The Broken Line, Chapter 48: The Other John

(Missed the last chapter? Go to 47: Sex Dreams and Secrets)

HANDS WITH LONG nails pinch me and then grab me roughly—lifting and shaking. Wanda’s face looms. I smell sickly sweet coffee on her breath. I gasp for air and then vomit a stream of bile onto her uniform.

“Filthy,” Wanda hisses. “Get into the bath.”

“No,” I moan, as she shoves me down the hall. “It can’t be true, can’t be.”

Even as I resist, the pieces click into place. The man’s clothes in the closet. John’s reportedly blasé attitude toward Dorothy’s affair with my father. Dr. Rolfe’s reaction every time I said Uncle John. Wanda’s shock when I mentioned the dark haired musician. My lover. The one who’d dumped me on the porch for my … husband to deal with? Read more »

The Broken Line, 47: Sex Dreams and Secrets

(missed the last chapter? Go to 46: Splitting in Two)

IN THE DREAM I remember the musician’s name—Branson.

We’re in the painting. Branson, John, and me. Both men stand naked and erect, staring down at me with flat expressions. They look impossibly tall, until I realize that I’m flat on my back, unable to move anything except my head.

I look down at my naked body and see vines like manacles holding me spread eagle on the ground. One vine runs like an IV into my arm, dripping a milky white sap into my veins.

Neither of men touch me. Instead they begin half-chanting, half-singing a haunting, erotic song. Their voices weave and twine together. I shut my eyes. I want it to stop but, instead, I moan and writhe, straining against the vines, climaxing against my will again and again. I open my eyes to see a thick vine thrusting in and out of me. I scream and wake myself. My body still pulsates from the orgasms. Read more »

The Broken Line, 46: Splitting in Two

(missed the last chapter? Go to 45: Meet the Family)

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND why my mother tried to kill my father.”

Dr. Rolfe paces the room, lithe as a cat. “A constructed reality can be very elaborate, with its own internal logic. In your mother’s case, she became convinced that your father was a demon.”

I process this information in light of my own hallucinations: the flower faces of my ancestors, the monster controlling the vines in the walls. The river of blood.

“Can a delusion be genetically inherited?”

Dr. Rolfe appears delighted by the question, pointing at the ceiling theatrically while he considers. “No. However, current theories hold that a genetic predisposition to mental illness can be triggered by environment. In your case, the delusions of a mentally ill mother could be a triggering factor, compounded by stress, trauma, drug use.”

Check, check, checkcheckcheck. I gaze morosely out the window at the oak tree. Its strong branches, laced with new, green leaves, give me a faint sense of hope, though for what, I can’t say. Read more »

The Broken Line: Chapter 45, Meet the Family

(Missed the last chapter? Got to 44: Face the Truth)

“GOOD MORNING.” DR. Rolfe doesn’t introduce himself. Why should he? According to Wanda, we’ve met many times before.

He’s younger than I expected—greyhound lean, dressed in slacks and a white shirt with pinstripes. I have a sense that I know him. As he scrutinizes me with sharp, dark eyes, I feel pinned like a butterfly to a board.

“Glad to see you awake and lucid.”

“Thank you,” I murmur, embarrassed.

Dr. Rolfe hefts the straight-backed chair that Wanda left in the corner and swings it closer to the bed. I feel myself grinning nervously. A would-be teacher’s pet on the first day of school—too eager to please. Read more »

The Broken Line, Chapter 44: Face the Truth

(Missed the last chapter? Read 43: Molesting Vines)

“WELL, THIS IS just peachy.”

I blink in the light, unsure where I am. I was running through the woods along the edge of a river, water rushing over stones, air fragrant with water and pine. Now my whole body aches. Did I fall?

My eyes adjust and I recognize the face hovering over me. Lush, false eyelashes framing dead eyes. I groan and try to cover my face. “Leave me alone. Tired.”

