The morning sun streamed through the bedroom blinds, casting shadows onto the sleeping woman. She clung to one pillow and her head burrowed into a second pillow; straggly, unkempt hair draped over her face. A voice deep in her head yelled at her, “Get up, get up.” She fought it, sinking back into a dead sleep. Persistent whining and poking of stubby, sticky fingers into her side finally broke the spell and she woke up.
Wanda cracked open one eye, the other still buried in the softness of the pillow. Swallowed up in the puffy folds of the luxurious king-size velvety green comforter, she stuck her nose into the wrinkled pale green sheets. Where was the sweet smell of fresh cut grass promised by the detergent ads? She smelled a foul stuffiness of unwashed linen. Lately the days had blurred into weeks and she found it easy to blame the long intervals between laundering on anything but the truth.
She felt another sharp stab in her ribs. Her eyes finally focused on her daughter attempting to climb over her. Playful giggles encouraged Wanda to finally pull her tired body up to a sitting position. She gathered Jillian into her arms, squeezing her hard to her chest, locking her in a tight embrace.
“Mommy, let go of me. You’re hurting me.” Jillian squirmed away to another area of her mother’s big bed. She had been playing there since she woke up, loading food into a plastic shopping bag, dragging it upstairs, and dumping it on the bed, while her mother slept. Her breakfast consisted of a juice box, a cookie from an opened package left out on the counter, and some green Jell-O in a squishy tube that you sucked on –her favorite. The final touch was some green gummy worms that she greedily dangled over her open mouth. Now she was finishing a picture with her favorite rainbow markers, a gift from her father. Jillian excitedly drew with bold strokes, not noticing green lines sliding off the paper onto the comforter and tangled sheets. The end-result: a drawing of a man, a woman, and a little girl standing in tall grass. Proudly, she called her mother to look at the masterpiece.
Wanda looked at the drawing of the happy family in the grass. Then her eyes sparked with anger as they took in the green mess on the bed. All that stayed in her mind was the color green, the comforter she had shared with Jillian’s father, and the green sheets like fresh grass never to be sweet smelling again.
Her daughter’s beautiful smile contrasted her own ugly mood, and she screeched, “Now look what you’ve done!”
Wanda yanked at the comforter and sheets, dragging them off the bed. All of Jillian’s food and art supplies flew through the air. “I can’t do all this laundry now. Can’ you see I’m tired,”she hissed at her daughter cowering in the corner. Mentally exhausted, Wanda still in her crinkled nightgown, crawled across the naked mattress, curled up in the fetal position, cradled her head, and fell back asleep.
* * *
Jack Kingston ordered the Deluxe Fairy-tale Castle Play Set for his daughter’s upcoming birthday. Also included in the set were two dolls: a blond-haired princess that looked like Jillian, and her Prince Charming –the spitting image of him. He had searched for the most impressive play set. Nothing was too much for Daddy’s little princess. He was having fun with the fairy-tale theme in all of his gifts.
He punched in his old phone number to tell his ex-wife that she needed to be home on the delivery day. Chuckling with surprise at hearing his voice still on the answering machine, he started leaving a message but was interrupted by a young voice saying, “Daddy, it’s me.”
“Jilly, sweetheart, what a surprise! I thought Mommy would answer. Anyway,…did you get the Great Treasury of Fairy-tales.”
“I did. Wish you were here to read it to me.”
“I do get into the stories, don’t I? And you’re never scared of all my crazy voices.”
He remembered sitting at her bedside acting out the characters in the books she asked him to read. His ex-wife didn’t know how to make a book come alive.
Silence on the other end prompted him to get to the reason for the call. “Jilly, are you still there? Please get Mommy on the phone.”
“It’s 12:30 in the afternoon. Is she ok?”
“Yeah, she’s mad at me. I messed up her bed.”
“Oh, Princess, I’m sure she’s not mad at you.”
“I’m a bad girl. Mommy and Daddy don’t love me anymore.”
