Friday, May 13, 2016

A Normal Girl's Tale by James Krehbiel

Wealthy parents abandon their disabled daughter to the care of a religious nanny, who is promised generous compensation if she fulfils one terrible condition; by James Krehbiel.

Suzanne tripped over the threshold and fell down. She pulled herself up, wobbled a few more feet, stumbled into a floor lamp and fell down again. Over the next few weeks, she'd continue to collide with everything in her path. But what could you expect? Besides the obvious, she hadn't even had her second birthday. Immediate acclimation? I don't think so.

How was it possible? Why us? Those were the first two questions Suzanne's parents asked themselves. "Certainly it couldn't have been hereditary. We come from such solid stock, healthy as a horse," they said. "It had to have been some cruel fluke. Some sort of punishment for our success and wealth." God was getting back at them, they thought.

Asinine. That's what it was. Did God really give a rat's ass about them or their wealth? Although it might not be out of the realm of reason to assume that it was a test, one of life's hurdles that pops up and pushes you to extremes.

By all accounts, Suzanne's parents failed miserably and in looking back, it wasn't all that difficult to see where the real handicap was. Yes, they said they tried, did everything possible, but that's hogwash. A band aid on their oozing laceration of guilt. "We took her to the best specialists," they said. "We spent days, months searching for the right doctor," they justified. "Not to mention the money," they exclaimed. Ah yes, the money. Spend enough and all that guilt and grime magically washes right off. Isn't it wonderful?

None of it made sense. Priceless paintings hanging in a log cabin tucked up on the side of a mountain, miles from civilization, out of sight? Antiques worth thousands of dollars and Persian rugs they'd never set foot on? Sterling silver, silk linens, gold candle holders carefully placed in a log cabin they'd never reside in? It's truly astonishing what some people do to ease their guilt.

Finding Margaret eased their guilt as well. They insisted that they had searched for months to find the right person. "She'll work out beautifully," they reassured one another. "And she's willing too," they said. As if that in itself was justification. "We just need to make sure she'll abide by our terms."



The vista from Dr. and Mrs. Stone's high rise was breathtaking. Central Park was even more beautiful from a bird's eye view. Margaret perched upright on a satin upholstered loveseat, her knees pressed firmly together and her hands folded politely in her lap. Dr. and Mrs. Stone sat across from her, taking notes. Suzanne was asleep in her crib, down the hall.

Dr. Stone sifted through a few pieces of paper. "Ah, here it is," he said. "I see from your resume that you've recently been employed at St. Mary's daycare for handicapped children."

"Yes, that's correct," Margaret said.

"Can you tell us a bit about your work there?"

Margaret's fingertips found the crucifix that hung from her neck. "It's always been my calling," she said. "To work with and care for children in need."

"I see," Dr. Stone said. "And what exactly were your duties at St. Mary's?"

"I taught sign language and braille. And I worked with children who had emotional or psychological difficulties," she said.

"And you found your work rewarding?" he asked.

"Oh yes, very much so. The Lord has always shown me my path," she said. "I was put on this earth to help children."

"I see," Dr. Stone said. "And can you tell us why you've decided to leave St. Mary's?"

Margaret hesitated before she answered Dr. Stone's question. It seemed as though she was sifting through what she should say, what she shouldn't.

"I've always felt as though I wanted to be able to spend more time with one child," she said. "At St. Mary's, I was responsible for quite a few children and at times, I feel as though my gifts were spread so thinly."

Margaret hoped her answer would suffice. She saw no reason to go into the real reason for her departure from St. Mary's. The Stones didn't need to know of the overzealous relationship she formed with one little boy in particular. Father Joseph had given her a choice. Either resign and the matter would be forgotten or face being let go. If she chose the latter, her dismissal would need approval from the elders of the church that oversaw the daycare center. Margaret resigned.

"I see," Dr. Stone said. "Well, you certainly have all the qualifications that we're looking for." He looked to his wife. She smiled and nodded in agreement. "I believe we'd like to hire you," he said. "I assume you're still interested."

"Yes, most definitely I am." Margaret released the crucifix she'd been holding. She folded her hands in her lap and bowed her head as if in prayer.

"Excellent. Let's chat about what exactly the position involves," he said. "Now, you realize this is a lifelong commitment."

Margaret sat still, her head lowered. She did not look up as Dr. Stone spoke.

"We expect that you'll look after Suzanne until you are no longer healthy enough to do so."

