Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Juliette Smiling/Final Dawn
A light, shining through the window, landing on the soft white keys, over white fingers, down upon me. Where does it come from, this light?
I’m in the same room—the very same place—where you first told me you loved me. Tonight, you’re not here to hear, but I’ll play for you all the same. I want you to listen. It’s so…
Crystal. Empty glass, on top of the piano. The light plays over it, melting rose petals, flickering in and out of the hourglass, spiralling round and round. I fall into the music. As tears follow the light, I fall…
I can’t bring myself to say your name anymore. The time for words long passed, now there’s only this light. I gaze at the curtain, through the window, beyond the curtain, out across the night sky. This place she offered me: sanctuary, a place you once called home. Were you happy here? I know about your parents, about your past. But beyond that, were you happy?
This place, it’s only a dream. And when the dream is over, then…
Then we come to find ourselves at the end of the rainbow, and…
Please hold me. I’m like glass, and wish to break.
I’ve been so asleep. Soon, it will be dawn. Already the light grows sharper. I’m remembering all these things…
“Come with me,” I tell him, leading him to the bedroom, where I open the curtains and windows. He huddles behind me, breathing in shivers. It must be so cold outside; already the glass is frosted over, ice biting my fingertips as I lean over and spread my arms wide, leaving myself open to everything. “Tonight is the last time we’ll look at the stars from this side, together.”
“Pegasus, please…” His hands splay across my chest, pulling me closer, need, helplessness, and love, all confused with desire. “You feel so warm. How can you feel so warm?”
I turn to face him, smiling, laughing, adoring the broken expressions crossing his face. Balling one of his hands into a fist, I lick teasingly at his fingers, inviting him down between my legs, whispering these things, once fears, always desires, forever dreams. “I’m not afraid to make love to you, Raven…to allow you to make love to me. Break me open, apart, free my soul, my dreams, my heart. We can fly, we can cry, tears of blood. I’m not scared, so why should you be, my darling?”
“I’m afraid to hurt you,” he confesses to my kiss.
“Then hurt me,” I say, my voice rasping in my throat, “and you need never feel afraid. I want this. Please.”
One of my fingers burrows up inside him, making him cry out. Does this hurt you too, my love?
But he’s parting his legs further, making room for more, biting down on the flesh of my shoulder, asking again how it is that I feel so warm.
I kiss him hard and deep, wishing for my wings, pleading with him. “It must be tonight. Tomorrow, we celebrate the birth of an angel. And then—?”
“And then we’ll call Monty.” He’s trembling, ready to break. Oh, Raven, this will be so perfect. Both of us, so willing. Both of us.
I fall into his needy embrace, laughing as he moans when I withdraw my fingers, my own dick throbbing against his tummy, the heat ever rising, mist and dreams to cloud my visions.
“And then we go home,” I finish for him. “The final days are upon us.”
Falling like music over my heart.
As he buries his face in my neck, I feel a tear crawl down my chest. So it begins, for there simply is no end.
Echoing whispers chase down the silence. Here in my heart, a barbed-wire glow uncoils, spreading along my spine and twisting inside my tummy. White blood trickles in sticky droplets down my thighs. This is how I can feel so warm.
I crouch between his legs, forked tongue and serpent’s charms playing over his flesh, never giving him enough, daring him to take.
Then hurt me, and you need never feel afraid.
You and I, burning, disintegrating, no need for words, the silent wish.
With a whimper, he spins me round and shoves me against the wall. He’s playing to hurt, but I only smile, as I throw my arms out wide. Take this as a sign, then, of my willing sacrifice. I would die for you.
His fingers encircle my throat, catching my gasp, while his other hand turns to teasing my dick. Now each hand tightens to a stranglehold, both of us flirting with darkness. “Pegasus. Please…”
Raven, are you crying?
“Don’t make me do this to you. Make it stop.”
“I have to show you,” I whisper, turning around as he lets me go—and oh, how his eyes are so hypnotic in their fear, and their surrendering to fear. Easier if he thinks I have such control. Otherwise, he might never forgive himself. “And this is the only way through. Please help me. Please, let me—”
Knowing the rest, he falls to his knees in resignation, holding me tight as he takes my balls into his mouth, and nibbles and bites at me. Flames of pain flicker between my legs, and through red and white sparks I gaze upon him, all sharpened teeth and tears. Then, clawing at my wrists, he pulls me down, turns me over, and knots his fingers up inside me.
