ILLUMINATED

By Leslie Rathe

Mermade Stories
MERMADE STORIES

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A 1950s housewife. A dose of LSD. A history of stereotypes shattered.

Art by Emily Flake

PART ONE

September, 1957

The Spanish colonial house in Beverly Hills had a grand circular drive bedazzled in a ridiculous number of white roses, not to mention luxury cars. George Harper sat behind the wheel of his aging nineteen forty-five Dodge Wagon, parading his trophy of failure for everyone to see. Instead of pulling in, he accelerated past the circular drive of a life that would never materialize for people like him and Vivian.

“What are you doing? The house is just there,” said Vivian, pointing at the driveway.

“There’s no way we’re pulling up in this car,” protested George.

“I’ve got new heels on.”

“So take them off and walk,” George offered, without an ounce of sympathy.

George hid the car down a side street, tucking it beneath a bougainvillea hedge overflowing with electric pink flowers. He stepped out of the car, brushing invisible fibers from his suit. Vivian joined in with a courtesy sweep of his shoulder. After five years of marriage she knew well the rituals that calmed her husband. She saw him obsessing over the lights earlier. Flicking them on, then off, then on again. He liked to do that. In fact he did it all the time. The faucet, the door knobs. Anything that turned was well oiled with George’s neuroses. She often wondered when it started. When it would end. But now wasn’t the time to worry about all that. She had to walk four blocks in heels that were one size too small and half an inch too tall. She wondered about that too. When would heels go out of style? When could she wear her ballet flats to parties? This liberating and absurd thought carried her right up to the entrance of Emerald City.

“We’re not in Tulsa, anymore,” George muttered with bitter amusement as they stood before the imposing front door.

Vivian fluffed her hair, already drooping from the half-hearted attempt she put toward curling it, “Do I look okay?”

George rubbed at his stomach, “I’m not feeling good. I think I might be sick.”

Here we go again, she thought. Vivian tapped her head on his shoulder and tightened her arm around his elbow.

“You’ll be fine. I’m sure they have plenty of bathrooms here. Probably ones that no one ever uses,” reassured Vivian.

George lowered his voice with strained discomfort, “I can’t go here. What if someone catches me? I work with these people, Vivian.”

As George pivoted their bodies away from the threshold, a strange woman in white appeared in the open doorway, floating before them like a loose petal from her rose bushes. Betsy’s buoyant confidence sharply contrasted with the weight of George and Vivian’s insecurities. She immediately noticed their substandard, uninspired ensembles.

“Are you one of Buzz’s? Don’t tell me. You are, aren’t you,” Betsy beamed with self-satisfaction.

“I work for Dr. Busby, yes,” George replied.

“Yes sir, you do,” said Betsy, mocking his serious tone. “I’m Betsy, Cary’s wife. I’m also one of Buzz’s,” she said mischievously. “Come in. Come in. I hate awkwardly hovering on thresholds. Don’t you?”

George pushed Vivian ahead of him, offering her first into the lion’s den. Betsy lightly placed her hand between Vivian’s shoulders, “And who is this radiant woman?”

“Vivian Harper, my wife. And I’m George Harper,” George extended his hand to Betsy. Instead Betsy deferred to Vivian, gently grasping Vivian’s hand with all the poise you would expect from a star who had touched countless hands of movie gods. Betsy whispered something in Vivian’s ear, making Vivian coil with flattery, while George peered around awkwardly already regretting this whole idea.

Betsy led the couple toward the backyard as it blossomed before them in sparkling Technicolor like Dorothy entering Munchkinland. And in many ways this was a movie, Vivian thought. Every guest there was responsible for creating the magic of pictures in some way or another. Why wouldn’t their lives look like a movie, too?