“We never should have let you out of those restraints,” Wanda fumes. “I told him it was too soon. Come on, get up.” Read more »

The Broken Line 43: Molesting Vines

(Missed the last chapter? Go to 42: Rabid Rabbit)

I FEEL A DISTURBANCE in the air and catch a whiff of something salty. I turn to see Wanda standing in the door, a tray of food in her hands.

“Look at you, up and about.” Wanda’s expression, as she glances at the grotesque pink painting, reflects disgust. I want to say something, deny any connection with the painting. But how can I? That’s my face up there. My body.

Wanda’s professional mask slips back into place as she sets the tray, bearing a bowl of broth and crackers, on the bed. “Eat up.” Her smile, meant to convey encouragement, strikes me as grotesque.

Wanda arches her painted eyebrows. “Didn’t your mother teach you it’s rude to stare?” Read more »

The Broken Line, 42: Rabid Rabbit

Part Three: The Dark Inside The Light

Chapter 42: Rabid Rabbit

The Broken Line Chapt 42

My vision swims beneath dry, twisted vines. A hurricane of dead branches, punctuated by flickering green. It’s trying to bud.

My lungs convulse. My mouth opens and my chest expands with a violent heave. I gulp heavy, moist air—thick, like white sap.

Flat on my back. A dresser with a row of medicine bottles on top. A window swathed in coal-colored velvet curtains. The walls glower—an ugly, dull gray.

I’d never paint my bedroom such a light-sucking color. An interesting certainty, since I can’t even remember my name.

You’re sick. You’ve been sick a long time.

How often have I woken, only to forget? Read more »

The Broken Line, 41: There Was A Girl, She Went Mad

(Missed the last chapter? Go to 40: Protect the Baby)


The Broken Line Chapt 41I FELT BETTER as soon as the front door closed behind me. The rain had stopped, and the chilly wind cleared my head. I pulled up the hood of my pea coat and walked down the front steps.

As I reached the sidewalk, I heard a single voice chanting. I became aware of the rhythm even before I could hear the words. I looked at streetlights and trees whipping in the wind, then some instinct made me turn around and glance back at my house.

John sat in the living room window, back-lit by the hall light. Just like before, the sight of his shadowy form rendered me immobile. I told myself there was nothing to fear, but I had lost control of my body. Read more »

The Broken Line, 40: Protect the Baby

The Broken Line Chapt 40(Missed the last chapter? Go to 39: The Big Sleep)

I WOKE MYSELF with a sob so wrenching it sent a pain through my chest.

The space on the couch where John had been sitting was empty. The lights were off. Just a crazy dream, I told myself. But I felt like the woman in the dream. Like I’d ruined everything. Betrayed everyone.

Protect the baby! Dorothy’s tortured lament came back to me. Of course, that could have been what gave rise to the child in the dream—either that, or the part of me that still grieved my own past. Textbook psychology. Read more »

The Broken Line, 39: The Big Sleep

The Broken Line Chapt 39(Missed the last chapter? Go to 38: Dorothy Falls)


RAIN, POUNDING THE slate roof like gravel. Wind wailing like a grieving mother. Rattle. Cry. Rattle. Cry. It took me a minute to realize I was in my own bed and that what I heard was just the weather. Through the lace curtains, the rivulets cast shadows like bruised and melting faces on the yellow wall. I sat up, trying to break free of the illusion.

My bedroom was a wreck. The high-top dresser drawers were all open. Clothing covered the floors. The nightstand was akimbo and piled high with papers. Papers also littered the bed. Bank statements, receipts, bills, old letters. I lifted up a receipt for tires I had put on my car before I started the job at Warrick. Why was it in the bed with me?

I dimly remembered searching in the dark at my desk in the hall for something I couldn’t find. Something I desperately needed to remember. I turned away from the wall and looked at the wooden door to my room. Dorothy’s face swam back at me. The creases at the corners of her eyes, greasy and crimped with pain. Her lipstick-smeared mouth shrieking about the baby. What baby? A dead child? A mad invention? Read more »