A deep midnight blue fades slowly into cerulean as the sun rises over the wall of trees behind the house occupied by the Johnsons. Mikey Johnson has yet to rise – the back of his head’s buried in his pillow, his mouth is open wider than the south end of the reservoir down the road and the blankets from his wife’s side of the bed are keeping him nice and cozy. His wife Glauria’s in the living room, standing by the sliding glass door and sipping her coffee to a view of the rising sun through teary eyes. Her eyes usually water in the morning, but this is not a usual day. Not only is today Mother’s Day, but this is Glauria Johnson’s first Mother’s Day she’ll spend as a mother to only one boy.
Well, he’s not really a boy anymore. Jarome turned eighteen a good four years ago, and he stopped looking like a boy two years before that. Usually he and Mikey are the first ones up in the Johnson house, as they are very much in touch with the primal human need to beat the sun – most carpenter types are – but Sunday is a day of rest, and rest the Johnson men will. All three of them, though only two are resting peacefully.
Mikey started the family business years before he started the family. M Johnson Home Improvement was Treeburg’s premier home improvement company for the better part of the last two decades, but as all good things must, that era came to an end. The quality of the work didn’t fall off like it does with so many manual laborers these days; it actually improved as the calendar flapped on, and they still get jobs sometimes; it’s just that everything is built now. Repair jobs are few and far in between, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, all things considered. Not the worst thing by far.
Everyone in the Johnson house today plays a role in M Johnson Home Improvement – Mikey is the bossman, obviously, and don’t you forget it; Jarome was the standard helper when he first started, but he quickly took over as bossman’s helper after the previous one relieved himself of his duties; and Glauria is more or less the behind the scenes of the business; she makes sure the government’s money counters don’t come to lock anybody in any cages. Plus, she takes care of most customer interactions, as rare as they are today, which she enjoys. Glauria’s always liked talking to other humans; Mikey and Jarome are more the strong and silent types.
The original bossman’s helper of M Johnson Home Improvement was named Owen, he was Mikey & Glauria Johnson’s first-born son. He disappeared without a trace about… oh, a month ago today, actually. Isn’t that a kick in the groin, this year’s Mother’s Day is the one-month anniversary of Glauria’s being relieved of half of her motherhood. In other words, Owen Johnson’s murder.
It was never confirmed as a murder. Treeburg is, among other things, a very woodsy town, and Owen liked to go in the woods when he was in a bad mood – which was often, my word was it often, he was such an angry boy – and one day after he got home from working in the warehouse he used to work at – after he got finished yelling at his dad from across their front yard, mind you – he ran off and never came back. There were search parties with dogs, helicopter sweeps, even some of the kids from the woodshop classes Mikey teaches these days came out to help look for Owen, but that all tapered off after a few weeks went by. No trace of the boy was ever found. Mikey still goes out there for an hour on most days to walk the trails Owen used to take, but like the essays the school makes him assign his students, he’s beginning to realize there’s no real sense in it. If Owen was going to be found, he would have been found already.
Glauria used to go on the walks with Mikey too, but she got to the point where she couldn’t take it anymore. Being back there just reminded her of Owen. A lot reminds her of Owen these days – seeing his car parked in the driveway, his closed door across the hall from Jarome’s room, looking out at the mouth of the trail he built in the backyard. This house on Fricker Drive was his home, he lived here once and he lives here no more, gone but not forgotten, and of course he left behind constant reminders of what he once was – a mother’s son. So to start off this Mother’s Day, the first since he disappeared, Glauria watches as the sun peeks over the trees above the mouth of Owen’s trail in the backyard through teary eyes, because she doesn’t know what else she can do.
Well, she has an idea, but she’s almost afraid to float it. Almost ashamed that it’s even come into her head, but it’s certainly there. It must be there for a rea-
Mikey wraps his arms around Glauria from behind and kisses her on the cheek. “Happy Mother’s Day, Glaur’.” He walks into the kitchen and pours himself a cup of coffee, then joins her by the back window. They stand there in somber silence for more than a few minutes, long enough for Glauria’s coffee to go cold in its mug.