Betsy graciously excused herself leaving George and Vivian to hover awkwardly on the outskirts of a large swimming pool. It didn’t take long for them to receive opulently garnished cocktails served to them by a waiter in uniform. Despite their induction to the party by the hostess herself, George and Vivian had the stilted posture of two people who tried to appear comfortable despite being out of their element. Vivian pulled from her peach cocktail, combining tiny sips in succession to hide the fact that she was actually chugging it.

George eyed her familiar technique, “This isn’t a place to get sauced. We’re at a work function.”

“No one else seems to think so,” Vivian said.

“We need to make a good impression and get out.”

“Do you know who’s house this is? Why didn’t you tell me?” declared Vivian.

“Because of how you’re acting right now. Just — be normal.”

“This isn’t normal, George. None of this is normal,” whispered Vivian excitedly.

“They’re regular people with regular problems. Believe me. No different from us,” countered George as he attempted to curb Vivian’s enthusiasm.

“With a Monet hanging in the kitchen just like us,” quipped Vivian.

Just then, George noticed an older burly man walking with the spunk of a college kid, heading straight for them. “Shit, that’s Buzz. Get rid of your drink.”

Vivian quickly drained the rest of her cocktail, misunderstanding George’s directive.

“George, old boy. You came,” exclaimed Buzz loudly.

“I came,” replied George, his voice quaking from Buzz’s hearty handshake.

Vivian reached her hand out to Buzz, “I’m Vivian Harper. George has told me so much about you.” A bit of social lubricant always helped Vivian come out of her shell.

“He’s told me nothing about you. Shame on him,” said Buzz as he kissed the top of her hand.

George felt the conversation launching into the unknown. “I knew you’d meet tonight. All part of the plan,” George wrestled back. Buzz nudged him playfully.

“I could tell when I met George he possessed genius. He’s got the eyes,” Buzz tapped the side of his glasses with his index finger. “Genius,” he repeated to Vivian for effect.

Vivian angled to George with her eyebrows lifted, trying to see it. George attempted to clamp his grin, but he was clearly flattered and there was nothing he could do to hide it.

Buzz leaned toward them quietly, “But this gaggle of misfits are what really keep us in business. Artists are one crazy breed.”

The brief flattery George felt was wiped clean by Buzz’s insincerity regarding their work. A profession that George took very seriously. How did his life turn out like this? Working for a clown, performing at a circus for rich people’s amusement. George simply needed to stay on the train until the next stop. Then he’d hop off and get back to doing what he was good at. Serious work. Real work.

Buzz grabbed George’s arm with complete disregard for his personal space, “George, I want to introduce you and Vivian to a couple of our regulars. They call themselves the Higher Consciousness Clan, which sounds like pretentious mumbo jumbo, if you ask me. But who am I to judge?”

George bristled. Isn’t Buzz the exact person who should be judging? Don’t people go to psychiatrists for advice, for counsel? Judgement was the business they were in. George reassured himself that he’d only have to stick it out for a few more weeks. He could do that. But what to do about Vivian? She was already falling under the spell of these clowns. He must protect her from it. Surely this wasn’t good for anyone. Certainly not for someone so impressionable as her.

“Viv and I were just stopping in to say hello. We’ve got another engagement tonight,” said George. Vivian exhaled with disappointment. She knew the drill — get in and get out.

“I do wish we could stay longer. Maybe another time?” said Vivian hopefully.

“I consider that a promise,” replied Buzz before he bounded away for a more interesting encounter.

As George and Vivian made their quick escape through the living room, the only available artery leading to the foyer, they were suddenly orbited by three women in Betsy’s circle. George couldn’t begin to understand why these women were interested in them, but they were cornered and Vivian was making no attempt at pulling out. She can be so naive sometimes, George thought.

Betsy opened the introductions, “This is George and Vivian. They’re in the Buzz family.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” countered George.

“Where on earth did you come from?” asked Patty, a woman so fashionable that she was out of fashion.

“We’re from Oklahoma. Tulsa,” replied Vivian without an ounce of hesitancy.

