Presenting four "Mad Moments" stories, each one short, each set in a different room in, or area of, a house. Watch for them on consecutive Sundays in September.
MAD MOMENTS #3: IN THE BEDROOM
By J. Peter Bergman
"What are you doing?" she said suddenly, abruptly, with pain in her voice, but not in her heart. "Exactly what are you doing?" Margaret heard her ask the unanswerable question and she hated her for asking it. They had come up here, to this cheerful room on the second floor of the house, to be alone, to be together and to do what had to be done. Now she was asking the question, questioning the reasons, re-reasoning the resolution they had both made earlier.
"You know very well what we’re doing!" Margaret snapped back at her. Jane, or Jeanne, or whoever she thought she was at that moment, gasped. Margaret had never talked to her like that before. Never. She hadn’t expected it.
"I can’t remember why I said I would, or what I thought I was feeling when I said it," Jane or Jeanne responded. "You know I forget things."
"Not this, you don’t," Margaret said, or at least that’s what Jane or Jeanne thought Margaret said. It could have been, "not this, you won’t" or some other variation. Jane or Jeanne wasn’t really sure. Her ears weren’t functioning. Her hearing was impaired for some reason. There was a pressure, a horrible pressure on them and a ringing that rang incessantly, drowning out certain other sounds. She could distinguish the hisses of the esses, but the dentalized or plosived consonants were lost among the tintinnabulation and the hard, heavy stresses that impeded her hearing.
"Well, show me first," Jane or Jeanne pleaded. "Don’t do anything until you show me."
"I can’t show you without doing it," Margaret said and the words were clear. Jane or Jeanne could hear them distinctly and they frightened her.
"I’m frightened," she replied. She forced a smile at the end of her short sentence and Margaret smiled back at her, making her feel a bit more at ease. She looked at the room.
She found she liked the curtains and the divan and the dressing table with all of its small, crystal bottles, some in the shape of funny animals with their heads replaced by finial stoppers. She liked the canopied bed she was sitting on. She liked that the many mattresses had allowed her to sit high up in the room, her feet dangling a full ten inches off the floor. She liked the feel of the chenille spread and she liked the look of the finely woven lace hangings on the bedposts. She could be comfortable here. She was sure of it now, even with all of the underwear and blouses and pants and stockings and shoes piled up all over the upper reaches of the bed.
"I like this room," she said and Margaret nodded quietly. "It reminds me of... well, of someplace I’ve been to recently, but I can’t think where."
"Might it have been...." Margaret began, paused, continued, "here, this very room?"
"Don’t be silly, Margaret," she said. "I’d recall if I’d been to this room before. No! It was some place just like it, though."
"It was this room. It was yesterday. Think about that!"
"I don’t remember that...." Jane or Jeanne stopped in mid-sentence and thought about it. Everything in this room was so very familiar, that perhaps Margaret was right. Perhaps she had been here, in this very room, and as recently as the day before. Perhaps she had. Perhaps. But maybe not. Maybe it was simply that she had known Margaret for so long, now, was so familiar with her tastes and the little things that delighted her that this room only felt comfortably familiar.
"You were in here with me yesterday, dear," Margaret said firmly. "You sat there, where you are now, and we chatted about the decision and you were fine with it. Does that ring a bell?"
Jane or Jeanne paused to think about this for a moment. Her head was moving slightly, side to side, her right hand, with two fingers pointed upward and the balance of them folded inward, resting on her cheek.
"It feels familiar," she said finally. "It feels comfortable."
"It always does," Margaret replied. "It always has."
"You make it sound as though I spend a lot of time in here, in your bedroom," Jane or Jeanne said. There was a tenseness in her voice, one she could both hear and feel. She didn’t like that. She would try to change when it was her turn to speak again.
"And you do, don’t you?" came Margaret’s response.
"I... I don’t know, really," she said. "Do I?"
She looked around the room again, trying to apply memories to the vast space with its colorful, flowered and flocked wallpaper, its two large, open windows that let in the soft spring breezes. Nothing rushed at her, not one fulsome memory recalled. She looked at Margaret again and caught her looking back, a tear in her eye.
