A memory of chilhood: Faustine

***

My mother had always seemed a strange person in other people's eyes. My father believed she was madder than the Hatter; but it took him six years to realize it and another six years before his fear of her actions got the better of his love. By the time he decided she was too dangerous to raise me, I was eleven, a grown child in my own opinion. Maybe that was why I immediately deemed my father's decision to take me away from her a foolish endeavour. Then again, I knew better than him. Yet I didn't say anything when he tried to take me to Boston.

I didn't protest that I didn't even talk English or that it was on another continent altogether. I didn't say I wouldn't even be able to see my mother any more if he took me there, because I knew it would never happen. She would find us in no time.

Why? was my only question.

All children go through the 'why' phase. I had still not gotten out of that one at that time, probably because of the peculiar circumstances of my upbringing. One of my blessings was having a father with almost unlimited patience and the belief that children were as intelligent as their adult counterparts. My mother was another matter, but between the two of them, never once in my life my 'whys' had been answered with 'Because that's how it is'.

"Papa, why do you think momma's mad?" I said. "She's not."

"I never said your mother's mad, child."

My father had never been an advocate of white lies. He believed even children were able to understand the bare concept of an event, if one took the pain to explain. Even when he tried to keep something for me, he wouldn't lie outright. I didn't think he was even capable of such a deed.

"Not to me."

He didn't answer immediately. I had a hard time concentrating amidst the bustling activity of the airport, but I managed to bore my eyes into his face, never once letting go. It was a trick I had learnt from him, from the times when he had forced me to confess to the truth after I had lied.

"Come, Faustine, I can't tell you there. It's not an appropriate place for discussing such things. Let's go somewhere more private," he said.

We went to the cafeteria, which didn't fit my idea of a private place. Then again, I had yet to find somewhere where I would feel truly alone.

The women who worked in the cafeteria started whispering as soon as we entered. It was nothing new – I was used to the thought that my father was a handsome man. To me, his tall height and his sun-kissed hair made him an easy spot in a crowd; to other people, it made him a striking sight. His most distinct feature was his way of standing and walking, and I couldn't remember any occurrence of having seen him slouching, even in his worst days.

I had inherited his hair – blond like the golden crops, I had once been told – but my features were like my mother's, as was about everything else in me. My father still hadn't realized that.

"Papa?"

He turned to me.

"You do know that she'll find us, right?"

This was not exactly a lie, because she would, as long as I was with him. I doubted that she would bother looking for him if I wasn't been with him – she would look for me, no matter what obstacles or distance he might try to put between us, but him... She would feel betrayed. She wouldn't want to see him ever again.

My father smiled sadly.

"I know that it's hard for you, love, but she won't. She doesn't know where we're going," he said.

I shook my head.

"You don't understand," I insisted. "She will find us. Like she always find us when we're separated in a crowd or when I'm lost at the supermarket."

"It's not the same, Faustine."

"It's exactly the same!" I exclaimed.

He knelt down to my eyes' level.

"Calm down, child."

"You think she's mad, but she's not, dad! She really sees them!"

Now he looked downright furious.

"She put those ideas in your head! That's exactly why I need to get you away from her! One day she's gonna hurt you!" he whispered harshly.

"She's not, papa, she'd never!" I cried. "Mom loves me, that's not her fault they're forcing her to do things!"

"Nobody forces your mother to do anything, Faustine! It's all in her head!"

He was wiping my tears away with the back of his hand; he looked desperate to make me understand, and he didn't get that I was just as desperate for the same thing. I couldn't stop weeping and sneezing. We must have made a pretty picture, in the middle of the cafeteria, a disconsolate child standing sobbing her sorrows out and her beautiful father trying to comfort her.

"But... I... see... them... too!" I hiccuped through my running nose and mouth.

It was a foolish thing to have said; I had spent all the time since the moment I had figured out that my father wasn't like my mother and I carefully hiding the fact from him. It had the merit of freezing him, though.