"Yes, I understand." Margaret's voice, as fragile as the Lalique glass sculpture placed on the table in front her sounded as though at any moment it might crack under the realization. She kept her head down, staring at the priceless oriental.

"We have one last term that you must agree to," Dr. Stone said.

Margaret looked up.

"We want Suzanne to have as normal an upbringing as possible." Dr. Stone continued. "Although we won't be there, we do want what's best for our daughter." Dr. and Mrs. Stone stole a glance from one another. They shifted their weight awkwardly in unison. "Suzanne is... well, Suzanne is different from other children."

Mrs. Stone piped up. "We do not want her to feel different. It's very important to us." She hesitated. "It's important that she never know."

Margaret's eyes narrowed. She looked over to Dr. Stone. "That she never know?" she asked.

"Yes." Mrs. Stone went on. "We do not want Suzanne to know she's... well, blind. We want her to feel as though she is no different from anyone else, you know, that she's normal," she said. "That's why we're sending her away to live with you. It's for her own good."

Aside from a slight gasp, Margaret remained silent.

Wouldn't you have as well? How the hell do you raise a child and keep that knowledge from them? How do you avoid any reference to sight? How do you explain the "click" she'll hear when you flip a lamp on? How do you explain the sound of curtains closing? Why would they even need to be closed? Why would they need to exist? How do you steer clear of any and all references to a painting, a rainbow, the sunset, an expression of joy, the flight of a bird?

"We understand this may not be easy at first," Dr. Stone said. "But we have great faith in you, Margaret. Initially, you'll have to think carefully before you speak. Teach Suzanne that we all see with our touch. Let her believe we all have only four senses. You will be paid handsomely for your efforts." Dr. Stone paused. "You will have everything you need - and everything Suzanne needs."

Had Margaret been older and more secure than her twenty-three years allowed, she might have questioned Dr. and Mrs. Stone. Why were they sending their daughter away? Did the loss of one's sight justify isolation? Was it so horrible not to see the dog that had just been run over by a car, lying in the middle of the road? Wasn't it okay not to see the homeless man sleeping in rat infested alleys? Was it such a terrible thing to be shielded from the horrors we see?

But Margaret didn't have the nerve to ask the questions or perhaps she feared the answers. She agreed to Dr. and Mrs. Stone's terms and knew that caring for a blind child would lift her up in God's eyes. Would it?



Arms stretched out, her head tilted in a direction other than the one she was moving in, Suzanne groped her way around the living room. Almost two years old and she was already learning to see with touch. Yes, priceless items were bumped into; many crashed to the floor in pieces. What could you expect from a sightless toddler? It seemed a small price to pay. Things could be replaced. Money was no object, the Stones said.

They stood in the doorway watching, silent for the first few moments.

"You'll find certain modifications we've made to the cabin," Dr. Stone said. "The light switches are silent. She'll never know when you've turned a lamp on or off. There are no curtains framing the windows, only shutters on the outside of the cabin that you can close when necessary. The only television is in your bedroom and placed high enough that she'll never know it exists."

"You'll need to listen to it using an ear piece so she won't hear it and ask questions," Mrs. Stone added.

"Also," Dr. Stone said, "there is no telephone - no land line. We can't take the risk of her contacting the outside world." Dr. Stone glanced over to his wife as if seeking confirmation. "You'll have your cell phone. I suggest you keep it on vibrate."

"We want her to have a normal life," Mrs. Stone said. "Granted she can't see the luxury surrounding her, but she'll know it's there. She'll feel it," she said.

Will she? Does a Ming dynasty dish feel any different from others? Does it sound different when it falls to the floor and shatters to pieces? Will Suzanne know she's eating off Flora Danica dinnerware imported from Denmark? Will the food taste better? Would she know the oil paintings she accidentally bumps into are precious works of art? Would she care?

There were other modifications to the cabin that Margaret would discover over time. The Stones didn't go into the details. There was a gallery opening back in Manhattan they wanted to attend and if they didn't leave now, God forbid, they might be late. So, silently, with no goodbye, no hug, they slithered back to their car and drove back to what was really essential.



Initially, Suzanne's questions were easily dealt with. Almost any answer if delivered with confidence is believable for a child. And Margaret learned to play the game. She too, when guiding Suzanne down the hall to bed each night, would stretch her arms out, pretending to feel her way. She chose her words carefully. She banished the words: look, see, gaze, glance, view, appear, observe, references to color and others that referenced sight in any form from her vocabulary. She'd close her eyes and pretend she was sightless trying to gain insight into Suzanne's world.

