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The Girl in the House

She holds Millicent’s body and passes her hand over the kitten’s eyes, closing them on blackness, opening them again.

She reaches up to her own eyes, then: feels them hard and dry, cold as glass, faceted. Ommatidia. So many pictures of the same thing.

She runs her hand over Millicent’s flank and feels how thin the kitten is, how flat, how her fur really feels like vellum. She listens for the endless chuckle. She begins to count back, from ten thousand, the number of steps she’s taken from the door of the train platform. She sniffs the air.

There’s water here.

The Girl in the House

She’s writing every name she knows with her finger on the dirt floor of eight South twelve Down. She looks up to see a kitten.

It stumbles–adorably–and tests the floor with one paw. She laughs and waves at it; it doesn’t react.

She picks it up. Its heart pounds. Its nametag says “Millicent.”

The girl becomes aware that Cosette is her name, properly. That Millicent, the only other living thing she’s seen, is the first thing she hasn’t needed to name. That someone else exists: someone who would replace a kitten’s eyes with marbles, to keep it stumbling forever.

The Girl in the House

Rooms are each Tomas to her, now, and doors are Kylies. She calls her left hand Chen, her right one Brandon, and the texture of the floor is Suzette. Her collection of baubles is Beauregard.

She doesn’t know where the names come from, but ever since that first scrap of paper they’ve been pouring into her. She tries to pour them, to apply them, just as fast. She wants the words for everything, but names are the only words she has.

She doesn’t know the need for food, but the need to name is a hunger. She calls the hunger Cosette.

The Girl in the House

She’s eight North one West six Down, as far as she can tell, prying at cracks with the old dead ballpoint. Most of the rooms here are empty, but the floorboards almost never are: stones, tokens, coins, once a glass eye. Jackdaw gems.

Today it’s a plastic pill, one half orange and the other one clear. She opens it and out tumbles a scrap, the first piece of paper she’s seen here that wasn’t from the library. Inside, in big, quick boy’s handwriting, is written “Cosette.”

She sits, stunned and slumping. Beautifully, impossibly, horribly, she wakes to the idea of names.

The Girl in the House

The stone basin is inaudible outside this room, but inside it’s a perfect laughing gurgle: cool and sweet, endless, out the tap and down the drain forever. She blocked it up once to flood the room, but it just sank through the floorboards. Even in the room that should have been directly beneath it, there was no sign of a leak.

She chose it as the center of the map she’s drawing, quill ink onto sheets of soft vellum torn from the empty books. The basin wall is north. The room’s a square, labelled “Water Here.”

She never gets thirsty anymore.