My Father's Daughter (Part 2/2)
By Violet S
Christmas morning, or closer to afternoon by the time I woke up, was usually a pretty lowkey affair in my house. Neither of my parents were religious and despite their early gift wars, they didn’t really overdo it on holidays or make a big fuss about having matching pyjamas and hot cocoa. That Christmas felt different from the moment I left my bedroom. My mom had practically flown up the stairs to my room and had a huge grin on her face. She was almost buzzing with excitement and kept telling me to hurry up so we could open our presents. The whole way down the stairs she kept looking over her shoulder at me and giggling. It was so bizarre that I almost thought she was drinking again, but when she was drunk she never had this much energy. We sat around the tree and opened our gifts, keeping with our usual level of quiet enthusiasm when we got something we really liked. It went by pretty normally and I was starting to relax. I thought maybe my mom had just been really anxious about something she bought or that I was really overtired when I woke up. I started making my way to the kitchen to get breakfast when my illusion of normalcy shattered. She called me back into the living room, but her voice was different. It was like she was singing at me in some cartoonishly happy trill that still haunts me.
“Claaaaaire! Where do you think you’re going? You’ve still got one more gift to open!”
I remember turning back into the living room and seeing my dad give me a confused shrug before looking at the grin on my mom’s face. She was holding a large giftbox in her lap and her eyes looked too wide to fit in her head. I wish I hadn’t opened it. I wish I had taken it more seriously. I wish a lot of things about that day were different.
When I opened the box I could feel her breathing down my neck. I threw the tissue paper to the side and almost laughed when I saw what I was looking at. I knew that for some reason this gift was really important to my mother so I bit my tongue, but I was confused. I looked up at her, ready to ask about it but she cut me off before I could get a word out. She told me that she knew it seemed strange, but her friend Justine from AA had gotten her into this stuff and it was a lot of fun. She said Justine took her to see a psychic and that she had connected with her dead parents. She started explaining these séances and a pendulum the psychic used but I felt my brain shutting down as I realized this is what she had been doing for months. My dad, who looked as shocked as I felt, tried to get her to stop but she only grew more frenzied. She looked me straight in the eyes and told me that the psychic wanted us to use the Ouija board together. That’s why she saved it for last. It was the most important gift because it would help us bond. She said this psychic told her that if we used the board together she would finally be able to understand me. I won’t lie, that part kind of broke my heart. I could see that my mom was falling apart but all she wanted was to understand her daughter and feel connected to her. I knew that feeding into whatever delusions she was experiencing was probably a bad idea but I guess I felt kind of guilty. I was going away to college in the summer and I had spent the last couple of years pretty far removed from her in any meaningful way. I agreed to use the board.
The rest of the day went by uneventfully. Everything, even my mother’s behaviour, seemed normal. I almost forgot about the board sitting in the living room as I started getting ready for bed until my mother showed up as I was brushing my teeth. That strange buzz of excitement was back. She told me that she set everything up downstairs and she was ready for the séance. Ready to bond. I tried to be positive but I was scared. Not because I believed in ghosts or paranormal phenomena but because it seemed like my mother’s sanity was hanging by a thread.
When we got downstairs I almost gasped. She had truly gone all out, turning off the lights in favour of candles I didn’t even know we owned, and everything was eerily quiet. No creaky floorboards, no heater providing a comforting white noise to drown out the thumping of my heart in my chest. Nothing but us and the board. She briefly explained the rules to me and we began. There’s a piece called a planchette that you hold and it supposedly moves across the board guided by a spirit to answer your questions. Things started out pretty much the way I expected; no movement. My mother asked a few generic questions but the planchette didn’t budge. I asked her if we should give up but she insisted we keep trying. Finally she asked if there was a spirit willing to communicate and I felt the planchette move. It went right to the “NO” etched into the corner of the board. Then it went to the “YES” in the other corner and back down to the number 4. I wanted to run. I wanted to tell her to stop moving it. I wanted to ask her why she was doing this. Instead, I sat with my legs crossed and my mouth stuck shut. My hands stayed glued to that planchette like my life depended on it. My mother asked if that meant there were 4 spirits in the house. The planchette moved to “YES”.
“Why did you say no when I first asked if anyone wanted to talk?”
