The back of Bauteil’s car was cold, but Bill had a blanket in the trunk and wrapped Dad in it for the drive home.
By the time Bill had arrived, Officer Lidbeck looked less dazed and was asking questions.
Bill had somehow gotten Cindy, Miranda and Dad out the door. Miranda wasn’t sure why Officer Lidbeck let a woman in a hospital gown and two young girls go without an explanation. Maybe on some level Officer Lidbeck knew her memory would fade.
Maybe the sooner the better.
Miranda held the blanket tight against Dad. Dad didn’t move or speak.
Once they got to Huntington Street, Bill said, “we’ll set you up in our living room.”
“Thank you, no.” Dad didn’t even move. She just stared out the window.
Bill nodded, but his smile looked forced. He stopped the car in from of Miranda’s house.
The house looked darker. Miranda wasn’t sure if that was a reality change or just her feelings.
Dad got out and folded the blanket carefully before setting it on the seat.
When Dad shut the door, Miranda grabbed Cindy’s shoulder. “We’ll talk before Dad and I make any decisions.”
Cindy nodded and Miranda jumped out and ran after Dad.
Dad ripped away the police tape. Miranda must have left the door unlocked the last time she was there, because Dad went right in.
Miranda looked back at Cindy and Bill, still waiting in the car. Bill waved.
She shut the door and her eyes had to adjust to the dark. The house was musty and cold and the lights were still out.
Dad grabbed a flashlight from a cabinet by the front door. “Wait here.” She went upstairs.
The first thought in Miranda’s head was to warn her about the blood spot, but of course Dad would know.
Was it even still there? It made her head spin. And Dad, no, Mom, Miranda needed to train herself. Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom.
The house felt less threatening now that … Mom was back. Miranda wanted to go up into her own room, maybe check the her hiding places were still intact. She sat on the floor with her back against the door. D … Mom and she were about to have the worst fight ever, because she wasn’t leaving town without Cindy.
The stairs squeaked as Mom came down. Miranda caught herself smile. At least the stairway hadn’t changed.
Mom was in shadow behind the flashlight and Miranda felt a weird panic that she’d be wearing one of Alice’s dresses. Seeing that would push Miranda over the edge, she was sure of it.
But Mom wasn’t. She wore a flannel and khakis. The clothes more or less fit. They were Dad’s favorite weekend clothes… when Mom was Dad… Miranda’s head hurt.
“Miranda?” Mom sounded panicked. She flashed around, briefly blinding Miranda when she found her. “What are you doing on the floor?”
Miranda rubber her eyes. “Sitting.”
The light flashed down the hall to the kitchen. “Do you need food?”
Miranda said, “Mom, we need to talk.”
The light froze. Miranda could just make out Mom’s face.
After a moment, Mom rubbed her face. “Wow, ‘mom’, I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”
She shined the light at the floor, so both of their faces were illuminated.
In the glow, she considered Miranda. “Yeah, I suppose we do.”
She helped Miranda up and Miranda followed her to the kitchen. If anything, it was colder than the front hall. Miranda rubbed her arms.
Mom stuck the flashlight in a wide vase and put it in the center of the table. With the light pointed at the ceiling, the whole kitchen was dimly lit.
The garage door was still ajar from when Miranda had been in there. Mom pushed it shut and leaned her head against the door. “That safe was the last of my memories before … before.”
When she looked back, she was smiling, just a little. “You couldn’t get in there till I was knocked out.” She tapped her head.
Miranda suddenly felt incredibly tired. She tried to remember the last time she slept.
The kitchen felt less cramped with just the two of them. Something about that felt sad. Mom sat down at the table, but she shifted in her seat like she couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit.
Miranda took a breath. She wasn’t going to let herself get hysterical this time. “I’m not leaving without Cindy.”
The flashlight shook when Mom shot up from her seat. Her face flashed anger before she moved across the kitchen into shadow.
The refrigerator door opened and Mom rattled some bottles. “I need to tell you some things about Cindy.”
“I know it’s dangerous because the mad god made her.”
Mom paused a long time. “It’s more complicated than that.” Cabinets opened and closed. “Shine the light over here, will you.”
