Little One (Between Breath & Suffocation Sec. 6)

Dr. Davenport skipped through several pages of scribble to a sketch of a girl. She stood barefoot in a crinkled, yellow dress, her hands at her sides. Tangled hair hung at her shoulders, a smile rising in her cheeks as two gargoyles on either side reared, their long canines exposed, their wings erect, protective.

“This girl appears many times in her drawings… her name seems to be Little One.” Dr. Davenport slid the notebook in front of me. “Who’s Little One?”
“I am…or that’s what she used to call me.” I touched the edge of the notebook. “That’s me,” I laughed. “That’s me.”

***

Mother and Father had four children total, but by the time I arrived Sage was my only living sibling. Yarrow and Basil, our older brothers had both died. Yarrow, three years older than Sage, was hit by a car when he was ten on his way home from the boy’s preparatory school; Basil, two years younger than Sage, fell from a tree when he was six. Mother had that tree chopped down, the stump ground, and that spot covered with clover. I was born two years later, the surprise she needed. She clung to me, celebrated life again. Father, a general in the army, was overseas at the time. Three years later he returned in a box I remember being lowered into a dark, dirt hole. Sage held my hand. Grandma Betty and Aunt Lily consoled our mother. Uncle Herman and Cousin Gerald stood behind them, identical in posture, crossed hands hanging over their waists. Gerald Jr. rocked back and forth with his hands in his pockets. The minister’s words floated over our heads like a song we’d never heard, but would attach to sadness and always remember with a heaviness we could never understand. After the funeral everyone came to our house. We sat on the long burgundy sofa eating cheese, cherry tomatoes, olives, thin slices of chicken, and crackers off paper plates.

“You girls look so pretty,” Aunt Mary said. She arrived late to the funeral and hid in the back with a long black scarf over her head. “You look just like your daddy,” she told Sage.
“Thank you.”
“You got his hair line,” Aunt Mary pointed at Sage’s forehead. “Doesn’t she?” she turned to Grandma Betty. “The way her hair comes down in a V shape.”
“Don’t start, Mary,” Grandma Betty warned.
“I’m not starting nothing.” Aunt Mary got up to refill her plate. She returned with a pile of crackers, chicken, and cheese. She munched while Grandma Betty and Uncle Herman chatted about the will.
“I want to make sure the girls are taken care of.”
“They will be,” Uncle Herman assured.
“What does the will say about illegitimates?”
“Shut up, Mary.”
“No really. What does it say? Am I the only one willing to go there?” she put her plate on the end table and scooted forward to the edge of the sofa. “You can’t think that she’s Barry’s daughter.”
“It doesn’t matter, Mary,” Cousin Gerald chimed in.
“So what? What do you suggest we do now?” Grandma Betty snapped.
“The will should be…voided…or something,” she looked at me and smiled.
“Family is family,” Grandma Betty stood up. “And that’s that.” She motioned for us to follow her into the kitchen. “Let’s get some ice cream.”
We followed, running into my mother. She took my hand and bent down so we were face to face.
“Remember how you came to me,” she brushed the hair from my forehead. “When your brothers Yarrow and Basil were taken from me,” she paused to pick lint off the front of my black, velvet dress. “I didn’t know what we were going to do,” she pulled Sage to her side. “So I called a medicine woman and she gave me herbs and told me I’d find life and health in the Juniper tree.” She looked up at Aunt Mary and then back at me. “For months I traveled the woods until I found you. You’re life, you’re health, little one.”
Aunt Mary rolled her eyes.
“Okay then,” Grandma Betty interrupted, holding two bowls with two small scoops of vanilla ice cream. “Let’s sit down at the table.”
I climbed into a chair and Sage pushed the back until my chest and the table met. She sat next to me. Grandma Betty and Mother stood next to the refrigerator.
“Are you taking your medications, dear?” Grandma Betty put her hand on Mother’s hand.
“I’m doing okay without them,” Mother squirmed. “They make me feel strange, inhibited.”
“Yes, but they help you stay focused on the things that matter,” Grandma Betty looked in our direction.
“I love my girls,” Mother raised her voice. “I take care of them…”
“I’m not saying you don’t,” Grandma Betty remained calm. “But the medications help you do a much better job…”
“You think I’m crazy…I’m not,” Mother laughed.
“I’ll tell you what…you either take the medication the doctor prescribed, or I will take the girls and make sure you don’t see them.”
Sage turned around in her seat to see Mother stomp out of the room. Minutes later she returned with a pill bottle. She opened it, shook one pill into her hand, popped it into her mouth, and swallowed.
“There,” she said. “Happy?”
“Sage, these are the pills your mother is supposed to be taking every day,” Grandma Betty held up the bottle. “You call me if she doesn’t.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

***

“So you’re Little One…that’s what I thought,” Dr. Davenport nodded. “Take a look at the next page…”
I turned the page and on the back the same gargoyles now feasted on the legs and arms of babies.
“I don’t know what this means,” I closed the notebook.
“What do you think it means?” he opened the notebook and flipped to the page again.