The planchette then moved to the letter portion of the board. E, M, M, A, then a pause followed by A, N, G, R, Y. I could feel tears running down my face. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was more scared in that moment than I had ever been in my life. Whatever my mother was doing had gone too far, but still, I felt stuck. My fight or flight response seemed to be broken. I discovered I am the third category, which is freeze, so I sat there watching my mother dip further into parts of her psyche that should have been left untouched.
Eventually we gathered that there were, according to this “paranormal force”, 4 spirits. All were female, and the one named Emma did not want to communicate. The other 3 remained nameless but didn’t share Emma’s distaste for the board. Just as my mother began asking the so called spirits why they were here, I heard my dad’s footsteps on the stairs and the light came on in the room as he walked in. That was the first time in my entire life I heard my parents fight. I was still frozen in place on the floor, silently crying and not speaking. My dad took one look at me and then turned on my mom, yelling at her for being irresponsible and scaring me. She jumped up and started screaming at him for ruining it. She started sobbing and kept screaming but eventually the words coming out of her mouth were no more than gibberish. She threw the planchette on the floor and stomped up the stairs.
I remember my dad taking me to bed that night. I felt pathetic. Here I was, trying to reassure my parents that I was old enough and capable enough to live on my own at college, but my dad was putting me to bed like I was a toddler who thought monsters lived in her closet. I told him everything that happened and he just listened, knitting his brows together the way he did when he was really trying to focus. When I was done, we sat in silence for a few minutes before he held my hand and said that he never wanted me to touch the board again. He also said he would talk to my mother the next day, depending on her mood, and look into getting psychiatric help for her. He gave me the same encouraging smile he gave me every time I failed to predict an outcome on an experiment or got a low grade on a test, but this time it didn’t feel the same; the safety of the smile was lost in his exhaustion. Still, he was the one person I had always been able to count on. I knew I had no choice but to believe he could handle it.
I don’t know what he said to her about that incident and I didn’t ask. I didn’t look my mother in the eyes for a week and I made excuse after pitiful excuse about why I needed to stay in my room and finish a project or application that didn’t exist. I also heard my parents argue more frequently but they thought it was quiet enough that I wouldn’t notice. Finally, right as I was going back to school my mother sat me down. She said she put the board away and promised me that she would never make me use it again. I think she used some corny water under the bridge phrase and shrugged. She was so casual about it that I almost questioned whether we had experienced the same thing that night. I know I smiled and nodded but it felt more like an automatic response than a genuine one.
I didn’t sleep well for the next few months. Every time I thought about Christmas, I would have nightmares. Every creak and whistle of the wind put me on high alert and by the time summer came around, I was jumping out of my skin to get to college. I started packing much too early, and organized my room into a series of boxes and suitcases. Assuming I would have a roommate, I decided to leave all of my expensive jewelry packed away at home along with my childhood toys and weird antique dolls. I only planned on bringing the essentials, and then buying whatever else I needed once I got to school. I needed a fresh start.
I accepted an offer from a pretty good school to study anatomy with the possibility of getting a position in the lab for part-time work. It was in another state, but close enough that the drive was only a few hours long. Move-in day was actually a really happy memory for me; both of my parents got along the whole time, we sang songs in the car on the way up, and despite all of us trying to remain stoic, we all had misty eyes when it was time for them to go back home without me.
That first semester was everything I could have hoped for. My roommate, Rachel, was also majoring in a science program and was pretty similar to me. We got along really well and managed not to bother each other with late nights or early morning alarms. I found a hiking trail nearby that took me weeks to get familiar with, but it became my go-to when things got stressful. I even started up a new jewelry collection, albeit with much fewer pieces. I didn’t make it home for Thanksgiving because I was up to my eyes in assignments and readings for midterms, so when Christmas rolled around I was excited to go back and see my parents. The memories of our last Christmas together gnawed at the back of my brain but I pushed them down as best I could. I packed up a suitcase for the week, and excitedly waited with my first semester grades printed out to show off.
My first night back home was pretty uneventful. We were all exhausted from the drive, which had practically been doubled in time due to the snow, and just unpacked the major things and went to bed. It wasn’t until the morning that I realized how strange it felt to be back in my bed, looking up at the ceiling that I’d only been away from for a few short months but that seemed so foreign now.
