfect couple. Young love.
“The china doll? Yes, of course I do.” She responds absentmindedly, sees a woman with black hair and red, red lips walk by. There is something familiar and terrifying about that face… She forgets.)
In her sleep, she raises the doll and swings it gently from side to side to an unsung tune. There is a ghost of a smile on her face as she moves it, tugging on the arms with too much force, fingers curling over the porcelain and holding much too tightly.
(“Aizen, what are you looking for?” She approaches him from behind, her footsteps silent on the wooden floor. It is late and they should both be asleep, but lately, he has been acting strangely. If she could put a name to his expression, she would chance at using agitation. It is not a look that she likes to see on his handsome face.
“The china doll I gave you. Where is it?” His words are calm, but there is an undercurrent of urgency, a thin line of tension. She rubs her eyes sleepily and gestures at the bed.
“I put it somewhere special. Go back to bed, it’s too late to talk about this. You can have it tomorrow.”)
White-knuckled, her hands clench, seize, struggle against invisible strings. Her eyebrows furrow and then smoothen out once more, as if she’s decided something in her mind. Like spiders, her fingers map out the bow-shaped mouth, the slope of the nose, and finally settle on the eyes. Her smile widens as she digs in deep with her nails around each glass sphere.
There is an incessant scratching sound as she pulls and tugs and pulls once more. The left eye pops out first, falls to her feet and rolls into a dark corner. She closes her other hand around the right eye impatiently and twists. It falls into her lap with a muffled sound and she resumes swaying the doll in mid-air. Her lips part in her dream, as if to sing a lullaby—a child’s song.
The words do not come.
(He cradles the lovely figure in his arms with care and moves to leave the room. She reaches out for his sleeve the last minute, catches the fabric in the gaps between her fingers. There is something wrong. “Where are you taking it?”
His eyes are darker than they used to be when he looks at her. “To a shop. There’s a small stain on her hand and I don’t want you to have a damaged doll for a gift.”
She catches herself mid-nod and remembers that there is no stain on the china doll’s hand. There have never been any stains. Outside the window, she thinks she sees a girl with wine-red lips and raven black hair. It is a familiar face. She understands. He isn’t going to have it fixed, he’s giving it to that person standing outside, waiting with expectant arms.
She snaps the arms furiously as she walks out of the room and throws them in vague directions. The carpet swallows the sound of heavy limbs hitting the floor. Her eyes are closed in a dream, in a nightmare, in a reality that is no longer real.
She slumbers on as her hands dislocate the left leg from what remains of the doll.
(There is a knife. It gleams beautifully against the dim lights. She clings onto her china doll desperately, feverishly. He advances with slow steps and asks once more for it and would she give it to him please? He’s only taking it to the shop.
Lies. He has a knife in his hand and it’s coming down on her, it’s coming down…
She’s wrong. The woman’s lips are neither cherry red nor wine red.
She tastes copper on her mouth and thinks of crimson red—the red of blood and murder and secrets that are never told.)
When there is nothing left to take apart, she sleepwalks back to her seat by the seamstress table. Her arms close around air, in memory of where there once used to be a doll, and before that, long before that, a man whom she loved very, very much.
She picks up the eyeball off of the floor with gentle fingers and murmurs soft regrets to the air.
Hinamori knows this ritual all too well.