“Wow. That’s exotic,” said Helen, adorned in every piece of Tiki flare she could find in her closet.

Betsy nudged Helen to mind her manners. “Honestly. You are rare birds around here,” Helen insisted. “And we like rare birds,” she winked.

Vivian and George glanced at each other, sharing their discomfort for the first time that night. Betsy stepped in to neutralize the tension, “Got any kiddos at home?”

Vivian turned to George. “Not yet. But we’re trying weekly,” George admitted. The women laughed at George’s unintended transparency.

“Might be the only married couple still having sex at this party,” said Patty.

Vivian felt a hot crimson wave creeping up her neck and face. She scratched her cheek trying to disguise it. Patty noticed. Everyone noticed.

“Oh, dear. I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” apologized Patty.

Betsy smacked Patty’s arm playfully. “This one has no filter,” Betsy said.

“I blame the drugs. What little social grace I had went right out the window with LSD,” confessed Patty.

George immediately tensed from the thought of his entire world blowing up right in front of him.

He thought it’d be safe bringing Vivian, he would be there to control the conversation. But this was all getting too close for comfort. “You don’t have a bathroom nearby, do you?” he asked Betsy before turning to Vivian. “Weren’t you looking for a bathroom, Viv?” George stammered.

“I think that was you, dear,” said Vivian, unintentionally throwing him under the bus.

Betsy chimed in, “There’s one just to the left of the foyer.”

George nodded and took Vivian’s arm in his.

“Do you always bring your wife to the toilet with you?” joked Patty.

“We were on our way out,” replied George.

“Why don’t you leave your lovely wife here with us, just until you’re — done… if that’s alright with you,” mocked Patty.

George reluctantly released Vivian to the coven of women that he was convinced would turn her into something dreadful in his absence. He simply had no choice. “I’ll be right back,” he said reassuringly to Vivian. As George sauntered away, the three women closed tighter around Vivian.

“Is he always so involved?” challenged Patty.

“He’s very conscientious, that’s all. He likes to be in control. I don’t mind it,” replied Vivian.

“But do you like it?” Betsy asked, without judgment.

“Well - sure,” Vivian responded innocently.

“Have you ever considered anything else? Something that might suit you better?”

Vivian laughed uncomfortably, “I’m not leaving my husband if that’s what you mean.”

“Oh, he’s a catch. I can see that,” replied Patty flatly. “But why not let him control his life. And leave you to manage your own.”

Vivian held her ground, “He’s a wonderful husband. He really is. And he lets me be me...”

Vivian noticed the warm wave rising again in her face. She felt like a wilting flower, overwhelmed by too much sunlight. “Thank you, Mrs. Drake. This has been lovely and wonderfully unexpected,” beamed Vivian.

As she said her goodbyes to Betsy’s friends, Vivian noticed them smirking at each other, sharing a secret that Vivian wasn’t privy to. “I should go check on George,” Vivian said.

Betsy offered to walk Vivian out and they landed in the foyer near the bathroom. Both of them were suddenly at a loss for words as they waited for George. Vivian broke the silence with small talk.

“You seem to have a lovely group of friends,” she said.

“They’re hard to come by out here,” agreed Betsy.

Vivian looked back toward the bathroom, to George, her only friend in the world.

“Since you’re new in town, it might be nice to meet some people, if we didn’t scare you off tonight,” Betsy said. “We get together every Wednesday for lunch at my house. You’re welcome to stop by.”

Vivian struggled to process an invitation that the voice inside her head told her couldn’t possibly be real. Maybe none of this was real. Didn’t she have a dream like this once?

“That’s very kind, but you don’t have to do that,” said Vivian.

“I know I don’t have to,” said Betsy.

“Well, I’d need to check with George. He’s careful about mixing work with social — ”

“Then it’s a good thing George isn’t invited,” replied Betsy with a smile.

“Thank you. That’s very kind. Maybe some other time,” she replied as George emerged from the bathroom surprised.

