Immaculate Deception

“Ugh, that place smells! Why don’t they just tear it down?”

“Yeah, that crap shack is a bio hazard. Disgusting.”

“I heard the witch inside won’t let anyone near it.”

“A witch?”

“Yep. Gray hair, scary face, webs in the downstairs, the whole deal.”

They all laugh and I cackle along with them.  The guilt eats at me though. I want to tell the truth. I want to make them understand, but what would be the point? Instead I wave at them from Mr. Pearson’s yard until my classmates become dots on the street. This is high school, and the first year I’ve had friends—I can’t let them find out the truth.

Leaves rake through my hair as I cut through Mr. Pearson’s backyard, around Ms. McDowell’s hedges, and pop up in front of that dilapidated house with the evil stench.  I put my hair up in a braid before knocking on the door. It was a trick my mom taught me back when she still went outside—keeps the smell out, she used to say.  I knock again and wait for her to come to the door. No keys to the house. My mom doesn’t have any either so one of us has to stay in the house at all times, to protect it. When I was younger I didn’t get it, but the way my classmates talk about the place . . . who knows? We could come back and the whole thing could be on fire. Sometimes I wonder though.

* * * *

“Sorry hun, I didn’t hear you. I was trying to organize your grandfather’s room. Almost got to the closet today.”

“That’s great, Mom. I know how hard that must have been.”

“Thank you, sweetie.”

I want to hug her but my nose begins to scrunch from the smell. My mom notices and ushers me inside, then quickly shuts the door.

“I got you some new air fresheners too,” Mom says as she puts wisps of her gray hair back into a bun.

“You went outside today?”

“I wish,” she says with a laugh. She also tells me there’s food in the fridge, but I’ll be on my own because it always takes so long to organize grandfather’s things.

I make myself some cereal and make my way into my room, spraying a trail of Febreze behind me as I go. Things used to be worse when my grandfather was alive—at least that’s what my mother tells me.  I don’t remember much about him.  I only know that after he died, my mom’s hair went from a nice auburn to a steel gray, and that it was also right around the time that group of raccoons died under our house. Something must’ve poisoned them good. One of grandfather’s experiments gone bad, my mom says.  My grandfather saw himself as many things—doctor, inventor, scientist—but from what I’ve heard from other people and the look my mom gets on her face when I bring him up, he was a manipulative and cruel man.

The light flickers in my room, dancing along the stained walls.

“I’m okay,” Mom shouts.

She must have tripped on one of Grandfather’s old traps. Grandfather is the reason we have so many rules for the house and why it looks the way it does, but he also made me. Got to take the good with the bad, my mom always says.

I finally get around to emptying my backpack after a lengthy bout of wall-stain hypnosis. This used to be my mom’s room when she was my age. Kept it the cleanest in the house, but everything else just kept pushing through. Smells and ooze seeping in through the walls no matter what she did. I try not to imagine the bursting garbage bags and piles of plastic and rubber near melting. The empty bags of frozen food, beer bottles, and old toy boxes, the walls of newspapers and old electronic equipment, smelly old mattresses and who knows what else, or what caked these walls. The computer parts? Car batteries? Toxic sludge? The rancid air still lingers, no matter the ten years of air freshening and garbage disposal my mom put in. There’s not enough money or time in the world to make this place truly livable, because Grandfather (and maybe even the house itself) like it this way.

* * * *

I lied again.  Jeez, it’s awful.

The sun rises as I toss the braid from my hair and try to look as normal as possible.  I didn’t even say goodbye to my mom before I left. Probably because she would know. Her soft, understanding face would crinkle until it matched her prematurely gray hair and she’d ask me what I did. It’s not worth all that, is it? I made my choice, or so I reassure myself as I go to meet my friends at 7/11 almost half an hour earlier than usual.

“You’re finally joining us for repro bio this year?” one asks me.

“I don’t know,” another says. “I think it’s pretty cool to sit in study hall instead of watch some chick from the seventies give—”

“Don’t ruin it for her!”

