“What have I done?” I think aloud in absolute shock. My voice is raspy, my body a leaf in autumn, shaking as it ventures to keep grasp on a withered tree. My eyes dart around the mess of the hotel room I am left in, although I can barely see through the wavy curtain of tears forming in my eyes and the dimness of the cracked light swinging from the ceiling. I hear metal grate against glass as it settles. Why don’t I know what I’m doing until it’s done? I walk blindly into the abyss of life with no control.
The worst part is, I don’t even know what I’m mad at. I feel like a small child having a tantrum over nothing at all. That word, child, hangs in my mind like a scarecrow to its condemning post, and suddenly I am hit with a sharp pang of sadness. I remember a story my mother used to read to me before I fell asleep every night. The story was one of her favorites that she had brought with her when she moved her life to France. My mother was English, and had met my father on a trip across France in her early twenties. They had fallen in love and even after she went back to England, they wrote to each other every month. On my mother’s birthday my father had scraped together enough money to come and visit her. On his trip to see her, he proposed. She resolved to come back to France and live with my father in the small house they had bought in Dinan.
The book she read was an English story about a young girl who falls down a rabbit hole. She meets deranged and wonderful new friends, my favorite, a large blue caterpillar. He just sits and smokes his pipe, lets life work itself out. He often gives sarcastic and confusing advice. Even then, he becomes the wisest of them all, or maybe he always was. When the girl finally comes back out of the hole, no one believes her magical stories; they sentence her as insane.
The reason I loved this story was that the girl and I were always so alike. There is only one difference between her and I; I really am mad as a hatter, I see things that aren’t there at all. I never came back out of the rabbit hole.
I am scared, I can feel it all slipping away, my mind a soapy child sliding from mother’s hands. The feathery fragments of the room fall into the fissures of the hotel and I am empty. Now all I can do is wait for reality to be a long forgotten memory and for my life to once more become the cirque.
Gradually a faint light illuminates pale azure curtains on every side of me and a quiet plucking of a harpsichord reaches my ears. “Why didn’t you come visit me sooner?” a melodic, eloquent voice teases,“I’ve missed my little boy,” Marian floats out from behind one of the draped curtains, her soft feet barely skimming the black and white checkerboard floor.
“I’m sorry. I wanted to see you, really, I did,” I say, my eyes on the tiled ground, “I just… didn’t want to come back here.”
“Ma chérie, you are much too good for this life. How did I become lucky enough to be your mother?” Marian says, tilting my chin up to look at her, a bubbly laugh escaping her full, coral lips. She brings me into a warm hug, her body curled around me. Her lustrous cotton candy pink hair falls onto my face, tickling my ears. I feel safe again.
I never liked my real parents… well that’s not quite true. I loved them - thought I loved them. But Marian is different, she loves me for who I am, and would never do anything to hurt me or my sister. Marian can be immature and narcissistic, but then again, how can my hallucinatory mind conjure a perfect being?
“Freed?” My sister calls from thin air, “Is that you?” She cannot see me, her body non-existent, her mind and voice the only presence she possesses.
“Yes, Phoebe. I am home finally,” I whisper, pulling away from Marian’s comforting embrace, my cheeks damp.
“I’ve missed you, Freed!” Phoebe almost shouts with glee, “I’m glad you’re home again.” Home. Oh, how I’ve longed to hear that word.
“Me too,” I say, my sister’s soft voice echoing in my eardrums.
“My, you’ve grown,” Marian marvels as she holds my bony shoulders at arm’s length. A smile spreads across her pink cheeks as she picks me up and sails through the room. The space is dotted with plush couches, mirrors, and the occasional velvet upholstered chair, surrounded with curtains the color of the sky on a cloudless day, a replacement for walls. Marian’s abode always smells of cocktails and fresh rain, and somewhere, faraway sounding and faint, yet always persisting, a harpsichord is playing itself.
Marian finally sets me down on a warm carpet next to a soft bed. “I can tell you’re exhausted,” Marian says gently, her voice only a whisper, “Here, you can sleep now.” I pad over to my resting place and slide into the bed, pulling the comfort of the soft blankets over myself as Marian takes a seat near my feet.
“Let me tuck you in like my parents used to do for me,” she says soothingly, lovingly caressing my cheek. She smoothes out the blankets and hugs me one last time for the night.
“I hope you sleep well. See you tomorrow, ma chérie.” she calls over her shoulder as she glides away.
“Goodnight,” I can barely manage to let that one word escape my mouth as my eyelids grow heavy. The last sound I hear is the plucking of the harpsichord playing a lullaby. I wish it could have always stayed like that, but sooner or later, everything always changes.
My biological mother was always so sweet and adoring of my sister and me when we were small children, my memories full of bright smiles and warm hugs, but as we grew older I started noticing differences. At first I just thought maybe she was getting sick, had a headache or a fever, but when it persisted I started to wonder. It was just little things, maybe I accidently broken one of her mirrors, or my sister had refused to eat her dinner, but mother would just crack. She soon started yelling and scolding us all the time. Something else had changed too, Phoebe seemed a little sadder now. She used to laugh and play games with me, but now she always said she was too busy or too tired.
