Shadows in My Mind
I want to go home.
I do not know where I am. I do not know why I am here. There is a young woman crying next to me. She looks like one of my granddaughters, but she is too old. In the corner, there is a figure in the shadows. There are photos on the dresser. "Gramma?" the woman asks, seeing me awake. I smile, remembering her. "Margo? Is it time for lunch?" I have to get to my table if it's time for lunch.
I am facing a magic glass. I do not see my face in it. I see an old woman with harsh, cottony hair. A lady stands behind my left shoulder, and I ask her if the mirror shows the future. She asks why, and I tell her that in the mirror I look like I am ninety. She laughs and pats my hands and says that she's going to wash and set my hair. She says that she wants me to be good today. I touch my hair and feel that it is harsh, and I ask her why my hair is so messed up. She says it's because I haven't been good recently and she had to stop doing my hair. I look down and see that I am belted to the chair. She says it's so I don't fall. She says that I keep falling and that the seat belt is to protect me. I don't remember falling, I say. She smiles and rubs my shoulder. I scream, and the woman in the glass's face contorts.
A man tries to give me a handful of colorful pills. I don't know who he is. I ask him who he is, and he says Jacob. I don't know any Jacob, and I don't know these pills. I refuse. I want to go home. He says that this is my home now. I say that it is not. My home has white and blue hydrangeas that engulf the side of the house and a raspberry garden in the back. My home smells like bread and cinnamon. He says, "You can't go back there. Your son sold the house last year, remember?" I cry. My son betrayed me. "Is it time for lunch?" I ask. I have to go to the bathroom.
My husband died. They tell me that was twenty-one years ago. It doesn't seem that long ago. I remember when he died and I was left alone. I was scared. I am scared. I want to go home.
Brooklyn was there then. He sat in my lap when I cried. He nuzzled his little black nose against my neck and fell asleep when I fell asleep. His curly hair was soft, and I rubbed my fingers into it until I knew that everything was going to be okay. And when I was bold enough, Brooklyn walked to the park with me and nipped at my shoelaces until I laughed. But Brooklyn was gone, just like Henry, and all I have left of them are the photographs that sit on my dresser and flash in my mind.
I am strapped to a wheelchair. Someone walks past me. A man, a woman? I try to grab an arm. "Careful, Claire," the arm says. It's a man. His outline is fuzzy and hunched. "Put on your glasses," he says pointing to my chest. My glasses hang from a beaded chain around my neck. I put them on, but they are crooked. It is an old man who's been talking to me. His name is Ted. He leans on a padded walker. "Help me," I say. "I don't know where the door is." He laughs. "Why do you need the door?" "I've got to leave here," I whisper. "Aw, Claire, you don't want to go out there," Ted says. "It's snowing." He points to a large window that is swirling with white. I wonder if my family knows where I am. They would come and get me, I'm sure. I am a hostage, a prisoner.
Margo's kids bring me a stuffed dog. They put a red collar around its neck. A heart-shaped tag hangs from it. They tell me the tag says Brooklyn, and they say that when I'm lonely, I should hug it. It doesn't feel like Brooklyn or smell warm like him, but I hug it anyway.
My son comes. He looks old somehow, as if he's been sick. I hope that he is not sick. He tells me that he isn't, but his face is drawn. Maybe he is worried. I ask him if he wants some soda. I have some in the refrigerator. I can go get it. He tries to smile, and he says no. I ask him why he is home from college, but he says he graduated from college, don't I remember? I ask him if he wants some soda; I can go get it, but I look around, and I can't find my refrigerator. Someone has moved it. Someone has taken it. This is not my kitchen. This is not my house. He says, "It's okay, Ma. I don't want any soda." He says he's been talking to the doctor, but I interrupt him because I thought he said that he wasn't sick. He says, "No, Ma, your doctor." I am delighted because Dr. Evans is a wonderful doctor and my favorite neighbor. I tell Peter that I will bake a glazed pound cake that he can take to Dr. Evans, but he tells me that Dr. Evans died long ago. I tell Peter he is wrong because I just talked to Dr. Evans about getting cuttings from his rose bush. Peter shakes his head and says, "Ma, I'm talking about Dr. Miller." But I don't know any Dr. Miller, so Peter says never mind. He says he will tell Dr. Evans hello for me. I ask him if he's sick, because if he is, he should tell Dr. Evans. Peter promises he will. I ask him who is that with him, in the shadows. He asks who, and I point behind him. I say send him away, I don't like him, but Peter says there's no one there.
Peter is lying.
I sit at the dinner table. It is the breakfast table and lunch table too. There is someone sitting across from me. He doesn't look familiar. He must leave this table because soon the other ladies who share this table will be here and it will be dinnertime and they will not be able to sit in their places and what will happen then? But he says that dinner is two hours away and that he will be gone by then. I frown because I don't believe him and I am hungry and I want dinner and the ladies will be here soon and then where will they sit? He says again that dinner is not for two hours but then another man rushes over to him and whispers in his ear. The stubborn man looks at me, then stands and mutters "sorry" before walking away. I smile because now I can have my dinner and the other ladies will have someplace to sit.
