Flowers in the Attic
Copyright (c) 1979
ISBN-13: 9781416510888 ISBN-10:1416510885
PART ONE .
Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou?
It is so appropriate to color hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw. And as I begin to copy from the old memorandum journals that I kept for so long, a title comes as if inspired. Open the Window and Stand in the Sunshine. Yet, I hesitate to name our story that. For I think of us more as flowers in the attic. Paper flowers. Born so brightly colored, and fading duller through all those long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days when we were held prisoners of hope, and kept captives by greed. But, we were never to color even one of our paper blossoms yellow.
Charles Dickens would often start his novels with the birth of the protagonist and, being a favorite author of both mine and Chris's, I would duplicate his style--if I could. But he was a genius born to write without difficulty while I find every word I put down, I put down with tears, with bitter blood, with sour gall, well mixed and blended with shame and guilt. I thought I would never feel ashamed or guilty, that these were burdens for others to bear. Years have passed and I am older and wiser now, accepting, too. The tempest of rage that once stormed within me has simmered down so I can write, I hope, with truth and with less hatred and prejudice than would have been the case a few years ago.
So, like Charles Dickens, in this work of "fiction" I will hide myself away behind a false name, and live in fake places, and I will pray to God that those who should will hurt when they read what I have to say. Certainly God in his infinite mercy will see that some understanding publisher will put my words in a book, and help grind the knife that I hope to wield.
. Truly, when I was very young, way back in the Fifties, I believed all of life would be like one long and perfect summer day. After all, it did start out that way. There's not much I can say about our earliest childhood except that it was very good, and for that, I should be everlastingly grateful. We weren't rich, we weren't poor. If we lacked some necessity, I couldn't name it; if we had luxuries, I couldn't name those, either, without comparing what we had to what others had, and nobody had more or less in our middleclass neighborhood. In other words, short and simple, we were just ordinary, run-of-the-mill children.
Our daddy was a P.R. man for a large computer manufacturing firm located in Gladstone,
Pennsylvania: population, 12,602. He was a huge success, our father, for often his boss dined with us, and bragged about the job Daddy seemed to perform so well. "It's that all-American, wholesome, devastatingly good-looking face and charming manner that does them in. Great God in heaven, Chris, what sensible person could resist a fella like you?"
Heartily, I agreed with that. Our father was perfect. He stood six feet two, weighed 180 pounds, and his hair was thick and flaxen blond, and waved just enough to be perfect; his eyes were cerulean blue and they sparkled with laughter, with his great zest for living and having fun. His nose was straight and neither too long nor too narrow, nor too thick. He played tennis and golf like a pro and swam so much he kept a suntan all through the year. He was always dashing off on airplanes to California, to Florida, to Arizona, or to Hawaii, or even abroad on business, while we were left at home in the care of our mother.
His booming greeting rang out as soon as he put down his suitcase and briefcase: "Come greet me with kisses if you love me!"
Somewhere near the front door, my brother and I would be hiding, and after he'd called out his greeting, we'd dash out from behind a chair or the sofa to crash into his wide open arms, which seized us up at once and held us close, and he warmed our lips with his kisses. Fridays--they were the best days of all, for they brought Daddy home to us again. In his suit pockets he carried small gifts for us; in his suitcases he stored the larger ones to dole out after he greeted our mother, who would hang back and wait patiently until he had done with us.
And after we had our little gifts from his pockets, Christopher and I would back off to watch Momma drift slowly forward, her lips curved in a welcoming smile that lit up our father's eyes, and he'd take her in his arms, and stare down into her face as if he hadn't seen her for at least a year.
On Fridays, Momma spent half the day in the beauty parlor having her hair shampooed and set and her fingernails polished, and then she'd come home to take a long bath in perfumed-oiled water. I'd perch in her dressing room, and wait to watch her emerge in a filmy negligee. She'd sit at her dressing table to meticulously apply makeup. And I, so eager to learn, drank in everything she did to turn herself from just a pretty woman into a creature so ravishingly beautiful she didn't look real. The most amazing part of this was our father thought she didn't wear makeup! He believed she was naturally a striking beauty.
Love was a word lavished about in our home. "Do you love me?--For I most certainly love you; did you miss me?--Are you glad I'm home?--Did you think about me when I was gone? Every night? Did you toss and turn and wish I were beside you, holding you close? For if you didn't, Corrine, I might want to die."
Momma knew exactly how to answer questions like these-- with her eyes, with soft whispers and with kisses.
One day Christopher and I came speeding home from school with the wintery wind blowing us through the front door. "Take off your boots in the foyer," Momma called out from the living room, where I could see her sitting before the fireplace knitting a little white sweater fit for a doll to wear. I thought it was a Christmas gift for me, for one of my dolls.
"And kick off your shoes before you come in here," she added.
We shed our boots and heavy coats and hoods in the foyer, then raced in stockinged feet into the living room, with its plush white carpet. That pastel room, decorated to flatter our mother's fair beauty, was off limits for us most of the time. This was our company room, our mother's room, and never could we feel really comfortable on the apricot brocade sofa or the cut-velvet chairs. We preferred Daddy's room, with its dark paneled walls and tough plaid sofa, where we could wallow and fight and never fear we were damaging anything.
