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My Mistress

God rest her weary soul, my mistress would be horrified, simply beyond the pale, to see them come busting into her house, a whole band of ruffians, with blasting loud saws and tearing metal contraptions rolled in on casters. Ripping through her pretty house with the French lace curtains at every window. Lace woven with hot air balloons. She washed them by hand in the sink. They cannot be replaced. The factory in Lyon burnt down some decades ago. Out loud she called it very suspicious.

This band of rough men took her house clear down to the studs. Walls with delicate wallpaper torn away, as if a fire had gutted the place.

My mistress kept it painted pristine white on the outside, with a crisp Dutch blue for the louvered shutters and the door. I expected it would go on like that forever. Along with a replica, in miniature, set in the ground on stakes next to her high front stoop. A replica down to the exact number of mullioned windows. In there the postman dropped her mail.

I move through this house feeling a dread I simply can’t contain. Often I break down crying. The doorframes were my particular special place. I liked to huddle and listen while my mistress sat at the round table, also covered in lace, to read the cards.

So many people brought their lives. Usually sad. But my mistress tried to look on the bright side for their sake. And, frankly, she was nobody’s fool. She knew they had to leave on a good note so she made sure to contact the spirits she sensed felt benevolent on the particular day.

After all, it was these life stories that kept the bacon sizzling in the pan. My mistress had to justify the fifty bucks they handed over.

I often wondered why she never summoned me. From my daily listening practice, I became quite adept at this fortune telling. Sometimes when I felt she was taking it down a wrong path, say when she was feeling less than up to snuff, I would try and contact her but she had somehow blocked me.

Maybe she felt us living under the same roof was a conflict of interest. Though she never saw me. My mistress was a fair and decent woman though that husband of hers was another story. Drank himself dry. When they took him away his body looked like a squeezed-out dishrag.

Shortly after, my mistress had three of her teeth capped gold. I questioned that choice. It moved her into a different category. Less centered, perhaps, in the views of the more traditional people who came to seek her guidance. I worried she would lose income. And how would she brush now that all the toothpastes were high-powered whitening.

Somehow, my mistress managed the teeth and the clients fine. Life was rolling along. The painters did a touch up on the exterior in the fall and the grass was never greener from all the nightly rain.

My own feelings of contentment were high.

When out of nowhere, my mistress developed a frown that wouldn’t go away. Her forehead gathered like cloth in deep folds. Long lines from her nostrils to her lips left an indent in that softly rounded face.

A lovely morning dawned. People rang the doorbell, finally checking their phones to see if they had the right day. Turning then, moving away down her path. That went on ‘til suppertime. She never came down.

The house in miniature was chucked in a dumpster. A porta-john painted orange is now enthroned on the lawn.

I have remained in this damp, barren place. Young couples have moved through these rooms looking. They wear black and pierce themselves with silver. One young woman had black wings.


Susan Isla Tepper is an award-winning poet, fiction writer, essayist and playwright. The author of ten published books, her current projects are two plays in production and a novel due out late this year. Tepper’s work has been published worldwide for over twenty years, nominated nineteen times for the Pushcart Prize, and received a Pulitzer Prize Nomination for a novel that was adapted into her stage play The Crooked Heart, in addition to other awards and honors.