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Wildflowers 04 Cat

V. C. Andrews


  Wildflowers #4

  V.C. Andrews

  Copyright (c) 2006

  ISBN: 0671028030



  I woke with a terrible chill. I was shivering even before I opened my eyes. Cringing in bed, I drew my legs up tightly until my knees were against my stomach and I buried my face in the blanket, actually biting down on the soft, down comforter until I could taste the linen. No matter how warm my room was, I had to sleep with a blanket. I had to wrap myself securely or I couldn't sleep. Sometimes, during the night, I would toss it off, but by morning, it was spun around me again as if some invisible spider was trapping me in its web. I could feel the sticky threads on my fingers and feet, and struggle as much as I'd like, I was unable to tear myself free.

  Exhausted, I lay there, waiting as the spider drew closer and closer until it was over me and I looked up into its face and saw that it was Daddy.


  Because my daddy went to work so early, my mother was always the one left with the responsibility of waking me, if I didn't rise and shine on my own for school. She would usually wake me up by making extra noise outside my bedroom door. She rarely knocked and she almost never opened the door. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand how many times my mother had been in my bedroom while I was in it too, especially during the last five years.

  Instead, she would wait for me to leave for school, and then she would enter like a hotel maid after the guests had gone and clean and arrange the room to her liking. I was never neat enough to please her, and when I was younger, if I dared to leave an undergarment on a chair or on the top of the dresser, she would complain vehemently and look like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz.

  "Your things are very private and not for the eyes of others," she would scowl, and put her hands on me and shake me. "Do you understand, Cathy? Do you?"

  I would nod quickly, but what others? I would wonder. My mother didn't like any of my father's friends or business associates and she had no friends of her own. She prized her solitude. No one came to our house for dinner very often, if at all, and certainly no one visited my room or came upstairs, and even if they had, they wouldn't see anything because Mother insisted I keep my door shut at all times. She taught me that from the moment I was able to do it myself.

  Nevertheless, she would be absolutely furious now if I didn't put my soaps and lotions back in the bathroom cabinet, and once, when I had left a pair of my panties on the desk chair, she cut them up and spread the pieces over my pillow to make her point.

  This morning she was especially loud. I heard her put down the pail on the floor roughly, practically slamming it. She was cleaning earlier than usual. The mop hit my door, swept the hardwood floor in the hallway and then hit my door again. I looked at the small clock housed in clear Danish crystal on my night table. The clock was a birthday present from my grandmother, my mother's mother, given only weeks before she had passed away from lung cancer. She was a heavy smoker. My grandfather was twelve years older than she was and died two years later from a heart attack. Like me, my mother had been an only child. Not long ago I found out I wasn't supposed to be, but that's another story, maybe even one that's more horrible than what's happened to me recently. Whatever, one thing was certain: we didn't have much family. Our Thanksgiving turkeys were always small. Mother didn't like leftovers. Daddy muttered that she threw away enough food to feed another family, but he never muttered loud enough for Mother to hear.

  Part of the reason for our small Thanksgivings and Christmas holidays was because my father's parents had nothing to do with him or with us; his sister Agatha and his younger brother Nigel never came to see us either. My father had told me that none of his family members liked anyone else in the family and it was best for all of them to just avoid each other. It would be years before I would find out why. It was like finding pieces to a puzzle and putting them together to create an explanation for confusion.

  When my mother hit the door with the mop again, I knew it was time to rise, but I was stalling. Today was my day at Doctor Marlowe's group therapy session. The other three girls, Misty, Star and Jade, had told their stories and now they wanted to hear mine. I knew they were afraid I wouldn't show up and to them it would be something of a betrayal. They had each been honest to the point of pain-and I had listened and heard their most intimate stories. I knew they believed they had earned the right to hear mine, and I wasn't going to disagree with that, but at this very moment, I wasn't sure if I could actually gather enough courage to tell them my tale.

  Mother wasn't very insistent about it. She had been told by other doctors and counselors that it was very important for me to be in therapy, but my mother didn't trust doctors. She was forty-six years old and from what I understood, she had not been to a doctor for more than thirty years. She didn't have to go to a doctor to give birth to me. I had been adopted. I didn't learn that until . . . until afterward, but it made sense. It was practically the only thing that did.

  My chills finally stopped and I sat up slowly. I had a dark maple dresser with an oval mirror almost directly across from my bed so when I rose in the morning, the first thing I saw was myself. It was always a surprise to see that I had not changed during the night, that my face was still formed the same way (too round and full of baby fat), my eyes were still hazel and my hair was still a dull dark brown. In dreams I had oozed off my bones and dripped into the floor. Only a skeleton remained. I guess that signified my desire to completely disappear. At least that was what Doctor Marlowe suggested at an earlier session.

  I slept in a rather heavy cotton nightgown, even during the summer. Mother wouldn't permit me to own anything flimsy and certainly not anything. sheer. Daddy tried to buy me some more feminine nighties and even gave me one for a birthday present once, but my mother accidentally ruined it in the washing machine. I cried about it.