“And there you are. You ready?” George asked as he moved hastily away from the bathroom.

Vivian’s eyes met Betsy’s in an unbroken gaze that she wasn’t entirely in control of. “I’m ready,” she said, before breaking eye contact with Betsy and joining George for the front door.

PART TWO

George stood on the threshold of a drab and lifeless apartment that had the depressing potential of a long term rental if he didn’t play his cards right. His sharp suit and clean shave served as proof that he would not let this happen. He was destined for more.

“You know this is just until I get us on our feet,” said George with a surprising tinge of emotion.

Vivian postured before him in her house gown, perpetuating the role that she was forced to play. “You are all I need,” she said as she kissed him gently on the cheek.

“Good,” replied George with visible relief.

Vivian smiled and gently guided him out of the door, the same as she did every morning. But as soon as he disappeared, she felt the life force drain from her, as if the entirety of her existence left along with him.

Vivian drifted like a sleepwalker into the bathroom and slowly shut the door. She pulled a single sheet of tissue from the decorative ceramic holder near the sink. Then ceremoniously lifted the tissue to her mouth, folding it inside without a whiff of hesitation. She held patiently still, letting the tissue dissolve in the closed compartment of her face. After a moment of studied self-reflection in the mirror, Vivian swallowed and suddenly became alive. Her eye lids drew closed, like curtains blocking out the unfavorable light of reality. The tissue melted down her throat, like a salve for her soul. All was quiet. No internal static, no discomfort. Only the feeling. The softness.

In a flash of memory, Vivian felt Henry. The sensation of his velvety soft skin draped across her breasts. That precious vulnerable baby lying face down on her body, yearning to be back inside her. Where it was safe. Where she couldn’t hurt him. Vivian allowed herself the luxury of that rare moment. A flare of light piercing through the darkness of a shuttered closet deep within her heart. The metallic vibrating of the telephone immediate extinguished the light, and brought Vivian back to her present, back to her loneliness.

George always called at the most inopportune times. He had a sixth sense about it. She was certain he knew when she was doing something she shouldn’t. Vivian reluctantly lifted the phone, as George launched right in.

“Hello dear. Just ringing to let you know I’ll be late at the office tonight. Put my plate in the oven, will you, to keep it warm?” George demanded under the guise of a request.

“Do you know when you’ll be back?” Vivian asked with a strange calmness.

George noticed the robotic quality in her voice. “Haven’t a clue. Are you feeling okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

The silent line expanded between them.

“Do something for yourself today. Go out. Buy a little something,” George offered. Vivian instinctively grinned for George’s benefit, even though he couldn’t see her.

“Maybe,” she said.

Vivian stood on the street in front of her unremarkable apartment building in a nondescript neighborhood in the Valley. The dry heat in the air felt like Tulsa but the similarities stopped there. A taxi cab pulled up to the curb and Vivian hopped in wearing her ballet flats and pedal pusher pants that George would likely never see her in. She directed the cab to Beverly Hills as the cabbie sized her up through his rearview. “You an actress?” he asked with thinly veiled disdain.

“I’m a dancer,” Vivian responded, suddenly surprised by herself. “Gee, I’ve never actually said that before.”

“I’m a dancer, too,” said the cabbie.

“You are?”

The cabbie glared at Vivian through the rearview mirror like she was the most ignorant human being he had ever encountered.

Vivian cowered back in her seat like a bullied child. She may be naive but she wasn’t stupid. And she wasn’t regretting taking Betsy up on her offer. Maybe this isn’t what George meant when he said to do something for herself today. Nevertheless, this was what she chose. And she was doing it.

Vivian’s resolve quickly faded when the cab pulled up to Betsy’s Spanish colonial, sharpening the reality of her bold decision into focus. Vivian felt sick with trepidation as the cabbie stepped out and circled around to her side. He swung open the door, not out of courtesy but insistence. Vivian peered up at him.

“You owe me five dollars, lady.”