These aren’t his tears anymore. I know, from these moans that burn my throat as the perfect harmony to his love, his pain, his thorns. And through all this, somehow, I’m still reaching out to the light.
So beautiful. We can make it…
My fingers have me under a spell, dancing over the keys. But inside this shell, somewhere, I can taste the sounds and breathe their music.
Ideals of love, perfection, devotion, falling across my skin. I smile; we enter the light, me adorned in torn lace and feathers, him so beautiful in the cold fires of his regret. He’s hurt me enough, for this.
Once we’re on the inside, everything seems so warm, so safe. I stroke his face, making a wish for the dream to begin and end. “It’s okay”, I tell him, though my lips move only to kiss him. It’s okay.
He falls into me, and I spread my wings, lifting us into the sky. You know it, too, my love. We’re closer, ever closer, and the rainbow’s bleeding through the chinks in my heart. If we go much further, we need never worry about finding a way back. Is this how—?
No, the clouds are blackening, thickening around our bodies into two separate shells, tearing us apart again. “Raven!”
I wake to our names, screamed together in a heartbeat, cold sweat already frozen on our skin. I’m leading him towards the bathroom, where the little souvenir from last time lingers, safe in an envelope in the medicine cabinet. He doesn’t know I kept it. At first, I couldn’t name what reason I’d ever give for keeping it. But here we are, him whispering, “Angel”, and me tracing my hand under his chin, forcing his gaze to meet its mirror self. Then I press the envelope into his palm.
I hold him against me while I open the fold and slip the razor blade out.
“Please, don’t make me watch,” he begs. Already hopeless when arousal blossoms like a fever between us. We both follow the blade’s path, slicing the flesh over his heart. So the blood quenches the white rose. It’s okay…
Except that it isn’t. The razor bounces into the basin. I’m still staring at its bloody edge on the white porcelain, when a punch to the mirror sends a shower of glass raining down over the sink and the floor. Raven leans against the emptied frame, one hand over his face, gasping for air. Why should the storm follow us here? Is it me who did this to you? Or all those nights of wanting me, and being chained by her?
But I wasn’t too late, my darkling angel. I’m here, now, bound to you, seeking you, waiting for you still. I’ll wait again, over and over. I’ll wait forever.
I see how it is, though. You hate the cage, yet you’re a willing prisoner. This here, this now, is this all there’s supposed to be? That’s what they told you, isn’t it? Only I don’t understand—never understood—for a moment why you’d believe. This is my dream, for you. In a dream you can have anything you want. Be anything you wish. Do—feel—everything.
Mother. You promised, in the bathtub tonight. In the waves. In your arms.
I look down. Blood stains my feet, the tiles, and my love. I didn’t give you this—this everything—to chain yourself with my sister’s falsehoods. Why hold on to such things?
So this is how it is. I drained her poison, but you never did. And that means there’s no protection against me becoming infected again.
I have to— I can’t— This isn’t—
When his eyes meet mine and I see that blood reflected there, somehow all I can do is run.
This love you speak of. This is the protection. Find me, Raven, and love me again.
You’ll understand, when you make it back to me.
Find me, Raven. And love me again.
Rain falls harder as I trace these words into the melody, and the light fades. Was it ever really here?
Please, I don’t want…to forget. I’m so tired. I’ve always been here, waiting…
I’m so tired.
Snow shrouds the world. Rising mist and shadows that flicker beneath the moonlight invite me to come play in the grounds of my madness. And it’s so hot on the inside, anyhow.
I step out to embrace the night. But I’m not alone. Even as I start to run, the laughter of old familiar ghosts chases me down.
Wendy. Yes, it’s her laughter here the loudest. Now she’s sidling up to me, stepping out of the empty spaces between the stars and trees. Creature once called my sister, wilful end product of my mother’s long destruction, child of rape.
Blood-encrusted tendrils crawl over her scalp and squirm at her throat. Her eyes dart from side to side, black as burnt wood, gaping out of a face pockmarked with putrid lesions and bruises. Her decaying body still attempts to mock me with its distorted images of immaculate womanhood. She’s even touching herself while she speaks, spitting out bile and blood—such crude words to describe her so-called charms. She parades before me, her every move accompanied by a loud squelching and the faint waft of meat left out to rot. I hold myself, hold in the light that simmers inside, flared and fed by a single thought. Sometimes I wish for the dream to be over…
I stare at her hard as she repeats the words, tells me how her father had Mother bring her into the world. Always it comes down to those same fateful words: rape, the effect, and whore, the cause. Only this time, Wendy, I have something for you. Raven wanted you to have it. He passed it on to me. And now, it’s come home to you.
