Authors: V.C. Andrews
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For Gene Andrews,
who so wanted to keep his sister's work alive
The long, dark pathway to the end of my dream was lined with hemlock, branched and graceful, with its white flowers and smooth stems marked with red. History and philosophy students probably know that Socrates was forced to drink it to carry out his own death sentence. I know that my ancestors recommended mixing it with betony and fennel seed to cure the bite of a mad dog.
I cannot tell you exactly how or why I know these things. I don't even know for sure who my ancestors were or where they lived. I don't know if I'm English, Italian, Dutch, or some combination. However, even when I was a young girl, probably no more than four years old, memories like these would come over me when I was least expecting them, but usually back then only when I was alone. Often that would happen when I was sitting outside on my small redwood bench on the rear patio, playing with a doll or some other toy my adoptive parents had given me for my birthday or when my father returned from a work trip.
My father was a commercial insurance salesman and often visited companies more than a hundred miles away. I was sure he could sell anyone anything. He was handsomer than anyone else's father I knew and had a smile that could radiate enough warmth to heat an igloo. With his perennial suntanned complexion, his green-tinted ebony eyes, his rich, thick licorice-black hair, always neatly styled, and his perfect facial features, he could have his picture next to the term
in the dictionary.
Whenever I was alone because my mother was doing housework and my father was away, I could lose myself in my own imagination for hours and hours. During that time, images, faces, words, and sights I had never seen in real life, in books and magazines, or on television would appear before me as if they were being beamed down from a cloud. I had always heard voices, and although I would never tell anyone, especially my parents, I still do.
The voices seemed to ride on the wind and come at me in waves of whispers clinging to the underbelly of the breeze, swirling about my ears. I often heard my name first and looked to see who was calling me from behind trees and bushes or around corners. There was never anyone there then, and there still isn't now. Sometimes the whispering trailed in the wake of a flock of birds flapping their wings almost in complete silence above me. And sometimes I would awaken suddenly at night, the way someone who had heard their bedroom door just open might awaken, and I
would hear the whispering coming from the darkest corners of my room.
It never frightened me and still doesn't. There was always a strong feeling of loving warmth in the voices, which, if they did anything, comforted me. When I was a young girl, I never had to call for my parents after a bad dream. The whispering reassured me. My ghosts protected me. I could close my eyes again without any trepidation, turn over in my bed, and embrace the darkness, snuggling safely like a baby in the arms of her mother.
Back then, whenever I mentioned any of this to my father or especially to my mother, both would scowl. If they were together at the time, my father would shake his head and look at my mother as if he was about to throw up his hands and run off. She would kneel down and seize my shoulders tightly. If she was wearing her fake fingernails, she would dig them into me enough to make me squirm and bring tears to my eyes.
“Control your imagination, Sage,” she might say, and then shake me so hard that she rattled my bones. Her startlingly gray eyes seemed to harden into marbles and look more like icy ash. “I don't want you saying things like this out loud, especially when strangers are among us. You're old enough to know the difference between pretend and real.”
I saw no difference, I wanted to say, but I didn't. Maybe I wasn't old enough; maybe I would never be. I knew it would only make her angrier to hear this. She would want to know why, and I would have to tell her that what I saw in dreams I often saw in the
world when I woke up, whether it was the shapes of shadows, faces in crowds, or the actions of birds, dogs, cats, and rabbits. If I could walk up and touch a squirrel in a dream, I could also do it when I was awake. Birds landed on my open hand and trotted around on my palm, and rabbits would hop between my feet when I walked on the grass. They still do that, but they seem a little more cautious.
Even when I was only four or five, I really did try to keep my thoughts and dreams more to myself, but despite my efforts, they had a way of rising out of me, pushing to the surface like air bubbles in a pond and then exploding in a burst of excitement so intense that my tongue would trip over my words in an effort to get them completely out. I didn't tell my mother or my father, but I felt a sense of relief when I didn't keep my visions under lock and key. They fluttered around my heart until I freed them, like someone opening her closed hands to let trapped butterflies fly away.
My mother was always frustrated about it. One night, she came to my bedroom and tied a rock to the bedpost. The rock had a hole in it, and she could run a thick cord through it.
“What's that?” I asked.
“Never mind what it is. You don't ever touch it or take it off. Understand?”
“How did a rock get a hole in it?”