They laugh, I smile. I tell them the good news that yes, this year I’ll be joining them for the reproductive health lecture in biology. We chat some more and I try to avoid the achy feeling in my stomach from faking mom’s signature on top of the Slurpee machine this morning.

* * * *

I’d rather be in study hall.

So far, the class has covered all the stuff my mom already told me—sperm fertilizes egg, et cetera—except with more visuals. I waited patiently through the birthing video and awareness talk for Ms. Bells to get to how I was born. Finally we got to adoption, the IVF video and then, nothing. Not even a statistical representation for how I was conceived. Was I angry? Was I confused? Did I somehow want to justify my grandfather’s work? It’ hard to pinpoint the exact reason my hand shot up and I decided to humiliate myself in front of my entire class, but when Ms. Bells points at me I can’t help but explain.

“Ms. Bells, I think—I mean, I know you’re forgetting something. What happens when—it usually happens in a younger, um . . . What happens when an egg duplicates itself?”

The tension in the room is palpable, but I can’t stop talking. I explain my biology the way my mom explained it to me and my grandfather explained it to her. The greatest scientific discovery, a miracle. See, the cells began to divide and produce, but with no male DNA, it—um, me—the fetus would end up being an exact copy of the mother, like a clone: exact DNA match, female, et cetera.

Ms. Bells rings her hands. My classmates stare at me, mouths like gutted fish. I sit back down and Ms. Bells goes through the STD notes and questions again, in an attempt to get my classmates to look at her instead of boring their eyes into me. But I’m telling the truth. How else would my mom and I look so alike? How else would we be a perfect blood and DNA match in every way? Why else would we be only fifteen years apart? Science is on my side, it has to be. I even sneaked into my grandfather’s room and grabbed my blood work and birth certificate while my mom was sleeping, just to prove my assertions, but I can’t bring myself to share those things with the rest of the class.

Ms. Bells asks me to stay afterwards. I knew that was coming. A part of me wants to explain my outburst, but instead I push the manila folder at her.

“I’m telling the truth,” I say.

She pauses and looks through the folder. “Sweetie, I know you weren’t supposed to be in this section of class today but I want everyone to really understand how our biology works, and what you’re talking about . . . it doesn’t make any sense.” Ms. Bells shuts the folder and tries to put her hand on top of mine. I pull away and repeat that I’m telling the truth. Everything spills out as I try to justify my existence.  I defend the dead raccoons under the house and the remnants of old garbage. Cry out that my mom is not a witch, just that everything was taken from her and the stress ate at her until—

Now the tears start to come.

Ms. Bells closes the folder. “You’re right, this is a very unusual circumstance and you’re very brave. You know what this tells me? It tells me two things. First, given your mom’s age at the time this was signed, there had to be a legal guardian present. And second of all, unfortunately there is only one scientific explanation for these results.”

“What are you saying?”

Ms. Bells tries to grab my hand but I pull it away, “You know what, why don’t you tell your mom to call this number when you see her and I’ll check in with you guys later this week.” Ms. Bells passes me a sticky note and I slink out of the classroom.  Out of earshot, I dial the number.

“Hello, Milo’s Home and Foundation Repair. This is Dan.”

“Hi, um, Ms. Bells told me to, um—”

“Riiight, you must be the kid. Ms. B said that was an emergency, so we already sent a team out.”

“Already what? Oh NO!”

*   *  *   *  *

“I think I figured out how them ‘coons got in. This cheap siding around the base is hiding a pretty deep crawl space.”

“How come they couldn’t get back out then? Those critters are pretty smart.”

“I know sir, so me and the guys figured, hey, the siding was to hide that this use to be a mobile home, so maybe they go caught under these ancient wheels or something—”

“All of ‘em?”

“No, I—”

“Son, get to the point.”

“Well, main thing is, the place isn’t going to stay up for long. We jacked it up and put in blocks just so we could see down there and the whole thing started crumbling.”

“How long we got?”

“Not very, and it gets worse.”


One of the men hands over a filmy plastic bag. Inside rest a pair of silver wire-rimmed glasses.

“Don’t suppose no ‘coon was wearin’ these, huh? Anybody know where the ladies of the house ran off to?”