The light inside me erupts. Black-rainbow fragments of self rush outwards—some shards reforming to make something new, too many dispersing, lost forever. Now it’s my turn to become the mirror.
You tricked me, soeur, used me, abused me, scarred me, made me into nothing, sucked dry any strength—any self-worth—like a leech, and you hurt… And you poisoned everything.
I fall on her, wrenching her lips apart so I can drive my tongue deep enough to snuff her spark for good. “I love you,” I tell her, the killing words, and I hold on tight, until the scream fades and her thrashing dies away. I don’t dare look at this new thing the shards made me become, but at least I can feel him here in my heart again.
I open my eyes, and breathe. I’m alone, with Mother. She’s singing to me, pushing me on a swing, white petals drifting from her hair and landing on me. Breathe…I’m only a child, and she’s here. We’re so happy together, you and I alone.
But not happy for you, no? He hurt Nicholet, didn’t he, Mother? He…hurt my father. That was your sorrow, the roses, the lies. So many lies, all for the sake of the truth. I know how it is. He tried to do that to me, too. Except I was lucky. Raven saved me.
Was Nicholet a Raven of your own? Did he ever not believe you, like Raven often doubts me? Did he not believe in the truth of dreams? In himself? He should have rescued his princess, carried her over the ocean, across the rainbow…
I scrape my feet against the ground to stop the swing.
Yet this is how it happened. Leaning forward, she croons the words in my ear. I believed, in the truth of dreams. I chose the wrong path, and the wrong path chose me, for but a little while. It doesn’t matter, in the end. Faith: as long as it exists, it can carry anyone you love. We are the same, Jaime. Happiest when dreamed into existence by the most beautiful of dreamers. They never realise this, of course.
I rest against her thighs, trying to unknot all the meanings in her words. One of my palms presses between her legs and comes away stained with blood. I wish I could heal what was done to her.
She hums another two lines of her nursery rhyme, then puts her hand on my shoulder. She’s not looking my way as she says, I know you’ve been very tired. Soon, mon ange, you can come home.
The words of her song and the movement of the swing lull me to sleep, as the warmth claims me.
I’m singing these words on my own tonight, nothing but white keys on black to serve as witness and accomplice. Shame your mother gave up on this, Raven, allowed that man—your father—to beat her down till nothing in her life could be enough to save her. You are not like your mother, and you are not like your father.
Raven. I’ve missed saying your name. Even if you aren’t in my arms, I know you can hear me. Mother told me, that night, that she needed to give you something. And here I have this rose stem tied around my wrist. I don’t remember tying it myself.
Mother, it’s almost dawn. Like a nightingale I sing, waiting for that final call, the beckoning to flight. You’ll hear it also, Raven. You are listening, aren’t you?
My voice isn’t as beautiful as that of my mother, but I’ll sing it for you all the same.
This bed, so safe for being so familiar. I’ve shared this bed before. Tasted blood, despair, love, and now—
A murmur beneath the doona, and I haul him up onto my pillow, so we’re facing the morning together. I sigh, and I look at him, and he looks at me, and we hold one another, our only defence left against the encroaching emptiness. Just lie quietly beneath the covers, try to stay warm. Damien.
I start to cry, and his little hand reaches up to brush away the tears. Monty’s house, Noriko’s house. I came here—we came here—I don’t quite remember how. But we left Raven behind, left him to his sacrifice. Even now, my mind’s replaying the well-rehearsed testimonial he drilled into me; phrases to doom him, excuses to keep me—
Free to fly ahead, find the rainbow.
Yes. Yes, I’m already there, really. I just need to—
Close my eyes, shut out this grey world, seal in the tears, keep what little warmth I have left safe for our son. And so when that same little hand next brushes my face, I pull it gently to my lips and kiss it, over and over.
I have lived so many lives
I have lived them all for you
I have nowhere left to run
I have nothing left to hide
I am spreading forth my wings
I am taking off my skin
Now I open up my arms
and let you in…
I understand how you felt, but why you had to, anyway.