  "Why," she would ask, "does a woman, especially a young girl or an unmarried woman, have to look attractive to go to sleep? It's not a social event. Pretty things aren't important for that; practical things are, and spending money on frilly, silly garments for sleep is a waste.

  "It's also bad for sleep," she insisted, "to stir yourself up with narcissistic thoughts. You shouldn't dwell on your appearance just before you lay down to rest. It fills your head with nasty things," she assured me.

  If my daddy heard her say these things, he would laugh and shake his head, but one look from her would send him fleeing to the safety and the silence of his books and newspapers, many of which she didn't approve.

  When I was a little girl, I would sit and watch her look through magazines and shake her head and take a black Magic Marker to advertisements she thought were too suggestive or sexy. She was the stem censor, perusing all print materials, checking television programs, and even going through my schoolbooks to be sure nothing provocative was in them. She once cut illustrations out of my science text. Many times she phoned the school and had angry conversations with my teachers. She wrote letters to the administrators. I was always embarrassed about it, but I never dared say so.

  Yawning and stretching as if I were sliding into my body, I finally slipped my feet into my fur-lined leather slippers and went into the bathroom to take a shower. I know I was moving much slower than usual. A part of me didn't want to leave the room, but that was one of the reasons I had been seeing Doctor Marlowe in the first place: my desire to withdraw and become even more of an introvert than I was before. . . before it all happened or, to be more accurate, before it was all revealed. When you can lie to yourself, you can hide behind a mask and go out into the world. You don't feel as naked nor as exposed.

  I wasn't sure what I would wear today. Since it was
my day in the center of the circle, I thought I should look better dressed, although Misty certainly didn't dress up for her day or any day thereafter. Still, I thought I might feel a little better about myself if I did. Unfortunately, my favorite dress was too tight around my shoulders and my chest. The only reason my mother hadn't cut it up for rags was she hadn't seen me in it for some time. What I chose instead was a one-piece, dark-brown cotton dress with an empire waist. It was the newest dress I had and looked the best on me even though my mother deliberately had bought it a size too big. Sometimes I think if she could cut a hole in a sheet and drape it over me, she'd be the happiest. I know why and there's nothing I can do about it except have an operation to reduce the size of my breasts, which she finds a constant embarrassment.

  "Be careful to step on the sheets of newspaper," Mother warned when I opened my bedroom door to go down to breakfast. "The floor's still wet."

  A path of old newspaper pages led to the top of the stairway where she waited with the pail in one hand, the mop, like a knight's lance, in the other. She turned and descended ahead of me, her small head bobbing on her rather long, stiff neck with every downward step.

  The scent of heavy disinfectant rose from the hardwood slats and filled my nostrils, effectively smothering the small appetite I was able to manage. I held my breath and followed her. In the kitchen my bowl for cereal, my glass of orange juice and a plate for a slice of whole wheat toast with her homemade jam was set out. Mother took out the pitcher of milk and brought it to the table. Then, she looked at me with those large round dark critical eyes, drinking me in from head to foot. I was sure I appeared pale and tired and I wished I could put on a little makeup, especially after seeing how the other girls looked, but I knew Mother would make me wipe it off if I had any. As a general rule, she was against makeup, but she was especially critical of anyone who wore it during the daytime.

  She didn't say anything, which meant she approved of my appearance. Silence meant approval in my house and there were many times when I welcomed it.

  I sat and poured some cereal out of the box, adding in the blueberries and then some milk. She watched me drink my juice and dip my spoon into the cereal, mixing it all first. I could feel her hovering like a hawk. Her gaze shifted toward the chair my father used to sit on every morning, throwing daggers from her eyes as if he were still sitting there. He would read his paper, mumble about something, and then sip his coffee. Sometimes, when I looked at him, I found him staring at me with a small smile on his lips. Then he would look at my mother and turn his attention quickly back to the paper like a schoolboy caught peering at someone else's test answers.

  "So today's your day?" Mother asked. She knew it was.


  "What are you going to tell them?"

  "I don't know," I said. I ate mechanically, the cereal feeling like it was getting stuck in my throat.

  "You'll be blaming things on me, I suppose," she said. She had said it often.

  "No, I won't."

  "That's what that doctor would like you to do: put the blame at my feet. It's convenient. It makes their job easier to find a scapegoat."

  "She doesn't do that," I said.

  "I don't see the value in this, exposing your private problems to strangers. I don't see the value at all," she said, shaking her head.

  "Doctor Marlowe thinks it's good for us to share," I told her.

  I knew Mother didn't like Doctor Marlowe, but I also knew she wouldn't have liked any psychiatrist. Mother lived by the adage, "Never air your dirty linen in public." To Mother, public meant anyone outside of this house.

  She had had to meet with Doctor Marlowe by herself, too. It was part of the therapy treatment for me and she had hated every minute of it. She complained about the prying questions and even the way Doctor Marlowe looked at her with what Mother said was a very judgmental gaze. Doctor Marlowe was good at keeping her face like a blank slate, so I knew whatever Mother saw in Doctor Marlowe's expression, she put there herself.

  Doctor Marlowe had told me that it was only natural for my mother to blame herself or to believe other people blamed her. I did blame her, but I hadn't ever said that and wondered if I ever would.