She played up the only senses available. She taught Suzanne how to read braille. She'd sit at the Steinway, playing, as Suzanne would sit close by and bob her head back and forth in time with the music. She'd tickle Suzanne's taste buds with chocolate mousse, raspberry tarts and minced pies. And daily, she'd pick flowers so pungent that Suzanne would stand in front of them, only inches away, taking in their fragrance.

Suzanne learned the house, counted steps, felt for the familiar object whether it be a chair, table or an unseen picture hanging on the wall. She discovered the world with her hands and fingertips so sensitive she could distinguish between old or new, living or deceased, sublime or vile.

Initially, Margaret relished her role. Suzanne clung to Margaret as though she were her lifeline - her rock. She followed Margaret's voice through the cabin. She attached herself to Margaret's side. She hung on Margaret's every word and soaked in every bit of advice or information Margaret offered. She lived through Margaret.

Margaret beamed at Suzanne's discoveries. Doesn't any great teacher feel that sense of accomplishment when their pupils learn? Annie Sullivan would have been proud.

How nice to feel indispensable and relied upon. It must feel so rewarding to be a savior. She hoped God was watching.



The two and half hour drive up felt endless. They certainly couldn't have their chauffeur drive them up so they gassed up the Mercedes and made the trip themselves.

Such sacrifices parents make for their children.

They parked the car far enough away from the cabin so it couldn't be heard and trekked up the hill to the cabin. Margaret greeted them on the front porch.

"She's inside reading right now. I think you'll be pleased with how well she's doing and I've managed to keep our little secret, too," Margaret explained.

The Stones walked over to the window and peered in. They watched as Suzanne's fingers skimmed lightly over her book.

"What is she reading?" Mrs. Stone asked. "And how do you explain any references to sight?"

"I tell her that they refer to touch or sound or smell," she explained. "That that's how we all see. She's young enough not to question. At the moment, she's reading her favorite book, Sleeping Beauty." Margaret went on. "She loves that book. She's probably read it a hundred times!" she exclaimed. "I think her favorite part is when the fairy godmothers enter, wave their wands and poof... well, you know the story, I'm sure," she said. "It's funny though, whenever she gets to the part with Maleficent, Suzanne calls me in to sit with her. She absolutely will not read that section without me there. I think she's afraid. I keep telling her it's only a story but she insists I be there with her. Doesn't matter what I'm in the middle of," she added.

I wonder if it did matter. Was there time for Margaret? Time for solitude? Time for prayer?

The three of them stood at the window watching. "Would you like to go in and talk with her?" Margaret asked.

"I'm not sure we should," Mrs. Stone remarked. "She might wonder who we are and what would we say? We wouldn't want to have to fib now, would we?"

Yes, let's not fib. And now they decide to stop?

"No, I think it's best we keep our distance," Dr. Stone reassured. "She seems to have bonded with you, Margaret. We wouldn't want to intrude."

"My, she's grown," Mrs. Stone said, with her nose pressed to the glass. "She hardly looks like the toddler we brought here three years ago. Don't you think she looks well, Harold?" she asked.

"She does. You've done a fine job, Margaret. We're very pleased," he said, as he brushed a few pine needles from his overcoat. "Has she asked about us?" He spoke with a tinge of expectation. "I wonder if she's missed us," he said.

Would she have? Aren't they essentially two strangers who dumped her off as a toddler in the middle of the woods, trusting a religious zealot to do their job?

"I think Suzanne believes that I am her mother," Margaret explained. "I haven't said as much. I've let her think as she wishes."

"Well, I suppose that's how it needs to be, at least for the time being," Mrs. Stone said. She looked over to her husband.

"Yes, for now it's probably best," he said.

Their words were wrapped in disappointment. Astonishing, isn't it? How the Stones were more than eager to abandon their daughter, relinquish their roles as parents and yet feel despondent when they weren't loved and remembered?

A gnarled form of greed?



There are only so many times you can read Sleeping Beauty before the novelty wears off.

Margaret woke feeling a presence next to her bed. She pried her eyes open and glanced at the clock. Three a.m. Moonlight coming through the window cast Suzanne's shadow on the wall.

"Suzanne? What's wrong? Why aren't you in bed?"

