“20 G’s, can you believe?” Mrs. Digby jabbed her finger at her face in a harsh point. The sunglasses—diamond-encrusted with gold trim, lenses a pink ombré—glinted in the sun, which I swear, up here in the Tops, is candied. Like at any moment a warm ray might unravel into spun sugar. Sometimes, while working at Mrs. Digby’s, I have to fight the urge to point my mouth toward the sky, stick out my tongue, and wait for the sun to dissolve. In my neighborhood—the Runoff—light takes on a strained blue tinge. It sits on our skin like a cold wet towel. But by the time my commute brings me to the Digby stables, the sun is honeyed again and the air flutters warm. Every morning, at 8:30 exactly, I saddle Pumpkin—Mrs. Digby’s favorite mini-pony—and begin toward the mansion.
Mr. Digby was sliding into luxury car #3 when I arrived that day. I caught a glimpse of his rumpled sweatsuit—gaudy, some brand name all over it—and noticed it was the same one he was wearing yesterday. A few days ago, Mrs. Digby—in one of her babbling fits (which were a new and increasing occurrence)—told me that he got (these two words uttered in a choked whisper) “let go” from the firm. His stubble looked despairing; he had a forlorn zit on his forehead. As he shut the car door, he blared, to no one, or maybe to luxury car #2: “Hah, it’s Pony Girl and Blumpkin!” He burst into his glottal gurgle-laugh, revved the engine, and left a tire mark on the stone-laid driveway as he peeled off. The mark was tar-black, but it looked red. Mrs. Digby would probably get it power washed, even though it was just cleaned on the 12th.
The front door—an enormous hulk of dark-stained wood—heaved open. Mrs. Digby appeared as it swung wide. In the door’s shadow, she looked like a disheveled apparition, a ghost unwillingly summoned to a realm it didn’t wish to live in. She was still in her silk pajamas, which had a stain marring the otherwise pristine white collar. Wine, maybe. She had slipped on an extravagant necklace, some bracelets, and a few rings, which made her look like she had been caught in the middle of looting herself. The stones were brilliant; kaleidoscopic shimmer refracted in the big one near her brittle-looking clavicle. It seemed as if its glittering capital were collapsing in on itself, light catching and reflecting in each cut unceasingly, nauseatingly. And the sunglasses—diamond-encrusted with gold trim and a rose ombré—hid her eyes, which I saw unadorned the other day for the first time since the 12th. They’d sunken into the hollow of herself, dark circles swallowing her pupils, irises, the whites like I imagine a pearl is consumed by a spectral murk when the clam is grudgingly shut. She stiffened upon seeing the mark on the driveway. “Oh, god. I’ll have to get that power washed again.”
Mrs. Digby beckoned me wildly. “Come in, come in dear—oh don’t worry about Pumpkin, bring Pumpkin inside, it’s fine it’s fine, really just come in it’s fine—oh hi my little Pumpkin, oh hi my sweet girl—ok, follow me—listen, just ignore the mess, I let the housekeeper go, I’m not really sure why, she was such a sweet woman, wasn’t she? Had you ever met Sharon? So sweet, really—but the way she was cleaning, cleaning everything—and so thoroughly—I just couldn’t take it anymore, living in a place so clean, I don’t know, I guess I just feel… I mean, listen, she even tried to—to go—to go into—well—you know, his room and I just—I couldn’t believe she would even go near it—that’s weird right? Indecent, right? So, ok, listen, I’m not going to have you out back with Pumpkin today—oh, yes, hi my sweet girl, my sweet little pony—I need you to do me a favor, ok? You’ve been working for me for so long, I really trust you, I really do, ok? And you signed that NDA when you started, but that’s no matter, this is about trust—I trust you and I can’t think of anyone else to do this. It’s just a little favor, just this once; here, come here, over here—” Mrs. Digby led me to Mr. Digby’s study, where a laptop sat on a grand desk. “Ok, so, here, I’ll take Pumpkin, you sit down, and I need you to find this, um, this video from the outdoor camera, the one above the front door so you can see the—well, the, uh, driveway—and, you know, there’s this footage from that day that I can’t—uh, don’t want to—view and I just need you to—to find it and delete it.”
Mrs. Digby’s mouth had gone dry and sticky. I watched her lick her lips.
“So, you know—I believe it’s the footage from the 12th.”
She spun on her velvet loafer and shut the door, leaving me in the computer’s cascade of chilly light.
The curtains were drawn. A weak lamp shone in the corner. When my eyes adjusted, I saw red. Burgundy, crimson, garnet, cherry: carpet, rug, books, chair—I felt like I was inside of a mouth. I started to rise to open the curtains but faltered a bit, knocking over a picture frame. I grabbed it, relieved the glass hadn’t shattered, and placed it back on the desk. It was a portrait of the Digby’s, or what used to be the Digby’s. William’s pale round face cut through the dim. He was seated between Mr. and Mrs. Digby, their faces free of acne, stubble, dark circles, ghostliness. The picture looked recent; he must have been nine. It probably wasn’t taken long after I dressed Pumpkin up as a spaceship for his birthday.
I sat in a creeping stillness. William watched me. How lonely he must have been dying in his room that day, the 12th. I remembered walking up to the mansion, seeing a tarp on the driveway, and before I could take a good look at it to guess what was underneath, Mrs. Digby sprinted out of the house, hysterical. She was weeping, shaking, shrieking about some congenital heart defect I didn’t know William had. He was dead, she told me, irreversibly so. A shiver prickled up my forearm. I snatched my hand back from the portrait and, when I did, my knuckle hit the keypad and the video began.
