I slept as though I had never slept before. My night had gone unmolested. The witch never came as she promised. A different promise had been kept.
I woke, blinking against the vibrant sun which was beaming like an overly eager visitor I wasn’t quite ready for. My body felt like it had sunk two feet into the mattress. My limbs were heavy with the tingling remnants of hibernation. Instead of tears, my pillow was soaked with drool. I checked the bedside clock. It was 2:30 in the afternoon.
I flopped my legs over the side of the bed, peeling myself up from the mattress. I stretched my arms. Stretched my legs. My loud yawn was like some proclamation of victory. I shook my head in disbelief. When had I ever slept so well?
I stood on wobbling legs, stumbling my way towards the window, teetering side to side. I had to catch myself at my dresser to take a moment and regain control of my body as bubbles popped in my vision. I stopped at the window. There wasn’t the faintest trace of black chalk. The surface was clear. Through it, I saw the vibrant crystalline colors of winter. Our neighbor was scraping his windshield. His son shivering beside him. Frozen bushes and frozen grass. A bird cut across my vision, and I followed it as long as I could.
I met my mother downstairs in the kitchen. She was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and a book. She smiled at me. “Sleep well?” she asked. It was always the first question of the day, her first test to gain an idea of my mental and emotional state.
“I did,” I answered, and for once, it wasn’t a lie.
“Well, you’re lucky it’s Saturday or I would have had to wake you for school,” she scolded in a harmless, motherly way.
I closed my eyes and grinned. “Saturday.”
“Yes, Sarah. Saturday.”
“I love Saturdays.”
My mother smiled. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing’s gotten into me. I just slept well.” I stretched, then rubbed my eyes once more before plopping myself down into the chair beside my mother. I said, “Last night felt like the first night’s sleep in months.”
“No woman?” she asked, another test.
“No woman.” I couldn’t tell if she believed me.
“Well, I’m glad to hear you slept well. Dr. Tariq said sleep is healthy for you. That’s why I let you sleep in so late. My goodness, though, it’s almost 3:00.” She continued to inspect me, maybe searching for any sign that my curved horns and leathery wings had fallen off.
“Yep,” I acknowledged with a grin.
My stomach growled. My mother slid a corner section of homemade coffee cake to me on a thin paper plate. It looked like the tastiest thing I’d ever seen. I ate it gladly and closed my eyes at how delicious it was. My mother smiled and offered me another section, a piece with even more brown sugar crumble topping. I ate that too. “My goodness, someone’s hungry,” she said.
“I kind of wish we had cinnamon rolls. The kind Dad used to make. That would be perfect.”
“Well, you’ll have to tell him next time you talk to him.”
“That won’t be anytime too soon.”
My mother didn’t say anything, simply accepted his absence as a fact of life.
Coffee cake crumbles scattered to my lap as I said, “I feel like I haven’t eaten in weeks. I was looking at myself in the mirror the other day. I looked terrible!”
“You’re still beautiful, Sarah.”
“You don’t have to say that.”
“You’re right, I don’t. But it’s true. Anyway, you should eat more often. I feel terrible for all the food I throw away lately, all of the leftovers that go bad because I still make meals for the both of us, but then I’m the only one who eats.”
“Yep.” The sugar soon made me jittery, almost giddy. I wanted to go outside. Maybe run around or something. I wanted to smile. I wanted to laugh. And sing.
“I was reading something yesterday about treatment –”
I raised my hand as though I was in the middle of something super important. “I’m still hungry.”
She laughed a little. “Okay, sure. There’s some fresh grapefruit in the bottom drawer of the fridge, oh, and some baby carrots and hummus on the top shelf. I know you like those.”
“Yes, I do,” I said comically.
“Though that’s certainly quite the breakfast.”
“Yep, but I’m making up for all the meals I’ve missed.”
I scanned through the refrigerator, bending down to take in the full view. Everything looked amazing. I returned to the table, carrying in my curled arms a bowl and a spoon, a grapefruit, a bag of cherries, carrots, hummus, Greek yogurt, and a plastic container of blueberries that was just below half-full. I began with the grapefruit, ripe and perfect. It made my hands sticky. When I finished, I licked at the tart juice at my lips while peeling open the yogurt.
After I set aside the empty yogurt and blueberry package, my mother asked, “Done?”
“You don’t mind if I begin, do you?” My mother had her computer on the kitchen table with websites opened up to show me the research she had read.
I pointed the yogurt tipped spoon at her. “Go right ahead.”
After a smile I hadn’t seen in a long time, my mother filled the full hour with summaries of research articles she’d been reading regarding the most up to date findings on schizophrenia, all of them giving her hope, so I should have hope too. I nodded a lot, sometimes offering a word of agreement or a shared contemplation. She continued to highlight the research conclusions and advice from psychologists, like new constellations in space, intending to guide me. I wanted to remind her you know, mom, no one said I actually had schizophrenia. Instead, I just munched on carrots dipped in hummus, getting very full.
When she finished, my mother said, “I just want you to know that I’m here, and I’ll do everything I can for you.”
I loved the way she said those words. “I know, Mom.”
She closed the computer. “Well, I’ll leave you to your good mood and your food.”