Jack heard sobbing and quickly said, “I love you. You know that. Don’t you like that pretty dress I got you? Fit for a princess.”
“Wake up Mommy. I need to talk with her.”
“I don’t want to. You come wake her. When are you coming, Daddy?”
“Tell Mommy I’ll call her another time. Bye, Princess.”
* * *
Wanda squared her shoulders, took a deep, calming breath, and internally counted to ten while looking into her daughter’s tear-streaked face. “You told me you like this. I bought it especially for your first day of kindergarten.”
“I want to wear what Daddy got me.” Jillian went to the closet and pulled the dress off the hanger.
“Save it for another time. It’s a party dress. Too fancy for school.” Wanda took the dress away from her.
The kindergartner sobbed, choking out the words, “No, I want Daddy’s dress.” After trying in vain to pull the dress away from her mother, she knotted up little fists, then kicked and punched like a wind-up kangaroo toy.
Caught off guard by her daughter’s violence, Wanda dropped the dress and froze. She wrapped her arms around Jillian’s waist, held on tight, watching pink pajama legs slicing the air.
Jillian let out a seemingly unending scream so intense Wanda felt it deep in her bones. She gritted her teeth, looked at her bruised legs, and thought to herself, I can’t take her anymore.
She released her hold and the child bounded away screeching, “I hate you!”
Wanda rushed to close windows and drew the shades. Jillian stomped across the room expelling raspy breaths, interspersed with ragged hiccups. Exhausted, she collapsed to the floor hugging her father’s present. Sobs turned to whimpers and tears dripped onto the pink frilly material.
“You need to get dressed. You will be late for school.” A calmer Wanda bent down and gently tugged the dress away from the child.
“No, no, it’s mine.” Jillian perked back up, tugging with her mother for possession. Rrrip–the material split down the seam, causing frayed edges and tiny pink beads to spill out on the carpet. “Now look what you’ve done! I’m telling Daddy!”
They walked to the bus stop, the air crackling with voiceless hostility. A new backpack and matching lunch box with sparkling pictures from Disney’s Frozen were Wanda’s back-to-school gifts. Earlier, she felt a compulsion to brag to her daughter about a planned surprise trip to see ‘Frozen on Ice.’ Now, walking down the street, in a zombie-like trance, Wanda watched the blur of green grass stream past her.
She blinked her eyes to wipe out the green color and looked at her daughter who refused to make eye contact. They approached excited moms exchanging cheery conversation of recent family vacations. Then cell phones snapped away, taking pictures of smiling children. Wanda?s cell phone hid in her pocket. No photos to remember this day, she thought. Averting her sad eyes downward, she gave timid greetings and guilty smiles and prayed the bus would come early.
Throughout a day of moping around, she glanced at the sticky memo squares placed throughout the house reminding her to take her pills. Tonight, I will take them, Wanda anxiously thought. After not taking them for days, she was unsure of their effect.
* * *
It was delivery day. Wanda scrambled out of bed early, rushing throughout the house like a human tornado, swirling in all directions, scooping things up in her arms. She recycled a week’s worth of newspapers that had piled up beside the family room couch. Running to the kitchen, she loaded the dishwasher with dirty plates and cups that had teetered on the counter for days. She dashed up a full flight of stairs with a laundry basket filled with bed sheets. Then it was time to wake up Jillian. She made her daughter’s bed, placing her gifts–dolls of Elsa and Ana from the movie Frozen–on the pillow. The house would be spotless before the deliveryman showed up.
A short muscular man rang the doorbell. He returned to his truck a few times bringing in box after box of castle parts. He stacked them in a tall mountain in the entryway and then hauled them up to Jillian’s room. It seemed to take hours.
“Your husband sure has his work cut out for him putting this monster together. Your daughter is one lucky little girl.”
“I’m actually going to put it together. Wish me luck.”
“I’d wait for your husband.” He flashed a smile.
Wanda sighed, then muttered under her breath, “Wish I could.”
