The Eye of the Storm
The screaming won’t stop. The noise is painfully loud. Every note punches my eardrum.
“Hello?? Where are you?”
There is no answer, only more screaming with a pitch that neither gets higher nor lower an octave. The same scream note after note. Someone needs to save her, I thought. I try several more attempts to ask who it is. There is still no change, just the strong heart-breaking cry.
I don’t know what to do. I need to find help. I need to find her. The voice sounds like a little girl, but her screaming is so unnatural. The same pitch, never moving up or down an octave. Something is wrong.
I lay down the phone, the screaming is echoing off the coffee table. I get out of my chair and walk quickly out of my room. I stumble over a salt and pepper shaker lying on the floor. How did that get there? I can’t think of that right now, I must find this poor child.
I walk through the T.V. room, Barb is watching a James Gardner movie. I can’t make out which one. In a distressed voice I tell her about hearing a child screaming. Her empty eyes stare at me, then slide lazily back to the movie.
I know she is fed up with me complaining about my daughter, but this was completely different, someone was in trouble! How dare she not even pretend to be concerned! I was her best friend! I want her help and I try to think quickly of some way I can quickly seize her attention from the hollow attachment she has with her movie. I start pressing buttons on the T.V. I feel the storm rise up in her eyes. Her lipstick literally dries up as the corners of her mouth crush together like a broken accordion, with her heavy breath pushing air through her teeth in a bellowing growl. Uh oh, maybe I took it too far. Now I have to worry about two people screaming. As Barb begins her hysterical rant at me, I mumble “Never mind.”
“You turn it back on! Turn it back on right now!”
“Turn it back on yourself,” I say as I walk out of the room.
“Fascist!” She yelled back.
She is such an idiot. I yell back “Traitor!” and walk down the hall. Her tantrum dies down as I get to the window and stare out at the cars passing by. The shadow of the clouds appears. Recently the clouds have been like little sheep following me like I’m Little Bo Peep. I continue the search for the girl. Why did she call me? I can’t call the police. Every time I hang up, the screaming is still is there. Maybe she’s in the house.
I start looking for our other phone. I walk back towards my room and pass Barb’s ugly picture hanging on the wall. It’s some German word. I don’t understand modern art. It’s ugly. I’m going to go tell her that. I also pass the cracked mirror. My reflection has jagged lines cutting in my face. Waving lines lights into a pattern on my face. THUMP. I hear something drop from upstairs. I hear Betty’s voice, her beautiful and loud laughter stirs the air. She shouldn’t be here. She stays upstairs all day and night with that man whose not her husband raising some bastard child. I don’t know how she is able to leave her past behind. I want to just shake her and tell her not to forget her husband back up north! I bet the noise was her dropping the child. I wonder if that’s who I heard on the phone. I start to go up the stairs, but Charlie stops me. He tells me I upset Barb and I need to go back and apologize. All he does is baby Barb. I wish they didn’t live with me. I agree to go sit down by them. Once we sit down, Charlie gives me and Barb a bowl of oatmeal. I stare at the pretty vases on the table. I bet Charlie gave them to Barb. When they aren’t looking, I take them and hide them in my sleeve. I then turn to Charlie and say, “Never have daughters. They are trouble.”
“You don’t mean that,” he says.
“Yes. If I could do it differently I would choose to have my three sons and a big hairy dog.”
He laughs and says, “What?”
“My daughter left me and only came back to raise her new baby, yet she never comes down to see me.”
Charlie tries to tell me that I am wrong and that Betty will come down and visit me this weekend. I tell him she drops her baby all the time.
“No,” he says.
“Yes! You should check on her.”
He says no again. I purse my lips and look away. He sighs and said he will check. Inside, my heart does a victory lap. I nod my head and start eating my oatmeal.
The next day Betty comes to see me. I am so overjoyed I peed my pants a little. She gives me a hug and kiss and we go into my room and I start boiling some water to cook her some dinner. I ask her about her baby.
“Mom, I don’t have a baby I didn’t leave my husband.”
Lying hussy, I thought. She should admit to her mistakes, especially to her mother.
“Mom, we can’t keep having this conversation.”
I lower my head in disappointment and she changes the subject. She tells me about the rest of the family and how everyone is doing. She tells me she has good news.
“I finally figured out what was in Dad’s favorite drink.”
I remember that day when my late husband Joseph started to lose his memory. He could not remember what he put in his wine that made it so famous. I never kept track of his wine; I had to deal with cooking huge family feasts and cleaning up the place. I remember him asking our son John, “Hey Johnny, eh what do I-a put in my-a wine?”
