I was second in line to speak with my English professor. I waited outside his half-closed door, his voice pouring out into the hall.
“You had one week to complete this assignment. Why should I give you another chance?” Professor George asked.
“I had car trouble…”
“So why is this the first time I’m hearing about your car troubles?”
“If you notice in the syllabus,” Professor George flipped through some papers. “On the second page I say that I will excuse late work only if students contact me when something comes up,” Professor George interrupted. He waited a second and then dismissed the student.
She left clutching her textbook, loose papers, wrinkled and disorganized, stretching the binding. Tears collected in her eyes, composure far away as she stormed down the hall.
“Next?” Professor George called.
“Morning Professor,” I said, inching inside.
“Juniper, it’s good to see you.” He smiled and leaned forward in his chair. “How are you?”
“Well, I’m glad,” he rubbed his hands together. “I’m very sorry for your loss.
“Thank you.” I didn’t dare explain that losing my mother was not exactly what he imagined. “I have my paper.”
“Very good,” he took my paper and put it in a brown accordion file. “How are you coming along with Edgar Allan Poe?”
“I didn’t know he had foster parents.”
“Yep, both of his parents died…” Professor George looked down at his feet and then back at my face. “We’ll be studying his poems mostly though.”
“I understand,” I said getting up to leave. “I just wanted to drop my paper off and thank you for giving me some extra time.”
“You’re very welcome.” He stood up. “I look forward to seeing you in class this week…we’ve missed your insight.”
I smiled and left, my next stop the Chemistry building where I spent an hour answering questions about molecular collisions and chemical reactions. Frankie met me at the student union for a quick lunch before our Abnormal Psychology class.
“Hey you,” Frankie greeted me in line.
“Hey girl,” I gave her a sideways hug, our backpacks colliding.
“What’s new?” she asked.
“That was the longest week of my life.”
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m good…the doctor gave me a phone number to a man my mother might have known.”
“Wow, did you call?”
“Are you going to?”
I shrugged and ordered a chicken sandwich, fries, and a coke. Frankie ordered the same with a root beer.
“Guess what I got on the chem exam?” she asked as we sat at a table for two.
“Hmmm, an A?” I laughed.
“You’re good at chem. I probably got a B…hopefully.”
In Abnormal Psych our new unit was on Schizophrenia. We sat in the front row, taking pages of notes we’d compare later. Hallucinations. Delusions. Distorted thinking. Isolation. Each concept fit my mother, brought her back to life. It was if she were sitting next to me, squirming and whispering, “they’re coming for me…they’re coming for me, little one.” This time I was sympathetic, not dismissive, because I understood that she had suffered from a mental disorder, and that it could be explained by environment, development in utero, or genetics. This information confirmed that I could close this chapter of my life, but burning in the back of my mind were questions about my own risk: What would a psychiatrist say about my mental state? What would the diagnosis be?
Our next assignment was to create a psychological profile of someone.
“You may select someone famous; this includes serial killers and others made famous by their life of crime…” Professor Delaney explained. “If you select someone whom you know personally or know through someone, say a family member, you’ll need to meet with me first before you begin your project…”
“You should do your mother,” Frankie whispered. She was joking, but I was intrigued by the idea. The more I thought about Mother as my subject, the bigger the holes in my understanding of her grew. I had her notebook, Dr. Davenport, and a phone number of someone she may or may not have known.
“I don’t know…” I said, but in some way I hoped that it would work.
By the time I had gotten to my apartment, my mind was reeling. I wondered about the memories I couldn’t access, the ones I could, how slippery they were now as truth became slanted with an aging lens. I flopped on the couch and called home. Rachel picked up, the sound of water running in the background.
“Hey, Jun” she said, half surprised. “What’s going on? How are classes?”
“Everything’s good…I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Sure,” she turned off the water. “What’s going on?”
“What was I like when I first came to live with you and dad?”
“What do you mean?”