“But I don’t think they’re home,” quivered Vivian.

“Five dollars,” repeated the cabbie.

Betsy and Patty suddenly walked out of the front door. They immediately noticed Vivian cowering in the backseat of the cab. If death from embarrassment were a possibility, she would have happily chosen it.

“Should I ask your friends for the money?” threatened the cabbie.

Vivian mashed a crumbled handful of dollars into his palm and stepped out of the cab. The crimson in her cheeks had fully blossomed. No point in fighting it.

“Oh, hello. You’re here,” Betsy said, surprised.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve rang but didn’t have your number. I can hop back in the cab,” stammered Vivian.

“No. I’m happy you came,” smiled Betsy as she pulled Vivian in for a hug.

Vivian awkwardly returned the affection, hoping that maybe this was the day she would finally disappear.

“We were just leaving though,” said Patty.

“I knew I had the wrong time,” replied Vivian apologetically.

“Your timing is impeccable. You’re coming with us,” insisted Patty, linking her arm through Vivian’s. Vivian once again felt the sensation of floating in a dream that she couldn’t recall having.

Vivian rode in the back of Patty’s pale blue Cadillac awestruck by every luxurious detail. How had she gotten to this point, she thought? And why would women like them take an interest in a girl like her? As one unlikely scenario after the next raced through her head like a spinning rolodex, her fairy godmothers sat up front letting the wind whip their hair from the open windows. Vivian found it all to be very mysterious if not incredibly strange. She’d never seen two women comfortably sit in silence, shirking their societal duty to chat incessantly. Vivian liked the silence. It energized her. Inspired her.

As they pulled up to a small bungalow on a quaint commercial street wedged between residential neighborhoods, Patty finally turned back to Vivian, “Would you like to know where we are?” Vivian nodded as Betsy peered back at her, too. In that moment, Vivian noticed how similar the two women looked. Not physically but possessing something more essential. Something internal.

“Patty’s bringing me on my trip,” confessed Betsy with a tinge of apprehension.

“Where are you going?” asked Vivian, utterly confused.

Betsy turned to the bungalow, “In there. Your husband’s office is impossible to get an appointment.”

Vivian suddenly felt like a kid before a surprise party having no clue what awaited her. The expectation of the unknown prickled every nerve beneath her skin. She was buzzing from it. The novelty of the drive alone with Cary Grant’s wife would be enough to fill her diary with inspiration for weeks, even months.

“Should I wait in here?” asked Vivian as the women gathered their handbags to exit.

“Why would you do that?” said Patty. “Whether or not you’re conscious of it, this was your decision, too.”

Vivian sat alone on a small settee next to a lovely indoor plant that she’d only seen in magazines. The whole waiting area felt like a magazine. Is this how everything looked in Hollywood outside of her dreadful apartment? Patty and Betsy stood a few feet from Vivian at the reception desk. They were engaged with Dr. Milton, a distinguished man on the other side of the counter. Suddenly Patty angled back to Vivian, echoing through the empty room, “You’re not crazy are you?” Vivian instinctively turned to the empty chair beside her.

“Who me? No, of course not,” Vivian replied.

“See, she said it herself,” confirmed Patty to Dr. Milton.

Dr. Milton leaned past the women to get a good look at Vivian. Her face flushed and he clocked her discomfort in mere seconds. “She’s not ready,” he said.

“Her husband works for Buzz. She knows how this works,” explained Patty.

Vivian finally stood to join the women, eager to right the gossip of her life.

Dr. Milton rounded the counter and approached Vivian. “I’m Dr. Paul Milton. I’m a contemporary of Charles Busby. We work in the same field of LSD. I hear your husband works with Buzz?”

“He councils Veterans. Mainly for post traumatic stress disorders,” added Vivian.

“I’d never considered using Veterans as a subset” contemplated Dr. Milton. “If you’re interested in LSD treatment, I can try and squeeze you in. I close the offices when important patients arrive. For privacy. No one here but us.”