“I don’t know, Dad.”
“Eh Johanne, eh what do I use in my-a drink?”
“I don’t remember, sorry.”
“Eh uh Gigi, what do I put-a in my cup?”
“I don’t know Joe.” I said with my hands in the dishes.
“Ah! you stupid-a woman!”
He pounded his fist on the arm rest and got up to walk to the bar. He fiddled around with some of the glasses. I heard the awkward clinking of the wine bottles. Then he walked over and handed me a glass of wine and kissed me on the cheek. He looked over at Jonny and said “You uh figure that out for me eh? Hokay.” And he walked outside to the garden. The elm tree cast its shadow on his eyes while fate copied by casting its shadow over his mind.
Betty starts cleaning my room (a habit she’s had since she was a child) and soon she paints my nails and combs my hair. I thought, my daughter has finally returned! She starts to bring me the gossip. She says she saw Wanda delicately plucking the fuzz out of Mr. Barrington’s hair telling him “Next time you need to behave yourself.”
She continues about how Norma was found walking by herself at midnight completely naked and the next morning she came out of her room with her bra and panties on the outside of her clothes. Norma’s brother came by to eat breakfast with her and after one look he said, “Norma! You aren’t wearing any shoes!” We both started cracking up. I had no idea who Norma or Wanda were but I love seeing Betty laugh, her strong powerful laugh. We fell asleep early that night.
The next morning Betty was gone. I searched for her, but I could not find her. Charlie told me she said goodbye, but I must have been sleeping. I feel lonely. I don’t hear any movement upstairs. I walk back into my room and open a photo album. I look at the pictures of my three sons and of my little Betty. I grab another photo album and then another one after that. The last photo album I notice a picture where my hair looks completely gray. I thought it’s not all gray yet. Maybe it wasn’t me. But that was my dress and the same room I was in now. I went up to the cracked mirror to check. As I stare into my reflection, I realize that the mirror wasn’t cracked. The jagged lines were the life lines stretched on my face in a wrinkled wave. My heart starts to beat faster. Where was I? Why can’t I go upstairs? I hear a voice outside my room.
“Now Mr. Barrington where are your manners?”
It must be Wanda. I walk out of my room. I see a lady in a wheelchair picking the fuzz off a teddy bear and rubbing it’s belly. I look behind me. My name is written on the door. I feel a salt and pepper shaker up my sleeve. Did I take those off the table this morning? I shuffle forward and see Barb’s German’s sign. The word enters my mind with a familiar grip. It says ALZHEIMERS.
My brain is soaked by the flooding of memories bursting from every photo, everything Barb yells out, wheelchairs, mirrors and the recognition of a nursing home. My painted fingernails grab on to the bedpost. The memories flush over my eyes like an avalanche crashing down and hitting a waterfall and crashing down again. Charlie walks into my room. I stare at his scrubs and recognize that he is a nurse. The lost process of adding information is rewired with split cerebral connections. I feel exhausted. I want to let it all in, but I’m scared to. It is like I am letting the world guide me with one hand and crossing my fingers with the other. I’m scared because I am also remembering how I have remembered before and then forgot again. This moment feels like everything is being rushed. I look around my room. My life feels small. Charlie leaves my room after he sees my Tasmanian devil eyes decipher every surface and object and picture I can grab. I miss my house. I miss my husband. I miss my children. I feel alone. The rushing calms down. It seems clear now, like the sea after a storm. But I am not the storm. I am the boat. Who knew living in a storm could be so deceiving. I sit on the bed and let it all sink in. I sink into the sea, the deeper layer of reality. I’d rather drown here than stay afloat. I smile as my memories seem more vivid now. My husband’s face, my sons’ big wedding parties, Betty’s laugh. Betty! I want to call Betty and tell her I remember! I want to hear her laugh at me for my silly delusions of her living upstairs and dropping imaginary babies I want to tell her about Wanda rolling in her wheelchair and having conversations with a teddy bear. I pick up the receiver. I hear a loud scream as I raise it to my ear. My mind freezes and I feel stuck. “Hello?!!” I say. The scream continues.
I yell, “Where are you??!!”
The screaming is high pitched and loud, like bells of hell loud. Almost like a group of seagulls screaming because they are being chased by screaming pterodactyls.
She seems to be in trouble! I have to help her!
“Hello?!! Where are you??” I repeat. The poor thing needs help.
I need to find her.
Author Natalie Nigro is an English major at Concordia University St. Paul.