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Rabbits in the garden, p.21

Rabbits in the Garden, page 21

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  “You know what happened to him.”

  “I know I didn't kill him, and he didn't run off. Just tell me the truth.”

  “The truth is all I've ever tried to give you. What you really want is fact. For instance, I'm your mother, and I love you, Avery: that is a fact.”

  “Not the one I'm interested in. Just tell me, Mom. If not for me than for the off-chance that God needs to hear your confession, one last time.”

  Faye clenched her trembling jaw and a low growl rumbled in her throat.

  “Whatever you think of me doesn't matter. In all my life, in everything I’ve done, I believed I was working in the best interest of my family.”

  “There are four people in this family, Mom. Five if you count Aunt Lily. It should be ‘ours’.”

  “Yes, ours. Yours, mine, and Natalie’s.”

  “Dad wasn't a bad man. He deserves his share.”

  “He doesn’t deserve anything. He tried to rip this family apart.”

  “You mean ‘your family’?” Avery spat and When Fate didn't answer, Avery screamed “Tell me!!”

  “It won't change anything.”

  “I don't care,” she replied, and Faye groaned in defeat.

  “Fine. Aunt Lily wasn't really your aunt. She wasn't related to us at all. I allowed Jason to make her a part of this family because...well, because I was weak, and because I loved him so much,” Faye admitted grudgingly.

  “What are you saying? Who was she?”

  “Lily was your father's girlfriend. Actually, she was his patient first, and then she became his girlfriend. I don't know anything about their 'courtship', thank God, but I assume once she lifted her skirt outside of doctor's orders, he folded. He wasn't a good man, Avery. I don't know how you remember him, but he was not a good man. He was the kind of man I tried to teach you to avoid,” she replied.

  “I don’t believe you. What memories I have of him are good ones. He was nice. He loved us, and Aunt Lily loved us too.”

  “He told her to act like she loved you just to spite me. He wanted to take you and Natalie away. He tried to steal you from me just as if he was stealing you from my womb.”

  “What the hell are you talking about?”

  “He tried to put me out. He tried to take you away. Him and that whore he taught you girls to call 'Aunt'.”

  “I remember Lily being sweet. Sweeter than you.”

  “What good is being sweet? Love, encouragement, hope: that's what children need. Sweetness can be false, but those things are always true. They're what I strove to give you, Avery. I'm sorry if you chose not to accept them.”

  “Hope? You took away every piece of hope I had when you allowed me to take the blame for your crimes, and the only encouragement you gave me was when you encouraged me to kill anyone who wasn't as psychotically puritan as you. And love? I can't even remember your love anymore. My memories have been twisted by your cruelty. Any affection I remember now seems like it was born of one of your hidden agendas.”

  “How could you even think that? I loved you; I loved you and Natalie so much that I did everything I could to prevent you from ending up with your father and Lily. She tried to tart you up, make you just like her, and I was forced to sit there and abide it. I knew he loved the two of you more than he loved me and that you loved him back, but when you started loving her too, it was too much. I begged him to stop seeing her, and when he refused, I broke my own heart and asked him to leave. I agreed to grant him a divorce if he really wanted to be with her, but he wouldn't leave. He said he wanted to take you with him, both of you, far away from your mother's arms where you belonged. I'll be the first to admit that the whole situation did put me a little out of my mind. How is a mother supposed to let her children be taken away when she has the strength to stop it?” Faye asked and looked up at Avery with tears and bathwater running down her cheeks.

  Avery felt her resolve start to soften when her mind replayed the memory of Sheila grasping for her baby as it was torn out of her arms. What would Sheila have done to keep her daughter if not for the vitamins pumping through her veins? But Faye was not Sheila. She was the antithesis of that colorful girl, and she did not deserve the same sympathies.

  “I'm not going to feel sorry for you. You've killed too many people to warrant pity,” she replied and dumped another bucket of ice into the bath.

  Faye screamed and thrashed madly, and when she started to convulse with heavy sobs, the bonds tore at her wrists and blood flowered in the water.