“Mikey…” she says in a whisper, quiet as a mouse.
“I think we need to sell this house.”
A Potential Buyer
The Johnsons decided not to use a realtor. That would just complicate things, make the process less cathartic. They moved into this house when Owen was a baby and renovated it into unrecognizability all by themselves, they’ve done all the work up until this point. What’s the sense in having a realtor bring a bunch of randoms in who will undoubtedly ask why they’re selling the gorgeous house, which will undoubtedly lead to the realtor explaining how a young man went into the woods and never came back and how the family is oh so sad and they need to get oh so far away as oh so quickly as possible, so they’ll take oh so any price? The realtor didn’t know Owen, he was a hardcase but he was the Johnsons’ hardcase; if anybody is going to speak on what happened to him in his own house, it would be his parents or his brother.
Fortunately (if the situation is looked at through the right lens) their For Sale By Owner sign in the front yard didn’t attract many potential buyers. In the first month they had one offer from a flipper, a lowball that hit the ground yards before it crossed over home plate, but nothing legitimate. The next four months brought nothing, as did the next three, and the next two, and the two after that. The Johnsons were beginning to wonder if they made a mistake in trying to move away from their problems instead of facing them and moving past them. That’s what Jarome said they were doing when his parents originally told him they were listing the house, that they were just avoiding the problem and making it worse on themselves, that they’d never really get over it if they bottled up the grief, even if they tossed that bottle into the ocean and ran away – the tide always returns to shore.
Then, one day, they got a phone call from a potential buyer. It was a guy in his thirties who referred to himself as Mister Williamson over the phone. He said he had driven down the street on a whim and saw the house and immediately fell in love, said he’d pay full price if he could come in and take a look at it. Said he had recently taken his mother into his own care and needed a place bigger than the little bungalow he currently occupies out in upstate New York. The Johnsons were happy to let him have a look – the whole Mister Williamson thing struck Mikey as odd, but what could be done? He was a potential buyer, a potential full price buyer, so why shouldn’t he be given the benefit of the doubt?
Mister Williamson said he’d come by tomorrow in the afternoon at around 4:00 if that worked well for the Johnsons, and it did. Mikey would just be getting home from school by then, and Jarome and Glauria would have the day to get the house all fixed up and presentable. Of course, that would involve going into Owen’s old room for the first time since his disappearance and clearing it out, but they’d have all day to do it. They could save it for last if it made them feel better.
They did save Owen’s room for last. It didn’t make them feel better.
The worst part of the whole ordeal was finding Owen’s journals. Over the course of his short – his tragically short – life, he had comprised an encyclopedic forty-two volumes of an ongoing journal he called The Genius’s Handbook. Neither Jarome nor Glauria read through all of them – there was just no time – but they flipped through a few volumes and finally got the answer to the age-old question of why Owen was such an angry boy. He felt misunderstood, he felt that the world did not understand him, he delusionally felt that he was infinitely superior to everyone around him and because of this, the world did not want to understand him. He was sick, he had been sick for his entire life and he never got help for it because nobody knew, not even his own family. They all just thought he was born with a deep, deep well of anger inside of him, that he was rude and verbally abusive and an all-around bad guy out of choice, but that wasn’t the case at all. He was just… sick.
And now he’s not sick anymore.
Jarome wound up cleaning out the majority of Owen’s room by himself. He packed up all the journals into boxes first and stashed them away in his car; in his reading he learned that Owen was planning on publishing them one day, when his nonfiction books (although he only got around to writing one, and it wasn’t very good) took off, and as much as he wanted to honor his brother’s last wishes, Jarome couldn’t let that happen. When the Johnsons moved into their new house he’d build a fire pit in the backyard and burn the books, let Owen’s spirit rest. It would give him closure, if nothing else, and it would keep the world from finding out just how out of sorts his older brother really was. And that would be a good thing… well, it would be good enough. For Owen, it would be good enough.