Vivian declined and smiled graciously, hoping her manners would cover for her ignorance.

Moments later, Vivian and Betsy strode down a long corridor of rooms. Dr. Milton and Patty were few steps ahead of them, chatting about something inconsequential. Vivian seized her moment with Betsy, whispering anxiously, “Everyone seems to be in on something except me. Whatever you assume my husband does, you must be mistaken.”

Betsy paused and gave Vivian her full attention.

“Oh, honey. You don’t know, do you,” Betsy said.

“Well, I, I know generally what he does. I don’t find it terribly interesting to be honest,” admitted Vivian. She was lying through her teeth. It was written all over her ruddy face. But what else could she do? How humiliating to think that everyone else knew about George’s life except for her. She felt betrayed. Abandoned.

“So you know about LSD?” clarified Betsy, not buying Vivian’s cover.

“It’s a treatment, I presume,” Vivian said.

“More like a drug,” corrected Betsy.

“What kind of a —?” Vivian suddenly felt light-headed as adrenaline coursed through her veins, preparing her for some unknown danger.

“It’s like a truth serum. It opens up your subconscious. For people brave enough to go rooting around in there,” revealed Betsy.

“Why would you want to do that?” asked Vivian.

“To change your life,” smiled Betsy.

Dr. Milton welcomed the women into a large salon at the end of hall, clearly designed for VIP’s.

Vivian found herself in yet another world of impossible imagining. Fine drapes framed the floor-to- ceiling windows with more potted plants thoughtfully placed throughout. A plush navy blue sofa was positioned near the window across from two club chairs covered in expensive looking fabric. Patty and Dr. Milton took the club chairs. Betsy lowered to the sofa and motioned for Vivian to join her. On the table between the chairs was a single glass of water. Dr. Milton picked it up.

“I can have the lab prepare another dose. I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were joining, Vivian.”

Betsy turned to Vivian. “Why don’t you take mine? I can wait for the next one.”

“Oh, I couldn’t. I don’t even know what to do with it.”

“Nothing more than lie back and close your eyes,” said Dr. Milton.

“But I’m just along for the ride, really,” replied Vivian.

Patty immediately challenged Vivian’s passivity, “Is that how you intend to live your life? On someone else’s ride?”

“Of course not,” Vivian said.

Dr. Milton interjected, sensing the pressure in the room rising. It was his job to keep the environment calm and conducive to a positive experience. “This isn’t for anyone with hesitancy. If you’re on the fence, you should wait,” he advised.

“Just give her a second,” said Patty.

Vivian turned to Betsy hoping to be rescued from the opposing ropes tugging at her insides.

“This is your decision. But it’s right here if you want it,” said Betsy in a non-judgmental voice that Vivian wasn’t used to. Vivian immediately felt the struggle inside her subside.

“If George gives it to patients, it must not be harmful, right?” justified Vivian.

“It’s perfectly safe,” said Dr. Milton.

Vivian took a moment to contemplate the possibility of a new future within her grasp right in front of her. A place she never dreamt she’d be. With the most incredible women she’d ever met. Who chose her as a friend. Whatever their motivations were she decided she didn’t care. She was ready to take the wheel. And fuck George for lying to her.

“Yes. I’ll do it,” said Vivian with surprising clarity.

PART THREE

Betsy and Patty were gone. Vivian was lying flat on the sofa. Her eyes covered with blinders. Her arms straight by her sides. Dr. Milton remained seated across from her in the club chair. He was reading a book on Mythology as light classical music filled the space between them.

Vivian lifted her head slightly, still blind under the eye mask. “Is this working? I don’t feel anything,” she said.

Dr. Milton’s gaze stayed on his book as he responded, “Be patient.”

Vivian plopped her head back down, sighing with frustration when suddenly the telephone started ringing. A loud, shrill, metallic vibration that seemed to be triggering every cell in her body. After a few restless moments, Vivian spoke up.

