“We’ve called her emergency contact, Elissa Adner, and she said she’ll be here soon,” the female nurse— her dull yellowish nametag said Nua— was bantering with one of the receptionists, who seemed rather unhappy with my presence. This was mainly due to the fact that the strong sedative they’d given me had caused me to basically revert back to a child’s maturity level. I lay sprawled out, rather uncomfortably, over four of the scratchy seats, letting my back contort around the glossy arm rests. My shoes had been kicked off and my feet waggled in the face of an elderly man, who looked petrified. I grinned up at the ceiling lights and half-answered the questions directed to me,
“Miss, miss, get your feet out of that man’s face, Miss!” the frizzy haired receptionists yelled at me.
I tucked my feet under the arm rest of the man’s chair, but remained to take up four seats. “You know, they make conditioner to take care of that,” I said pointing to the man’s hair. His eyes narrowed and he sucked in his lower lip in indignation, one hand subconsciously went to flatten his hair.
“How old are you?” the receptionist demanded.
“Half you’re age, minus ten,” I replied, laughing at my joke. That’s when Nua decided to finally step in.
“Jerome didn’t tell me she was on medication,” Nua explained, she walked over to me. “Come on,” she whispered, as if she really were speaking to a child. “Let’s sit up now and wait for your mother. The sedative I gave her, reacting with her prescription, is acting as a stimulant: she’s high.” Nua threw the later part over her shoulder to the receptionist, her tone indicating that he should know better.
Nua distracted me and largely kept me from annoying the receptionist anymore, the old man in the next seat still sat quietly, looking unsure and nervous. When Mom finally appeared through the sliding door, the wind blew in the faint smell of her perfume over the chlorine and bleach. “Hello, my name is Elissa Adner, I’m looking for my daughter.” Mom leaned over to sign a discharge form— since I obviously couldn’t sign for myself. Relief flooded over me when I saw she was unharmed, she looked the same as when I’d left that morning. At this point I would have rushed up to see her, and get out of the hospital as soon as possible, but I was feeling exhausted enough to pass in the uncomfortable chair. I sort of felt like I had when I was in kindergarten, so exhausted and emotional that by the time Mom came to get me after work, I was nearly asleep. There was no room in my mind for embarrassment, which was fortunate since, under any other condition, I probably would have been mortified: being drugged and dragged away had been bad enough, but now I needed my mother to come get me.
“She’s right there.” Mom turned and saw leaning against Nua in the waiting room, with the scared old man on the other side. Her eyes welled with tears momentarily but then she pulled them back, her hair bounced in unmanaged clumps against her shoulder. Nua lifted me from my seat, not even seeming to notice all my weight against her.
“We had to give her a sedative: she assaulted one of the nurses,” Nua explained, looking solemn and not the least bit angry or disgruntled.
I could tell how stressed Mom was from her reply. She laughed breathlessly and grinned, “That’s great.” Mom wrapped her arms around me and pulled me in, I didn’t have enough control over my arms to hug her back. My head was buried against her shoulder, in her hair, and the smell of ethanol and mint filled my senses. My mind tried to process the scene and feel relieved and happy, but mostly I felt frustrated that I couldn’t move or talk properly. When Mom finally pulled me away from her she cupped my face in her hands and starred at me for a long time, studying every inch of my face. Seeing no cuts or bruises, she smiled again. “Persephone…” Mom breathed out heavily, all the while maintaining her smile. I stood dumbly, not saying or doing anything; Mom wrapped my arm around her shoulder and let me lean on her as we left the hospital.
Humid air soaked my skin the moment we exited the cool building, the night was still young and getting darker, but the street lights took away most of the shadows. For a moment I shuddered at the thought of the thing I had seen in the hospital room but with Mom beside me it seemed like a far removed dream. The smell of city fumes and human crowds of people stole away the scents of cleanliness, they smelled real and raw, like the real world. This was the real world. The real world was that someone had attacked the Canadian Parliamentary Building, and I may or may not have almost died. I liked to think that I hadn’t, and I probably hadn’t, but a small part of me admitted that I didn’t know how close I had actually come.
We pushed through the crowds of people, all going in the opposite direction, but nobody seemed to notice us. Mom’s car wasn’t very far, since she hadn’t actually parked in a parking spot, but rather the closet possible vacant area she had found. The dry, warm air of the car welcomed me as I slowly crept into the seat; some of the mobility was coming back, but little more than slow movements. Mom entered the code and her car’s engine roared to life, we had to drive carefully through the crowded parking lot, but Mom seemed impatient enough to run someone over. She kept looking over and me every few seconds, as if to check if I were really there, but we didn’t speak. After a while, even when I realized I could probably talk again, I didn’t— by that point it seemed sacrilegious to disturb the silence.