The next day was the calm before the storm. I woke up to the smell of pancakes and for a few short moments, all tucked up under the covers and watching the snow fall out the window, I felt that peaceful coziness that we all search for in our most nostalgic memories. We all ate those pancakes together, and my mother asked me to help her put the last couple of ornaments on the tree with her. When we had finished, she came to give me a hug but stopped before she reached me. She asked me where I got my necklace and even cocked her head to the side like a character in a sitcom. It was just one of the pieces I had acquired since moving out, and even though she accepted my response, she looked at me funny for the rest of the day. I tucked it into my shirt to avoid her weird glances. She didn’t try to interrupt when my dad and I sat around the living room talking about school, my new friends, and everything he had been doing at work. She barely even said goodnight to me when I went back upstairs. She just hung back like there was some invisible barrier preventing her from approaching me. I was used to her behaviour being odd at times so it didn’t stop me from falling asleep pretty quickly. I wish I could say I slept through the night with no disturbances, but that would be a lie.
I heard a scream. Or maybe it was a crash. All I know is that I heard something coming from downstairs and it wasn’t good. I looked over at my phone and saw that it was a little after 3am. I was ready to dial 911, assuming that there was an intruder, until I heard my father’s voice pleading with my mother to stop. I put down my phone and opened my bedroom door, and the sounds became a little more clear. My mother was screaming hysterically at my father and calling him every name under the sun. All he seemed to be doing was asking why.
I went downstairs, avoiding the creaky spots in the steps, and then I almost screamed. The board was out. That horrible little piece of wood was sitting on the table, surrounded by candles like it was some sort of priceless heirloom. It was the kitchen though that truly terrified me; lit only by candles as well, I could make out countless newspaper clippings all over the room, scattered into 8 piles on the floor. My old jewelry box sat empty on the counter and each pile of newspaper had a separate piece on it. My mother was standing by the empty box and my father was by the doorway. She looked vicious, like a wild animal ready to pounce, and my father stood there as though playing dead was the best option for survival. Finally the blood rushing through my head calmed down enough that I could make out what she was screaming.
“Why? Why did you have to bring it into our home? You sick son of a bitch, you’re crazy if you think you’re getting out of this. All of these years. All of these years!”
Then her eyes landed on me, and she almost leapt over the counter as she turned her rage on me. She stuck her finger out and pointed it in my face.
“And you. My own daughter. My own fucking daughter, how could you? How long did you know? Why in God’s name did you have to do this? Look at them! Come into the kitchen and look at them. Look at their faces.”
Somehow she managed to drag me into the kitchen and I realized all the newspaper clippings were of missing women or girls. There was a piece of jewelry to correspond with each clipping. Only that ruby ring sat alone on the counter. My father tried to protest and tell my mother that she had lost her mind; that pulling out the board again was dangerous and she’d have to go to a hospital. She was unwavering and said that when she saw the necklace on me the night before, she had “felt” the board call to her and put it all into place. The more we pleaded with her to calm down or think things through, the more enraged she became until she just started screaming out names. The names of the missing girls. Linda, Theresa, Emma, Susan, Jennifer, Mia, Katherine, Brittany, and Grace. All but one had a set of smiling pictures on the floor.
What happened next remains hazy in my mind, but I do have a few clear details. My mother did pick up a knife and charge at my father. I saw blood on his shirt but he never fell down. She ran at me too, a glimmer of silver extended in front of her body, but she hit the ground before she got to me. A boning knife, I think, stuck out of her neck. He did it to defend me. We had no other choice. At least, these are all the things I told the officers when they arrived on the scene. The jewelry had been put away before we called for help, but just like with the boning knife he did it to protect me; to protect us. I told the officers how my mother had been absent, withdrawn, and erratic my whole life, dipping in and out of obsessions and fixations only to turn to alcohol and the occult. A sullen officer took my hand and told me he was sorry. I had to suppress a grin as he sat me down to explain what a psychotic break was, and that my “upstanding” father was a victim here just like I was. He practically scoffed at me when I tearfully asked if they were considering my father a suspect in these old cases my mother had dug up. Once I was assured that my father was only being taken to the hospital as a precaution, my thoughts wandered back to that ruby ring and I finally clued in. It must have belonged to the faceless name that my mother shouted. No wonder poor Emma had been so mad; no one even bothered to report her missing.
My father taught me the most important things I know. He taught me how to tie my shoes, how to dispose of a body, how to drive stick-shift, and how to lure a woman into a vehicle. He taught me the best ways to mimic empathy, and how to adapt to any situation. I just wish he hadn't shown me the appeal of taking trophies. I've grown pretty attached to this necklace.