  “What do you want? You asked for a motive and I'm giving you one!” she screeched morosely.

  “I never really cared about a motive. No reason you could give me would ever change what you did or the affect it's had on my life. You asked me earlier what would make me stop this madness, and unfortunately for you, Mom, my answer is: nothing.”

  “There has to be something. We weren't always at odds. We were happy once. Mother and child: a love beyond description. We were both innocent then.”

  “I'm still innocent. Ever since I was sentenced to Taunton, I strove to prove my innocence. I thought that if I kept on trying to convince people I was sane, it might eventually get through, but my protests did nothing but damn me further. There was something I learned from you though, Mom. After Natalie died, I realized that I needed to toughen up, and to do that, I thought of you. You were always such an austere woman. I saw it long before any of this and I admired it. But that was before I understood true madness, the kind that drives people to believe they're doing some great work in bloodshed. Now I understand it completely because now, I believe that killing you is the greatest work I will ever do,” she whispered as Faye's eyes widened in horror. “I'll be right back.”

  As Avery walked out of the room, Faye craned to see where she was going, and when she heard the distinctive sound of wheels against the rotted floor, her fear twisted into confusion.

  “I guess you don't know what this is anymore than I did when I first saw it,” Avery said as she positioned the ECT machine next to the tub. “But I'm sure you have an inkling of what it is though. I assume this therapy was mentioned in some pamphlet the hospital gave you when I was admitted. Maybe something called, 'So you've decided to commit your innocent daughter to damnation...'”

  “Avery, whatever you're planning on doing, please don't. I can fix everything. Well, maybe not everything, but I can tell the world the truth about everything. I'll even take the blame for the hospital fire if you want. Just please, don't kill me.”

  “You're lying. You won't admit to anything.”

  “I will! I promise!” she boomed desperately.

  “Ssh. You'll wake Sophie.”

  “Yes! Think of Sophie! Would you really kill her grandmother in front of her?” Faye asked, but Avery didn't even pause.

  “Did you kill Dad in front of me and Natalie?” she asked as she untangled the wires connected to the electrodes.

  “Do you remember?”

  “No, but I wouldn't be surprised if you did do it in front of us.”

  “I guess you'll have to wonder forever then. I'll never answer that question.”

  “Not even if God wants you to?”

  “God already knows, and He's already forgiven me because He is the one who commanded it. Tell me, Avery: with all of the voices in your head, is God one of them? Are your thoughts divine?”

  “My thoughts are too logical for God to make an appearance,” Avery replied and pulled the wires free with a chuckle.

  “You are damned, Avery, and He is the only one who can save you. You can kill me. You can kill hundreds more, but you'll never be appeased. Your mind has been drenched in blood for so long, you can't see past the crimson. You are damned.”

  “Fuck you!” Avery screeched. “Fuck you and fuck your lies! Your brand of logic would drive the sanest person mad!”

  “How would you know? You're the least sane person I've ever met.”

  “And yet here I am: your creation and the last face you'll ever
see.”

  She wet the electrodes with the bathwater and gently cradled one side of her mother's head as she forcibly stuck the electrode to the other. When both were firmly secured to Faye's face, she crouched down beside the tub and looked at her mother square in the eye. Avery's anger had never been so focused, or so wild. The voices of her dead companions allowed her to speak with violent eloquence, but her mind was a manic whirlwind of rage.

  “You are a liar, a murderer, and an abysmal excuse for a mother,” Avery stated firmly, and when Faye moaned, she hushed her softly. “You have led us here with your deluded actions, your malice, and your selfishness. You deserve to die, and you will die, and just like with your victims, no amount of begging will change my mind.”

  “My victims?” she spat. “They weren't victims. Maybe I do deserve to die, but so did they, and so do you. The difference between you and me is that I have been absolved of my sins and will die a martyr.”

  “I hope Sophie never remembers this. God, I can't even imagine what would've happened to her if she'd stayed in the care of someone like you.”

  “I suppose you'll find out, won't you? We've come full circle at last, Avery. From child to adolescent to adult, you have not succeeded in being my opposite. You are exactly like me. Except I might be a bit more rational.”