"I had a bad dream," Suzanne said. "I can't sleep."

"Again? Margaret asked.

"It was scary. Can I get in bed with you?"

Margaret wanted to say no. That she'd had enough of sharing her bed. That she was tired of being awoken in the middle of the night. But no, her mission was not to cast aside.

"Did you try to think about nice things? Remember we talked about that last week? Whenever you wake up from a bad dream, you just think of nice things," she said. "You know, like good books, music, the smell of wild flowers. It'll take your mind off the dream and help you to fall back asleep. Did you try that?"

"I tried but it didn't work," Suzanne mumbled. "Can I climb in?"

Margaret shifted her weight. She looked at Suzanne with her head tilted ever so slightly and her little hands inching across the comforter in search of Margaret. She felt heaviness in her heart. And she feared that heaviness would be seen by the Lord.

"Okay, if you have to. But somewhere along the line, you're going to have to learn to stay in your own bed," Margaret explained. "I won't be around forever," she said.

Margaret lifted her quilt and Suzanne climbed in. She pressed up close to Margaret.

"But I don't want you to go away," Suzanne said. "I need you."

Suzanne rested her head on Margaret's shoulder. She wrapped her arm around Margaret as if seeking the comfort of a stuffed bear. Within minutes she was sound asleep.

I need you.

Those words clung. Actually they smothered.

Suzanne, at the age of seven, had surpassed bonding. There seemed little she could do without Margaret. They read together, plunked out little melodies on the piano together, took walks together, ate meals together and lately, they were sleeping together. And if Margaret tried to seclude herself in a different room, it seemed minutes before Suzanne stole her privacy, asked what she was doing and pleaded for attention. "Can you read to me? Will you play me a tune? I have a headache. Will you put a cold washcloth on my forehead and sit with me?"

The questions and demands were endless - oppressive.

But isn't that what Margaret had fostered? A child totally dependent upon her? Wasn't that part of the deal - her agreement with the Stones? Should she have expected anything else?



Since their arrival at the cabin, Margaret had lived for her mission in caring for Suzanne. She had spent the last five years coddling, nurturing and holding Suzanne close to her. The Lord had shown her the path to sainthood and Margaret tried her best to carry on but now her burden felt heavy, and it was a burden she no longer relished. The Lord had told her to follow her heart. But how does one follow their heart, when their mind tells them something else? Should she remain vigilant, loving and caring while losing her sense of self? Wasn't Suzanne's wellbeing dependent on Margaret's? Could the Lord accept her selfishness? She prayed.

Dear Lord, Forgive me for my angst and shed light on my mission. Give me the strength to step back and show me how to teach independence under your guidance. Hold me in your arms as I relinquish the burden I feel and show me the path I've chosen is just. Lift my pain of betrayal. I remain your humble servant. Amen.

She knew he was watching as she planted the seed of independence. He noticed as she stepped away, held fast to her solitude. He watched as Suzanne cried outside of locked doors. He saw Margaret turn her back.

Poor Margaret. Would she have done it all differently? Would she have fostered independence sooner? Would she have foregone sanctity for her own wellbeing? Could she have?



A few months later, Margaret woke to an eerie silence. She draped her robe over her shoulders, put her slippers on and started down the hallway. Suzanne's bedroom door was open. The room was empty.

"Suzanne?"

She walked through the living room and into the kitchen. A half empty glass of orange juice sat on the kitchen table.

"Suzanne? Are you here?" Suzanne's cane. Was it still leaning against the wall beside the front door? It was not.

That seed of independence she had planted in Suzanne? The one that felt so necessary? Had she done her job too well?

She hurried to the cabin door, flung it open and started calling.

"Suzanne! Suzanne, are you out here?"

Her voice was swept up in the wind, her words snatched by grey clouds. She rushed down the front steps, eyes scanning the landscape as she called out over and over. She cupped her hands around her mouth to be heard. "Suzanne! Can you hear me? Where are you?" She nearly tripped as she started running around the side of the cabin. She ran in the direction of the ravine.

Off in the distance, beneath the protection of a towering pine, Suzanne sat on a boulder, her cane propped against it, beside her. As though lifted from a fairy tale and bathed in the setting sun's crimson hue, ferns rustled in the breeze, a pair of falcons floated overhead, wild flowers nodded to one another and an eleven year old girl sat motionless gazing out over the lush forest canopy. It seemed as if Suzanne had simply taken the moment to reflect, look out over the treetops and allow herself to be held by serenity.