She stood there thinking. I knew she was thinking whether she should answer me, and then she said, “Water can work a hole into a rock. That makes the
rock special. Think of it as good luck. It can stop you from having nightmares.”
“I don't have many nightmares,” I said. “I'm never frightened by a dream.”
“Well, I do,” she said, raising her voice. “And I don't want to hear you describe any of your horrid dreams to me or your father or anyone else who comes into this house,” she added, and left, her thick-heeled shoes hammering on the wooden hallway floor as her anger flowed down through her ankles.
My dreams aren't horrid
, I thought. I never said anything to make her think that. I never wanted to stop them. The rock didn't make any difference anyway. When I disobeyed her and touched it, I felt nothing unusual. Maybe it was too old or something. Eventually, because I didn't stop talking about my dreams and visions, she came into my room and took it away. She looked disappointed and disgusted.
“What are you going to do with that?” I asked.
“Hang it on my own bed,” she told me. “I need it more than you do, obviously.”
I wasn't sure if she was kidding or not. I knew she and my father were still upset about the things I said, even if they hid that disapproval from other people. If my images and unexplained memories sprouted in my mind while I was in public and I mentioned them, either my mother or my father would quickly squeeze some laughter out of their disapproving faces and then either would say something like “What a vivid imagination she has. We're always amazed.”
be a great writer someday,” my mother might say.
“Or a great filmmaker,” my father would add, and whoever was there would nod and smile. They might talk about their children and their imaginations or even themselves when they were my age, but they would always add, “But I never was as imaginative as Sage. And I certainly didn't speak with such confidence and authority when I was her age. Even older!”
As odd as it might seem, these compliments didn't please my parents the way they would other parents. The moment she could do it unseen, my mother would flash a reprimand my way and then quickly return to her mask, her forced smile. Afterward, she would put her hand gently on my head but ever so slightly catch a few strands of my hair between her long, firm fingers and twist them just enough to send a sharp sting into my scalp that would shoot down into my chest and burn my heart.
I knew what message she was sending, but no matter what she did or what she or my father said to me, I couldn't stop revealing what I had seen behind my eyes. There was no door, no lock, and no wall strong enough to shut up my visions or hold them back. It was like trying to stop the rain or the wind with your two little hands pressed palms upward at the cloudy sky.
Sometimes when we had company and the guests spoke to me, I might recite something I had envisioned or remembered without any explanation for it. Most of the time back then, the guests thought it
was amusing. Some of them, to my mother's chagrin, would encourage me to tell them more.
“I once had a pair of black leather shoes with low heels and round toes,” I told the two couples who were at our house for dinner on my father's thirty-eighth birthday. One of the men was Samuel Black, who worked with my father at the insurance company. They all had just praised my new dark pink dress and light pink shoes. “I had to keep them spotlessly clean, or I might get a paddling,” I added, lowering my head like some errant sinner full of shame.
“What?” Mr. Black's wife, Cissy, said.
She looked at my mother, who smiled by tightening her lips until they looked like a sharp ruby slice in her face. She shook her head slightly and sighed to attract sympathy for herself and my father. Oh, the burden they carried having a child like me.
?” Mrs. Black continued. “I don't think I've heard that word used, but I know what it was. Did she really have such shoes that she had to keep spotless?”
My parents laughed. Apparently, only I could tell how forced and phony that laughter was. To me, it sounded more like the rattling of rusty old bells on a horse's harness at Christmas. I could remember that sound, the sled, and being bundled up in a blanket, but when or where that memory came from I did not know. Like all other similar memories, it came and was gone as quickly as the snap of fingers.
“No, and we would never paddle her for getting her shoes dirty,” my mother said. She turned to me
and put on a stern face. “You know we wouldn't, Sage. We don't paddle you for anything. Don't tell people such a thing,” she ordered, with her eyes wide and her jaw tight. I could even see the way the muscles in her neck tightened.
“She's so convincing,” Mrs. Hummel said, looking at me with admiration. “I never saw a little girl who could be so convincing. You can't help but wonder how a little girl could make things up so vividly.”
“Why did you say you had those particular shoes?” her husband, Michael, asked me. He sat back with his arms folded over his narrow chest and looked very interested. He was a man who always had to push his glasses back up his nose because his nose was too narrow. “I mean, why round toes?” he followed, his brown eyes growing darker and more intense, as though he believed his question and my answer would solve some important puzzle.