Mikey pulls into the driveway as Jarome’s hucking the last black bag of Owen’s junk – Owen was a bit of a hoarder too, or in his words, a collector, and this specific bag was full of stuffed animals, of all things – into the dumpster in the driveway. He steps out of the car with a mortified look on his face, as if he had seen Owen crossing the road on his way home. Jarome asks him what’s wrong, but he’s just told to go inside and to get his mom into the living room. When Mikey finishes getting out of his school clothes, he sits down on the couch between them and looks blankly ahead, his mouth slightly open, his stare of disbelief aimed at the wall. For a moment his wife and son just look at him, then at each other, then back at him.
“Dad?” Jarome says, nudging his arm. “What’s goin’ on, man?”
No response whatsoever.
“Honey, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. What’s wrong?”
Mikey swallows. “No ghost, but…” He swallows again. “I think I know who our potential buyer is.” He looks at Glauria, then at Jarome, then at the couch between his legs. Then, “They had me subbing for a psych class today, we were studying abnormal psychology. You know, mental disorders. Bipolar, depression… schizophrenia… and we were watching a talk given by this guy, the world’s top expert on the schizophrenia spectrum and the disorders which come along with it. Well, he’s so knowledgeable on the subject because he has a schizo spectrum disorder himself, as did his mom… his mother, that’s what he called her, decisively not his mom, and… his voice sounded so familiar, I couldn’t place it. Didn’t place it until my drive home.” He shakes his head a few times, clearing the nervous haze. “Jarome, you might be too young to remember this, but maybe you do, Glauria. Around the time we moved into this house there was a news story going around about a boy who lived alone with his mother – a boy who murdered his father, along with a bunch of his neighbors’ pets and the random local wildlife. When the cops intervened, they found a big graveyard in the backyard full of corpses – dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, you name it – and also stuffed animals, but they weren’t stuffed. It was just the,” he starts twirling his hands, as if to make the gears churn, “the skins, I guess you’d call ‘em – and then, when they went into the house, they found where the stuffing had gone.”
Suddenly, Glauria’s face takes on the look Mikey’s was wearing when he got home. “No… you’re not… are you talking about Hil–”
There’s a knock on the door.
“Mister Johnson, I presume?”
Jarome and Glauria are still on the couch. The latter’s not quite sure what’s going on.
“Uh, y-yes, but you can call me Mikey.” He extends his hand for a shake. The buyer accepts. “And you must be…”
The buyer smiles kindly. “Mister Hilter Odolf Williamson, the one and only.” The handshake goes on for quite a bit longer than it needs to, but Hilter doesn’t seem to pay it any mind. He doesn’t seem to notice how sweaty Mikey’s palm is either. “May I come in? You have a nice hand and all – firm shake too, I admire that in a man – but my mother’s waiting for me in the car. I hate to rush things, but we must keep this as quick as possible.”
“Oh, uh, y-yes, please come in.”
Mikey stands to the side and Hilter steps into the foyer, closing the front door behind him. He looks around with awe, his eyes following the crown molding around the perimeter of the white plank ceiling, down the walls to the immaculate cherry hardwood floors.
“It’s beautiful, even more so on the inside than the out. And the space!” He clasps his hands together. Mikey flinches, and so does Glauria, even though she can’t see the man from where she’s sitting. “I love how you’ve knocked down the walls and make it one big open room, it’s glorious. Glorious, I say!”
Mikey takes a step back. “How did you know–”
“Oh, my good man, I do my fair share of research before picking up the phone. I know this house was raised in the sixties, and we humans just didn’t make ‘em like this back then.”
He walks further into the Johnsons’ home, into full view of Glauria and Jarome, and honestly, he doesn’t look that scary. Dude’s got short brown hair, clean shaven face, a powerful chin. Dressed in slacks and a blazer, wearing brown Stoneports on his feet. ‘This is the guy who murdered his father? He doesn’t seem that evil.’
