My mother woke me, banging on my door so hard the knob rattled. I leapt from my bed, thinking the house was on fire. I asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Thank God, thank God,” my mother called to the ceiling. She began pacing in circles. Her nightgown was on. Her hair in tangles. She was sweating.
“What is it?” I asked, confused by the sudden change in her.
My mother touched at my face and arms as though making sure I was really there. “I had such a terrible dream.”
Thinking of the house and the flies from the previous night, I cringed. “What dream?”
She sat on the edge of the bed and I sat beside her. She stared at her hands. “I was in a kitchen. It wasn’t our kitchen, but it still felt like home. Something was cooking. Everything smelled wonderful. Spices and black pepper. Cumin. The counter was covered with fresh vegetables. Like from a garden. There was a pot on the stove. The lid began to rattle, so I scooped up a handful of vegetables to drop them into the boiling water. I removed the lid. Inside the pot, was your head. Your eyes had boiled away. Your skin had loosened. But it didn’t bother me. I just dropped the vegetables like it was what I was supposed to do. When I turned towards another counter, I saw the rest of your body. Which had been cut up into neat piles.” My mother stopped.
I could tell there was more. “Then what?” I asked.
She hesitated. “Well, I grabbed an empty bowl and filled it with…parts of you…and I started eating. A woman came down the stairs and asked if she could join me. I said of course. We ate together. She said everything tasted delicious. She thanked me for sharing.” My mother looked away in shame.
“The witch,” I whispered.
She couldn’t accept it. “Nonsense, Sarah! Just because there was some woman in my dream doesn’t mean it was the same one you claim has been coming after you!”
“Then why did you come and tell me about it? Obviously you thought it was her.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Then why didn’t you want to tell me that part?”
“I – I don’t know.”
“You don’t think that sounds a lot like my dreams? You don’t think there’s not some sort of similarity, Mom?”
She shook her head in refusal. “It was just a dream.”
“Then why are you so upset?”
“How could I not be upset about a dream like that?”
“Then why tell me?”
“Who else can I tell? And I don’t even know why it upset me so much. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you at all!”
“Oh, great! You have a dream about eating me and now you don’t even know why it upset you!”
“That’s not what I meant! I meant that it was just a dream so I should know that it’s just a dream. I should have been more rational. Dreams are dreams. That’s all they are. Stop looking at me like that, Sarah! It’s not like I’m going to eat you!”
I looked towards my window and then my bedroom door, expecting the witch to be at either. I wanted Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl at my sides. “Ready for a heavy dose of crazy, Mom?”
My mother stood and crossed her arms over her chest. “Sure! Fine! Go ahead.”
“Maybe, since the witch hasn’t been able to catch me, she’ll eat me through you somehow.”
“That is revolting! I would never!”
“You don’t know the witch like I do!”
My mother let out a heavy sigh of aggravation. “Since when did she become a witch anyway?”
“Ready for even more crazy?” I laughed a little. “I know she’s a witch because Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl told me. And they’re the reason I haven’t DIED!”
My mother paced in tight angry circles. She was about two seconds from pulling out her hair. “What is going on with you, Sarah? Stitch Girl and Clown Face!”
“Their names are Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl! Get it right, Mom!”
“I don’t even know what to say!”
“I bet I know what you’re thinking though.”
“Oh, and what’s that? Did your make-believe friends tell you what I was thinking?”
“Now you’re making me angry, Mom! They’re not make believe! Say anything bad about them again and –”
“And, what, Sarah? What?”
“What was I thinking, Sarah? Tell me!”
“It’s obvious! You were thinking about taking me to the mental hospital.”
“Of course I was! You need help!”
“I already have help. And my friends are way better than all those people at the hospital.”
“Really? Having make-believe friends who help you fight away a make-believe witch doesn’t sound like help to me, Sarah! Do you know what it sounds like? Like absolute and complete lunacy!”
“Actually, it’s the truth.”
“Now you’re concerning me.” She stopped her circles. “Please, answer me honestly, do I need to take you?” She was trying to sound reasonable. I don’t know if she really thought I’d say yes.
“To the mental hospital? Not a chance. But you might have to go there for a visit yourself soon enough if you keep having those dreams about eating me.”
“Oh please, Sarah, having one dream does not make me insane.”
“I’m not insane either, Mom. I never was.”
“Sarah, I had one dream. You saw things and you are still seeing things, and now you’re seeing even more things! What are their names again?”
“Thing one and thing two.”
She grinned in anger. I thought she was going to smack me. But then her voice and eyes suddenly change. “There you go again, lying to me. My silly little lying Sarah.” She was alternating between herself and the witch again, transitioning each time she blinked.
“Stop talking like that, Mom.”
Her grin looked distorted, as though the witch was trying to wear my mother’s skin. “How many more tricks do you think you have left anyway?”
Her question stole my breath. But she wanted me afraid. I remembered my promise to Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl that I was almost ready. I remembered all the stories that had taught me to hate her. “We have more than enough.”
She patted my leg. “Oh, Sarah. Such a pretty little liar.”
“Mom! Mom!” I snapped my fingers in front of her eyes. “Mom! Mom!”
“What, Sarah? What?” But even though my mother sounded annoyed with what I was doing, she seemed confused, like she wasn’t sure where she’d been for a few seconds.
I took my mother’s hands. “Mom, please, if you keep having dreams like that, please tell me.”
“They’re only dreams, Sarah.” But this time, she didn’t sound as convinced.
“Just tell me, okay? This isn’t like you. These dreams and the way you’ve been acting.”
She shook her head at herself. “I know. I’m sorry. I’ve been working too much lately. You’re right. I don’t know what got into me. I’ve been acting different lately, and I don’t even know why. And that dream. It was horrible. I’m embarrassed I even had a dream like that. I’m sorry.”
I hugged my mother tight, trying to keep her with me, hoping she could stay with me just a little longer. There wasn’t much time left.