Cecily could still hear the little fan whirring, a sound that somehow underscored the silence that morning, if she thought long and hard enough about it. For all but the coldest months in the last year, Claudia had kept it going on a small fern stand next to her reading chair, more or less in line with her face. It had been a gift from the Chathams, a castoff with plenty of life left in it, but its cage misshapen here and there. A long, fabric-wrapped electric cord reached from its motor to the baseboard behind the chair, where it met a curvilinear outlet made in glossy brown celluloid. The cord’s fabric had frayed in places, but Cecil deemed it safe to use and thus sanctioned this bit of therapy for his wife.
Months earlier, Claudia’s sweats had started, and with a vengeance. In the beginning, she felt an electric bolt rip through her body, and then sensed heat and moisture coming surely enough in the folds of skin inside her elbows and behind her knees, and under her breasts. Soon, beads of sweat lined her brow and upper lip, and then a few small droplets would escape the fine hair at her temples and traverse the landscape of her smooth skin before finally reaching her jawline; the tiny, satiny ribbons left in their wake raised goosebumps on her neck, and made her shiver. Finally, as the fire within her subsided, she would draw an afghan around her shoulders, but leave the fan running. Lately, though, she noticed the sensation starting in her spine, first as nothing more than a benign warmth, but then escalating rapidly with so much fervor she imagined the very chair under her might erupt in a fiery inferno. With the little fan set to oscillate, this irksome condition was tolerable, if only just.
Cecily knew nothing of it, only that her mother had grown irritable and intolerant of childish little missteps she might have ignored only a year ago. But now, all these years later, it was not the change in her mother’s demeanor she summoned in her memory of that day, but the sound of the little oscillating fan, and then another, less familiar sound, quiet but unsettling still, the discordant whispering of friction between folds of fabric. She had been stretched out on the floor on her belly with paper and pencils and crayons at her elbow, and turned to look over her shoulder in time to notice her father Cecil’s frame stiffen unnaturally in his chair, and the newspaper he had only just held gingerly between his long fingers as he flipped its pages, now crushed between them. The eyes that had pored intently over the newsprint seconds ago now became glassy and unfocused and stared at some point on a far horizon only he could see.
And she could remember, an instant later, how her mother’s voice modulated in an unnatural way when the name CECIL exploded from her lips.
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