His expression was one of profound incredulity. I knew if he got some time, he would end up considering it my mother's fault.

"I see them, papa, you have to believe me!" I said. "They're everywhere! They're dead but they don't want to leave. Momma's telling the truth! I'm telling the truth, too, I swear!"

"What do you mean, you see them? You don't, Faustine. Ghosts don't exist!"

"They do, Dad! There are ones in this room too!" I wailed. "You have to believe me, you have to! You don't know what it's like, seeing them! They're so ugly, the ones who stay! They're dead and it shows!"

It was the first time I could talk so openly about the people I saw everyday. Most of the times it was just something I caught at the corner of my eye. I had used to look at them really hard when I had been younger but ever since I had understood that it gave them a sort of power when I did that, I had stopped. Now I just ignored them, but that didn't mean they left. They were still there, watching me, and I knew it.

It was hard explaining all this to my father, because he couldn't get the exact feeling I had each time a new one entered my small word. They were invasive and if you gave them the occasion, downright mean. If they realized you could perceive them, they did everything they could to hinder your everyday life.

"Momma, she's not like me. She doesn't understand that if you don't look at them, they can do nothing to us. They're just memories of themselves, you know? They're not real, but they think they are. When momma pays attention to them, she gives them reality, and then they can possess her. They use her as a mean to get back to life, only they're always disappointed when they realize it doesn't work. That's why they try to hurt her, or us. 'Cause we're alive and they're not! Momma, she's like a haunted house. That's not her inside when she acts strangely, that's them!"

"And why would she get possessed and you've never been?" my father asked, with a disgusted air.

"I was once, but I pushed her out. I think momma doesn't know how to do that. It's horrible, you know, when they get into you! You're not the one in control any more, and it's frightening!"

I could see that he wasn't convinced and that I wouldn't be able to make him change his mind. For all the qualities my father had, for all the love I had for him, I knew he was not open-minded; that his world was set by what he could see proven, and nothing else. He would believe my mother mad, and me brainwashed into thinking like her, rather than consider the existence of ghosts as possible. He might have been the most wonderful father, still he was this sort of man.

"So that's how she's going to know we're here, right?" he said ironically. "She'll ask the ghosts?"

"No. They wouldn't tell her, they think she's weak. But they obey me and I sent one of them to her. They don't like me because I don't let them do what they want," I explained. "In fact, I think she'll be here soon. Just wait and see, and then you'll know I told you the truth!"

My father grimaced. I was the one facing the cafeteria's entrance, though, and I was the first to see my mother run into the cafeteria at a frantic pace, looking right and left for me.

I took my father's face between my hands and prevented him from turning his head.

"She's here. Now you have to believe me, right? But please, don't tell her you wanted to take me away. We can still be all together, right?" I whispered.

My father wrenched my hands away and looked right at my mother, who spotted us at the same moment. He didn't look all that surprised; but sadness and melancholy were part of his complicated expression.

"No, child, I don't think we can," he smiled and kissed my forehead. "I will never understand you two. I am sorry we gave you the name of Faustine, because you have none of the luck it was meant to bring to you. It backfired as a curse, apparently."

"Faustine!" my mother cried as she lunged at me and hugged me fiercely.

"Goodbye, child, " my father said.

Now don't imagine he just abandoned me here and that I never saw him again. My mother and him got a divorce; I stayed with her and saw my father every two week-ends. But even now, I still regret not trusting him this day. Even though he never believed in my abilities, I think I would have been better off with him that with a mother that, though she shared some of those abilities with me, never understood how to master them. She remains the same helpless medium she has ever been, in the meanest sense of the term; only used by the deceased as a channel to the living world, and never in possession of herself. No one but someone like me could have realized with such clarity that she was not the one using her eyes to look at me. And this made us the most ill-fitted companions; her too weak to resist the ghosts and me too strong to ignore that fact, yet not knowledgeable enough to stop it.

And that day's my most vivid chilhood memory.

***

Entry for the August Writing Challenge Contest at the Review Game (see link in my profile).