  “You're the least rational person I know.”

  “Am I? It sounds to me like you're being as shortsighted as the people who refused to hear your protests of innocence. I say I'm sane, and you say I'm not despite my evidence to the contrary. We are so alike, aren't we? You thought me austere, but you were the real austere one. The memories you have of being a joyful, innocent youth were fabricated.”

  “I don't believe you.”

  “Of course you don't,” Faye chortled and coughed haggardly. “Your psychosis won't allow you to be wrong, but you were the real strong one, Avery. Strong like me, sweet like Natalie, tortured by compulsion like your friend Flint.”

  “Stop it! You're lying. You're trying to save yourself.”

  “What would be the point? You've made it perfectly clear that I'm not getting out of Taunton alive. Go ahead and flip your switches, and while you do, protest your innocence as you always have. Maybe someone will finally hear it echoed in my dying screams.”

  “Innocence doesn't matter for me anymore. Your dying screams are all I care about now,” she replied as one hand caressed her mother's cheek and the other fondled the switch. “As for who will hear you, there is a crowd of people not far away who have been primed for that moment since you foolishly walked through the front door. But before I strike the match, there's just one more thing I need from you.”

  “What?” Faye snarled and kicked her feet violently.

  Avery leaned over her mother with her hand outstretched. She wrapped her fingers around her engagement ring calmly, but when she ripped it from Faye's neck, she did so in the hopes that the chain might slice her mother's skin.

  “Do you have everything you want now, Avery?” Faye asked.

  “Almost. What about you, Mom? Is this the way you envisioned your lessons coming to fruition?”

  Faye opened her mouth to answer, but knowing Avery's mind, she also knew that her words didn't matter. She tilted her head back and opened her hands in acceptance, and although Avery expected to feel resentful at the reaction, her sense of accomplishment wouldn't allow her conscience to rain on her parade. However, when she looked down in the stern, overbearing way she'd learned from Faye, it didn't work. Waterlogged in the ice bath with her pride running down her cheeks, Faye still seemed to look down on Avery. Her eyes burned and her fingers gripped the sides of the tub in anticipation that almost seemed righteous. Before the switch fell, she grinned, and Avery found herself grinning with her.

  The current hit Faye's brain with sparks that crackled loudly as they traveled down her drenched body and into the water. She slammed against the tub in violent convulsions that broke her bones, and her teeth shattered under the pressure of her clamped jaw. Avery couldn't deny her joy, but once the smoke began to rise with the all too familiar stench of burning flesh, she turned away from her mother and toward her niece. The current continued to surge even after its human conductor had become nothing more than a slack lump of sizzling meat. While Avery had no wish to have her mother's body stewed, her vengeance prevented her from stopping it. She wrapped Faye's coat around her and grabbed the car keys from the pocket. As she rolled Sophie's carriage out of the room, she kept her eyes fixed forward, but her ears strained to hold onto every hiss and pop of Faye falling to ash.

  When Avery emerged from Taunton, a resounding cheer rose from the victims of bad fortune, but she put her finger to her lips and hushed them as she wheeled Sophie through the deceased masses. The rabbits ran around the stroller and cleared the path to where Natalie stood with her scorched arms outstretched and a smile emblazoned on her face. Avery passed the baby into her sister's hands, but Natalie quickly handed her back with a moan.

  “I'm so filthy, and she's so perfect,” she whispered forlornly. “But I know you'll take good care of her, Avery. Raise her as your own. She should've been yours in the first place. You and Paul should've never been ripped apart as you were.”

  “None of that matters anymore. We're all together now,” Avery said.

  Paul held her hands and kissed them sweetly, but he avoided her gaze and Avery felt a sudden fear spring into her throat.

  “What is it? What aren't you telling me?”

  “We can't come with you, Avery,” Paul replied. “Our work is done, and yours is just beginning.”

  “You can't be serious. I need you, all of you. You were the only thing that made me think clearly. I don't think I could've done this without you, and I can't imagine doing anything else without you.”