So I’ll continue to wait. I am trying to be patient, Mother, truly I am. But the dawn’s almost here. And the music…it’s pouring out of my soul. Soon, there won’t be anything left at all.
Is this my transformation…to butterfly?
All I ask of Noriko is that she dye my hair. Another part of Raven’s plan, but also my wish. To be as I was meant to be. Whatever that is.
Two hours later, blond-haired Jaime Belmont emerges from the bathroom, and submits to the startled gaze of Noriko and Raven’s mother. Nadja de Winter. She must have arrived while I stared at my reflection. Maybe I’d been trying to gaze a hole right through. Hoping to find my own mother there, like I did once before.
Damien crawls onto my knee, stroking my tresses, and murmuring questions about his father. Nadja watches me, guarded but not surprised. She doesn’t grieve for her son. That doubt eats at her, more than ever, that he might have enough of his father in him, enough for all of this.
Noriko stalks towards me, then presses a palm to my forehead. She announces, as she did the last eight times we did this, that I have a fever. Yes. I know I’m sick. It’s a gift from my mother, this ice and fire and panicked flesh. A reminder that I don’t need to see out the other side of mirrors to know the truth.
But Mother’s voice is hushed here, so I sing to our child, rocking him side to side in my arms as her lullaby falls from my lips. And we almost forget…but that’s before the woman comes to take him away. Only I can’t seem to let go, and he starts to cry, and the lullaby breaks, but she’s bigger than me, Raven, so faceless and righteous, and she’s only going to hurt us all more if I don’t…
I stare at my hands, my palms, try to dissect the lifeline, focus on the part of me that’s on fire, while Damien screams. My name, his father’s name, the word ‘No’, repeated in random patterns, and how it’s important—he’s waiting for his daddy. It doesn’t stop, the screaming, until that unfamiliar engine starts, and the strange white car pulls out of the driveway, and the fire burns low.
They’re gone. You left me to this, Raven. Damien—our child, our angel, our son. I feel— I can’t think of anything I could possibly do, beyond lie down right here right now and will my heart to stop beating. Even so, the more I try, the faster it pounds, blood pulsing through my ears, driving the fever higher and higher.
A touch on my hand sends me leaping to my feet, arms folded tightly over my chest to prevent the yell escaping, knees shaking as I fight against falling. No one to help us. It’s all up to me.
Damien, Damien, Damien…
Mother! I don’t know how to leave a little boy crying and broken and alone. It reminds me, too much—
Rain trickles over the glass in front of my nose. I’ve been standing here all this time, staring out the window. Too many frames of déjà vu: window in a hospital, window like my mother’s, window that would not open. Yes. Window open within my soul instead. Concentrate.
Damien…I love you so.
I shove against the pane, propelling myself straight into the arms of the hovering Noriko. I love you. But I never told—
The unspoken words leave a bitter taste at the back of my mouth. “I feel as though I’m a guest of honour at my own funeral.” My cold laugh somehow convinces her that she should hold me, and me that I should push her away.
Anyway, my turn will come. The hour of interrogation draws near. I find myself trapped between her and Nadja, as we leave the house behind. This place where I met you, where it all began. And in all this time, I never once said, never told you—
If I survive their examinations, then I will confide in you, I swear. When that hour comes, I won’t have anything left to lose.
That place where I met you…on that day Noriko brought me home. Her boyfriend and his cousin were starting a band, she said—hint hint—once I’d confessed to playing piano. A sign of how far I’d fallen into her trust, and how deeply she’d burrowed into my head. And why not, when it was me she’d picked? So many of them, those boys in that house of torment, fantasising and pleading for her sessions, as though she was some exotic dancer instead of a mind-spinner, a psychologist. Yes, I remember their jealousy at the selection of the bird-boned, blond-haired weirdo, who carried around a teddy bear in his purple backpack and looked more like a girl.
Anyway, there I was, perched on a footstool in her living room, drinking green tea from a large yellow cup, overwhelmed by the garish displays of colour all around us: paisley curtains and carpets of red and pink and orange, blue paper fans stencilled with butterflies, and last of all the magazines spread over the coffee table, Japanese boys gracing every cover, photographed in sexual ambiguity and clad in androgyny.
She flopped on the sofa in front of me and draped her green boot-clad calves across the table. Dozens of metal bracelets jingled when she tossed her hair about. Then she looked at me, and I looked at her, and she smiled. “Maybe you can relax for now? Ages before those two get home. Especially Raven.”