Miranda grabbed the flashlight and found Mom standing on her tiptoes, reaching into the cabinet. “At least I’m not shorter. I’d never get anything down.”
She came back to the table with a plate of cookies and an unopened soy-milk container. “I’m not sure we can trust the food in the fridge anymore.”
Her face fell. “Alice made these.” She set the cookies on the table.
Had Miranda checked these for poison? At this point she couldn’t make herself care.
She took a cookie and bit into it. Pecans, vanilla, cinnamon. Alice always did something a little extra to make chocolate chip cookies taste special.
Something about that made her want to cry.
Mom’s face was like stone. Little muscles twitched on her cheeks where she ground her teeth. She pulled open the soy-milk container and drank directly from it. She choked a little. “I need to tell you how I stopped the mad god last time.”
Miranda swallowed. All her resolve melted under Mom’s deadly serious stare. She reached for the soy-milk. Alice would have hated them drinking directly from the container.
The light shook again when Mom put her hands on the table, palms up. “The mad god remakes reality, however it wants.” She paused, as if to let that sink in for Miranda. “But, it’s worse than that. I don’t know how else to say it. What we think of as reality is really just the mad god’s dream.”
She sat back in her chair and bit into another cookie. “It took a fancy to me because I was the first creation with my own powers. It could give me knowledge, but I never understood everything.”
Miranda opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She nodded. It wasn’t like she really understood, but she couldn’t think what else to do.
Mom put down most of the cookie uneaten. “It decided it liked me better as a man.” She dropped her hands to her lap. “After I had you, of course. Maybe as a punishment for running away with you, that first time. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem capable of getting angry.” Her face went blank, she looked lost. “I was married to a fine man, but the mad god made him … go away.”
Dad? Miranda’s real dad? She had a thousand questions, but they all mashed into each other until she couldn’t think what to ask first. “The mad god erased him, like Alice?”
Mom shook her head. “The mad god can’t erase real people, for some reason.” She snorted. “Whatever ‘real’ means. No, the god made him into a Chinese sailor and sent him away.”
Wow. Miranda felt like she should comfort Mom somehow, but Mom had that hard set face that still scared Miranda a little.
Where to start? Mom was telling her all this for a reason. She waved her hand vaguely at the window. “But if it made you into a man … if it can do anything, how did you ever run away from it?”
Mom smiled sadly. “Oh, it’s not running per se. I tricked the mad god into falling asleep.”
Miranda shook her head. We’re a god’s dream, but Mom made the god sleep. Miranda shook her head again for good measure.
“We have to make sure we never … stand out.” Mom waved in the direction of Cindy’s house. “It doesn’t give the mad god the chance to think about us for too long.”
“How can the god think about us when it’s sleeping.”
Mom rubbed her head. “The mad god can do almost anything, just … slightly less so while it’s asleep.”
“How do you know all this?”
Mom just stared at her for a minute. “It thought it was funny that I know how it works.”
They sat in silence for a bit. Miranda ate two more cookies. The more she ate, the more she realized she was starving.
“I used to be a programmer.” Mom grinned, just for a second. “I’m pretty smart, you know.”
“When I realized it …” The flash must have been dying, because Mom’s face was washed out and hollow looking. “It can make anything. It can destroy anything. The planet, the solar system, the universe.” Mom closed her eyes. “We’ll never get away. It can change everything. Everything will cease to be if it wakes up. It’s done it a million times before.” She reached for the soy-milk. “We’re like dolls.”
After a few sips, she said, “I’m sorry to dump all this on you.”
Mom looked out the window. Not that she could see anything, the yard was too dark. “I’m not going to be around forever. You need to know its weakness.”
What weakness could it possibly have. Miranda noticed she was thinking about that because she didn’t want to think about Mom not being around anymore.
“The mad god is … simple, in some ways. I suggested that, since we’re its dream, wasn’t it curious how we dream?” Mom cracked her knuckles. “If the mad god has a weakness, it’s curiosity. Only a god is powerful enough to put itself to sleep.”
Something nagged at Miranda. “All the meditation and exercises, it’s just to keep us from waking it up?”
Mom didn’t look back from the window. “That’s only half of it.”