“Would you mind quieting that phone,” she asked. “It’s ringing in my ears.”

“There is no phone in here, Vivian. Follow the sound,” Dr. Milton suggested.

“Really? You can’t hear it?” Vivian asked with trepidation.

“It’s ok. This is part of the journey. Allow it to guide you,” said Dr. Milton.

In the infinite blackness behind her eyelids, Vivian noticed tiny sparkles of light poking through.

She saw a small table materialize with a single phone on it. Ringing louder and harsher. Her leg began to twitch on the sofa, followed by her other leg, then her arms. Her voice signaled the distress of the new sensation. “Why am I shaking like this?” she asked.

Dr. Milton responded calmly, “I don’t know.”

Vivian was now trembling, her entire body moving out of her control as she tried to stop it. The ringing in her ears only made it worse. So Vivian went back to the small table and picked up the phone. The moment she did the ringing stopped. The trembling stopped. She felt an overwhelming sensation of peace before a gust of wind carrying prisms of swirling light suddenly swept Vivian up, spinning her body in a whirlpool, sucking her into a vortex. She got smaller and smaller until she was microscopic, and then she disappeared completely.

“Where am I? Where am I?” she cried out. “I lost myself.”

Dr. Milton remained quiet, and allowed Vivian to discover the answer somewhere in the universe of her own mind. Vivian suddenly gasped. She was now in a whirlpool of water being sucked deeper and deeper down. Deep into a dark vast ocean, where she was an astronaut flying through the water, weightless and carefree. The white cord extending from her spacesuit morphed into an umbilical cord that dragged her further down to the bottom onto the ocean floor. Vivian crawled along on the sand until she came across a single clam. A closed-up clam that she was now trapped inside of.

Vivian’s body began to tremble again on the couch. “I want to get out. I need to get out of here.”

“So find your way out,” said Dr. Milton calmly.

“I can’t. I’m a clam. I’m trapped in here,” Vivian cried, distressed.

“Try to open the shell,” he suggested.

Vivian struggled to pry open the clam shell and through a tiny crack she squeezed out, feeling physical pain in her body as she did. She looked up to see the silhouette of an infant floating far above her on the ocean’s surface. The newborn baby was lying face down in the water, motionless. Vivian suddenly bolted up from the sofa and ripped off her blinders.

“I’m done. I want this to be over,” she said to Dr. Milton sitting across from her.

“The therapy doesn’t stop until it’s done with you,” he said. “Stay open, Vivian. You’re safe.”

Dr. Milton offered Vivian a cigarette to try and calm her. Vivian was immediately distracted by the multi-colored flame from Dr. Milton’s lighter as she inhaled. Her cigarette had now become some sort of magical wand. Vivian lifted the wand in the air, causing the invisible air around her to sparkle and undulate.

“Do you see that?” she asked as Dr. Milton smiled. Vivian touched the air, completely mesmerized. “It’s right there. It’s, it’s so beautiful. Can you see it?” Vivian asked again, without expecting an answer. “It’s all there. It’s all here. We’re everywhere,” she exclaimed. “Every particle, every fiber, every part of me.” She reached out to touch the ripple again, and it exploded into rainbow fractals that enveloped her. She basked in the exquisite beauty of colors as she watched them transform and turn into fireflies around her. She suddenly jumped, “My God, they just went right through me!” Vivian whipped around to the wall behind her, trying to find the fireflies. “I felt them pass through me,” Vivian beamed. “It’s so beautiful,” she laughed as her eyes fell closed.

With more confidence in her state of mind, Vivian laid back down on the sofa and placed the blinders over her eyes. From the familiar inky darkness, emerged a white marble statue of Venus de Milo joined by the growing sound of classical music in the room that had now taken center stage in her mind. As Venus moved closer two large holes appeared where her breasts used to be. Before Vivian could question it, she became enveloped by the music. She metamorphosed into a violin. Feeling each string vibrate within her actual body. She was the violin, playing to a young girl dancing ballet down a long hallway that seemed to breathe with Vivian’s breath.