"Are you crying, Margaret?" she asked.
"No. No, of course I’m not crying. I said I wouldn’t cry and I’m not."
"Why are you crying?"
"I tell you I’m not crying. Something flew into my eye and made it tear, that’s all."
"Well, why don’t you close the... portal, then. There’s too much wind."
"Its just a breeze. I’ll be fine." She stretched out her hand to Jane or Jeanne and touched her lightly, just above the knee. Jane or Jeanne stared down at the spot where Margaret’s hand had brushed against her.
"Is that what you brought me here to do? I don’t mind that, although something tells me I should," she said softly.
"Don’t go getting drearily moral, dear," Margaret said. "One tiny tweak on the knee doesn’t matter much these days, I should think."
"You mean in a world without morals?"
"I do not!" Margaret was adamant.
Jane or Jeanne winced just before she spoke. "I’m sorry. Don’t hurt me."
Margaret was on her feet in an instant, her eyes flashing, her teeth bared. "You think I’d hurt you? Do you really think that? Or is it the illness talking? How do I ever know – ever again?"
She stood in the middle of the room, staring at her long-time companion, her oldest, dearest friend, sitting on the edge of the bed. She tried to find a better way to say what had to be said, and no words came to her. She hugged herself tightly, squeezing, forcing her body and her mind to meet in some other, friendlier place, deep inside herself.
Sitting there, still frightened, but more disquieted really, the woman who had been Joanne for so many years, stretched out her right hand, its two fingers still pointing over the clenched remainder of their sisters.
"Say my name, please, Margaret," she whispered. "Before we pack my things, say my name." She smiled because she had remembered why Margaret had brought her into their bedroom. She smiled because she remembered why the room was so familiar, why the animal crystal bottles looked so familiar, so familiar. They were her own, and not Margaret’s; they were Jane’s or Jeanne’s.
Margaret took one step toward Joanne and stopped. She could see that some memory had returned and that following it were others. Joanne looked at her with that same pleading look that had kept her at home for so long, and she knew she had to be strong now, had to avoid that look, avoid its consequences.
"I’m going away," Joanne said. "You’re sending me away and I don’t want to go there. I don’t like it there, but I don’t know where there is, do I?"
"You know," Margaret told her. "You do like it there."
"I do like it there," Joanne said. "I do like it there." She was quiet again. The ringing in her ears had subsided a little bit and she thought she could hear water splashing somewhere nearby. "Are we under a waterfall, Margaret?"
"Are we near a stream? Is this a river-bank?"
"Is the ocean outside that window?"
"No, it’s not, dear."
"Is it raining, then?"
"Why do I hear water?"
Margaret waited, watching Joanne’s face, before she answered her. She was trying to gauge the level of reality at which Joanne was relating before she tackled this question.
"You hear water, Joanne, because you’re going to be living near water and you’re already there....in your mind."
"Where am I going?"
"To Helen’s, your daughter’s, house."
"My daughter Helen?"
"I have a daughter named Helen?"
"And I’m going to be with her now?"
They were both quiet. Margaret moved closer, stooped to pick up the suitcase that had been standing at the end of the bed, swung it upward and placed on the bedspread next to Joanne. Joanne watched all of this without a sound. The ringing in her ears had grown louder again. The room was looking much less familiar with the suitcase in it, near her, on the bed. Nothing looked right. She turned to look at Margaret, so close to her now.
"Please don’t pack the bottles. They’re animals without heads, you know, and they can’t breathe now. If you put them in the suitcase they’ll die."
"What should I do with them, then?" Margaret asked her.
Joanne smiled. "Keep them for me. Keep them alive."
Margaret nodded silently, another tear, probably caused by more flying soot in the air brought into the room by the wafting Spring breezes, hanging in her eye. She reached for the small pile of under-garments lying on the pillow and put them into the bag.
Jane or Jeanne, or more likely Joanne, she hoped, touched her softly on the shoulder and purred.