Thank goodness, she still felt the pulsing energy she woke up with surging through her body. She had no problem tackling what looked like a daunting task. A feeling of achievement filled her as she looked at the end-result–Jillian’ very own castle. Wanda closed the toolbox, waved the five-page instruction booklet in the air and gave out a victory whoop.
Immediately, Wanda called her ex-husband. “Jack, I did it! You would be so proud of me. I followed all the steps. Used your tools. You should see it.” All of her words spilling out with excitement.
“You called me at work again, Wanda. I’m really busy.”
“I just wanted to talk to you. Tell you all that’s going on around here.”
“You know I talked with Jillian a few days ago.”
“I wasn’t feeling good that day.”
“You need to take your pills, Wanda, all the time. Not when you feel like it! Who knows what could happen to Jillian…when you are so out of it all the time”
“I’m feeling better now, I really am. When are you going to see your daughter? Why don’t you come for brunch this Sunday? I can make that omelet you use to like. Wait until you see the castle. I think you’ll be impressed with how it turned out” Her face lit up with anticipation.
“When are you ever going to change? Why do you think I would even be interested in your omelet? I have a wife now who can make omelets. You need to move on. Take care of your daughter for a change. But I like your idea of a Sunday brunch. I can pick up Jillian and bring her here. She can even spend the weekend with us. Jack, Jr. is getting so big and starting to walk. Oh, wait, that’s not going to work out, because I have this…”
She interrupted, “You once loved our family and now everything has changed. Jillian needs you, I need you.” Her bubbly voice slowly deflated.
He ignored her and said, “I really have to get back to my job, now.”
“Jillian wants to say hi. She just came home from kindergarten.”
“I really can’t. Talked with you long enough,” he snarled. Then his voice softened and he continued, “Tell her I will talk with her when I have more time.
* * *
As the sunlight streamed into the room, the girl’s hair shimmered, blonde strands magically turning into gold. She looked down from a window in the castle’s tower at her mother sitting on the bed.
“Mommy, look at the princess doll. It looks like me.”
“It certainly does, dear.”
“The prince is Daddy. I’m going to call him The Daddy-Prince.”
Wanda watched her daughter hugging her new prized possessions, the girl’s fingers entwining the doll’s hair like golden rings.
“Ok,” Wanda sighed.
“I guess there isn’t a doll for you.” Jillian stated.
Wanda smiling half-halfheartedly, waved and called out to get her attention, but Jillian only focused on the dolls. Swiping away tears starting to form, she raised her head defiantly, and squeezed past her ex-husband’s enormous gift now dominating the room.
She snickered at a sudden nasty thought–take a jackhammer to it and destroy it. No, she worked too hard on it, tightening all those screws. That was her Jack, royally screwing her, again!
During the castle construction, she found all of her back-to-school gifts pushed under the bed to make room for ‘Daddy’s gift.’
She sighed again. She could never compete with her ex-husband’s gifts used to make up for his absence. It seemed like the Disney dolls on the pillow sadly looked at her. Each of their voices echoed in her head, “Jillian doesn’t love you anymore.”
She told them in a mournful voice, “I know, I know.”
* * *
Wanda leaned over and kissed her daughter good night. On the nightstand sat a framed photo of Jack and Jillian. She remembered taking that picture. Her daughter picked it out from a large collection stacked in a dusty photo box. Wanda at first didn’t mind that she was not in the picture. Her daughter had her mother to see every day. What a young girl needed was a nice memory of her daddy. This way she could see him when she went to bed and when she got up.
When her husband had first left them two years ago, Wanda would come into Jillian’ room while her daughter was out playing, to call and leave Jack messages every day about how much they missed him. She now hugged the picture of her handsome ex-husband, pulling the frame into her chest so that the metal edges dug in.
She took the picture frame into her bedroom. The need to feel pain to relieve her emotional numbness drove her to plunge the frame deeper, jabbing it. An internal scream filled her head while she thought, You have pierced my heart. How can I live without you? She slowly unbuttoned her blouse to look at the angry welts forming.