  “We'll still be there, Avery. You won't see us, but we'll be there,” Flint said as she tenderly squeezed her friend's shoulder. “We're free now, and we owe it all to you.”

  “What about you, Paul? Will you really abandon me? Will you abandon your daughter?”

  “She's your daughter now, and I know you'll do right by her,” he replied as he cupped her face and ran his thumb over her cheek. “Look out there, Avery: there's a whole world, and it's yours now. I know you wish it could be ours; I wish that too, but we have to be realistic. This is your time now, and it’s your responsibility to take what you've learned and share it with the world. Your mother might've been crazy and ill-inspired, but she was right about one thing: the world is a garden and it must be tended.”

  “Without you?”

  “Never. I will still be with you. We'll all be with you, loving you from afar and guiding you from our Heavens. But this battle is over, my love. There's no more need for sadness or regret.”

  “But I do have regrets,” Avery cried. “I regret that the ring you gave me is just a ring now. It doesn't symbolize anything anymore.”

  “No, it symbolizes everything we were, everything we are, and what we might have been. We may have never exchanged our vows, but you are my wife. Avery Norton. Avery Dillon. I don't need a priest to confirm it, and neither should you,” Paul declared. “But the brass ring from the Flying Horses is a different story. It should be passed along.”

  “To who?” she asked, but Paul replied with an urging look and she knew.

  When Avery removed the brass ring from her pocket and dangled it over the carriage, Sophie giggled and playfully reached for it. Avery put it into her tiny hands, and Sophie immediately put it into her mouth, causing the crowd to chuckle in admiration.

  “It is as it should be,” Paul said.

  “Nothing is as it should be, but I'll take it,” Avery said, and even though she tried to avoid his gaze, he spun her around and pressed his lips against hers.

  It was a good kiss, one of the best he'd ever given her. The only thing that prevented it from topping the charts was his waning solidity. He was fading away. They were all fading away. Avery strove to embrac
e as many of them as she could before they were gone. She even hugged the nurses she'd never liked; perhaps they'd been stifling in life, but in death, they'd helped her succeed. From her father to Flint to the vacant girl in the purple chair, she felt like she was taking them with her with each embrace. By the time the last rabbit racing around her feet had disappeared, Avery's mind was at peace.

  “My dear Sophie,” she said as she curled a finger over the child's milky cheek. “It's time to go. This garden has been slashed, burned, and salted, and God willing, nothing will ever grow here again.”

  It was true indeed. The world was a garden: a beautiful garden that should have no fences to lock it in and no stones to obstruct its growth. That's the thought that filled Avery's mind as she loaded Sophie into Faye's car and pulled away from Taunton. She wanted to say something to the girl that would adequately portray her feelings, but “I love you” didn't seem like enough. Instead, said the three words that had always made her feel loved while she was locked away.

  “I believe you.”

  As Taunton Asylum shrank in the rearview mirror, Avery felt a dozen weights lift from her mind. She tuned the radio to a station far away from her mother's favorites, and as Elvis Presley crooned, “Love Me Tender”, Sophie pulled the brass ring out of her mouth. With a joyous squeal, she slipped it onto her new mother's finger, and Avery felt an elated future take root. With that kind gesture, every sin seemed absolved and every prospective step seemed like one taken toward a great propagation.

  EPILOGUE

  The hotel actually had a television, but the novelty was wasted on someone who had a baby to bathe; she might as well have been listening to a radio. She was thankful for the opportunity to choose though. Choice wasn't something she was afforded much in Oak Bluffs or Taunton. She was denied. She was denied so many things, but there was nothing she'd ever deny her daughter. She'd be the kind of teacher Faye should have been, the kind who listens as well as she speaks. The kind who pauses between lectures to allow her student to contribute. Oh, she had such things to teach Sophie: love, encouragement, hope. She was eagerly looking forward to being a true teacher, but as it turned out, Avery still had her own truths to learn. As she laid Sophie down to sleep, the Nightly News began a report about a missing woman who had been found on the side of Route 128. Before the story delved any deeper, Avery knew how it would end, and it made her smile.

 
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