"Suzanne! Did you hear me calling?" Margaret asked, as she walked up behind Suzanne.

Suzanne, pulled from the moment, half turned her head in Margaret's direction pointing her ear towards Margaret. "No, I didn't. Why?"

"Why? You scared me!" Margaret scolded. "I woke up to an empty house. I was worried about you," she said.

Suzanne turned a bit further in Margaret's direction, but not quite facing her. "But, I'm fine. There's nothing to worry about," she said, as if unable to understand Margaret's concern. "Besides, I've come out here before."

"Yes, I know," Margaret said. "But you've always let me know when you were leaving the house and this time... well, you didn't say anything."

"But you were sleeping, weren't you? I didn't want to wake you." Suzanne turned her head back toward the treetops. She filled her lungs with the mountain air. "I think you worry about me too much," she said.

But wasn't that Margaret's job? The one she was being paid so handsomely for? Wasn't that her path to sainthood? But over time, any path can disappear. It's difficult to know which direction to go in. And now with the seed of independence blossoming within Suzanne, would Margaret's existence offer her salvation?

Seems a shame that a young woman in her prime would put so much stock in thinking her service might promise her sainthood in the afterlife. It all sounded so rewarding, originally. But we know better, don't we? Sanctity comes at an awfully high price.



Thirteen is a bitch of an age. When a child enters puberty, it's bound to be a rough road. You know, all those hormones racing around, crashing into each other. It's a time for breaking away and asserting oneself.

That's how it was supposed to go, wasn't it?

Margaret had spent the last few days in bed. Was she ill or perhaps just feeling a tad down?

She'd drag herself out to the kitchen, heat up a bowl of soup and then shuffle back to her room.

In between patches of slumber, she'd wake feeling as though she was shirking her duties. Shouldn't she be attending to Suzanne? Cooking? Cleaning? Educating? Wasn't she needed? She expected Suzanne to pop her head in occasionally, asking where this or that was. You know, showing need. She expected Suzanne to be floundering, a disabled ship lost in the dark out at sea.

But was it really an expectation or perhaps more likely a need?

Suzanne came and went, prepared her own meals, did the laundry and even picked up the cabin. She entertained herself at the keyboard, buried her fingers in great books and took long walks.

A job well done! Margaret had found solitude. She had found time for prayer. She had instilled independence in Suzanne. If only she could start over.



The Stones next visit came shortly before Suzanne's fourteenth birthday. It had been almost eight years since their last visit. It seemed an appropriate interval to them.

"Let's not stay too long," Mrs. Stone said, as they turned up the dirt road leading to the cabin. "I want to get back early and have time to prepare for the gallery fund raiser," she said.

"That's fine. We'll just peek in for a moment and then be on our way."

There you go! Peeking in would be more than enough. That would make them feel better.

They stood looking through a cluster of pine trees.

"My, she's so much taller. I'd hardly recognize her!" Mrs. Stone said.

"She has grown," Dr. Stone added.

They watched as Suzanne tapped her way around the perimeter of the cabin, her cane leading the way.

"She really is becoming quite independent, as you can see," Margaret explained. "She has no qualms about going off on her own. She's learned to use her cane well. She hardly needs me anymore," Margaret chuckled. "But of course I don't let her out of my sight - nothing to worry about," she said.

And so, the Stones didn't worry. What was there to worry about? They accepted Margaret's explanation with open arms and drove back to Manhattan feeling content. Their sense of duty was commendable.

If only more parents would follow in their footsteps.



Tight clothes can make you think you've gained weight. Who knew cashmere and wool should never be put in the dryer?

But it really started with the rearranging of furniture. Just a bit of home décor? Some twisted form of entertainment? A little joke?

Surely there's a lesson there somewhere and Suzanne still needed to be taught important life lessons. Caution. Yes, let's teach caution! Independence is a tricky thing. Everyone needs help from time to time. And just perhaps, Suzanne will understand that great teachers are not dispensable. That sounded good and learning to be cautious is all part of the job, isn't it? After all, little remains the same.

And what really could you expect? The transition from feeling essential to unneeded is difficult to deal with. One has to find ways around it.

"Ouch!" Suzanne called out from the living room. "Margaret? Did you move the table?" she asked.

Margaret sat at the kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee and still in her robe. Afternoon sunshine streamed in through the living room window. "Table? What table? No, I didn't move anything," she said. "Why?"