Sitting on the edge of the massive bed, the green comforter seemed to torment her instead of comfort her. Behind the frame, her husband’s sparkling green eyes mocked her for missing and still wanting him. The green iris of one eye filled her mind, expanding into a ring of intense color, and swallowing her in a wild whirlpool of green.
She shook her head violently to erase the image as she swirled into the gaping dark hole –the pupil of her husband’s eye. Panicking to escape, she shot upward, arms thrusting, releasing the image, and shattering it into pieces.
The spell broke at the sound of a heavy metal picture frame crashing into the dresser mirror. Sparkling glass pieces covered the dresser like a jeweler’s display case of diamonds. The dresser mirror cracked into a bizarre pattern of geometrical shapes reflecting the green bed and Wanda?s distorted features. She reached for a shard of glass, it gleamed green in her eyes.
Wanda heard pounding on her locked bedroom door, followed by a child’s high screams. “Mommy, Mommy!” She ignored it.
“This time, I will go through with it,” Wanda spoke to the sharp shard of glass in her unwavering hand while watching herself in the shattered dresser mirror.
“No you won’t, I have a better plan for you,” she heard the voice in the mirror. Hypnotized by the cackling voice, she returned the shard onto the dresser. Looking down to the carpeting, she picked up the broken picture frame and placed it face down on the dresser.
A bottle of pills sat on her dresser along with a pile of sticky memo notes. She looked at them, remembering Jack’s constant harassing. She smiled at her reflection and thought to herself, I don’t need him bossing me around anymore. At the same time the fractured green woman in the mirror spat out, “Yes, do it, be free of him!” Wanda flushed the contents of the bottle and the sticky notes down the toilet and let out a scream of victory.
Muffled shouting turning into sobs came from outside the locked door. “Open the door, Mommy. I’m scared!”
Wanda slowly cracked open the door, slipping into the hallway to face her wide-eyed child.
“Everything’s alright, sweetie,” she said in a cold, stilted voice. The word, ‘sweetie,’ came out squeaky high as she felt the greenness inside oozing out. She watched her daughter’s horrified face. Then, as if by magic, she changed again and the mother in her came back.
She took her daughter’s hand and they walked back to Jillian’s bedroom.
“Go back to sleep, sweetheart.” Her voice was now normal and comforting.
* * *
Wanda woke up the next morning, curiously looked at the broken mirror, and tried to remember. Voices started to creep into her head and she tried to force them out. It brought back an earlier time of nightmarish memories. But this time, she feared the changes within her. She knew this metamorphosis–like a caterpillar changing into a moth or a butterfly–would go to completion. It would be an ugly or beautiful transformation and there was no control over the outcome. In the back of her mind, a green fog rolled in.
Over the next few days, Wanda and Jillian lived in their own worlds: the world of lost voices and the world of fairy-tales.
* * *
Wanda came into her daughter’s bedroom and watched her daughter hug her Daddy-Prince doll and a cackling voice deep inside her came out. “How about a bedtime story from Daddy’s fairy-tale book. You will see I can read it just as good–hee-hee-hee.”
Jillian seemed mesmerized by her mother’s new voice. She walked in a wide-eyed trance from the castle to her bed to sit beside her mother. Wanda forced the Ana and Elsa dolls into Jillian?s arms and started to read.
After the story was completed, the girl came back to reality, as if a spell was broken. She nervously glanced around the room, frantically searching for something.
“What did you do with her?” Jillian asked.
“Who are you talking about, dear?”
“My mother,” the girl whispered.
Two voices battled in Wanda’s head,
“I’m here, Jillian… Not while I’m here… I changed my mind… There is no going back… But, I have to go back to her…I’m her mother…You are finally free of a family that was slowly killing you…But, Jillian loves me.”
Wanda tried to control her voice but to her horror, she cackled aloud, “I’m Jillian’s mother.” The ugly sound erupted from her throat assaulting her ears.
“Get away from me. I hate you!” Jillian cried out and distanced herself to the far side of the bed, curling up into a tight ball, covering her ears with her hands, and facing away from her mother.
