“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said quietly.
She paused, blinked; registered that I had interrupted her. Something flashed across her expression–irritation? But she smiled warmly and pulled me closer to her, dispelling the thought. I felt a pang of guilt. “I-I’m sorry….” My lip quivered, and I looked away.
“Oh, sweetheart, it’s okay!” She touched my cheek softly. “I know it’s fresh and this must be very hard for you. I’m sorry for mentioning it.” Her arm cradled me, and I rested my head on her chest. I felt a pull to open my heart and tell her everything that was on my mind, but when I tried to speak, a lump in my throat prevented words from escaping. I felt heavy in every part of my body, like nothing in the world could ever be made right again.
“How about some supper?” She suggested.
I looked at her again. “I’m not sure if I could eat anything.”
“I know, honey. But it isn’t healthy to skip meals.”
I took her presence in, for the first time since I had arrived at the manor. Her body looked tense. Her eyes were filled with concern and sadness—my sadness. Her breathing was labored, as if this was somehow very difficult for her. Her face and neck shone with a coat of sweat, or tears. Strands of her hair fell from their usual place atop her head in her bun. She looked like a mirror of my grief. A friend grieving for their own.
A grieving mother.
My eyes locked with hers. I wanted to tell her. I needed to. If I didn’t get it out, I might have exploded. “My mother—”
“You can trust me.”
My body jerked, a bullet of pain in my stomach and my skull. I doubled over, my vision blurred, and my breath caught. I felt Margaret grab my arms and try to hoist me back up, and I felt the vibration of her voice near me, but I couldn’t hear anything. Tears streamed down my cheeks, unsolicited. I trembled in pain and fear. What the fuck? Am I dying?
My trembling worsened, my senses continued to fade. It was as if every part of my body was breaking and I was no longer in control. Margaret continued to coax me back into reality, but my awareness of the outside world was leaving me. I’m dying. I’m not strong enough to fight this. I’m going to die.
And then it stopped.
My eyes widened, and I took a deep breath. I straightened my spine and turned to Margaret. She looked as pained and confused as I was. “Iris, are you alright?” she asked.
“Yes.” I looked at her hands, gripped onto mine tightly. She let go and rested them back on my shoulders.
“Well, now.” She sighed, and regained her composure. “What were you saying, dear?”
“Um…” I thought for a moment, trying to come back to the passion I had to tell her my thoughts, but the passion was gone, replaced by confusion and irritation. I thought I would die… and what happened was suddenly no longer her concern. Pain pierced my skull, a gift from my freak panic attack. I felt overwhelmed. I needed to know what was going on.
“Margaret, did you say something?”
“I asked you what you were saying before your…” she grasped for a word, as if it had only been an inconvenience. “episode. Can-can you not hear me well, dear?”
“No. I mean, yes, I can hear you. I meant before that.” I looked at her expectantly, but I already knew the answer to my question.
She drew back a little, hesitant. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Never mind that. Um, could you go get me a glass of water? And I’ll get ready for supper.”
Her face fell, like she wanted to continue talking, but she quickly rose from the bed. “Of course! I’ll be right back.” She leaned down and kissed my forehead. I resisted pulling away. She made eye contact with me again, and gave me a small reassuring smile, before closing the door to my room on her way out.
I collapsed from the edge of the bed, and the sobs I had been holding back silently wracked my body. I curled up on the floor, pulling my hair, wishing the migraine that had suddenly formed would go away. I used the soft carpet and the pressure of the floorboards to alleviate the pain on one side.
This whole evening was out of balance. Nothing made sense.
You can trust me.
It didn’t feel like it came from the outside world; it felt like it came from inside my head.
It couldn’t have been her. That can’t be possible. My head spun. I felt like I was going crazy. I groaned, and curled further into myself.
The pain. My loss of focus. Crippling panic…. My hands tightened around clumps of hair, tearing them from their follicles.
It wasn’t Margaret that had said it. It was my mother.