The Glass Coffin

Lucas Southworth


This is Lady Monroe’s punishment: the strange outer landscape, the round table, the single chair. In the afternoon, the sun bakes, and Lady Monroe strips down to nothing. She sits for long stretches, her face buried in her arms. When it finally begins to cool, the light falls at a perfect angle, turning her glass coffin into a house of mirrors. Tonight, the sun retreats from the sky, and Lady Monroe stares deep into her own reflection. It’s been a long time since she’s looked at herself. Maybe a month, maybe a year, maybe more. New lines creep from the corners of her eyes, new ridges cut into her cheeks. In this coffin, Lady Monroe has no age, only the decay of her own body. The wrinkles, the sunken eyes, the chapped and gray lips. They are what prove to her that time still passes. They are what hint at how long she’s been here.

Outside, purple clouds race against a maroon sky. The rocky landscape that always undulates into the distance, undulates violently into the distance. Far off, dark mountains rise like shadows. Bolts of lightning flash down to meet them. Lady Monroe’s image hovers before her on the glass. It smiles. It runs its tongue over crooked teeth. There used to be a time when she gazed at these teeth in other mirrors, wondering whether she had the courage to cut them out. Whether she could teach herself to smile without opening her lips. But she doesn’t think about these things anymore. She’s learned not to.

When a motor begins to whir, Lady Monroe doesn’t jump. She knows that soon a slit will open in the wall and a robotic arm will stretch itself out. It will place a cardboard container in the center of the table, then retreat faster than it came. Lady Monroe never rushes to her food anymore. She never craves the moment of eating. Hunger doesn’t gnaw at her stomach. Sometimes she’ll even let meals pile up until they spill over onto the floor. And if she does eat, it’s because even she has moments when living seems like the right thing.

The sun continues to set, and Lady Monroe’s reflection dulls on the glass. Her body is so skinny, her ribs clearly visible. Her breasts and hips sag, leaving marks on the skin. She watches her image slide into the same ratty pants, the same oversize shirt. Then she sits at the table, punctures the cellophane with a spoon, rips the cellophane back. Inside, the slop is frozen and brown, too thick to be liquid or soup, too thin to be anything else. Sometimes it tastes like chocolate, sometimes fruit. Always it lingers on the tongue like chalk. Lady Monroe eats without pleasure or disgust, without anger or guilt, without any aim of filling herself. Above, cameras hang from the ceiling, their red lights blinking. Since being locked here, Lady Monroe hasn’t revealed a single thing. She hasn’t spoken a word, and except the rare moments when she’s eating, she doesn’t really move at all. She doubts anyone continues to watch her. But if their aim was to kill, Lady Monroe wants to show them what they’ve accomplished.

For a long time, Lady Monroe’s mind used to torture itself. She suspects this is why they brought her here in the first place. But in the coffin, she’s learned to close her eyes, wrap herself in a tumbling dark, sever the past, shed all things. Memories no longer strangle her, and when her thoughts turn forward, she sees a boy she’s woven and continues to weave. A tall, thin boy, with long, sharp fingers. A boy pursued by nightmares. A boy who talks in his sleep, and who, like her, has one front tooth overlapping the other. Lady Monroe’s boy doesn’t care about his own body. Nor does he care about the bodies of others. This allows him to do dangerous things. He can murder. He can take a knife and slit a girl’s face from temple to chin. He can work his fingers into that cut, pulling the skin free, stretching it until it’s taut and the girl’s nose and chin have flattened. It’s these moments when Lady Monroe envies the boy. She likes how he can take things from others. How he suffers no guilt, or any feelings at all. In this way, she hopes, he is like her. He is like the people who built this coffin and locked her here. But Lady Monroe barely remembers them anymore. Most of the time, she barely remembers herself. For her, there’s only the boy. And Lady Monroe holds onto him as long as she can, embracing him until his image cracks in the hot sun and she sleeps.