Suzanne walked into the kitchen, a gash just under her kneecap where she had collided with the coffee table, a trickle of blood running down her shin. "I swear it was sixteen steps from the front door to the coffee table," she said. "You sure you didn't move it? Maybe when you vacuumed or something?"

"No, I didn't move a thing. Maybe your steps have gotten bigger," she said. "You're not the little girl you used to be." She smirked.

Ah, the benefits of living with a blind child. You could smirk, grimace, or roll your eyes in disgust.

"I swear that table moved." Suzanne sounded exasperated.

"Well, it didn't and you're fine, so I wouldn't worry about it." Margaret glanced at the trickle of blood winding its way down Suzanne's shin. "Just count more carefully next time." Margaret pushed herself up from the kitchen table. "I'm going to take a bath," she said.

"What about lunch?" Suzanne asked. "I'm hungry."

"You're fifteen years old now - a big girl," Margaret said. "You know how to fend for yourself. I think there's some yogurt in the refrigerator."

Suzanne's hands guided her along the kitchen counter and over to the refrigerator. She found the container of yogurt, opened the lid and sniffed.

"Do you think this is still good?" she asked. "I can't tell."

Margaret took the yogurt from her and glanced into the container. She quietly picked up a spoon, scooped out most of the mold, gave it a stir and handed it back to Suzanne.

"It's still good," she said.



Once again, the Stones stood in front of the picture window peering in. Suzanne was taller and thinner, on the threshold of becoming a young lady. Fifteen years old and aging rapidly, her shoulders drooped, her spine twisted. Her hair, lifeless and stringy covered her eyes. She sat at the piano, half facing the window, fingers like brittle sticks searching for a tune.

"What are all those bruises from?" Mrs. Stone asked.

"She's grown," Margaret said. "She needs to relearn where things are. Her steps have increased but she hasn't taken that into account and she absolutely refuses to use her cane in the house. It's her independent streak." She hesitated. "The transition hasn't been easy for her."

What a crock. How tough is it to count to fifteen instead of sixteen? But of course, we know it had nothing to do with counting steps. It's impossible to walk through a mine field unscathed.

"But you're helping her, aren't you?" they asked.

"Oh yes, of course I am," Margaret replied. "It just takes time."

Dr. and Mrs. Stone didn't bother to ask why Suzanne looked so disheveled and grimy.

I wonder if they noticed Margaret's waning sense of duty and were afraid to say anything for fear she'd pick up and leave. Best not to push.



Postcards are a wonderful thing.

The first arrived eight months after the Stones' last visit.

"Oh look, here's a postcard from Margaret." Mrs. Stone pulled it from the pile of mail, leaned back in her armchair, took a sip of tea and read.

"It sounds as though Suzanne is doing well. Margaret says she's relearning the house more and more, fewer bumps and bruises. And she's filling out, too - gaining weight. Isn't that nice?"

"Uh - huh," Dr. Stone mumbled. He wasn't listening - too busy looking at Queen Mary II brochures planning their upcoming vacation. "How does an ocean cruise sound to you?" he asked. "Then afterwards we could spend some time in Paris. I know how much you love Paris," he said. "What do you think?"

She tossed the postcard on the end table. "I think that sounds lovely!" She rose and walked over to her husband, stood behind his chair, and looked over his shoulder. She pointed. "Let's book one of these cabins on the upper deck; they most likely have the best view. Don't you think?"

Why I am not surprised that the Stones had more important things to do other than chat for a moment about their daughter's well-being? Force of habit? Out of sight, out of mind? More important priorities?



Margaret stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes.

"Margaret?" Suzanne called from her bedroom. "Do you know where my cardigan is? I can't find it."

"It has to be there somewhere. When did you last wear it?"

"I just had it on yesterday. I swear I put it in the third drawer of my dresser!"

Margaret walked over to the kitchen chair and picked up Suzanne's cardigan. Another lesson to be learned? She opened an upper cupboard door and shoved it onto the top shelf. "Just keep searching," she called out. "It's wherever you last left it."

I wonder if Suzanne realized how lucky she was. It isn't everyone who has someone there to teach important life lessons, you know. And even if Margaret was feeling forlorn, you still have to give her a hearty pat on the back for hanging in there and carrying on. Maybe she would find sainthood after all.

Suzanne stood at the kitchen door tugging on the neckline of her pullover.

