Fiction Friday: The Pleasures of the Borden Family Massacre

The Pleasures of the Borden Family Massacre

Matt Athanasiou


Lizzie Borden took an axe / And gave her mother forty whacks. / And when she saw what she had done / She gave her father forty-one. –Popular rhyme concerning the Borden family murders.


The rhyme on the cover of the brochure suggests she saw what she had done, but did she foresee the bed and breakfast and museum her childhood house would become, a roadside attraction, a haunt of orbs in windows, a home for the neighbors’ ghosts as well? Or is the real question, as the price chart on the second page details, which quarters you should bunk in for the night?

The third page offers a heck of deal and a heck of a photo: For little over two hundred dollars, for little more than your mind at odds, maybe you would enjoy Father’s room to Abby’s, Stepmother’s. Mother never received her forty slashes, and Stepmother hemorrhaged from twenty-one or twenty-two fewer, but specific contusions, particulars of skull fragments, trifles about a severed spine can be ironed out in the bed sheets, of which are cleaned, pillows fluffed, graying carpet vacuumed daily for everyone’s convenience. Father’s blue-green wallpaper and its ornate bone-white patterns need a scrubbing, is a touch dusty, but occupants have claimed if you lean close, crush your nose right up against those skeletal lines, slack-jawed grimaces appear.

Beneath this description, another promising option that begins: Uncle Morse’s room may sound cozier, though, underlit, a headboard slanted forward, grating bedsprings, less costly than father’s. Father’s fame, where you’ll most want to acquaint yourself with him, truly lays on the couch, lays by the new hatchet and plaque that adorn the cushions where he was discovered, eleven gashes, a crushed cranium, a lacerated eye.

Options the description reads. More alternatives, more pictures, more lines that say: Why settle for Uncle Morse’s, when Emma’s can be combined with sister Lizzie’s, forming a suite? The window beside the bed welcomes a gander, while your profile reflects in the mirror, as it did Emma’s when she gazed outside too, her possibly thinking about an upcoming vacation, about Lizzie returning early, perusing drugstore aisles, denied the purchase of bane. Will your face crease and pale, hair part for a slash of flesh, lashes darken, and will Emma’s reflection be glaring back, pointing at that unknowable something hanging over your head? A premonition? Some have said, some have.

The next page is devoted to your attention, to your desires because: Really, if you join Emma and Lizzie’s rooms, reason permits you should sleep beneath infamous sheets, the entire grounds for house tours from one until three. Snoop through the bedside drawers, the pink cabinets. Find the groove in the wood she furrowed with her fingernail, that notch that deepened with her sharpened dreams, mayhap fantasizing of notches severing the good-for-nothing, yet, relationship she and Emma prolonged with parent and stepparent. Maniacs and devils, men with stained shirts and sharp weapons and woes for the poor Miss Borden are killers. True and testified words. So be at ease, let that imagination creep a bit more.

The ensuing page is dedicated to a lesser known yet as valuable room and adds: Perhaps you want an intimate night in Bridget the maid’s bed, on that deafening mattress she claims she had been while she never heard a scream, a scuffle, a whack of a body striking the sofa, the floor. Perhaps you knew Lizzie had been acquitted, always knew the maid seemed to know more about Lizzie burning a dress, why the hatchet was missing a handle and blood. Bridgett might even share the niceties as she lurks behind the white lace drapes on a drafty night, you tucked in with the flowery quilt resting on your throat.

The disclaimer on the back page adds a benign warning: Despite the facts and dodgy details, despite groaning stairways, flicking lights, silhouettes stalking by the corners of eyes, you will stay with your friends, your lovers, sleeping on linen others have sweated on, ruminated on, bled on. In the suggestion box you will leave a leaflet with a checkmark above the statement telling how you slept: As if someone had taken an axe / and guarded the bedroom door.


Matt Athanasiou’s writing has appeared in Menda City Review, New Myths, Danse Macabre, and elsewhere.


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