  "Remember, people like to gossip," Mother continued. "You don't give them anything to gossip about, hear, Cathy? You make sure you think about everything before you speak. Once a word is out, it's out. You've got to think of your thoughts as valuable rare birds caged up in here," she said pointing to her temple. "In the best and safest place of all, your own head. If she tries to make you tell something you don't want to tell, you just get yourself right up out of that chair and call me to come fetch you, hearT

  She paused, and birdlike, craned her long neck to peer at me to see if I was paying full attention. Her hands were on her hips. She had sharp hipbones that protruded and showed themselves under her housecoat whenever she pressed her palms into her sides. They looked like two pot handles. She was never a heavy woman, but all of this had made her sick, too, and she had lost weight until her cheeks looked flat and drooped like wet handkerchiefs on her bones.

  "Yes, Mother," I said obediently, without looking up at her. When she was like this, I had trouble looking directly at her. She had eyes that could pierce the walls around my most secret thoughts. As her face had thinned, her eyes had become even larger, even more penetrating, seizing on the quickest look of hesitation to spot a lie.

  And yet, I thought, she hadn't been able to do that to Daddy. Why not?

  "Good," she said nodding. "Good."

  She pursed her lips for a moment and widened her nostrils. All of her features were small. I remember my father once describing her as a woman with the bones of a sparrow, but despite her diminutive size, there was nothing really fragile about her, even now, even in her dark state of mind and troubled demeanor. Our family problems had made her strong and hard like an old raisin, something past its prime, although she didn't look old. There-was barely a wrinkle in her face. She often pointed that out to emphasize the beneficial qualities of a good clean life, and why I shouldn't be swayed by other girls in school or things I saw on television and in magazines.

  I laughed to myself thinking about Misty's mother's obsession with looking younger, going through plastic surgery, cosmetic creams, herbal treatments. Mother would put nothing more than Ivory soap and warm water on her skin. She never smoked, especially after what had happened to her mother. She never drank beer or wine or whiskey, and she never permitted herself to be in the sun too long.

  My father smoked and drank, but never smoked in the house. Nevertheless, she would make a big thing out of the stink in his clothing and hang his suits out on her clothesline in the yard before she would permit them to be put back into the closet. Otherwise, she said, they would contaminate his other garments, and, "Who knows? Maybe the smell of smoke is just as dangerous to your health," she said.

  As I ate my breakfast, Mother went about her business, cleaning the dishes from her own breakfast, and then she pounced on my emptied orange juice glass, grasping it in her long, bony fingers as if it might just sneak off the table and hide in a corner.

  "Go up and brush your teeth," she commanded, "while I finish straightening up down here and then we'll get started. Something tells me I shouldn't be bringing you there today, but we'll see," she added. "We'll see:'

  She ran the water until it was almost too hot to touch and then she rinsed out my cereal bowl. Often, she made me feel like Typhoid Mary, a carrier of endless germs. If she could boil everything I or my father touched, she would.

  I went upstairs, brushed my teeth, ran a brush through my hair a few times and then stood there, gazing at myself in the bathroom mirror. Despite what each of the girls had told me and the others about herself, I wondered how I could talk about my life with the same frankness. Up until now, only Doctor Marlowe and the judge and agent from the Child Protection Agency knew my story.

  I could feel the trembling in my calves. It moved up my legs until
it invaded my stomach, churned my food and shot up into my heart, making it pound.

  "Come on if you're going," I heard Mother shout from below. "I have work to do today."

  My breakfast revolted and I had to get to my knees at the toilet and heave. I tried to do it as quietly as I could so she wouldn't hear. Finally, I felt better and I washed my face quickly.

  Mother had her light gray tweed short coat on over her housecoat and was standing impatiently at the front door. She wore her black shoes with thick heels and heavy nylon stockings that nearly reached her knees. This morning she decided to tie a light brown scarf around her neck. Her hair was the color of tarnished silver coins and tied with a thick rubber band in her usual tight knot at the base of her skull.

  Despite her stern appearance, my mother had beautiful cerulean blue eyes. Sometimes I thought of them as prisoners because of the way they often caught the light and sparkled even though the rest of her face was glum. They looked like they belonged in a much younger woman's head, a head that craved fun and laughter. These eyes longed to smile. I used to think that it had to have been her eyes that had drawn my father to her, but that was before I learned about her having had inherited a trust when she turned twenty-one.

  When my mother accused my father of marrying her for her money, he didn't deny it. Instead he lowered his newspaper and said, "So? It's worth ten times what it was then, isn't it? You should thank me."

  Did he deliberately miss the point or was that always the point? I wondered.

  I knew we had lots of money. My father was a stockbroker and it was true that he had done wonders with our investments, building a portfolio that cushioned us for a comfortable, worry-free life. Little did I or my mother realize just how important that would be.

  Mother and I walked out to the car, which was in the driveway. My mother had backed it out of the garage very early this morning and washed the windshield as well as vacuumed the floor and seats. It wasn't a late- model car, but because of the way my mother kept it and the little driving she did, it looked nearly new.