"This sweater feels so tight," she said. "Either it's shrunk or I'm gaining weight."

"I doubt it's shrunk. Maybe you are gaining weight."

"I don't think I am. It's weird. Most everything feels too small," Suzanne said. "I don't get it."

Margaret walked back over to the sink. She looked at the pile of dirty dishes. "That's strange. I don't see how that's possible." She scraped dried egg from a pan. "I think you've probably gained weight. Wouldn't hurt to exercise, don't you think?"

Suzanne kept yanking at the sleeves of her sweater. "Maybe you're right. I should start walking more," she said.

"A good walk everyday wouldn't hurt."

"You're right. I'm going to start right now. Do you know where my cane is?"

Margaret glanced at Suzanne's cane leaning against the kitchen wall. She stood, walked over and picked it up. She walked back to Suzanne and stood directly in front of her. She smiled.

"No, I have no idea where it is. Is it by the front door?" She dug her fingernails into the cane's surface. She looked at it with disdain. "Actually, I'm not sure you need it anymore. You've certainly been outside enough to know your surroundings."

Suzanne continued to wrestle with her sweater. "I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable outside without it," she said.

"But you're sixteen years old now and so independent," Margaret said. "This might be one more little fear to overcome."

Or one more chance to fail? A jerk back to reality? A stumble over a downed tree? A little collision with a low hanging branch? Everyone wants to feel needed.

"Will you come with me?"

"You don't need me. Wouldn't that defeat the whole purpose?" Margaret said. "You'll be fine."

Suzanne leaned against the wall, still tugging at her sweater. "You think I'll be okay?"

"I'm sure of it. Just don't wander too far," Margaret said. "And think of the sense of accomplishment."

Margaret watched as Suzanne cautiously made her way to the front door. She watched Suzanne pass within inches of a pair of shoes that had somehow been left in the middle of the room.

"By the way," Margaret said, as Suzanne was just about to leave. "Somewhere along the line, you're going to have to start helping out more around here. I'm not a maid. You're capable of washing a dish or two."

After Suzanne left, Margaret walked over to the cellar door. She reached up and unlocked it. Yes, another modification to the cabin. The basement door lock had been placed out of reach for Suzanne's safety. She placed the cane just inside the doorway, closed the door and locked it. It's important to put things where they can be found, you know.



Books packed up in boxes. Clothes strewn about needing to be sorted. Had a hurricane blown through? Moving is arduous work.

"I'll be so glad when we're finally settled," Mrs. Stone remarked. "I can't believe we're actually going to be living in Paris!"

Dr. Stone squeezed another book into an already jam packed box. "Well," he said, "It's always been a dream of ours and it's about time it became a reality."

"Oh, look," Mrs. Stone said, as she shuffled through the mail. "Another postcard from Margaret. My goodness, when was the last one? Seems like ages ago. How old is she now? I've forgotten - twenty-two or twenty three?"

Is seven years considered ages? Either way, it seems like a lot, doesn't it?

"This sounds terrible of me but I'd almost forgotten," she said.

"Huh?" Dr. Stone grunted, as he tried in vain to cram just one more book into the box.

"Suzanne," she said. "Our daughter?" She turned to her husband and laughed. "My, don't tell anyone!"

He looked over to his wife and smiled. "Your secret is safe!"

"Margaret has sent a couple pictures of Suzanne." She held the photos out for her husband but he showed no interest. "She looks well from what little I can tell."

Some photographers take great pains in finding the right angle to shoot their subjects from, the perfect lighting - the right setting. It's important to replicate the likeness as accurately as possible. Margaret relied on distance and glare.

The first photo was an outdoor shot. There was a thin ground cover of snow, the trees stripped of their leaves. Off in the distance, some twenty or thirty yards away, you could just pick out Suzanne, frozen in place, her face within inches of a tree. She appeared to be bundled up in layer upon layer of clothing. Margaret had written a little caption underneath.

Suzanne outside, enjoying some fresh air. She's gained all that weight back!

The second photo was a shot taken from outside, looking in through the picture window. Suzanne sat at the piano with her back to the camera. Margaret took the picture from so close to the window that all you really saw was her reflection holding the camera. You would have had to look very closely to notice the homemade sling that held Suzanne's left arm.

Suzanne has become quite the pianist!

Ah, peace of mind. It really is a great thing. Suzanne was doing well, thriving in fact! The Stones had no reason to consider one last visit before they moved to Europe. Why would they? Margaret was in staying touch. Nothing to worry about. Time to move on.