***

Grandma Betty and Aunt Mary arrived around 9 am. Aunt Mary’s green station wagon roared down the street landing in our yard. Sage and I sat on the porch watching them get out of the car and walk the overgrown path.

“Where’s your mother?” Grandma Betty asked.
“In the basement,” we said.

Aunt Mary huffed, moving towards the front door. She opened it and we followed behind. She stood in the foyer taking in the smells, the clutter, the destruction.
“No,” Grandma Betty whispered. “My, my, my…this is nothing but the devil.” She moved into the living room, putting her purse on the floor next to an empty box of cereal.
Sage and I looked out at the mess too, as if seeing it for the first time, through a new lense—one that scrutinizes, rejects. The floor was covered with heaps of trash, clothes, and unopened mail. Furniture—two sofas and a chair—once plush with in-tack seams—now lay turned over, fabric ripped, foam leaking out. The walls were scuffed, marked with scribble and diagrams my mother used to guide her journeys into the woods. The wood floors were scratched, warped, sinking; we knew which spots to avoid.

Aunt Mary moved into the dining room and found more of the same. The long, solid wood table was covered with blankets, a makeshift fort Mother believed shielded her from danger. At the first sign of a storm, a lightning bolt, the faint rumbling of thunder, she headed for cover. Sage grabbed our blankets and flashlights; I grabbed my doll and we crawled into the fort. Mother held me close. Her body rigid. The turbulence outside—rowdy winds crashing against the side of the house, howling and groaning; rain, what seemed like buckets full, splattering against the windows—matched our racing hearts.

“They’re out there,” Mother whispered. “I hear them.”
“Sebastian and Margolis?” Sage asked.
“Shhh.” Mother poked her head outside the fort. “They’re coming…they’re coming,” she panicked.

The house creaked as a gust of wind blew against its cedar siding. Scratching sounds came through the roof.

“How did they get in?” I asked, imagining the two statues climbing the front steps, crossing the porch, and then twisting the doorknob with their tiny hands.
“They have their ways.” She pulled us from under the table and with her hands squeezing my face said, “Run upstairs and stay there.”

So we ran as fast as we could up the stairs and into Sage’s room where we hid under the bed. We put our ear to the floor and listened. It was quiet for a long time. We drifted in and out of sleep waiting for something to happen, but hoping nothing would. And then, as the storm outside diminished, another one began inside. The sound of the basement door slamming jarred us from sleep. It was followed by Mother’s wild, guttural screams. We plugged our ears with our fingers, letting sound dissipate in the darkness.

“Is the basement door unlocked?” Grandma Betty asked.
“Um…” Sage took a step backwards. “I don’t know.”
“We’re not allowed down there,” I added.
“Let me go first,” Aunt Mary said to Grandma Betty. She turned the knob. “Marcy,” she called.
“Who is that?” Mother asked. “Don’t come down here…”
“It’s Betty,” Grandma yelled down the stairs.
“Go away…get out of my house.”
Aunt Mary started down the stairs. We stood in the doorway listening, her steps heavy, confident.
“Marcy, we’re not going away this time. And we’re not going to put up with any foolishness, you hear?” Aunt Mary preached. She was interrupted by the sound of tin cans hitting the floor. “Marcy…”
“I said don’t come down here.”
“I have Sage and Juni with me,” Grandma Betty threatened. “It seems you forgot our deal… When did you stop taking your medications?”
“Leave now,” Mother screamed. This time we caught a glance of her as she paced back and forth, a bloodied knife in her hand.
“What are you doing down there?”
“She’s cutting her babies out,” I answered.
“That’s right,” Mother ran to the bottom of the stairs face to face with Aunt Mary. “I’m getting my babies back.”
“Put that knife down,” Grandma Betty yelled.
Sage and I looked on as their plan to bring order unraveled. Aunt Mary raced back up the stairs.
“I’m calling the police,” she said.
“No,” Sage said. “They’ll hurt her.”
“Yeah, they’ll hurt her.”
“I won’t let them take me,” Mother shouted, turning the knife on herself. “I…won’t…let…them…take…me.” With each word she cut into her arm. Blood dripped down the front of her shirt and on the floor. At first she seemed immune to the pain, marching back and forth guarding her babies resting on the shelf.
“Who took your babies?” Grandma Betty tried to reason with her.
“They did.”
“Sebastian and Margolis,” Sage said.
“Who?” Grandma Betty asked, her tone soft.
“Sebastian and Margolis.”
“You mean Sebastian Margolis?” Grandma Betty looked at us.
“My babies,” Mother wept.
“Come upstairs and let me put some bandages on those cuts.”
“No,” she said. Cornered and wounded she avoided us like a feral animal.

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