I sipped at my tea. “Raven? Is that your boyfriend?”
“Are you kidding?” She raised a brow, grinning, then cleared her throat. “No, it’s Monty’s cousin. Or ‘He of the Eternal Detention Sentence’.”
Crossing my legs, I started picturing what he might be like, this Raven boy she obviously wanted me to be friends with. I knew enough of detention rooms at those other places, places that never kept me caged very long. All filled with boys who hated themselves, and hated me even more.
“You know what?” she said then. “I had this idea for a long time. Maybe it’s crazy. You trust me, right?” Though the question set my nerves on edge, I didn’t fight against her dragging me off the footstool and into the bathroom.
So it was that I was gazing in suspicious admiration at this strange lilac-haired creature, when the front door slammed and two sets of feet came shuffling down the hall. Monty, wearing a suit and bow-tie, stooped to sweep Noriko up and spin her round, before releasing her with a kiss. She nudged him in the ribs and pointed at me; with a cheeky grin, he waved ‘hi’. And Raven, kicking his school bag across the floor with breathtaking contempt—he never noticed me at all—as he made a beeline for the fridge.
I found myself most wanting to touch the long blue-black tufts that obscured a good third of his face. Instead I folded my arms across my chest and prayed quietly for oblivion, no matter what form it took. Stupid that I could have felt this way, any way, so soon. Dangerous stupid. Why should anyone care for me, once they knew what I was?
Idle streams of self-loathing, and daring and not daring to believe, flowed through my mind as I watched him flick the top off a beer bottle with a lighter and take a long swig. From the angry words that came out of Monty’s mouth, I could tell this was a regular part in some homecoming routine. “Raven,” Noriko called, not batting a lash, “we have a guest. You’re so rude; say hello.”
He glanced from Monty, to Noriko, to me, one hand pushing his fringe off his forehead so we could actually see each other. I’ll remember that moment always. The first glimpse of the most beautiful, tortured eyes I’d ever seen. Shades of impossible blue, like his hair, and…he was smiling at me.
I think—I think I even smiled back. And I didn’t look away. That’s how I first came to notice the scar.
This is how it was, I first loved you.
These, and thoughts like these, are all I have left for comfort and company, while I sit apart from Noriko and Nadja, then Monty and several police officers—watching the detectives—in a cold, cold room. The brash lighting and the smell of vinyl furnishings makes my head hurt, but I am a good boy, and I give them everything Raven wanted them to hear, everything they really want to hear, and to hell with all of us.
I want to be sick. I’m going to be sick. I’m going to be so sick there’ll be nothing left, only blood and entrails spilling out across the nice white bathroom tiles.
But nothing comes, and I remain trapped in my own perfect prison. Raven, are you here?
A hundred metres outside the police station, Monty slams me into a fence, demanding to know what I’m playing at.
Are you anywhere, anymore? A distant heart, safe in your shell, floating out there somewhere, away with the clouds?
Why is Monty so angry at me?
“Do you have any idea of what you just did? You weren’t even listening to me! How the hell could you be so fucking brain dead?”
“Monty,” Noriko growls.
Oh. I see. He thinks those lies were all of my choosing, my construction, my self-defence. I might ask you the same thing, cousin-after-a-fashion.
“No,” he says, and he turns on her, and runs his hands through his hair. “You shut up with your libertarian excuses, and your goddamn social work amateur psychology ‘everything will be just fine’ bullshit.”
I blink at her, but her face remains blank. Perhaps they’ve done this before.
“This is my cousin, Noriko. And I’m not letting him turn out like Andrej.” From the way he lowers his voice and glances at Nadja as he speaks that name, I know he’s talking about Raven’s father.
I look to the ground. No. Raven won’t end up anything like his father. He’s mine. And Mother and I, we’ll keep him, so safe.
But Monty renews his attack on me, mistaking my smile of faith for mockery. “This—this is what you wanted? You—” He snarls, stabbing a finger at my face, hatred masking such intense sorrow. “I curse the day you came into my life. You’re nothing but a—”
I watch his mouth moving in slow motion, waiting for him to say it. Noriko’s starting to protest, when another voice stuns us all into silence. “Enough!”
Warily, I glance across at Nadja, who leans on Noriko’s arm, fierce in her frailty, shaking with the effort as she gazes back at me, unflinching. What does she see?
