CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: THE MIRROR
I fell asleep on the Mother’s porch after the rainbow disappeared. I stirred a few times to Wolf pacing the stairs, licking my hand anxiously, whining. I think he wanted to go home, but all I wanted was the Mother. I laid there, broken and invisible, drifting in and out of sleep for hours while that damn crow circled above the cabin.
The sun is down now, and I’m wide awake, startled by the sound of the front door opening. I scan the porch and the yard for Wolf, but he’s nowhere to be found.
“Hurry inside, dear, I’m supposed to be resting. I don’t want anyone to see me.”
I follow the Mother up the tiny staircase through the hole in the floor to her massive bedroom. I watch her in awe as she navigates her home without sight, unable to find a single difference in her movements. I can feel myself shaking as I follow her. I feel like a stranger, like I don’t know what to say or how I’ll even say it without words. A painful knot tightens and burns in my throat as my mind starts to race.
I can’t imagine how I look. I can’t imagine how I smell. What if she thinks I killed Kala? Why doesn’t she want the others to know I’m here? Do they all think I killed him?
When we are in her room, the Mother turns herself around and slowly sits on the edge of her bed. I glance toward the little staircase, panicked, feeling like I should just run. When I look back at her, she is gesturing toward me for a hug, and I spill like tea into her arms.
After a moment I sit up, dry my tears and look at the Mother. She looks back at me, acknowledging me in a way that tells me nothing is lost because her eyes can’t see me. She reaches out, clasping both of my hands in hers as if to warm them.
“You poor soul. Your poor heart…I can feel it. It’s just broken to pieces, isn’t it dear? I knew the minute I felt you there on the porch that Kala was gone. You’re a whole different color now, my dear. What happened?”
I open my mouth. The burning knot returns to my throat in absence of my words. I squeeze the Mother’s hands, desperate for her to understand.
“I see. It’s ok dear, I understand. Listen to me, I don’t need to see you to see you and I don’t need to hear you to understand. Let’s sit together, okay? Face to face. You hold on to my hands and you tell me with your heart and I’ll hear you. You ask me what you want to.”
I sit with the Mother in meditation, speaking to her without words for over an hour. I tell her everything. I’m broken, Mother. I tell her about Kala, the portal, the lights. I tell her about hearing her conversation with Tok in the woods and thinking she was lying and hiding things from us with him. I even tell her through my shame about reading her journal. I don’t even have to think the words for her to hear me. I just open my heart to the Mother, to my Mother, and she knows absolutely everything. She holds my hands, feeling and listening and seeing me until I’m still.
We sit in the silence that other people fill with I’m sorry and I understand, and It will get better. We sit in the hurting and the brokenness together, just feeling it. After a long pause, the Mother takes a deep breath and speaks in a hushed voice.
“I will not lie to you ever again. Please know that I am deeply sorry for allowing him to lie to all of you. I have tried to protect you and I just don’t know why…you don’t need me to protect you, dear. You are just as strong as an ox. I don’t want to upset you…”
Her voice is quivering, and her hands begin to shake as her expression changes to one I’ve never seen. My heart sinks to my stomach when I realize she wants to tell me something that she thinks will hurt. What could possibly hurt worse than losing Kala? I squeeze her hands, trying to let her know that it’s ok, but my eyes are frantically looking toward the stairs.
I squeeze her hands harder, desperate. Just tell me. What is it? Tell me.
“Sweetheart, Tok worked for the government, in the Center, when he first accidentally found this place long ago. His job was such a secret he would barely tell me anything about it. He’s made some bad choices, but he’s not a bad person.”
I do not want to hear this. I start to squirm uncomfortably and the Mother pauses and takes a deep breath. I breathe with her for a moment.
“I know, dear. Goodness, I know how his actions have hurt you, but please…try to understand. Try to hear me. The time he came from wasn’t that far ahead of us, but things were getting just awful. The Center had some very bad people in it, and all this treatment business being paid for by big companies lets in all kinds of corruption. He says they start joining up thinking they can cure every damn problem people have, and it all sounds like burnout. Like people are frying because they just don’t live like people anymore, never look at one another, never go outside, nobody feels anything anymore. Those lights you got hold of…those are people’s memories just floating around, leaking out of that cloud they store everyone in, the one they swore was gonna be sealed like a vault. Tok says just about everybody starts eating those lights so they don’t feel so lonely.”
Please Mother, please tell me.
She pauses again, and swallows hard. I am so nervous I can hear it, like a high-pitched buzz, and I feel like my head is going to explode.
“Ok, dear. Okay. In that first summer retreat Tok came to with his family, remember? That was when he decided to run. He came here because it was safe, and I told him it was okay to hide here. I knew the woods would help me hide him. He ran because they wanted him to do awful things at work, to cover up awful things. They were doing all sorts of tests on people they shouldn’t have been doing, and he disagreed with it. They told him he had to keep it a secret or they’d kill him and his family. The night he left his time, he found out that a test group in the Center accidentally got wiped clean. They were just blanks, no memories, nothing. They were in an experimental trial to fix some type of burnout or another, but the Center lied to them about what they were doing, made ‘em think they were safe. They all but killed those poor people.”
A door closes downstairs and the Mother stops talking. She looks nervous.
“They can’t see you, honey, you know that, right? We thought the copy of the woods was destroyed when Tok moved us back, but it seems like you’re still in it. You just sit tight if they come up to check on me.”
I beg her with my heart to continue.
“I need you to know something, my dear. I need you to know that your pain is real. What you feel in your heart is real, even when you just don’t even know what else is. The night he left to come here for good, Tok snuck in to the Center first. He was trying to make sure he didn’t leave anything behind they could use to find him, but he found something awful. The Center hired some men to come in and stage an explosion in the building where those poor blank people were. They knew if anyone found out what they did they’d lose all that funding, so they were just gonna kill ‘em like it was an accident, probably pay everyone to keep quiet. Once he knew what they were doing, he couldn’t just leave those poor people there…He only got two of them out of their rooms before the men saw him and started shooting at them. They barely made it here.”
Her hands are cold and shaking hard, and I am numb, just staring at her as she speaks. Her voice sounds farther away with every word.
“Sweetheart, he saved a woman and a young boy. They weren’t related. He brought them here with him where they could be safe. That was two years ago.”
I put my hands back into my lap and stand up even though I feel like I’m going to pass out. The anxious buzzing in my ears is becoming deafening, drowning out her words as I step backwards toward the stairs.
“We all thought it was best to give you someplace to start, something to hold on to. I wish I had just told you the truth somehow, but honey you couldn’t even talk. He had to give you some memories, some language. I wrote them myself. I really am your Mother. Honey please don’t go.”
I am halfway down the stairs when I can’t hear her voice anymore, dragging my nails down the stair rail and across the walls of the common room. The marks they leave disappear in seconds. I am screaming inside. I try to knock books off the shelves, but my hands go right through them. I jump up and down on the floor and bang on the walls, but nothing I do makes a sound. I fight with nothing in the air like a violent, angry ghost, until I am exhausted. I’m walking toward the front door when I stop, feeling suddenly as if I am being watched. Time slows as I turn to face what takes me a long time to realize is the Mother’s giant antique mirror.
The woman on the other side is taller than I think I am. Her hair is brighter red than I remember mine being. Her cheeks are not stained with tears, but are smudged with bright berry-colored stains. Her eyes sparkle like a kaleidoscope, and she wears the head of a giant grey wolf on hers like a trophy, its fangs glistening just above her eyes.