Refraction sold 1.5 million copies and was on countless covers of magazines and newspapers.
Then her band began leaving. Silenced by her management’s lawyers. Concerts became infrequent.
Removing herself from the public after her divorce, tours were cancelled. Her producer wouldn’t let her in his studio. Rumors started and the scars appeared.
Culminating at the Grammys where her first public performance became her last. A group of feminist artists reconstructed her performance using cell phone videos and various feeds released on YouTube. I watch the silent clip. She emerges beneath a glimmering chandelier like a queen. Slowed down she opens her mouth and then generates a strata of glitches edited from many angles. The chandelier bursts. Black.
Every screen shattered.
It has over one billion views.
Pitchfork called her duet with Annie Lennox: prescient.
Countless tell all books. Diva. Freak. Pariah.
Lost Confessions, an album of unreleased and live tracks was released mostly to recoup legal fees.
Lifting a thick earmuff off of the side of my head I let the Peltors rest on my neck. I sweep up the shards of glass, each fragment gathered into a pile on the cardboard lid. This was a glass sculpture of an exotic bird sent from a fan in Luxembourg. Annihilated. I will ship it tomorrow.
From behind my protective eyewear I watch her cower, head bowed in her gray shawl and her long black hair adds to the veil. A gentle hand rubs her throat over her larynx. Her other hand is held in an open palm to stop. Scars criss-cross a complex trajectory of chiromancy.
This will be all for today.
We can finish the rest tomorrow.
I say and she nods at me then looks up at the glassless oculus casting the cool November dusk into the room. Her wide alabaster face mummified in fibrosis is captured in the fading light. She turns her back to me and ascends to her ascetic quarters. Up there it is wood and concrete. Her large bed a monochromatic composition of white linens. There’s a shelf with cassettes; Kate Bush, Aaliyah, Judee Sill and some headphones. I got the job, partly because I had Hounds of Love on my phone.
I place a cardboard covering over the jagged mass and adhere our certificate of authenticity.
A candle is lit atop her stairs, its flame fades as she enters her room.
I place my clear protective eyewear and Peltors inside the cubby then open the heavy door to the garage. In here it is close to anechoic. I look over the table of glasswares sent by fans from all over the world for her to break; wine glasses, colored globes, sculptures of birds, mementos and trophies.
On the drive through the woods I listen to her sophomore album Talking Birds. On this album I am most interested in how she phrases things to the soft ambient thrum of drum machines. How human she sounds on top of the glitches and electronics in an encounter between language and her voice. Even though she was so young, she held so much power.
I stop the Volvo before her large gate and I roll down my window to listen to the silent wind.
Most mornings she writes lyrics, I file them away when she tells me they’re complete and wonder about the life of a lyric with no song. Is it a song?
I find her in the storage space. Running her hands over old costumes disturbing dust into the morning sunlight. This warm ochre light reflects off of sequins, luminescent plastics, seashells, iridescent fabrics and small robotic armatures.
I see her Walkman on the bench and inside a cassette of The Carpenter’s A Song for You. Her notepad is underneath the Walkman.
Do you know the album?
Her whisper makes my ears ring. She is behind me, her black linen robe flowing to the cement floor. I shake my head.
I would sing “Crystal Lullaby” for you—
Her murmur hangs there frozen. I hold the box lid with a tall faceted blue composition and follow her.
Each side of the sculpture cracks as she purses her lips and hovers. I can still feel the air vibrate as she hums – even with headphones. Pieces fall as she opens her mouth finding the frequency to resonate the now destroyed form. It even makes me shake.
She sips warm water and lemon from a wooden cup when she is done.
I say boxing up the splinters of glass.
Where will this go?
She inquires in a faint sigh. I check the label.
At this she nods. After the Grammy’s everyone wondered if she could choose to control her frequencies. Did she have control, was her voice a weapon? Once, we were visited by a defense contractor. He trembled the entire time.
My whole life I fought to be heard.
I apply our certificate.
My voice was me.
Lifting up a hand to me she signals she wants to stop.
Let’s take a break.
I say and she agrees.
Wandering through the building I look over long gray cement walkways at the acres of forest in the afternoon. I straighten her kitchen. Clean the old wineskins.
In the oculus I see if she is ready. It is empty. At the top of the stairs she appears holding a candle in the shadows.
Do you want to do some more?
I need to write.
She says, shakes her hood and then turns toward her room. I take the packages and deposit my eyewear and headphones in my cubby.
At the edge of the property I stop the Volvo before her large gate and roll down my window. On the early evening breeze I hear her voice faintly on the wind. Ethereal as it fades. While on the windshield a slight exquisite crack opens, spreads and then stops.
I can’t delete the messages on the machine.
I visit the house and do the same things. Clean the pool. Swiffer the floor. Easy. Wait for the lawyer.
I listen to the inside of the empty house. The toilet filling. The fridge turns on, circulating the refrigerant, buzzing across the tile.