She turns now to Monty. “I have one thing to tell you, about your cousin, Montgomery. Do you know what that is? You took him in, but did you ever really know how he protected me from your demon uncle? If you ever dared admit it to yourself, you’d know it already. I didn’t understand any of it either, not in those days. Now, I think I do.”
My vision’s so blurred with tears that Monty almost disappears as he hangs his head. I don’t want to be here, not for this. They all love you, so much, Raven. And you really have no idea. How can I take you, if—?
It’s too late, for this.
“My son always knows what he’s doing,” she says, folding her hands over her purse. “And I’ll tell you one more thing. I met that suka, and her father, just one time. One time was enough. She conspired to keep me from my own grandson. And she almost destroyed him. Both of them. And every day, you knew the truth, as well as I do. You took care of him, yes, but where were you for so many years, with all these confessions of cousinly love?”
Shrunken and spent, she lets Noriko guide her to the car. They both climb in. A tram glides past. Monty glances at me, waiting to catch my eye before looking away. “We should go get a drink, or something.”
But when he opens his mouth, that unfinished sentence, it’s all I can hear. You’re nothing but a—
“What am I, Monty?”
With an angst-filled groan, he starts searching through his pockets for nothing in particular. “Just—forget it, forget I said anything, will you? Please.”
Forget, forget, yes, soon I will forget. But that time, it’s not here yet, Monty. You should tell me what you think of me, while you have the chance.
I creep towards him, staring into his face. “I am nothing but a whore. Isn’t that it? How the rest of the song goes?”
“It’s—” He tries to speak, stammers a moment going nowhere, then breaks off in ragged frustration.
“W. H. O. R. E.”
“No, Peg, I—” A last sigh. “I’m sorry.”
With a sad smile, I close my eyes, and stand on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. I keep a tight hold on his arm, even as he shudders and tries to extricate himself. Yes, Monty, I know. Boys don’t kiss other boys. Even boys who look like girls, and sometimes are. Boys who look like their mothers.
“I won’t be a whore for very much longer.” I squeeze his hand and step backwards, making it a promise.
Beneath the empty sky—grey, an endless expanse of grey—I feel the shell start to crack. At last.
I try my best to remember those shades of impossible blue, as I follow him away.
The shell starts to crack. At last. Yes…
I sigh, and rest the side of my face against the closed piano lid. Now there’s no more music. The tape stopped recording a short time after my tears. Soon, I should label it.
I’ve got to leave something for Damien. Yes…
My lashes flutter, flicker-flutter closed. No clocks, no light. Time…stops.
I’ve given up waiting, I think.
The dark, lonely streets keep calling me. Unable to focus, or sleep, I wander through the fog, under the white lamps. It’s been raining on and off; by the time I make it to the top of the hill, I’m already soaked. Staring down into a leafy, dead-end street, I catch the echoes of a child’s sobs. A chance apparition, perhaps, of Damien, or me. Up in the fishbowl sky, some of the clouds are starting to clear, enough to see a scattering of stars. When we die, that’s what we become. They don’t look real, not here.
I sit in the gutter, inviting numbness. The phantom cries have stopped. Dawn crawls in, bringing no hope, just as it did the first morning I realised I would never again play for my mother’s smile. But there’ll always be a new dawn.
I trudge all the way back to Monty and Noriko’s, but this place is strange to me now.
You’re not a whore, Pegasus. You’re a beautiful young man, and I promise you, as long as I’m here, you’ll be safe.
Noriko. But those words were given to me long ago. We all know I’m not welcome anymore. I stand on the doormat, frowning at my bare feet. Once again, I’ve managed to forget such fundamental things as shoes and socks. Whatever. Anyway, the bathroom window is still open, so I crawl inside, sneak down the hall, and curl up on my makeshift bed on the sofa, pulling the doona over my face. I don’t need to see this side anymore.
And then there’s tomorrow. They told me I could visit you, Raven. What will I say?
That your carefully laid plans all worked, of course. Just as you knew they would. That they stole away our son. Just as you knew they would. And—
I snuggle deeper into the covers, but make no plans to sleep.
What good the dreams, when the artist of my soul is in chains?
You remember the night he was born?
I remember. Holding him, for the first time, and wishing… Remembering. Understanding. The meaning of the word for God. Mother.
You’re my mama now, Peggy-sis.