I held her arm. “Don’t go. Hang out with me for a little bit.”
“While you eat everything in the kitchen? I may need to go to the store so we have something to eat for tonight.”
“Yep, you should go now,” I teased. But then I said, “No, just kidding. I want you to stay. With me. You can keep looking up articles or whatever.”
“Sure. Okay. I’d like that. But let’s talk about something else.”
“That’d be wonderful.”
“Well, guess what?”
“I applied for a new job.”
“Really?” I was excited for her.
“Yes. It’s for a paralegal position at a new law firm. Well, actually, they’ve been around for a while, but one of the lawyers recently left the firm and has started his own and is hiring immediately. It would provide benefits and would pay enough so I wouldn’t have to work two jobs anymore. Oh, and I’d get two weeks of vacation and two weeks of sick leave per year.”
“I love it already,” I said.
“I could be here for you more, you know, for when your symptoms get worse.” She quickly apologized, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just saying. Schizophrenia doesn’t get better usually and I’m just saying I’m committed to being here for you.”
I lifted my eyes again, trying not to sulk. “I know, Mom. Anyway, tell me more about the job. I’m sure you’ve researched every last detail about it already.”
She smiled. “You know me too well.” Then she went on to talk about all the details of the position, as well as everything she’d found out about her potential boss by stalking him on social media. His name. Galen. His family. Wife and children. His background. Farmer, which surprised her and me. As she talked, I began to gaze out of through the kitchen window to where the sun had begun its downward arch. Remnant fears returned. But not in the same potent way in which they had commanded every nerve in my body each and every second of the past months. That is not to say the fear was gone. Not at all. But I was less afraid. Just a little. Like being buried up to your mouth in mud, but then someone shovels some away so you can breathe easier. It felt good.
Through every second of that day, I thought of those two girls. My macabre protectors. Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl, in their eerie dresses, their bodies showing the obvious evidence of their deaths. But how could I possibly put my hope in them?
Yet, I did. At least, had begun to. And that hope was growing, increased by how good I felt from sleeping, and the realization, the sensation, of someone actually helping me.
“What are you thinking about?” my mother asked, interrupting those thoughts.
“Oh. Nothing. Just stuff.”
“Are you thinking about that woman?”
“No. Not at all,” I said.
“Oh, okay. Good.” Then she said, “You’re so enjoyable today.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but why?”
I didn’t know how to answer. “I don’t really know.”
“Tell me,” she said.
I patted her hand. “Mom, is it so hard to believe that I’m simply enjoying spending time with you?”
My touch and my words seemed to assure her. “No, I guess not,” she said. “It’s just, strange, is all.”
Could I tell her? Could I give my mother a tiny hint? Not a chance.
“Funny you should ask, Mom. I know I’m acting different. It’s totally obvious. And I know my answer of a good night’s rest is feeble as all get out. So, are you ready? I’ll tell you. The reason I feel better is because, yeah, sure, I slept great and all last night. And it definitely helped. But do you know why I slept better? I bet you think it’s because the woman in the window didn’t come? Good guess, and you’re right. And I’m SO glad you finally believe me by saying that. But I slept great because there were two young girls standing in the corner of my room. Oh, yes, I was definitely freaked out at first. I still am a little. Anyway, listen. I think they probably came through the window, just like the woman did. I agree, it seems likely. So, anyway, one of them was a skeleton. She was wearing a pink dress and holding balloons. Yep, the balloons had faces on them. How’d you know? I guess it does make perfect sense. And the other girl, she had purple skin, so dark it was almost black, and her mouth was sewn shut. Yeah, the woman in the window did it to her. And the skeleton girl was burned alive by the woman. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll ask them. But wait! They called her a ‘witch.’ Weird, right? A witch. Agreed, weird. Well, we talked for a while and it turns out they were sent to protect me. I know, super cool. And then, of course, the girl with the purple skin, I named her Stitch Mouth, she colored my window black so the woman in the window couldn’t find me. Did it work? Yeah! The woman never came just like Stitch Mouth promised. What color was the chalk? Black. From her purse. Yeah, she has lots of other chalk. No, you don’t have to worry, the window isn’t stained. I checked when I woke up this morning. I’m positive, it’s clear now. You can check if you want, Mom. Yep. But then, I still didn’t trust them, I mean, they’re kind of ugly, but cute at the same time, but the woman in the window has taught me not to trust anything. But then, Stitch Mouth, she sang this beautiful song that calmed me and before I knew it, I woke up this afternoon. And so, they were sent to protect me. Isn’t that, like, the greatest? So, anything new with you?”
No. My mom could never know.
I may have rested well that night, sure, and felt better because of it. And both Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl could have made a thousand promises each, and it wouldn’t have gained an ounce of my trust. But one promise had been kept, kept as told. Not only that, the song of Stitch Mouth was what truly lifted me that day, and I hummed it like new medicine. It was beautiful. It was harmless. And it gave me assurance that they meant what they said, a promise upon a promise that had not been broken. Humming the song, I let myself believe in the possibility that everything was over, simple as that. The chalk had been used. The song had been sung. The woman in the window would never return.
I still didn’t understand.