One day I found Phoebe playing in her room, at first it seemed like nothing out of the ordinary, but as I looked closer through the opening in her door, I noticed bruises dotting her arms. When I brought it up, she hastily explained that she had tripped and fallen while she had been running around outside with her friends, and pulled her sweater closer over her skinny arms. But I knew that she was never outside, and she had no friends whom she would have be playing with.
At first I dismissed it, maybe I was just paranoid, but that hadn’t been all. More and more I started noticing her mood getting worse, getting sadder, and her seeming to get hurt more often than usual. In contrast, my mother got angrier and seemingly more displeased with my sister and me.
I just could not let it go anymore when one day I found Phoebe huddled in a corner, crying. I didn’t ask her, for I knew all I would get out of her was a lie coated with fear. My mother was abusing Phoebe, I was sure of it. My mother had gone crazy after my father’s death and took it out out on her. I needed to do something. I was too afraid to stand up to my mother, fearing what she would do to me, but I couldn’t just let Phoebe get hurt like this.
I wandered shakily over to the kitchen. Checking to make sure my mother was out, I slid the top drawer of our faded oak cabinets open. I rummaged around, trying to make the scraping of metal against metal as inaudible as possible, until I found what I was looking for. I pulled out the old, heavy kitchen knife. I held it up to the light, still not completely aware of what I was doing. Was this the right way? No, it was the only way.
I tried to steady my swaying body on the wall as I trudged over to my sister’s door, suddenly feeling dizzy, my head spinning. I held the knife behind my back. The door creaked as it opened and I tread into her small room speckled with pastel blankets and porcelain dolls. “Hi, Freed! Oh - What’s wrong?” Phoebe asked, she could see the peril in my face.
“Forgive me, Phoebe,” I choked as salty tears gathered in my eyes.
“Well of course, but what have you done? What did you-Free-!” My little sister cried in horror as I plunged the shiny metal knife I had been holding into her chest. “W-why Freed?” Phoebe choked, her voice thick with blood. It was only when her pink floral shirt began to soak with scarlet blood, that I fully realized the weight of what I had done. I hugged her one last time before I let go as her lifeless body slumped to the ground.
Speechless and horrified, I raised both of my quivering, bloodied hands to cover my wide-open mouth, the knife falling to the ground. “I-I’m sorry, Phoebe… I’m sorry!” I screamed, my voice hoarse with guilt. Streams of tears were already running down my cheeks. Then I ran. I knew that the consequences for my actions would be the same fate as my sister would have been given by my mother. My mother would never love me again. I needed to get as far away as I could from my home. I sprinted through the front door, not thinking enough to grab my belongings. I didn’t have time to think. I darted down the corner of our little street in Dinan, the quiet avenue that I had known all my life. I didn’t even know where I was going.
There is a heavy knock on the outside of my hotel room. The faded metal door steadily creaks open and white light floods the small dark space. It takes my eyes time to adjust. “Monsieur, can you go with her while we clean this?”A short, stout lady with tangled, carob brown hair asks, motioning to another lady next to her. The other lady is tall and lanky, her face full of sharp features. They wear long white coats. Strange attire for a maid.
I nervously look around at the mess I have made. “Uh… Sure. I, uh, I can’t find my key,” I stammer, “I want to go out, but I think I need another room key.”
“Excuse me, monsieur? We don’t give keys to the patients,” she says, looking confused. Patients? What is she talking about?
“Pardon?” I have no idea what she means, I can’t remember anything like that when I have stayed in a hotel before.
“I’m sorry, we don’t let you go out unless the doctor gives permission.” What? I don’t understand. What doctor is she referring to? I am at a hotel.
“Excuse me, I. . .what do you mean?” I persist.
She turns to the other maid. “Laci, which one is he?” she calls as she points a pudgy finger in my direction.
The lanky lady stares at me and then back to the clipboard in her hand. “Oh, he's Freed Meurtrier. The schizophrenic kid who killed his sister, you know the one.”
I feel as though I am watching the world through a greasy glass window pane, all I can see is wavy figures in muted color, but nothing concrete. “Hey, Freed!” The first woman calls to me, clearly starting to get annoyed with me, “You need to get out so we can clean the mess you have made.”
My mind is whirling, I am starting to feel dizzy and nauseous. I cannot take it all in, my vision starts to become spotty. “This is why I hate working at an asylum, I should've taken the job at that old restaurant when I had the chance,” one says.
“I’m just counting down the days until retirement,” another says. I am not sure who said what, both voices have started to sound the same. That is the last thing I can hear before I am completely unconscious.
Until now I have always thought I liked the book my mother used to read to me because I was so much like Alice, but the truth is, I always wished to be the blue caterpillar. I always thought I knew more than everyone else, but I was so completely erroneous. I have been living in a world of lies, forever. I will forever be stuck dans le trou de lapin.