Our child waits, so far, on the other side of the woods. That path is not for you and I to take, not anymore.
Circles, ashes, and stars. I love you.
We’re late, since I manage to throw up all down one side of the taxi, much to the driver’s loud disgust. Nadja holds me for the rest of the journey, stroking my hair, now and then whispering that it will be okay in-between berating the driver. I help her play pretend.
She should have her time with him first. So while I wait, to keep the razor-wielding shadows in my mind at bay, I tear out a strand of my hair, wrap it round a finger…another strand, another finger. By the time she emerges, a small blond tumbleweed coils by my feet.
“Go to him,” she tells me, and I stand up so fast, shivering, that pinpricks of starlight appear everywhere I look. My heart’s stopping-starting-stopping. It will be okay. I can still pretend.
A heavy-set door slams behind me, and I’m following a stumpy uniformed being down a fluorescent corridor, into a room carved in two by a perspex screen. I thought there’d be tables and chairs and grieving wives and ashtrays and knitting, but I guess this is something more high security. Chairs on either side, partitions, phones. Is it safe to laugh yet? Such synchronicity. Angels and their cages, you know.
The guard leads me over to the far end, where Raven sits, blue and grey. I fall against the screen, our hands and faces both pressing against it, like creatures trapped inside a warped mirror. But he won’t cry, so I won’t either. They wouldn’t allow him to keep those emotions here.
Still, I thought I prepared myself better than this, when I notice the cross I gave him is—
Don’t be stupid. They wouldn’t allow him to keep that either.
Forgetting he can’t hear me, I speak his name, and he slides into the chair, watching me distantly. Curious, perhaps, to see if I break. I follow the mirror’s logic and sit in front of him. We each take hold of a receiver, our fingers spread against the glass again. I’m on the wrong side of the mirror. The wrong side of the dream.
“You look like your mama,” is the first thing he says to me, grief and elation choking his voice.
I sniff. I can’t reach you, and I can’t touch you, and I want to scream.
“Did you…?” He glances in the direction of the guard over his right shoulder, and lowers his voice. “Did everything work out okay?”
I clench the phone. Of course he’d ask. Didn’t I tell myself already? “Did I doom you, you mean?”
He shrugs, not breaking my gaze. “If you like.”
“Yes.” It’s me who looks away from these duelling reflections; two sets of tortured eyes making me dizzy, nausea returning. I don’t have anything left to be rid of.
I didn’t the first time.
“Thank you,” he whispers, bowing his head too, and we fall silent. Finally, he adds, “I’m sorry…I just…like listening to you breathe. It reminds me. Of when I could keep you safe.”
His turn to sniff, and the chill renews its attack on my nerve endings with a vengeance, and all of a sudden I’m telling him about how they took Damien, how Monty told me that word, that word that I hate, how his mother defended us, about the ghost child crying in the rain—all these things, until there’s only three words left to say and I become magically mute, deafened by the pulse pounding against my forehead.
His voice, it’s…enough. Raven, I—
“I asked Ma,” he tells me, winding the phone cord around his fingers, “if you could go stay with her for a while.” He manages a laugh, but he seems confused, focused on my hand, as though wondering why the mirror stopped working.
With a hesitant smile, I start twisting the cord around my fingers, too. Relieved, he adds, ”I won’t be there, this time, to stop you. But I promise—”
“I won’t have to wait so long…”
“Yeah.” He nods. “I promise.”
I lean against the glass, and he does too, and I pretend we’re touching. “Close your eyes.”
A tear trickles down my cheek, but I brush it away, desiring concentration. One brief glance up, to make sure he’s listening. Yes, his eyes are closed, all his hurt contained, in me. So I close mine as well, tracing patterns between us. “Stroking your cheek… We’re lying on the sand, and I’m kissing you, Raven. I can hear the waves, already. So warm, so safe, when you’re with me. Can you feel it?”
“Yes,” he hisses. For the first time, I’m aware of him breathing, how our hearts beat in perfect sync.
“The rainbow hasn’t come to us yet, but this is where we have to wait for it.”
“Just like the dream…”
“The dream will be over soon. And then, that’s reality, on the other side of the rainbow. Just like I showed you, that night.”
I move back, watching him nod, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
“Raven, look at me.”
He does as I ask, and I reach up and touch his face, and the mirror dissolves, liquid glass, but this time I won’t allow it to choke me.