Foster a sense of reliance in a blind toddler from day one. Nurture that reliance until it becomes a burden. Bind your hands behind your back, step away and expect independence. Don't rejoice when it comes. Feel slighted and pissed that you're no longer needed. Parenting 101?

It was no surprise that Margaret had moved out of the cabin. At forty-seven years of age, twenty-four of them trapped alone with a blind girl, the rustic life and her desire to nurture had vanished. Besides, she really wasn't needed like she used to be and the journey to sainthood sucked. Yes, she still dropped in every week or so to throw out the piled up garbage, replenish the refrigerator and of course to rearrange a few things.

It's important that Suzanne not become too comfortable in her surroundings. Margaret thought it still her role to "educate" Suzanne. Yes, that's how she defined it. Even if Margaret wasn't needed, there were still important lessons to be taught. No point in lulling her into a sense of security or safety. It's a scary world.

And those gold candle stick holders? The imported china? Was Suzanne really capable of appreciating those luxuries? Hardly. What a waste for them to be hidden up in a cabin, unseen. They should be appreciated. Yes, that made sense.

The "accidental" tumble down the cellar steps (how the hell did that door get opened?), the bout of food poisoning, the shoes, tables and chairs that found their way in Suzanne's path? The cane snapped in half and lying buried under overgrown grasses in the side yard? The mind games?

Seems like enough. Doesn't it?

I suppose there comes a time when you hoist the white flag. You succumb, give up in defeat and curl up in a ball waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. Oh wait, there's no light. Never was.

Occasionally, Suzanne would drag herself from the couch, stand in the open doorway, take in the scent of pine and feel the chill of a breeze as it brushed over her face. She never did venture any further. Too many unknowns, too much danger out there. Time alters the landscape. So she wandered from couch to bathroom to kitchen day after day. Sometimes she'd sit at the piano trying to play an instrument that was badly out of tune with half the keys warped or stuck in fixed positions.

Margaret held to the agreement. She came and went, providing what she termed as care. She slid the ottoman over a foot, angled the couch out just a touch, left a pair of boots in the middle of the room. Just little things. She closed the shutters and locked them. She didn't bother with any lights. What was the point?

But of course, she never locked the front door. Why would she? She'd taught Suzanne how to be independent. Suzanne could come and go as she wished. It was important that she possess the options that everyone had. She deserved the joys life had to offer.

True to the Stones wishes, Margaret continued to let Suzanne believe we all lived with only four senses. After all, they really did have good intentions for their daughter and only wanted what was best for her.

You know - that she felt normal.

5 comments:

  1. A grim and creepy story that shows how torture can be delivered in small insistent bites. The iniquities of the Stones and of Margaret are horrendous, yet still they feel justified. An interestingly crafted yet uncomfortable read. Thanks,
    Ceinwen

    ReplyDelete
  2. this is a very interesting story, the Stones are for me the real villains, Margaret has a dubious sounding past and from the beginning seemed a little unstable. i think this would make a fine film, a 50s Hollywood creepy!

    fine piece of work

    Mike McC

    ReplyDelete
  3. The narrator is mysterious, an omniscient view delivered with sarcasm. A strange and creative tale. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Absorbing fiction. 'Couldn't put it down.' Why (or why not) I ask? What was going through my mind? At first I thought it was a witty parody/parable on parenting; every parent's debate with themselves - the balance between dependence and independence. Then I thought 'Room' - sorry to mention O'Donaghue's novel - of which, as we know the key is that the sensory-deprived child, when he breaks free from his spatially limited prison adapts better than his mother and the reason for that is the flow of unconditional and unlimited love between mother and child. But there's no love here, not from the Stones, from Margaret, not even God's love...and what happens to that notion? It seems to fizzle out...So ideas wise I'm left a tad confused, but I agree with Nancy's point. For the most part we're in either Margaret or Suzanne's POV - even briefly the Stones - but there's this ironic menacing omniscient voice, and in the end I have to ask myself why am I driven along by this narrative, and the answer could well hold the real creepy power of this story which is the reader's basic need to know whatever happens to 'Baby Jane'!
    Creepy Extraordinaire! B r o o k e

    ReplyDelete
  5. Apologies again, I miss spelled the author of 'Room' - Emma Donoghue.
    B r o o k e

    ReplyDelete