“That’s me!” Vivian exclaimed as she stayed focused on the younger version of herself dancing with abandon to Vivian’s violin. At the end of the hallway a door opened. It was a closet. A tiny musty closet with no escape. The young Vivian danced carelessly toward the closet.

“Don’t go in there!” Vivian shouted.

The girl twirled right into the closet and the door slammed shut on her. A life-sized padlock secured what was now the clam shell again. Silence. Blackness. Nothingness.

“Where are you?” Dr. Milton asked gently.

“I’m nowhere. I’m nothing,” Vivian said as she began to cry. Her emotions swept over her like a wildfire, quickly igniting into full hysteria. Vivian wept uncontrollably as Dr. Milton put his hand over hers. Anguish poured out of her in a way she hadn’t felt before. It was guttural, primal. She released something.

After a moment of despair in the midst of blackness, a large leopard appeared before her, walking through a corn field with a sparrow flying by its side. The leopard and bird stopped at a large crevasse in the earth. A gust of wind blew the leopard and bird off the edge of the cliff and into the void. Vivian was now falling down the crevasse, slowly, like a heavy balloon.

“I’m falling again,” she cried.

“Let yourself go,” advised Dr. Milton.

Vivian stretched out her arms as she fell deeper into the rabbit hole. She closed her eyes and attempted to succumb to the sensation. As she reached the bottom of the void she found herself enveloped in tissue. Massive sheets of tissue were undulating around her, wrapping her in soft luminescent waves of white until the tissue swallowed her up. Her crying stopped.

PART FOUR

Vivian sat in the backseat of Patty’s car as the wind from the open windows caressed the tiny hairs on her face. The air felt like water to her. Like a baptism. It seemed a rebirth had occurred between sending George off to work in the morning and the present moment she found herself in. How fundamentally everything could change. What a difference a day makes, she thought. Then she began to laugh in the backseat. Patty and Betsy turned to Vivian and smiled. Vivian and her new friends were bound by an understanding that George would never comprehend. Vivian felt so far from George. Like he was getting smaller and smaller at the end of a tunnel as her train moved down the tracks toward her future. This daydream soon ceased when she arrived back at her apartment building in the Valley.

Any other day Vivian would have been self-conscious for someone, especially these women, to see where she lived. But for some reason it didn’t bother her now. None of it really mattered anyway.

Vivian directed Patty to the driveway of her rundown flat, just as the sunset was painting a rainbow gradient across the sky. Vivian stepped out of the car and struggled to find the words suitable to express her experience.

“This…day…” muttered Vivian.

“Was yours,” replied Patty.

Vivian nodded and felt the impact of that simple life-changing statement. She leaned into Betsy sitting at the open passenger window. “Thank you, Betsy,” Vivian said. Betsy simply grinned and held on Vivian’s eyes which were swelling with tears. After a silent exchange, Vivian backed away from the car and waved the women off, as the blue Cadillac disappeared around the corner. She peered down at her hands, glowing pink from the luminescent light of magic hour. It had indeed been magic.

George returned home just past dark, like he said he would. He dropped his briefcase on the small table by the door, removed his shoes and placed them neatly under the table. He walked through the sparse living room dotted with cheap furniture and into the kitchen. Vivian was there, wearing a skirt
with an apron tied neatly around her waist. The sly look on her face hinted at a transformation that George was too exhausted to notice. Vivian reached into the oven to retrieve their plates of dinner.

They were still warm.

THE END

***

LESLIE RATHE is a writer for Film and TV at the forefront of strong female-driven storytelling.

For all inquiries, email info@hellomermade.com

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Mermade Stories
MERMADE STORIES

Mermade Stories is a publication of original short stories showcasing some of the brilliant writers we are working with.