“I didn’t know I was betraying you…” I cried.
“What are you talking about?” Sage raised her voice. “What’s going on? Where is she?” Sage ran into the living room, up the stairs checking each room, and back down.
“She was in the basement…”
“What was she doing in the basement?”
“Putting stuff down there…”
Sage rushed towards the basement, pulled the door open, and peered into the darkness.
“It smells in there,” she pulled back, closing the door. “What’s going on, Juni?”
“I don’t know…she’s…”
“What?” Sage grabbed me by my shoulders. “What? Talk!”
“She’s looking for Steven.”
“You do know.” Sage opened the basement door again and flicked the light switch. She put her sleeve over her nose and descended, the soles of her boots scuffing the splintered wood.
At the bottom she kneeled next to the wagon, shifting its contents with the tips of her fingers.
“What is this?” she said under her breath.
Piled on top of a bed of rocks and dirt were a pair of work boots, a watch, a flattened baseball hat, a hair comb, and an employee of the month plaque.
“What is it?” I asked, now on the third step.
In the back corner of the wagon, under a small, ripped tarp was a possum—its throat newly slit.
Sage screamed and froze.
“I’m crazy?” Mother stood in the doorway, bloody, an ax in her left hand. “No, I’m just looking out for you,” she joined me on the third step. “Right, little one?”
I screamed when I heard her voice, surprised that we hadn’t heard her when she came through the door, usually a noisy undertaking.
“You stopped taking your pills…” Sage accused.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you…I don’t need them anymore. I’m fine,” Mother laughed, waving the ax at Sage.
“You promised Grandma Betty.”
“Let’s talk about Steven.”
Sage stood silent.
“He’s no good for you.”
“How would you know?”
“He’s not going to marry you.”
“Yes, he is…the wedding is in three months.”
“I found these things…” Mother walked down four more steps. “They’re Steven’s”
“No they’re not…I’ve never seen these things.”
“He keeps them at his wife’s house.”
“He doesn’t have a wife.” Sage’s voice quivered. “You’re lying.”
Mother tapped her foot against the step. “She’s so beautiful,” she taunted. “He bought her a car. It’s red…”
“Stop it,” Sage yelled.
“She’s fancy…and her mother has to be the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet.”
Sage stared with her arms folded.
“Why are you trying to hurt me, Marcy?”
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” Mother took another step. “You’re my daughter…”
“Yes. You are my daughter,” Mother raised her voice, stepping down to the last step so she and Sage were face to face.
“I wish I weren’t.”
“He’s cheating on you.”
“He’s cheating. He doesn’t love you.”
“That’s a lie, Marcy.”
“I wouldn’t lie to you.”
“You’ve lied to me my whole life.” Sage uncrossed her arms. “You don’t know what the truth is anymore.”
“These are his things.” Mother pushed the flat edge of the ax into the wood.
“And the dead possum?” Sage whimpered. “You’re crazy…I’m calling the hospital.” Sage tried to squeeze past Mother.
“Where are you going?” Mother wrapped her bloody hands around Sage’s arms and then moved them up to her neck. “Where are you going?” she repeated.
“Did you see Sebastian and Margolis while you were out?”
The ax fell, sliding down to the basement floor. Mother followed, scrambling to the wagon where she frantically eyed its contents.
“Where’s the ring?” Mother dug. “What did you do with the ring?”
Sage and I, one step at a time, backed into the doorway.
Mother picked up each item and searched it, dirt clumping to her fingers.
“Where’s the ring,” she screamed over and over, wild and panicked.
Sage pushed me through the doorway and shut the door, twisting the lock. She motioned for me to stay quiet. Moments later Mother was jiggling the knob, banging for us to let her in.
The banging stopped after about an hour. Sage and I sat at the kitchen table, our eyes wide with anticipation.
“She’s going to break down the door,” I whispered.
“No, she’s not…” Sage listened.
We waited, uncertainty growing as night fell.
“Are we going to keep her down there?”
Sage didn’t answer. We sat on the porch fighting the mesquites while we waited for Steven. When his truck turned onto our street, Sage got up and started running towards the headlights. Steven slowed and she hopped in. She was hugging him and hitting him at the same time.
“I’m not cheating on you,” he kept saying, walking Sage to the porch. “Sit down…calm yourself.”
“Mother’s in the basement.”
“What is she doing in the basement?”
“We locked her in.”
“What?” Steven stood up, running his hands through his hair. “Why? What’s going on?” he looked around.
Mosquitoes danced around the light. Sage bowed her head.
“She stopped taking her medicine and…”
“She’s been following you.”
“Following me? No way.” Steven sat down next to Sage. “What is this? Did you have her follow me?”
“No,” Sage screamed. “She’s not following you…it’s complicated.”
“She’s not?” I asked, more confused now.
“Sebastian Margolis…and I think she found him, but she thinks it’s you.”
“What?” Steven shook his head in disbelief, a nervous laugh slipped out.
“She thinks he’s Sebastian and Margolis?” I asked, a little confused.
“I think so…it seems that way.”
“You can’t keep her in the basement…did you call the hospital or her doctor?”
“Lord Jesus,” Steven said. “This is crazy. I can’t…”
“I need your help,” Sage pleaded.
“I can’t do this…” Steven put his hands on his knees. “I can’t deal with all of this.”
Sage and I stared at him, watching him squirm.
“I don’t know what else to do…I need your help.”
“You have to let her out of the basement.”
“She’s scary,” I offered.
“It doesn’t matter,” Steven stood up. “You can’t leave her down there.”
“She killed a possum.”
“A possum? What’s scary about that?” Steven was growing more doubtful.
“Well, maybe she was right,” Sage followed Steven to his car.
“About you…she said you didn’t plan on marrying me.”
“Sage, stop it!” Steven shouted. “You’re unbelievable.”
“You’re unbelievable.” Sage shouted as Steven sped away.
Back inside we listened for Mother, but all was quiet.
“What do you think she’s doing in there?” I asked.
Sage shrugged and headed upstairs.
“Let’s go to bed.”
Nightmares invaded my sleep all night. I awoke again and again breathless after dreams of Mother escaping the basement, wandering through the house in search of us, ax still in hand. By morning her screams had started again.
“Let me out!”
“Just ignore her,” Sage said. She was more assured now, working through a plan she had devised in her sleep.
“What about the wedding?” Mother asked, seemingly lucid.
Sage didn’t answer. Instead she put oatmeal in two to-go containers and we left.