"It's freezing outside, Momma!" I said
breathlessly as I fell at her feet, thrusting my legs toward the fire. "But the ride home on our bikes was just beautiful. All the trees are sparkled with diamond icicles, and crystal prisms on the shrubs. It's a fairyland out there, Momma. I wouldn't live down south where it never snows, for anything!"
Christopher did not talk about the weather and its freezing beauty. He was two years and five months my senior and he was far wiser than I; I know that now. He warmed his icy feet as I did, but he stared up at Momma's face, a worried frown drawing his dark brows together.
I glanced up at her, too, wondering what he saw that made him show such concern. She was knitting at a fast and skilled pace, glancing from time to time at instructions.
"Momma, are you feeling all right?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," she answered, giving him a soft, sweet smile.
"You look tired to me."
She laid aside the tiny sweater. "I visited my doctor today," she said, leaning forward to caress Christopher's rosy cold cheek.
"Momma!" he cried, taking alarm. "Are you sick?"
She chuckled softly, then ran her long, slim fingers through his tousled blond curls
. "Christopher Dollanganger, you know better than that. I've seen you looking at me with suspicious thoughts in your head." She caught his hand, and one of mine, and placed them both on her bulging middle.
Quickly, Christopher snatched his hand away as his face turned blood-red. But I left my hand where it was, wondering, waiting.
"What do you feel, Cathy?"
Beneath my hand, under her clothes, something weird was going on. Little faint movements quivered her flesh. I lifted my head and stared up in her face, and to this day, I can still recall how lovely she looked, like a Raphael madonna.
"Momma, your lunch is moving around, or else you have gas." Laughter made her blue eyes sparkle, and she told me to guess again.
Her voice was sweet and concerned as she told us her news. "Darlings, I'm going to have a baby in early May. In fact when I visited my doctor today, he said he heard two heartbeats. So that means I am going to have twins . . . or, God forbid, triplets. Not even your father knows this yet, so don't tell him until I have a chance "
Stunned, I threw Christopher a look to see how he was taking this. He seemed bemused, and still embarrassed. I looked again at her lovely firelit face. Then I jumped up, and raced for my room!
I hurled myself face down on my bed, and bawled, really let go! Babies--two or more! I was the baby! I didn't want any little whining, crying babies coming along to take my place! I sobbed and beat at the pillows, wanting to hurt something, if not someone. Then I sat up and thought about running away.
Someone rapped softly on my closed and locked door. "Cathy," said my mother, "may I come in and talk this over with you?"
"Go away!" I yelled. "I already hate your babies!"
Yes, I knew what was in store for me, the middle child, the one parents didn't care about. I'd be forgotten; there'd be no more Friday gifts. Daddy would think only of Momma, of Christopher, and those hateful babies that would displace me.
My father came to me that evening, soon after he arrived home. I'd unlocked the door, just in case he wanted to see me. I stole a peek to see his face, for I loved him very much. He looked sad, and he carried a large box wrapped in silver foil, topped by a huge bow of pink satin.
"How's my Cathy been?" he asked softly, as I peeked from beneath my arm. "You didn't run to greet me when I came home. You haven't said hello; you haven't even looked at me. Cathy, it hurts when you don't run into my arms and give me kisses."
I didn't say anything, but rolled over on my back to glare at him fiercely. Didn't he know I was supposed to be his favorite all his life through? Why did he and Momma have to go and send for more children? Weren't two enough?
He sighed, then came to sit on the edge of my bed. "You know something? This is the first time in your life you have ever glared at me like that. This is the first Friday you haven't run to leap up into my arms. You may not believe this, but I don't really come alive until I come home on weekends."
Pouting, I refused to be won over. He didn't need me now. He had his son, and now heaps of wailing babies on the way. I'd be forgotten in the multitude.
"You know something else," he began, closely watching me, "I used to believe, perhaps foolishly, that if I came home on Fridays, and didn't bring one single gift for you, or your brother. . . I still believed the two of you would have run for me like crazy, and welcomed me home, anyway. I believed you loved me and not my gifts. I mistakenly believed that I'd been a good father, and somehow I'd managed to win your love, and that you'd know you would always have a big place in my heart, even if your mother and I have a dozen children." He paused, sighed, and his blue eyes darkened. "I thought my Cathy knew she would still be my very special girl, because she was my first."
I threw him an angry, hurt look. Then I choked, "But if Momma has another girl, you'll say the same thing to her!"
"Yes," I sobbed, aching so badly I could scream from jealousy already. "You might even love her more than you do me, 'cause she'll be little and cuter."
"I may love her as much, but I won't love her more." He held out his arms and I could resist no longer. I flung myself into his arms, and clung to him for dear life. "Ssh," he soothed as I cried. "Don't cry, don't feel jealous. You won't be loved any the less. And Cathy, real babies are much more fun than dolls. Your mother will have more than she can handle, so she's going to depend on you to help her. When I'm away from home, I'll feel better knowing your mother has a loving daughter who will do what she can to make life easier and better for all of us." His warm lips pressed against my teary cheek. "Come now, open your box, and tell me what you think of what's inside."