“The kitchen is gorgeous. I love the granite counter tops, you folks are folk of taste.” Hilter spins around on his heels and looks at Mikey, then Glauria, then to the confused face of Jarome, and he can’t help but laugh to himself. “May I see the upstairs, please?”
Hilter Odolf Williamson is shown the upstairs. He has nothing but kind things to say.
The Johnsons lead him back down to the main floor and show him the master bedroom, then the office, then the tour continues into the basement and the Johnsons show him where the boiler and the sub-pump are, and who to call if he ends up buying the place and there’s an issue with any of the equipment. He tells them he’s absolutely interested; so interested, in fact, that he’d cut them a check on the spot. And so he does. And so the Johnsons sell their house on Fricker Drive to a Mister Hilter Odolf Williamson so he can have a new house to both live and take care of his mother in.
“I’d like to move in this upcoming Mother’s Day,” he tells them when they’re all gathered back in the foyer, “if that would work for all of you. I figure it would give you all plenty of time to find a new place and get settled, and I’d be lying if I said I was ready to make the move now. Would Mother’s Day suffice?”
Mother’s Day would indeed suffice.
“Very good! Now, one last order of business.” He looks Mikey dead in the eyes, then Glauria, and then Jarome, even though Jarome doesn’t look half as disturbed as his parents. “I suppose you lot know who I am.”
Nobody says a fucking word.
“I’ll take that as a yes – in my youth there was a news story printed about me which said I was the convicted murderer of not only some wild animals, but also the neighborhood pets and…” he pauses to rub the back of his head, as if he doesn’t know how to say what he’s about to say. “And my father – I suppose I may as well just come out with it. They said I killed him, gutted him and filled him with the fluff which I took out of a myriad of stuffed animals, which they said I mutilated worse than the live animals which were found in my backyard. Not that that makes sense because, as you may know, stuffed animals are not alive, they cannot necessarily be mutilated…” He sees the disturbedness on the elder Johnsons’ faces has evolved into downright terror, then says, “But I digress. What you may not have heard – and I don’t know why, for the life of me, only the first half of the story was given front page placement and widespread coverage by the local and national news stations – was that I was found innocent.”
For the first time since Hilter stepped into the house, a pin could drop and go totally unnoticed.
“As it turned out, my mother was the real culprit. She had a very severe form of schizophrenia all her life but was never diagnosed because of how well she hid it from others. She knew how to play normal, and she had a way of getting into your head and making you believe not only that she told the truth, but that she was the truth. It was almost like telepathy, or even a sort of mind control… I actually have a few theories about that, but they’re neither here nor there. You may have noticed my first two names, Hilter Odolf, bear a certain resemblance to someone else’s name – she granted me this moniker because she entertained a true symphony of voices in her head, a symphony which sang an incongruous song which only she could hear. She was told that the overall human spirit is sick, for lack of a better term, nearly past the point of getting better; that, after so many incarnations of the human spirit – she believed very heavily in reincarnation, you understand – were made to witness humanity committing terrible atrocities to itself, like the second world war’s Holocaust, for example, it had become blackened and sick, and the only way for it to get better was to have a scapegoat, to have a target to catch the blame for all the world’s atrocities.” He takes a pause to breathe, then, “I was that scapegoat. I was my mother’s first son; she lost her second child during the birthing process and, in an episode of postpartum psychosis (which was made gravely more severe by her already existing condition), she murdered my father in cold blood. I, too, have a form of schizophrenia, although it’s not quite as severe as hers, and I had quite a collection of stuffed animals who I would talk to when I was younger. They were my only real friends back then, especially after my father died, and one day I came home from school and found that they were all missing, and not only that, but that my father was back! He was there, sitting on the couch in front of the television, just like the old times, except he was stuffed. Like a taxidermized animal.”
Hilter sighs with a certain tone of nostalgia; not happiness, not reminiscence, merely an acknowledging of a certain darkness which has since been illuminated.