There was no sound and it was timestamped: 08:41:04AM, the 12th. Mrs. Digby must have watched up until this point. The back of luxury car #1 was in the corner of the frame. The video was empty of subject; it was all background: tree leaves flittered, grass blades undulated, a bird flew in then out of frame. Haltingly, like the world was too timid to carry out the orders, snow began to fall. It was the first time we’d gotten snow in nearly a decade. At 8:46:32, William stepped into frame. He was in his planet pajamas, his ears tucked into a big pair of headphones. He seemed to smile up at the sky. Then he laid down on the driveway in his favorite cloud/star-watching spot, right where I would later see the tarp. His ankles were crossed and his arms stretched out so he looked like a human T, but with a head. His eyes were closed, snowflakes melting on his lids. At 8:52:21, Pumpkin’s lead rope appeared, then her hoof, then she paused. I remembered pulling the rope taut. I was just out of frame, a suggestion. William opened his eyes and sat up to say hello. I recalled most of what we said as I watched his lips bob up and down, his mouth open and close, soundless like a fleshy marionette. After we greeted one another and exchanged surprise over the snow, I looked at Pumpkin and realized I forgot to put the bows in her mane that Mrs. Digby had requested. I would have to go back to the stables. I told William not to tell his mom I’d be late, and he said Mrs. Digby herself was running late to something, and would be leaving soon. I said to keep an eye out for cars, like I always did when I saw him in his spot, and hurried away with Pumpkin in tow. As my video self moved further from the clutch of the camera, I jolted back into my role as spectator in the study, watching the timestamp frantically replace itself ever upward. On the screen, William leaned back again. He turned the volume up on his headphones. He shut his eyes. I watched his chest and stomach rise and fall. A breeze ruffled his shirt. That bird flitted into view again. Quietude. Then it was 9:01:21 and William opened his mouth as the brake lights of luxury car #1 flared on and he caught a snowflake on his tongue and the car backed up with breakneck speed and the back left tire exploded his head.
Before the tire was all the way across his face, his left eye yo-yoed out of its socket, an umbilical-cord-like—an earthworm-like—tube still tethering the bloodshot sphere to his head and at the same time, sinewy whips of brain began to pop out of his skull—one long, shiny, wet strand catapulted itself through the air—it looked like a flying snake I saw on TV as a kid—and landed in a mossy patch of lawn, and the rest of William’s brain erupted into fat, egg-sized chunks that framed his fair, shattered, tire-marked face like a crown of entrails—and blood spurted from him in relentless bursts like the finale of a 4th of July firework show.
The driver’s door opened and a figure emerged then sprinted around the car and toward the wreckage that was left of William. I recognized her pink tweed skirt, her gold heels with a red bottom, and her crocodile-skin purse. Mrs. Digby. When she saw him, her body jerked backward as if flicked by a giant, invisible finger; she tripped over her stiletto and fell onto the lawn; her hand landed on the flying snake, that strand of brain that soared. She yanked her hand away, realized what it might be, and started to vomit.
I shot up from my chair. My breaths were heaves—I couldn’t get enough oxygen and also had too much—my whole body was tremoring like I was in the death-grip of my own personal earthquake—bile started to shoot up my throat. I lunged at the door, put my hand on its knob, and as I pulled, I could feel someone on the other side pushing. Mrs. Digby stumbled toward me. I jumped away. She steadied herself but, still teetering, spoke:
“Listen, I’ve changed my mind about this favor—I don’t want you to do it anymore, ok? ok? oh god, oh god, you’ve seen it. Listen, just—just—my little boy—my little prince—how could I have known he was—it doesn’t even snow here—who decided it would snow—listen, listen, I was running late—I was going to Angie’s since, you know, her husband left her and I wanted to give her something nice and I found these sunglasses and I thought they would cheer her up since they’re just like the ones she wore in Turks and Caicos, remember when we went there? And I gave you the week off? Wasn’t that so nice? To have the week off? Next time I give you the week off I’ll pay you, ok? I’ll pay you the whole time, and you’re gonna get a bonus at Christmas, ok? And—and—well, I saw these sunglasses and thought wow, how beautiful—you know? I’d want these if I’d been cheated on and left all on my own and—you know—why was it snowing? Who decided it would snow? We don’t get snow here—” tears began to roll down her cheeks, spit bubbles formed and popped on her lips “—and I picked up the glasses and asked the clerk how much and at first I said oh, god, no way am I buying her these glasses but then I remembered how much I love her—I truly love her—and him, I love him, I loved him, how could I—how could I have known—my little prince—I—I bought the sunglasses but now they’re mine because—because—I never made it to her house that day—these sunglasses—my sungla—my son—” Mrs. Digby pointed at her head, which was intact. “20 G’s, can you believe?”
We didn’t breathe. We didn’t move. We stared at one another. The sunlight from the hallway backlit Mrs. Digby; it accumulated in a strange radiance around the edges of her form. The red-stained haze of the study fell on her chest. It seemed to merge with the cloying aura of Tops light to make a bitter bluish hue. The jewel near her clavicle was lifeless. She looked like someone from the Runoff.
“Mrs. Digby,” I said. “I don’t know who decided it would snow.”
Oli Peters is an MFA candidate at the University of Notre Dame. She is based in the Midwest.