The following two days I remained motionless in my bed for most of the time, I didn’t leave my room unless I had to go to the washroom and I only ate when Mom brought up food— mostly to reassure her, I’d largely lost my appetite. It was awful, terrifying even. I didn’t have the will to do anything besides what I absolutely needed to do, and even that got pushed aside. Most of the time I lay on my right side and looked at the dark curtains battling back the daylight, particles of dust were illuminated in the crevices of light that snuck in. I hated the darkness, and I knew it wasn’t helping my mental health any, but it took nearly half a day to work up the motivation to finally get up and open the window.
I flung the curtains open in one short burst of energy, letting my arms stretch them to the ends of their rod, and after I felt exhausted again. I lay back down and stared out the window. Through the window July the tenth looked like a beautiful day, it was bright and sunny, and my perfect neighbourhood didn’t betray what had happened only two days earlier. The trees danced in the summer breeze, and at times the wind picked up enough that I could hear it through the AC in my room. Indirect sunlight warmed my face, it felt good and somehow made me feel happy. Not happy, I wasn’t able to get there yet. But something akin to happiness. At the very least I didn’t feel unhappy with the light in my face and the world behind my window.
Maybe it would be okay. I could let myself hope. Safe under my blankets, hidden in my room, I could let myself imagine a world where the guilty parties were prosecuted and nothing else came from it. Mom had told me a year after the fire had happened that we couldn’t get back to normal yet, I wondered if that would be the case now. How long would it take us? Was it too much to hope that maybe I would be able to sit this out? I should be optimistic, right? But what if I were dead wrong? I was scared and I was confused. But I was so far removed that it didn’t seem impossible.
The thing visited me in many times, and I felt the hand in my stomach as well. The thing was as it had been in the hospital: only now it wasn’t just a dream, it was with me even when I was awake. It seemed never to get too close, remaining in the back corners of the room, so that I had my back to it. It had crept up to my face once, before I’d opened the window, and I’d almost cried then. Hideous and terrifying, with its glass teeth and crater mouth. Sometimes I could feel its hot breath on me, the dripping of its saliva, my skin would crawl and my spine would arch as it ran its talons over me; it never did more than scare me though, it never physically hurt me. When I opened the window it got better, it stayed hidden. However, with my back to it, I could never relax, and at the same time I couldn’t work up the energy to roll over and protect my back.
I had a dream on my third day in bed. I was running through every place I had ever been and some I hadn’t: I never saw what was chasing me, every time I turned it disappeared, but I could always sense its presence. Its eyes were always on me, that much I knew. The scenes melted into one another, vividly real. Trees sprouted out of snow and branched into skyscrapers, twinkling street lights became rain as I walked through Little Prison, my elementary school in Sweden became the Atlantic Ocean. Smells, sounds, people, they were all memories, and I was running through them all, with someone close behind. My running was relentless, I was sweating and exhausted, but my feet never stopped pounding and I never stopped pushing; if they caught me I would die. Whenever I thought I had out run them, I would sense that presence again, and I knew I wasn’t alone anymore. A little while into the dream, I became aware that I was dreaming. I don’t know how it happened, and it wasn’t a sudden realization, but I slowly realized that nothing was real. Not Mom, not Jason, not Kohl or Lance. Not even the fuzzy shadow of a man I could sense was my dad. It wasn’t lucid dreaming, though I couldn’t control anything, and I couldn’t make myself stop running or turn around again. When I reached a cliff, finally I stopped. An endless fall, or whatever was behind me. The known, torturous death that awaited me at the bottom of that fall, or the monster that I knew would kill me as well. The presence came closer, I could hear them now. I paused. I jumped. Blackness. The thing couldn’t follow me but I was still terrified. How long would I fall? It never ended.
The sheets were wet with sweat, my hair glued to my cheeks, forehead, and neck; moonlight and lamplight shone through the window and I got the sense that something was watching me. The curtains cluttered shut, and the thing came back. It stood beside me as I fell asleep, its claw curled around my neck.
Mom saved me.
The hand subsided when I heard her voice, when her presence pierced the room the thing evaporated into the morning light.
I’d slept very little that night, my neck was stiff and my right arm had gone completely numb from lying on it for several days with little break. My lips were cracked and my brain was fuzzy. When was the last time I’d eaten? The last time I’d had a sip of water? There was a pressure against my lower abdomen, and I could feel pain slowly rising up. I began to realize my physical discomfort when my room door opened. It was as if some kind of a magic trance was broken, the silence of my room shattered.
Mom held a glass of orange juice in one hand and a small dish in the other. “They finally got your prescription,” she said, her voice was low and calm as if not to scare me away. My back was too her, but my head was lifted just enough to see her. With some effort I got up. My world turned read and I became foggy again, I had to just sit there while my brain corrected itself. I didn’t question what Mom gave me, didn’t wonder why there were four small pills on the plate instead of one. The glass was empty in a matter of seconds, and my thirst only became worse. I tasted unbrushed teeth and a drying throat.