“After killing my father she developed a taste for blood, it seemed, and moved on to the local wildlife and such. She was an avid runner and, for the sake of keeping things civil, let’s just say she learned how to outrun animals with twice as many legs as she had. When the neighbors got to complaining about their pets going missing, they came to our house – we were the only ones on the block without any pets, it was a natural conclusion to come to – and my mother, finally getting her chance to make me the scapegoat her voices sang about in their songs, threw me under the bus and had me taken away to a mental health facility. My stay didn’t last long, as my mother kept on running around and the animals kept on going missing long after I had disappeared, and I was let out and placed into foster care, as my mother didn’t have any family to speak of. In truth, she may have killed all of them off too, there’s no way to know. She had no contacts outside of the clerks she would occasionally speak with at the local grocery stores. She knew everybody, but nobody really ever knew her. I’ve spent my whole life studying the human mind in an attempt to figure out exactly why one may find themselves on the schizophrenia spectrum – I have the disorder as well, although mine is not nearly as severe as my mother’s is – and why some are further along it than others. Up until recently I’ve been living on my own in a little hut near the college which currently pays me to conduct my research, but then I got a call from the psychiatric ward who was taking care of my mother. It seems the old girl’s brain had burnt out and taken a turn for the catatonic; rather than placing the burden on them, I decided to take her in.”
He clasps his hands together and smiles a genuine, happy smile. “And now we’re all caught up.” Then, in a jovial manner, “Any questions?”
The Johnsons share a thick, meaty silence; neither Mikey nor Glauria know what to do. Then, Jarome speaks up.
“What have you found?”
Hilter Odolf Williamson’s smile widens. “I’ve found that schizophrenia – or what we refer to as schizophrenia, that is – is, in simple terms, a case of the human brain interpreting reality a tad bit too fast for its own good. Being too aware, in other words. You see, when we perceive sights, noises, smells, the works, our body is taking in photons and vibrations; this sensory information is raw data and the brain acts as a translator; in the brain of a schizophrenic, the translations may be done at so fast a pace that the brain makes a mistake. A gust of wind could result in one hearing someone calling their name, a shadow on the road could be seen as a human form, things along those lines. Many disagree with me, but as far as those who fund my research and I am concerned, my hypothesis is solid – if the brain operates too quickly, then it would make sense that the rest of the body operates too quickly as well, no?”
Jarome nods his head. “Sure.”
“Interestingly enough, and this is going to seem like a reach, but if one analyzes the urine of schizophrenics after drinking orange juice and compares it to the urine of neurotypicals who also just drank orange juice, one will find the presence of a specific enzyme in the schizophrenic’s urine that is not present in that of the neurotypical’s. This happens because the body processes the juice too quickly for the enzyme to be properly broken down, and so it’s simply passed through the system, lickety split. If one organ works too quickly, then so may another. Make sense?”
“I… guess. But how does that make schizophrenics more aware than other humans?”
“Well, with neurotypical humans, there is a delay between the receiving of raw sensory data and the translation of said data. In humans with schizophrenia that delay is much shorter, if it’s even there at all. Heightened sensitivity, heightened awareness, heightened chance of misinterpretation, or in other words, hallucination, which often leads to delusional thinking, which may lead to… well, in the very worst of cases, the kind of business my mother Daisy used to get into. As for why the brain gets to be too fast for its own good, there are many possible factors, and some are just plain genetic, but most point to extended periods of isolation during youth, especially in cases of bad family environments. A boy or girl may spend all their time alone in their bedroom – talking to stuffed animals, for example, to escape an abusive relationship with their parents or guardians, or just out of a lack of friends – and all of the energy which would normally go into making their whole bodies grow and develop would go instead into developing their brain, because, rather than using and exercising their bodies, they use and exercise their brain all day. Over time, those stuffed animals might start talking back; who’s to say the brain wouldn’t learn to make the interior voices rise without the exterior trigger?”
Jarome nods his head again. He has no more questions.
Feeling satisfied, Hilter looks around at the owners of his new house. “Well then, I was being rhetorical when I asked if there were any questions, but since you asked, I had to indulge myself. My mother’s in the car and I really must be going now.”