First I had to smother his face with a dozen kisses and give him bear hugs to make up for the anxiety I'd put in his eyes. In the beautiful box was a silver music box made in England. The music played and a ballerina dressed in pink turned slowly around and around before a mirror. "It's a jewel box, as well," explained Daddy, slipping on my finger a tiny gold ring with a red stone he called a garnet. "The moment I saw that box, I knew you had to have it. And with this ring, I do vow to forever love my Cathy just a little bit more than any other daughter--as long as she never says that to anyone but herself."
There came a sunny Tuesday in May, when Daddy was home. For two weeks Daddy had been hanging around home, waiting for those babies to show up. Momma seemed irritable, uncomfortable, and Mrs. Bertha Simpson was in our kitchen, preparing our meals, and looking at Christopher and me with a smirky face. She was our most dependable baby-sitter. She lived next door, and was always saying Momma and Daddy looked more like brother and sister than husband and wife. She was a grim, grouchy sort of person who seldom had anything nice to say about anybody. And she was cooking cabbage. I hated cabbage.
Around dinnertime, Daddy came rushing into the dining room to tell my brother and me that he was driving Momma to the hospital. "Now don't be worried. Everything will work out fine. Mind Mrs. Simpson, and do your homework, and maybe in a few hours you'll know if you have brothers or sisters . . . or one of each."
He didn't return until the next morning. He was unshaven, tired looking, his suit rumpled, but he grinned at us happily. "Take a guess! Boys or girls?"
"Boys!" chimed up Christopher, who wanted two brothers he could teach to play ball. I wanted boys, too . . . no little girl to steal Daddy's affection from his first daughter.
"A boy and a girl," Daddy said proudly. "The prettiest little things you ever saw. Come, put your clothes on, and I'll drive you to see them yourselves."
Sulkily, I went, still reluctant to look even when Daddy picked me up and held me high so I could peer through the nursery room glass at two little babies a nurse held in her arms. They were so tiny! Their heads were no bigger than small apples, and small red fists waved in the air. One was screaming like pins were sticking it.
"Ah," sighed Daddy, kissing my cheek and hugging me close, "God has been good to me, sending me another son and daughter as perfect as my first pair."
I thought I would hate them both, especially the loud- mouthed one named Carrie, who wailed and bellowed ten times louder than the quiet one named Cory. It was nearly impossible to get a full night's rest with the two of them across the hall from my room. And yet, as they began to grow and smile, and their eyes lit up when I came in and lifted them, something warm and motherly replaced the green in my eyes. The first thing you knew, I was racing home to see them; to play with them; to change diapers and hold nursing bottles, and burp them on my shoulder. They were more fun than dolls.
I soon learned that parents have room in their hearts for more than two children, and I had room in my heart to love them, too--even Carrie, who was just as pretty as me, and maybe more so. They grew so quickly, like weeds, said Daddy, though Momma would often look at them with anxiety, for she said they were not growing as rapidly as Christopher and I had grown. This was laid before her doctor, who quickly assured her that often twins
were smaller than single births.
"See," said Christopher, "doctors do know everything." Daddy looked up from the newspaper he was reading and smiled. "That's my son the doctor talking--but nobody knows everything, Chris."
Daddy was the only one who called my older brother Chris.
We had a funny surname, the very devil to learn to spell. Dollanganger. Just because we were all blond, flaxon haired, with fair complexions (except Daddy, with his perpetual tan), Jim Johnston, Daddy's best friend, pinned on us a nickname, "The Dresden dolls." He said we looked like those fancy porcelain people who grace whatnot shelves and fireplace mantels. Soon everyone in our neighborhood was calling us the Dresden dolls; certainly it was easier to say than Dollanganger.
When the twins were four, and Christopher was fourteen, and I had just turned twelve, there came a very special Friday. It was Daddy's thirty-sixth birthday and we were having a surprise party for him Momma looked like a fairy-tale princess with her freshly washed and set hair. Her nails gleamed with pearly polish, her long formal gown was of softest aqua color, and her knotted string of pearls swayed as she glided from here to there, setting the table in the dining room so it would look perfect for Daddy's birthday party. His many gifts were piled high on the buffet. It was going to be a small, intimate party, just for our family and our closest friends.
"Cathy," said Momma, throwing me a quick look, "would you mind bathing the twins again for me? I gave them both baths before their naps, but as soon as they were up, they took off for the sandbox, and now they need another bath."
I didn't mind She looked far too fancy to give two dirty four-year-olds splashy baths that would ruin her hair, her nails, and her lovely dress.
"And when you finish with them, both you and Christopher jump in the tub and bathe, too, and put on that pretty new pink dress, Cathy, and curl your hair. And, Christopher, no blue jeans, please. I want you to put on a dress shirt and a tie, and wear that light blue sports jacket with your cream-colored trousers."