When Gladys moved to town, we were still in high school. She lived down the street in a yellow house with blue trim. Orange daylilies bordered their front porch, and a willow tree shaded a swing nearby. Gladys married my brother. Then they moved to the next town, but we stayed close friends. After Henry, Gladys is my best friend. But Henry is gone. My brother is gone. Only Gladys and I remain. She says that she will never leave me.
My face hurts, and I can barely see. I touch my cheeks, and they are puffy. I wince trying to put on my glasses. Gladys says I fell out of my bed trying to go to the bathroom. She says that nurses are going to take precautions to make sure it doesn't happen again. But I don't remember falling, and I wonder why Gladys would say such things. Maybe she is not Gladys. Maybe she is just pretending to be Gladys. Maybe she did this to me.
If I were at home, none of this would have happened.
The other ladies are knitting and crocheting. I cannot because my hands are stiff with arthritis. But I can remember when I knitted and crocheted. I made little blankets for my children and for their children and for their children. Maybe not all their children. There was a boy, I think, born a few years ago. I didn't make anything for him because my knuckles were already swollen. I wanted to crochet a green and white afghan, but I didn't. I sent him $5 instead and received a little monogrammed note in return. His name was Peter, I think. No, Peter is my son. The little boy was Hank.
Behind the ladies, almost outside my vision, is a man. Maybe a man. He sits in the corner, in the dark. I have seen him before, I think, but I don't know his name. I call to him, but the other ladies tell me to quiet down, and when I look again, he is gone. I do not like him. I want to go home.
Dinner tonight is turkey with cranberry sauce and stuffing and corn bread. There are yellow and orange and red mums on the table, and Gladys says that it's Thanksgiving. She's excited, she says, because her granddaughter just called to tell her that she had her baby. The daughter named the baby Elena. They will try to bring the baby to visit in a few weeks, she says, if the doctors say it's okay. I wish my family called me. They must not know where I am or they would come get me. Gladys says that I already got three phone calls today, don't I remember? But I tell her that she is wrong; I haven't spoken to them in years. They don't call or visit. I ask her why there are flowers on the table. She says it's Thanksgiving. I want to have Thanksgiving at home. When Henry was alive, he went to a game park and shot our turkey himself. Sometimes we had venison too. Peter and Becky loved to make the pies and bread when she was little. When the kids were older, they brought their spouses with them, then their kids. But then they started to move away until, one year, nobody came. The next year Henry died. After that, I went to Peter's house for Thanksgiving and Becky's house for Christmas. But I haven't done that for a long time now. Maybe they have forgotten about me.
I am dreaming, I think. I cry out; I am at dinner and the shadow is gone.
There is an empty chair next to me. I ask Gladys whose seat it is. She says it's Katherine's. "But Katherine is gone," I say. "That's right," Gladys says, "she's gone." Then she smiles and says, "But we're still here," and she points to Sarah across from me. I ask Sarah when she came. I didn't see her come. But Sarah says nothing and Gladys explains that she had a stroke two weeks ago, remember?
Dogs come to visit us. One sits near my wheelchair for a moment before placing a paw in my lap. "Brooklyn?" I ask, and the dog wags its tail. "Her name is Sweetpea," the girl with the dog says. And I am angry with the dog for tricking me. But she is cute with watery brown eyes, so I pat her head anyway. Then she looks at the corner where the shadow waits, and I know that she sees it too. She wags her tail at it, and I stop petting her. "Take her away," I shout. I try to move my wheelchair but the brakes are on and I can't escape. The dog is startled and pulls back. The girl quickly bends down to pick her up. She tells her hush and takes her away. The nurse comes over. She tells me to be good or I won't be able to see the dogs again. I don't care. I want to go home. She takes me to my room, and I hug my stuffed Brooklyn, who is always here when the others have forgotten me.
I ask the nurse where my purse is. She asks why, can she get something for me? But I tell her that I need my purse because it is Sunday and on Sundays Henry and I go to church. I don't know why he left me here, but he will be here soon and I want to be ready to go when he comes. I don't want to be late. But the nurse says that it's not Sunday, its Thursday. So we will have a movie instead of church. "Where's Henry?" I ask. And she says Henry won't be coming. I tell her that's ridiculous because Henry would never leave me here alone, especially on a Sunday, and so I need my purse. She tells me that it's almost time for lunch and moves my wheelchair to my table. She says she'll be right back, and so I am waiting. I should've asked her for my purse.
I listen to the woman named Gladys who says that her daughters visited her this morning. She looks very frail as she says that they brought their children. They showed her pictures of their new puppy playing with a red and white ball. She shows me a picture that they left with her. "I had a dog," I say. She smiles. "Sure you did, Claire," she says. "His name was Brooklyn, remember?" I cry and she pats my hand. "I want to go home," I say. She smiles. "I know. We all want to go home."
