An excerpt from my novella Lúnasa Days:
Emily had always seen things.
In the beginning it was pretend, it was normal. Mom and Dad were proud of their creative little girl.
But creative little girls scare serious adults.
The things she spoke of were Not Okay. It was one thing when it was Grandma, a year after she died. It was another when it was Jesus, saying he didn’t like church.
Or the neighbor’s dead dad.
And it was all mixed together. Not just these ominous, confident declarations. Imaginary lands and make-believe critters. The talking frog! She always did love her talking frog.
Emily had not seen a frog talk in over five years.
The tarot cards didn’t bother them. Actually it was a relief—she was quiet for a week. Lost in a dream world, contained to a single bedroom table.
Neighbors are not as understanding. In good times people are all Christian. Faith is easy, and judgment a hobby. She was no longer the troubled child—she was the trouble.
Her parents came to her. Initially it was: don’t talk about the cards. Then: the cards stay in the house. Finally: give us the cards. That was a fight to end all fights. She lost, of course. She learned to hate.
Hate is a precursor to love, in teenagers. The chemical capacity for love is there long before there’s anyone to hold. Everything is Shakespeare for a few stormy years.
Deprived of tarot cards, Emily tried pot instead. It helped, actually; the visions were much gentler with pot. She wished she could cut them out of her head.
Until she got her wish.
“Salience,” the doctor told them. “It’s a matter of salience.”
What a grand word. Father, mother, daughter waited for more.
“Our brain has to determine how salient something is, how much meaning to attach to it. For example, seeing an apple reminds you of William Tell. Do you dismiss that? Or do you suddenly worry you’ll be shot with an arrow?”
Emily rolled her eyes. That was nothing like the frog.
“Or does William step out and start talking to you?”
“This is how schizophrenia works. Everything you see seems very real, because your brain treats every thought, every hunch as equal. It doesn’t distinguish between the things that are actually there, and the things it wonders about.”
Her dad shook his head. “Can you fix it?”
The doctor said he could.
He was mistaken.
The early treatments made it worse.
She still saw everything, but now it was confused. She couldn’t get the meaning. From Caterpillar she was reduced to wandering Alice.
It didn’t really matter. She was already the outcast, the devil kid. They called her Wicked Witch at school. Or Crazy.
She was given her part and, dedicated artist that she was, she played it exactly as scripted. There is nothing to prove you are damaged goods like dressing as damaged goods.
Of course, what is designed to deter serves also as an advertisement, to a certain kind of man.
Joel wasn’t a trouble kid. He was neither a bright student nor a washout. Athlete nor weakling. He got by, he took things easy. He seemed very safe.
Which he was, six days a week. Once in a while he snapped. That would drive off most people. Not Emily. She had the black shirt, the metal bits, the proactive sneer. She broadcast: “If you love me, you may hurt me.” This was an acceptable offer.
He never hit her. He was not so easy to hate. But when he struck, he struck hard. And he struck often.
There were two ways Joel proved that he loved Emily. One was tearful, passionate apologies. The other was fucking her with long, fast strokes.
He was a broken creature, like her. But he was her broken creature. He, at least, would never leave her.
And she wouldn’t leave him, either.
She got pregnant one year after their first time.
They were high school seniors. She denied it: first to herself, then to Joel, then to her parents. She looked up how to use herbs to abort a baby. But she didn’t.
She had to stop her medication during the pregnancy. Things became very turbulent, very violent. Emily tried never to think of that year.
She was happy with her son, her beautiful son. He was the only thing she ever did right.
After becoming a mother she had one last fit of self-determination. She tried to start a business of her own. College was out, after all. And Joel stayed—of course he stayed—but how much did he earn? Not much.
Tarot cards scare good Christians, but not dowsers. She taught herself how in one day. She printed flyers and her dad put out the word. Old farmers respect dowsers.
There aren’t many old farmers left.
Wells just aren’t so hard anymore. You don’t have to hand-dig anything. The well companies use maps, and they’re not going to refer you to a lady with a rod. Wrong place? Oh well. The deeper they have to dig, the more they get to charge.
It took her another year to accept that she just wasn’t going to make good as the Midwest’s new water witch.
And so, unmarried, impecunious, imbalanced and unfulfilled, she began to raise a son. She lived with her parents, delighted in the boy, and slowly, slowly, learned to regard Joel not as her creature, but as a thorny and volatile necessity.
Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.