Hilter shakes hands with each surviving member of the Johnson family. “It was a pleasure meeting you all, and thank you so much for agreeing to sell me your beautiful home. I will take great care of it, that much I promise.” On his way down the front steps, he says, “I’ll call a few days in advance of my moving in, just to make sure all the affairs are in order. If you need any help packing or moving, please do let me know. I’d be more than happy to lend a hand.”
When the door shuts, Mikey and Glauria finally breathe again. Although he doesn’t say it, Jarome thinks twice about burning off all of Owen’s old journals. He’s still probably going to do it, but now he’s thinking about saving them instead. Maybe he could donate them to Mister Williamson for purposes of research… or maybe he’ll still incinerate them. He’ll probably incinerate them… but maybe he’ll save them after all.
It’s just a thought, and they’re not going to be moving out for at least a couple more weeks, so he won’t be acting on it either way any time soon. But it’s a thought. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll be enough.
The Johnsons never call Mister Williamson for help in moving, and when he calls a few days before he moves into his new home, he finds the landline has been disconnected. He takes this as a good sign, as investing energy in presuming the opposite would be foolish, and on Mother’s Day, Hilter and his mother Daisy move into their new house on Fricker Drive in the town of Treeburg, New Jersey.
Hilter brings over all the boxes, unpacks, and fully moves in before bringing his mother to her new home. He builds her a little apartment in the basement – the garage opens up into a mud room, which leads to a room the Johnsons used for storage, when then leads to the laundry room, where the boiler and sub-pump are located. Daisy’s new digs are located in that middle room, and that’s just where he brings her, wheelchair and all.
A grunt escapes Hilter’s mouth as he lifts his mother out of the wheelchair and lays her down in her new bed. She stares blankly up at the ceiling, her cheek slicked with drool, her nose whistling as the air weakly flows in and out. Hilter dusts his hands off and then folds up the wheelchair, stashing it between the bed and the wall.
“Well Mother, we’re here. You have a new place to be now, away from the hospital and all those nurses. I didn’t trust them one bit, who knows what kind of shit they got into with you?” He shakes his head ruefully. “Anywho, welcome home.”
Hilter starts to walk out, then jerks himself to a stop and turns back around.
“I almost forgot!” he says, reaching into his back pocket. “I made you a card for Mother’s Day, Mother. I even wrote you a little poem on the inside. I’d like to read it to you, if you don’t mind.”
Daisy Williamson says absolutely nothing.
“Great! Here, look, I drew a picture on the front, too.” Hilter holds the Mother’s Day card in front of Daisy’s vacant eyes. “See? It’s a runner girl, she even has a little pink headband like the one you used to wear. I know you can’t do much running anymore,” he lightly taps the nearest leg of the bed with his foot, “but it’s the thought that counts, right? Anyway, the poem. Ahem…”
Don’t think you can run away from it now.
All you’ve done has come back to you, Pow!
I won’t do mean things, like shave off your brows,
So please excuse me as I say this out loud:
You’re the devil. I love you, and I really don’t know how.
Love, your son, Hilter Odolf
“If you look at the first letter of each line it spells out Daisy, like your name. Neat, huh?”
Daisy continues to breathe, slowly but steadily, her nose whistling like a bored jailbird.
Hilter closes the homemade card and runs the crease between two of his fingernails. He places it standing up on the nightstand next to his mother’s bed so, in the event she ever comes out of her catatonic semi-comatose state, she can look at it. So she can remember. So she can fall right back into the depths of her twisted mind.
Hilter Odolf turns around and walks out of the room. On his way out the door, leaving the light on of course, he pokes his head back in and says, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mother. Welcome home,” and shuts the door behind him.
The card in the picture is the real card I made for my mom for Mother’s Day this year – she has a tattoo of the runner girl on her leg, it’s her thing. Below is a picture of the actual poem I wrote inside of it, her name is Laurie. She liked the poem a lot.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. Be well Commons~