There are faces that float in my mind. Of children, of adults. Some of them seem familiar, although I do not know their names. A few, I know—Henry, Brooklyn. The faces fade and are replaced by others, like a slide show of some ancient vacation. I call to them, but a nurse hands me some juice and tells me to stop yelling. She asks if I'm okay. I'm not. I don't know her, and I don't know why I'm here. The juice tastes funny. The nurse is trying to drug me. She denies it. I throw the juice at her, and it splatters across her shirt. She is angry now and pushes my wheelchair into a room with a bed and pictures on the dresser. The nurse says she is going to call Becky. I think she means my daughter. Maybe Becky will take me home and away from the darkness that lurks behind the curtain where the sun should be. I am frightened.
A couple named Becky and Peter say that they will come with me in the red and white van, but the man says they have to follow in Peter's car. Peter says not to worry, he has my photos and other belongings packed in his car. He'll unpack them himself, he says, when we get to the new home. I am very excited! "I am going home," I almost shout. Then Peter and Becky look at each other and I can tell that they are sad.
The woman says she's a doctor. She is wearing a white jacket, but I don't believe her. I tell her to leave me alone, that I want to go home. She is trying to be polite, I think, but she is tired. A woman named Margo tells me that everything's okay and that I should let the doctor take a look at me. She has her arm around me to steady me on the table. Margo says that she's worried because I haven't been eating. I tell her that I always go to lunch and dinner, but she says that I sit at the table but I don't eat. I lost weight. I am too skinny. I look down at myself. I am in a white shift that crinkles like paper. I pull it off. The shift falls to the floor and I see what lay beneath it. I scream. The woman named Margo looks at the doctor and cries.
"I can't do this today," a woman is saying. She is standing outside the room that I'm in, and I can hear her talking to someone near the open doorway. "It's okay, Becky," says another woman, with a deep, smoky voice. "I just can't take this anymore," says the woman called Becky.
My whole family is here, they tell me. They have come from as far away as California, left their warm beaches to spend Christmas in the snow. They smile and hug me. But there has been as mistake; they are not my family. A woman who says she is Becky introduces me to a little Chinese girl that she says is my great-granddaughter, Piper. But I tell her that Piper cannot be mine because my parents were from Norway and Norway isn't anywhere near China. Piper starts to cry, and Becky takes her away. And a man named Peter says, "I love you, Mom," and I tell him that I love him too even though I don't know who he is because it seems like the right thing to say, and I don't want to hurt his feelings because he seems very nice. "We should be at Becky's house for Christmas, not in this place that smells of detergent," I say because I remember that I used to go to someplace called Becky's house during Christmas. Peter says, "I know, I know," and he kisses me on the forehead. I ask him if it is time for lunch because if it's time for lunch, then I have to go sit at my table. He says, "Not yet." But I think that it's time for lunch.
Brooklyn dances about my feet. "Brooklyn, stop it," I say. A young woman wearing a name tag that says "Margo" asks, "What?" And I tell her not to mind Brooklyn because he doesn't mean anything by jumping about that way. "Do you see Brooklyn?" she asks, leaning forward. "Quiet down, puppy," I say, petting his curly ears, but he is yapping with excitement and running back and forth across the room. "I can't go with you," I say. I am tired and it is almost time for lunch. Margo holds my hands and kisses it. She sighs as if she is sad. "Maybe you should go with him," she says.
Brooklyn runs toward the shadow figure on the side of the room. I am scared at first, but then I understand who the shadow is, and I run to greet him, with Brooklyn barking next to me. Henry is smiling and opens his arms.
In the distance, I hear the woman say, "I love you."
S.C. Bryce is a long-time reader and writer of speculative fiction. Born in Washington, D.C., the author currently resides outside Manhattan.
Her short stories have been published in, among others:
Between stories, she designed and now moderates an adventure fiction critique group, was a Contributing Editor at SwordandSorcery.org, and writes essays and book reviews related to speculative fiction.
- Freehold: The Protector (Monroi Pass Book 2)
- Freehold: Goblin Horde (Monroi Pass Book 3) (forthcoming)
- The Infinity Swords (forthcoming)
- Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure
- Black Gate (forthcoming)
- Fantastic Stories of the Imagination
- Flashing Swords
- Staffs & Starships
- Nanobison (forthcoming)
- Chaos Theory: Tales Askew
- Universe Pathways (both Greek and English versions)
- Worlds of Wonder
- Gateway S-F Magazine
- Gauntlet! The Magazine of Heroic Tales
For amusement, the author enjoys reading just about anything, watching documentaries on just about anything, and traveling just about anywhere (more than 25 U.S. states, more than 25 countries and territories so far!).
copyright © 2008, S.C. Bryce
—Shadows in My Mind
—All Roads Are One
—Three Views of the Maiden in Peril
—She Has a Nice Personality
—Running the Road
NANCY JANE MOORE
ADRIENNE J. ODASSO
—Four Last Things
ADRIENNE J. ODASSO
KRISTINE ONG MUSLIM
KRISTINE ONG MUSLIM
—Archetypical Metafiction: Scrutinizing Fallen Archetypes
TOIYA KRISTEN FINLEY