“I love you,” I tell him, and hang up the phone. His gasp of surprise and that look of shocked regret burn in my mind, only it’s time already. The guard on his side takes the receiver out of his hand and jostles him out of the room.
So what of the reflection, when its creator leaves the mirror? I am the answer. I am all that’s left.
Nadja waits at the other end of the fluorescent tunnel, too pale in her black floral dress and crocheted shawl. “We can go home now,” I whisper, and she nods, signing a cross over my forehead like she knows what these words really mean. Taking her hand, I guide her away, frail woman, broken child, rainbows bleeding out from both our cracked shells.
I have a notion, in these fading moments, to write you a letter. So many words, the stories of our heart, inadequately told, but when one already knows—love—that’s okay. Words for each of you. Raven. Damien. Nadja. Noriko.
I sign each one with a single word, the name my mother gave me, almost nineteen years ago.
A meaning of love. All I have left, to carry me home.
After a last supper barely touched, Nadja and I retire to our rooms. I sleep fitfully in Raven’s bed, whispering his name like a charm whenever the convulsions take fast hold.
I make sure to keep the window open, all the better to hear the siren song of the sea. And the stars look real again from here. This is all that matters. If I can be close to the ocean, I won’t miss my calling.
Sometime during the dead of night, I feel myself drawn out from the covers. Padding downstairs in bare feet, I stop to touch a hallway mirror. “Juliette.” The looking-glass image smiles before vanishing, and I’m left with only me, a wide-eyed porcelain doll thing, clad in Mother’s white dress, silk flowing over my skin, preparing me for the water. I untie each ribbon to free my hair, which drifts over my shoulders, all the way to my hips.
After knotting a ribbon around either wrist, I spread my arms before the glass, invoking my ritual. The air’s so cold, and there’s so little moonlight, and I’m beginning to hear…
The music of our souls, entwining around me, drawing me to it, begging me.
The music of a piano, my mother’s song.
I step into the living room, hovering by the keys, watching on as the ghost of a blue-haired boy with beautiful, tortured eyes tells me that he loves me. It’s his first time, and he’s terrified of it.
This time round, I reach up to touch his face, whispering the words that will set us free. “I love you too, Raven.”
And the beautiful boy, fragile and ferocious, falls through my embrace and into my heart, where I can keep him safe forever and always.
I’m waiting in front of the door, not surprised when it swings open at my barest touch, and he stands before me, no longer a shadow.
A single long finger beckons me forward. “You know where we are going, little one?”
Oh, yes. I know. Into his arms—through his arms—I float out this doorway that’s flooded with light, and down and down, towards the ocean.
The song is calling. I can hear my mother’s voice, so clear in this hour.
And the dawn is come, and I keep walking—not down to where Raven and I washed ashore—but ever climbing, alongside the coast. The sea grows more distant, far beneath my feet, and by the time I’m at the top of the cliff, her voice has stopped singing.
I fall to my knees, surrendering everything, the wild winds catching my breath as strands of hair lash my face. Across the horizon, the cloudy sky’s already transforming from grey to lilac, so inviting out there on the waves. She may have stopped singing, yet she’s calling to me still.
We can fly, Jaime. In a dream, we can do anything we want to…anything at all.
These tears that sting my eyes…they’re different, Raven. I want you to have these precious things, last truths for lining the floor of your cage, same as in all your stories.
Getting to my feet, I roll my shoulders, testing my wings. Shedding my ribbons on the breeze, along with the dirt, along with my fear. If I fall, she will catch me.
Clear my mind. Take a last breath.
Mother, I’m ready.
One step off the edge, no turning back, heartbeat nearly giving out, mind giddy with nausea and laughter, terror and ecstasy. No rainbows, though, and no wings. Not really.
But Raven is watching me. I knew he would be. This is how we fly, my love.
Such a beautiful dreamer you are. I blow him a kiss, and turn away.
Pegasus screams and begs forgiveness, but I’m only smiling, as the waves take on the form of my mother, rising out of the ocean, up, up…
To catch me in her—
“Mama, when will we be there?”
“But we’re here already. All you need to do, is open your eyes, mon ange.”
Light shifting, colours tinkling, laughter like a distant wind chime. Children playing at being mermaids and seahorses, down in the garden where it smells of spring.
“You see?” She squeezes my hand. “You know this place, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, Mama.
Next Chapter: 25.RAVEN: Now, The Last Thorn