It was the following night. Stitch Mouth kept us moving through a world of doors. A couple of times, I thought I had a sense of our next door, but picked wrong. Stitch Mouth would smile and pull me back. “This way, Silly.” And once, she used a yellow and orange swirl patterned chalk, and the in-between room did just that, swirled, so that we had to shuffle on our hands and knees to stay as grounded as we could.
We stepped through a purple door and into Stitch Mouth’s bedroom. I looked around. Everything had been perfectly restored. “What happened?” I asked.
Stitch Mouth had three chalk pinned between her fingers. She returned them to her purse. “What do you mean?”
“Your room is back to normal. But the witch destroyed it.”
“Look closer, Silly. My room is back to normal because I cleaned it.” She looked at Balloon Girl, listening to her. “Yes, yes, you helped too.”
“Oh,” I said. “I just thought –”
Stitch Mouth smiled, brushing her hands of chalk. “There were no elves or magical forest creatures who came to help us.”
“You think we lost her?”
“Let’s just say that I gave the witch enough doors to confuse her for the rest of the night.”
Balloon Girl made a twirling motion with her finger.
Stitch Mouth seemed to agree, “That chalk is my favorite!”
Looking over the room again, I no longer had the same dire dread of the witch appearing in the door like I normally did. I said, “I like your room.”
Stitch Mouth came up beside me. “Thank you. It is small. So, it’s perfect for me.”
I sat next to her on the bed while Balloon Girl remained near the door, prepared to block the witch from us if she did find us.
“Will you tell me about your father and your family?”
“I would be honored.” Her body relaxed and her eyes fixed themselves on the far corner. She seemed caught on a memory, snagged there. Stitch Mouth opened her imprisoned mouth and her melodic voice softened. “My father was large. He had broad shoulders where I loved to sit and bounce with his steps. His hands were strong – calloused and rough. Yet gentle.” Stitch Mouth observed her own hands, as though imagining them in comparison to her father’s. Sadness emanated from her; it searched the room and made it cold.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“I’m okay.” Stitch Mouth closed her eyes as a small smile of fond remembrance rose between her stitches. “This house is the only one my father ever built, though he could have built many more. When I asked him why, he told me it was only in him to build one. I told him we wouldn’t have to be so poor if you built houses, but my father said some things are worth more than riches. I was in his arms while told tell me that. I could smell the woods on him, they were his smells, pine and soil and sawdust and sweat. I loved those smells.” Stitch Mouth reached down for her doll, unconcerned with how mangled it was. “This doll was my mother’s, though it became mine when I was born. I carried it everywhere I went. When I was very young, I spent my days at my mother’s side, tugging at her dress with endless questions. And when I grew older, I was at her hip, wanting to watch everything she did. In the evenings, after a day of chores and gardening, my mother would bathe me, scrubbing me from head to toe while talking about all things that were on her mind. While I lay in bed at night, she would run her fingers through my hair and sing to me until I fell asleep. And when my brother was born, my mother shared her stories and songs with the both of us. Her soul was filled with songs.”
“Is that where you got your voice? From your mother?”
“Yes. If I had my father’s voice, well, you may not like to hear me sing at all.” She giggled. “My brother couldn’t sing either. He had such a terrible voice, croaking along with me and my mother like a bullfrog. I told him once your voice is so ugly. My mother corrected me and said his voice is just fine. I love listening to him sing. I made sure to tell him later that mother was lying to him, but he said you’re just jealous because I sing better than you. He was so annoying. Every morning, he would wake me up, tugging me by my arm. By afternoon, his curly hair would be matted to his forehead and dirt streaks would be up and down his face thick enough to make you think he’d painted them on. Once – I was very upset with him – he had taken my doll, this doll, and buried her in the garden. I couldn’t find her for days. When I told my father to make my brother tell me where she was, my father said your brother is more important than any doll. I hated that. And when I did find my doll, it took forever to clean her of all the smears and the grit in her hair. I was so angry with him. I told my mother and father I wish I had a sister. I’d never seen my father look so stern, and he said, go to your room until you’re ready to come out and act like someone who loves her brother. I said that’s what it’ll be – acting! They were very upset with me. And that night, when my brother woke with nightmares and came to my bed, I pushed him away and told him to go back to his own room.” Stitch Mouth’s voice broke. “I think about that moment a lot. I wish for just one more night to hold him again. Before I met Balloon Girl, my brother was my best friend, even if I didn’t know it. My brother –” Stitch Mouth stood. “I can’t do this.” She wiped her eyes. “I’ll be close.”
I watched as Stitch Mouth walked across the room. “Wait – where are you going?”
“I will be close. Please don’t follow me.” She blew Balloon Girl a kiss, then shut the door as she left.
I remained on the bed, stuck in shock. I could hear Stitch Mouth open another door in the house and shut it again.
“Why did she leave?” I asked Balloon Girl.
Balloon Girl mouthed silent words, then simply shook her head.
“Did I upset her? Should we go make sure she’s okay?”
I could easily recognize the simple unspoken word. No.
I fidgeted on the bed, hoping more than anything that I hadn’t somehow ruined anything between Stitch Mouth and me.
“Is she going to be okay?” I asked.
Balloon Girl nodded.
The room remained cold with sadness and silence. After a while, I said, “I’m sorry. I’m sure it hurts. Coming back.”
Balloon Girl nodded one last time.