Lonely. There’s not much left that was from my mother’s former life. No furniture. No food. Nothing. My sisters divided it all and, unlike our mother’s cancer, removed everything.
After work I open the doors to the lanai and go out to the pool. I’ll strip down and swim. I’ll rest my arms on the damp sides of the pool and watch the sun go behind the palm trees and mangroves. There’s not much rebellion to skinny dipping in your dead mother’s pool.
In the yard I’m naked or in my panties and checking to see if the lawn company had come. They always do. Or I can’t tell if they didn’t. The grass is short, the trees trimmed, fruit missing from the branches but always enough for me to take something home.
I always listen to the six messages on the machine before I leave. Half of them are mine, the others broken down as silence, maybe 5 minutes of silence. I listen to all of it. Then there’s the robotic voice about her prescription being ready at Walgreens. The one she wouldn’t get. And then a wrong number. That’s it. I leave. I get to my car and I think maybe I won’t go back tomorrow. But I do.
The next day after swimming I walked through the backyard. I noticed a mass on the side of the house. An enlarged cocoon embedded into the sun-weathered stucco at eye level. I looked at it from all sides, it didn’t move. I couldn’t see inside of its hardened sides. I touched it gently with my fingertips. Warm. Like an insect’s carapace it didn’t give. I could feel it pulsing beneath my touch.
I forgot to call the lawn service the next day. I stood in the pool. Looking at the patches of blue sky emerging from beneath gray clouds through the lanai screen. Orbs of webs span the support beams, being busily built by spiny orbweavers. Orbs waving in the light evening breeze like transparent ovoids guarded by primordial creatures.
Wet and naked I wandered back out into the yard. I picked off an armload of mangoes. A few were ravaged open displaying their orange flesh to the air. Raccoons. Ants had found these and crawled through the fruit. When I turned the corner I saw the cocoon, larger and paler now. Metastasized. Before it was maybe the size of my hand now it was a shoulder’s width. The brown shell had softened and turned paler. I leaned in and saw breaks in the cuticle, white flesh exposed. I dropped the fruit. Through my two hands I absorbed its warmth and felt it pulse.
Inside I stood in the bare living room. Put my clothes back on and searched my phone for large cocoons, but nothing in Florida looked like this. I pressed the play messages button on the house phone and heard my own voice echo through the kitchen and over the tiles into every room.
The next day I brought a shovel from work. I didn’t swim. I stalked through the house afraid to open the door to the lanai. But I did. I watched the sun turn the pool bright resort blue. I didn’t remove my clothes for a swim but walked out the screen door into the backyard. I stepped over the rotting half-eaten fruits.
It had grown, it was my size now. Its shell mottled blood brown and yellow chicken skin, gnawed on by something – raccoon, possum, something. I grabbed it on the bottom with both hands and it was warm and sticky. The surface heaved malignant. It breathed as I placed my face near it. I made out a body inside. I picked up the shovel from the ground and shook off the fire ants. I tried to jimmy the shovel between the enlarged cocoon and the stucco wall. I couldn’t get it in there.
Back in the house I drank cold water from the spigot and washed my face as I listened to the old message from Walgreens.
Your prescription is ready.
Echoing off the bare orange walls. We would never get it, maybe it is still there waiting to be picked up.
Outside the pool undulated fragments of the sunset, pink, gray and blue. I waited until the darkness came.
The next evening the lawyer had some paperwork for me to sign.
Can I show you something?
He follows me outside. His loafers in the grass as he looks around the backyard with his dumb tan face in his bright red golf shirt – not even a suit. Idiot.
It’s gone. He looks at me like I’m crazy. I run my hand over the pitted crater of brown crust. I see a trail in the grass into the heavy trees. Whatever it was hatched and escaped.
Pressure-wash the house before we put it on the market.
And he’s gone. I stand in the house and watch the red lights of his Audi pull out of the driveway.
Naked I wield the shovel chipping away at the remnants of the cocoon. I let the fire ants bite my calves before jumping in the pool to escape the pain. Holding my breath I sink to the bottom. I miss whatever it was that grew on the house.
With the press of one button I delete all six messages then close and lock the door.
From inside my car, the windows fog up in the humid Florida night. Outside, the house I grew up in shifts to a blur in my headlights. I turn to my passenger seat and see a blank face bulbous and wide peering through me.
Author Terence Hannum is a Baltimore based writer, visual artist and musician who performs solo, with the avant-metal band Locrian (Relapse Records) and the dark synthpop duo The Holy Circle. Hannum is an Assistant Professor of Art at Stevenson University. He has had exhibitions at Guest Spot (Baltimore), Western Exhibitions (Chicago, IL), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, TSA (Brooklyn, NY), Allegra La Viola (NYC). His writing has appeared at BmoreArt.com, the Baltimore City Paper, Noisey (Vice) and his first novella Beneath the Remains will be published by Anathemata Editions.