“What was I like? Did I say anything about my mother?”
“No, you didn’t say much. I do remember you had nightmares for quite some time…you used to run out the house in the middle of the night until we put a lock up top so you couldn’t reach.”
“Did I say anything?”
“No, you just took off running. Dad went after you.”
“Sage and I used to run after Mother… I don’t remember running after Prosper Road.”
“Of course not, sweetie. You were delirious. “I hung up disappointed, resolved to call Sebastian Margolis the next morning to see if he had anything to add.
As soon as my head hit the pillow sleep pulled me into its tornado. I floated in darkness, far from peace. Sage appeared grabbing my hand as we ran through the Juniper trees. My cheeks ached with cold. We ran and ran, our breaths loud in my ear. I didn’t know what we were running towards. We just ran. Fast. Hard. In the dream I looked behind us, Sage urging me to keep running. In the distance a figure gaining on us, his words jumbled, his face blank—a sheath of skin stretched with rage.
I awoke drenched that night and the nights that followed. Every morning I called the number Dr. Davenport had given me, but no one answered. So I started calling in the evening, still no answer.
“Everything okay?” Frankie asked when I missed Psych class.
“Yeah. I’m good. I wasn’t feeling well…I’ll call you,”
Soon I was home all day calling the number every few minutes.
“Pick up…pick up…”
No other calls came through and I didn’t call any other numbers. I sat next to the phone, blinds closed, lights off. My diet was sunflower seeds, canned peaches, and graham crackers. I was consumed with the idea of reaching Sebastian Margolis, convinced that he had information that would unravel the past. It wasn’t until Frankie stopped by and knocked on the door that I snapped out of it.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Frankie.”
I answered, planning to make up an excuse to send her on her way, but she had a different plan. She squeezed by me and demanded I tell her what was going on. I wanted to lie, make up a story about my absence, one she’d believe and take with her back to campus.
“I’m trying to reach Sebastian Margolis…”
“That’s why you haven’t been to class all week?”
“I have to talk to him.”
“No, you need to get ahold of yourself,” she put her hands on her hips and shook her head in disbelief. “You don’t know if your mother even knew this man.”
“I have to find out.”
“I don’t think you should…you’re not…stable.”
“My life’s a mystery…”
“No, it’s not. Your life is here. You have parents that love you, who are paying for you to go to school,” Frankie reasoned. “Do they know what you’re doing?”
I looked at the phone; my fingers danced along the buttons. Still no answer. Frankie knocked the phone out of my hands, sending it sliding across the floor.
“Let’s go for a walk,” She urged, grabbing my jacket and then pushing me out the door.
The fresh air and sunlight brought me back to reality. I remembered the mounting assignments and exams to prepare for.
“You’re feeling better aren’t you?”
Frankie left only after I told her I would call her in the morning, after I agreed to put the phone number away and get back to my studies. She watched me tuck the sheet of paper in a dresser drawer. I opened my literature book and read a few Edgar Allen Poe poems. But the third poem, The Valley of Unrest, made my skin prickle. I stood up and walked over to the phone. I picked it up and my fingers tapped the nine-digit number. I expected it would ring, anticipated to be soothed by its rhythm. Then a voice filled the line, soft but firm.
“Hello…hi…uh, this is Juniper Price. I’m trying to reach a Sebastian Margolis. Is he in?”
“He ain’t here.”
“Do you know when he will be home?” My knees struggled to support my weight.
“Um…can I leave a message for him?”
“Whom am I speaking with?”
“People call me M.”
“Well, M can I leave a message with you?”
“What do you want me to tell him?”
“Can you tell him that I, Juniper Price, wanted to talk with him about a woman named Marcy Hensley…he might have known her.”
“I’ll tell him.”
And that was it. The line went dead, and now I’d have to wait to see if Sebastian Margolis would return my call. I decided there in silence that I’d keep this conversation to myself.