Wanda pressed her palms to her ears, trying to kill the voice in her mind. A few normal sobs escaped from her mouth and her normal voice came back. The child boldly turned over to peek from behind her fingers, giving her mother a defiant stare.
Then all the voices–living in Wanda’s head for years–celebrated their homecoming. Through their voices, she heard a young girl cry, “I don’t believe you!”
She slapped Jillian in the face, and cackled, “You’re a bad girl to drown out all the beautiful voices.”
Wanda swirled around in a frenzied dance, her eyes wild and alive, while bizarre voices flowed from her lips.
Jillian’s body shook with fear and curled back into a fetal position.
Still fighting the voices, Wanda went back to her child, pleading in whispers, “Sweetheart, help me…really listen and you can hear them, too, can’t you?”
Jillian cried herself to sleep.
* * *
Wanda fought hard but a deep cackle rose out from the depths of her soul. She grabbed her daughter’s favorite two dolls that sat guarding the entrance of the castle and left the room.
She walked back into her bedroom sitting the dolls in front of the shattered dresser mirror. They seemed to be mocking her, sensing her weakness, but also testing her.
Picking up the Princess doll, she lifted the doll and looked into the familiar green eyes that snapped open. “Mommy, I love you…Mommy, I hate you,” she heard in her head. The doll’s eyes closed and then stiff legs kicked Wanda’s lap with a clicking noise. Then an unbearable silence assaulted her mind.
With tentative fingers, Wanda reached for the Daddy-Prince doll. He was handsome like Jack, and flash –his green eyes lit up to show his conceit. She trembled as she clung onto the doll even when it seemed to push her away. She wrestled the doll and her feelings. Then the doll snarled at her with hatred. “Leave me alone, you witch. You are upsetting my family!”
She threw the doll at the broken mirror and watched its head twist in its socket and look back at her with a sneer. She returned the look.
Descending into greenness, surging with energy, crackling with life, she found what she needed in Jack’s tool bench and then left him a voice message on his land phone. His wife’s recorded voice made her flinch. Wanda asked for help with Jillian. She knew he would ignore her request as he usually did.
The next day, she changed the voice message on her own phone. Gone was Jack’s voice. Her new voice had a nice cackle to it.
Finally, Jack returned her call. She did not pick up the phone but heard his voice. “Wanda?” Her new voice worried him. Good, she thought and continued to listen to his familiar rant. “I can’t help you with Jillian, I have my own family. I’m sure you can deal with it on your own.”
“Yes, I will,” Wanda said to her green reflection in the broken dresser mirror.
* * *
Jillian found a safe haven in the castle and spent most of her time there. The changes in her mother became a reality and she came to accept them. The red imprint of the slap to her cheek faded along with her memories of it. She hugged her daddy substitute, surprised that his head was twisted. She fixed him, gave him a kiss and said, “All better.”
The buzz of an electric drill awoke her from her dream-like play.
“You like this place so much, my dearie. Well, now it’s where you will stay.” Wanda cackled while drilling a hole through the wooden arched door and jam, connecting them with a padlock, and then placing the key into her pocket.
“Mommy, what are you doing? I don’t like this game.” the child cried out from her tower above. Her eyes wide, uncomprehending, watching in disbelief as her mother ignored her to sit on the child-size bed, rock the pillow like a baby in her arms, chanting a strange lullaby. First, Jillian pushed at the castle door and then kicked at it. Then remembering the strange cackling coming from her mother quickly returned to the safety of the tower. She cried for her real mother to come, not knowing the stranger below.
Wanda heard her daughter’s voice like a dream. She looked down at the pillow in her arms trying to comprehend its meaning. The metamorphosis was nearly complete. A soothing greenness filled her pores relieving the itching of lost memories in her mind, soon to disappear forever.
“Wait for your Daddy-Prince to rescue you, why don’t you.” Wanda cackled and then whispered, “Only in fairy-tales do they live happily ever.”
copyright © 2015 Elaine Fisher