“I’m going to take a shower,” I said.
Mom smiled. “Really?”
I nodded and she helped me up. My legs were weak but after a while I got better, and it felt good to be up.
My shower was long and cold, I wanted to shock my body awake, and I’d read that cold showers were good for the mind. I starred at the wall beside me, tracing patterns in the tiles with my index finger, as shampoo rolled from my head onto my shoulders. I let the cold water rinse out my mouth, sloshed it around my cheeks and let it travel halfway down my throat, then I emptied it down the drain. After I drank whatever water landed in my mouth, after a few minutes I felt better.
Water really was amazing.
When I got out of the shower, I properly brushed my teeth, and liked how the mint stung my tongue. When I plucked the hair that was growing in between my eyebrows, I liked that it stung a little. My hair was tucked tightly into a towel that pulled on the top of my head, and I wrapped another one around my body after running it over my limbs. The stress of the last few days had caused my skin to become blotchy, and a pimple was forming on my upper lip. My blue eyes were red rimmed and I looked like I’d been crying, though I hadn’t in several hours, and blue bags hung heavily under my eyes. It was gross. I was gross. I needed to feel better somehow.
In my room I got dressed in actual clothes, then I stripped my bed and put on completely new sheets and pillows. I opened the balcony and let in fresh air. What else was I supposed to do? Drink water, shower, get changed… Eat. I needed something to eat. Then I would go outside. I would force myself to talk to someone other than Mom and myself. Maybe then the thing would go away. Maybe then I could sleep tonight.
After I combed my hair and put on my makeup I felt better, the face was a little more familiar. I didn’t look as sick and unhappy. I could almost smile. And if I looked happy surely I could pretend to be happy, and if I pretended long enough maybe I could become happy.
There was food lain out on the dining room table when I got downstairs, Mom was reading a book on the couch. When she saw me she grinned, it seemed like she had never been happier. She didn’t say anything but her eyes stayed on me as I came down the stairs, rounded the corner, and walked into the dining room. “I laid out some of your favourites, and then maybe later we can go out…”
I was startled and then I spoke, it felt good to hear my voice. “Maybe.” Mom meant well but she wasn’t good at easing into things, she had a hard time understanding me sometimes because our minds worked very differently. I ate, and ate, and ate, until I thought I would never be able to eat again. A simple banana had never tasted as delicious. I felt better, like I was finally taking care of my body.
For a while after breakfast I sat on the couch with Mom while she read and I watched a show about bioluminescence in the ocean. My eyes followed the brilliant patterns of animals across the screen, flashing blue and white contrasted against blackness. The man giving the talk said “In complete darkness they shine the brightest.” I wanted to be a part of that world, I wanted to shine, I wanted to be my own light, and I wanted to be strong enough to swim through the darkness. The ocean and space, they weren’t that different. I had fallen in love with outer space because I liked to imagine what else was out there, I liked to think that there was another planet similar to ours with creatures looking up at the sky asking the same questions. Most of all I liked knowing that I was only a small piece in an infinite puzzle. Some people hated thinking that the universe never ended, they hated to imagine that they were insignificant; somehow it relaxed me, I could believe I would be alright if I could believe the universe was infinite.
There was a tentative knock on the door, Mom closed her book and went to answer it. The sound of her feet on the croaking stairs, a clink of the lock, and then greetings. I knew who it was before Mom announced him. I was scared and confused, but my heart fluttered and I rushed down the stairs. “Jason?” I asked, Mom left us alone— but I knew we weren’t overly alone. “What are you doing here?”
“You left your phone at the hospital. I was only released yesterday, there was a minor complication, so I couldn’t get it to you before. I came by but your Mom said you were busy and said I should try again… I don’t know why she didn’t take it, but…” He let out a small laugh and I could tell he was nervous. I was doing it, I was doing one of the things I had said I would. Jason counted as talking to someone else, especially when he smiled at me like that.
Jason handed me my phone and I stuffed it into my skirt pocket. “Thank you. Hey… Um, crazy question, but do you want to go somewhere. I mean, I just really need to get out of the house and I thought that… Maybe… Of course you don’t have to if you don’t—”
“No, no, I’d like that. I need to get out to, and I’d loved to catch up. I mean, we haven’t seen each other in nearly three whole days.” I noticed then that Jason was, obviously, not wearing his uniform, which for some reason struck me as odd. I was still trying to get used to seeing him as just a person and not just a guard. “Do you want to go now?” he asked. His teeth were white and his skin was clear, the bruising had healed from the last time I’d seen him. A sky blue shirt pressed against his muscular arms and I caught myself letting my eyes wander across his features.
I nodded and called up to Mom, then we made our way from the house. The thing was locked up in my room, for now, I could almost see it through the window as we rounded the corner.