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Sage's Eyes

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 movie star 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.”

  “She’ll 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 str
ands 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.

  “A paddling?” 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.

  I shrugged. “I remember them,” was all I could think of saying. “I remember how uncomfortable they were, but no girls my age had any different kinds of shoes. We were all made to wear them, and we all thought they were uncomfortable and ugly.”

  “Girls your age? What girls your age? Where was this?”

  I didn’t answer. A silence fell around everyone for a moment. I looked down at my feet and held my breath.

  Whenever something like this happened, my mother would feel it necessary to go into some sort of explanation about me, about who I was, as if that would help people understand why I said these things.

  “We got Sage when she was just eight months old, so she has no past from which to draw these ideas,” she told them. “Mark and I certainly had no past like the one she describes, nor have we ever made up stories about ourselves and filled her mind with fantasy.”

  My parents never hid the fact from me or anyone else that I was adopted. My mother told everyone that she had read many articles about how to bring up an adopted child and had spoken to child psychologists who agreed that honesty was the best approach. They said it was too traumatic for a child who was already nine or ten, and especially older, to suddenly learn that he or she was adopted.

  “It’s all a child’s wonderful imaginative powers,” my mother concluded. “Nothing more or less.”

  “She reads a lot, too,” my father quickly added. “And she often talks and acts like a character in a book. She’s good at pretending. She’s always had imaginary friends.” He looked at me and nodded. “You can leave her alone for hours and hours, and she won’t complain. Maybe she’ll be an actress.”

  “Or a politician,” Mr. Black said. “If she’s good at pretending.”

  Everyone laughed.

  “What about her name?” Mrs. Black asked, sweetening her smile. “It’s so unusual. But so beautiful,” she quickly added.

  My parents looked at each other as if to see if either one objected to the explanation. Neither ever did when anyone asked about it, but they were always careful about hurting each other’s feelings, so they checked first to see who would begin. If they ever had an argument, often about me, they would quickly find a way to smooth it over and seal their apologies to each other with a sharp kiss that sounded like the snap of a rubber band and seemed more like a stamp of approval than the soft brush of something loving and romantic.

  “That was the only request her birth mother left with the orphanage, that the name she gave her be kept. We promised to do so. Actually, Felicia and I liked her name right from the get-go,” Dad replied.

  Sometimes my mother gave the whole answer, but it was usually almost the exact same words. She even said “get-go.”

  “Do you still have those shoes with the rounded toes?” Mrs. Black asked me. “I’d like to see them.”


  “What do you think happened to them?” Mrs. Hummel asked. She was smiling, but I could tell that my casualness about one of my stories intrigued her. It was easy to see that some of my parents’ guests weren’t just amused. They were fascinated with me. Usually at that point, my parents would find a way to end it and send me off to my room. My mother would hug me too tightly, her arms crushing my ribs, and she’d whisper, “You’ll get no breakfast for doing this again and embarrassing us, Sage. Stay in your bed until I come for you.”

  No matter how many times my parents punished me, I didn’t stop talking about my dreams and visions. I was more than happy to be doing it this time, too, at Dad’s birthday dinner.

  “My shoes got worn out,” I said. “They were buried with everything else of mine that got worn out.”

  “What?” Mrs. Black said, her right hand fluttering up to her mouth like a small bird. “Heavens, why would your things have to be buried?”

  The faces of all the guests were framed in half smiles. My parents held theirs that way, too, but their eyes were stained with disappointment and anger. My mother’s were full of fiery warning, afraid of what I might say next. Sometimes my mother would tell me afterward that they were seriously thinking of giving me back to the orphanage. She’d say there was no guarantee for me, but there was one for them. I could be turned back in like so much broken merchandise, “stored in a cage in a warehouse for damaged children no one really wanted. They are fed through bars and kept in the dark most of the time, without any television or books or any toys, the way some exotic birds are kept.”

  “Yes, why did they have to be buried?” Mrs. Hummel asked now. She leaned toward me, her dark mint-green eyes wider, the corners of her mouth tucked back. Her face was full of anticipation.

  I didn’t look at my mother. “Because they were mine,” I said. “If someone else put them on, they would go up in flames.”

  Usually, there would be gasps when I said something like that, at least from the women. The men might just stare at me and shake their heads. This time, both Mrs. Hummel and Mrs. Black just stared at me, too. Mr. Hummel finally laughed, but it sounded more
like he was clearing his throat. Mr. Black was the only one who shook his head and cast a look of sympathy at my father.

  “Why don’t you go to your room now, Sage?” my father said. “You have that new video game you asked for. We know you want to play with it. You can be excused.”

  Since we had already had his birthday cake, I thought that was all right.

  “Very well,” I said, and I slipped off my chair, said good night to everyone, curtsied, and walked out.

  I heard the soft laughter. “What a polite little girl!” Mrs. Hummel exclaimed. “I love the way she curtsied like a little princess. How did you get her to do that?”

  “We didn’t teach her to do that,” my mother said, and then she realized she had said it too quickly. “I mean, she surprises us every day.”

  “Like I said, she picks up a lot from reading,” my father added.

  “What a delight,” Mrs. Black said. “You’re very lucky.”

  “That’s what we think,” my mother said, but there was something about the way she said it, some underlying note in her voice, that only I could hear. It was getting sharper and sharper every passing day, every passing year.

  I carried her words up to my room, twisting and turning them over in my mind like a jeweler inspecting a gem for some imperfection. I was sure there was something there, something I didn’t see or understand, and it was all because of who I was. No one was more of a mystery to me than I was to myself.

  However, I imagined all adopted children had that problem, because they didn’t have their biological parents to measure themselves against by comparing their height, their facial features, and, most important, their personalities. I looked constantly for clues in the way my parents spoke about me and the way they looked at me to see if they knew much more than they were saying, especially when they thought I didn’t notice or couldn’t hear them. If I asked, they would always remind me that they had never met my mother, much less my father. They were just as much in the dark about who my biological parents were and what they were like. Naturally, I wanted to know why my real mother had given me away. Didn’t real mothers love their children with all their hearts the moment they were born?