Marta’s all smiles now. Smiles and knee-length skirts, pink lipstick, and surprisingly cheap bottles of wine.
As a present, Meg has taken to bringing a thousand dollar bottles, just to show her what life can be about. She views it as an investment.
Marta’s growing into the money. When she opens the door, she’s wearing a very expensive blouse.
The eerie portrait of Grandad is no longer staring at Meg when she walks down the hallway. She thinks it’s disrespectful. She thinks, she really hated that portrait.
Meg sits down on the velvet couch, a remnant of a different lifetime. “It suits you,” she says. She tilts her head and smiles her easy smile.
The rest of the family isn’t allowed to set foot into the house. Marta says she prefers to be done with them away from home.
Them. Not you.
She gives money to charity but she keeps that house.
It shifts under her influence.
Marta plants flowers near the fence, she changes carpets and she redoes the ceiling in Harlan’s old room. She keeps saying everything’s hanging on by a thread, and she wants to redo the bathroom and the creaky stairs, and she has to fix the leaky kitchen sink.
“That’s the purpose of rooms,” Meg interjects. “To decay and to change and to crumble under your care.”
She opens up the bottle, heavy in her hands, the cost of it like a month’s rent, and she smiles through it too.
Marta’s you shouldn’t have sounds dangerously close to you can’t afford to.
She watches Marta’s delicate hands pour the wine.
There’s a bitterness about her that wasn’t there before. There’s a calculated poise to her words, and it fits with this new woman.
The corners of her mouth tip up, and when she catches Meg looking, she blushes, swallows around the embarrassment, and laughs around her next sentence.
Her accent has gotten better with the years, and she got better with her words. Thrombey’s definition of better. Crueler.
Marta smiles through it, her teeth stained white, impossibly angelic. She opens up another bottle of wine, the one she bought for herself.
Meg grins back.
Meg’s invitations still arrive in the mail. She likes the fanfare, she learns to deflect. She’s made up of lies now. She’s a Thrombey but not really, a rich kid but not quite, a good person, if good was nice and nice was calculated.
She’s becoming her mother.
Marta’s sister is a painter and Meg’s pretty sure she saw her works in Prague. She remembers spending her last thousand on an orange monolith in acidic green grass. She saw Marta there too. The cut of her red suit left her collarbones exposed. She looked exactly like everyone else there.
She thinks about Marta in that big house.
Meg thinks about her standing on the balcony, when the very axis of the earth shifted. She thinks about the dogs barking in the night and Marta in her cold bed, limbs stretching across crispy sheets.
Marta’s wine, the cheap acidic kind, burns down her throat. It’s the same brand Meg’s mother bought on sad nights (and hot days, and lazy mornings, and, and). She would put on dolphin documentaries and down it from enormous glasses.
It’s the wine Meg's first gotten drunk on.
She watches Marta’s mouth with a particular consideration now. She watches for proof that their palettes are aligned, that what reads as terrible to her, burns Marta’s mouth. It matters that her mouth feels like Meg’s.
She doesn’t like Marta in that house.
Maths stands up, pulls on her skirt with one hand. She doesn’t have to. She’s just taking up space.
Meg can feel her skin prickle.
It’s the way Marta leans on the table. Taps her fingers gravely. Twice. Like calling something into life.
It’s her ease in a space that doesn’t belong to her but bends around her nonetheless.
Meg stands up too. Her mother once told her, over dinner, over wine, “You have to keep yourself closer than where they want you.”
Marta’s eyes snap to hers.
Meg knows what she looks like. She knows the promise of her eyes like this, the slowness of her walk that makes it all the more deliberate. Marta’s eyes follow the movement, a bit less grace, a bit less restraint this time.
She wants to know if Marta still falls for this, or if she knows better. If she knows and allows for it anyway. She touches Marta’s knees, she pushes them apart, calm and sure of herself.
Marta lets her. Maybe she’s making a point of this, to the family and to herself. Maybe, some things cancel each other out, and if she still drinks cheap wine she can make this not matter.
Meg hikes up her skirt, her fingers like hooks, her breath even.
The house is old, it can’t change its nature. But Marta’s young and empty, waiting for life to fill her up to the brims.
She’s rich too, so there’s all this empty space. These rooms were designed for people, parties and warmth, and she never uses them. That’s what Harlan left her with. Everything kind and soft in her, the house replaces with an empty stare, with fingers that won’t stop making fists.
The house’s eating her alive.
Meg takes and takes, inch by unbearable inch, her fingers on the edge of Marta’s skirt, she pulls. An inch higher, it’s just more skin, more of the same: smooth, translucent, and untouchable.
You keep yourself closer than where she’d want you.
Meg plants her hand on the cold expanse of Marta’s thigh, and the muscle underneath jumps up at the contact, Marta’s face flushing with an ungodly shade of pink.
It makes Meg come up for breath. It makes her fingers into a fist, nails catching at the tender skin. Marta’s mouth is set into a thin line and her grip on the table is all white knuckles. Her other hand comes up to the back of Meg’s neck.
She’s everything a person can dream of being. She’s kind and she’s rich and she gives and when she pulls at Meg’s hair, she’s ruthless.
Her hand between Marta’s legs, Meg looks up. She wants to witness it: how Marta justifies every inch to herself. How she thinks it won’t matter to anyone, that she didn’t say anything. That she opened her legs wider.
As the water parts for the body, Marta becomes soft under her hand.
When Marta dyes her hair a lighter shade, she sends Meg a selfie.
Meg worries her lip. She considers the evolution of the past three years reduced to a single image. Her hair matches the oak lining perfectly.
The woman’s melting into the walls.
“It suits you,” Meg says on the way out.
The woman turns around, a flash of teeth. Even empty, Marta’s still good.