Morning light chased away the stars, turning purple sky blue and then yellow. A powerful force left a weightlessness within the air to the scent of flowers as David found himself back in his room, laid out in his bed, refreshed. It didn’t feel like a dream, but it didn’t matter. The ghost of Amanda in any form, real or imaginary, brought a smile out from the inside of David’s gut that he wouldn’t be able to put away for the rest of the day.
“Hey” Gwen said, finding her dad sitting at the table with a large slice of cake on a plate and the pot of orchids set in front of him.
“Good morning.” David tried holding back the excitement that wrestled the corners of his lips to bend up.
“Wow. You’re in a good mood for someone who fell asleep at the computer again. It’s the cake, isn’t it?”
“No… but cake is the breakfast of champions. I… I had some really good sleep last night. Best in a long time. Maybe even the best I’ve had ever.”
“So… Uncle Eddie’s plant worked?” “Either that or you put pot in the cake.”
“Or maybe your smoked a little of uncle Eddie’s flower.”
The two laughed. David and Gwen always had an open father-daughter relationship, talking about everything from horror movies to boys, but the topic of drugs was one that never seemed to roll around. Maybe it was because of a desire to not know the other’s history with the substance, masked with a face of trust. Regardless, they both were aware that the other knew what pot was though it was never mentioned out loud until that moment. And yet, it came out so pure… so natural… that the shock of how casual it suddenly was made both of them laugh with their whole bodies.
“Hey, don’t joke. Maybe your uncle Eddie was on to something. The dream was so vivid and real, as if I were really there.”
“DAD?! You didn’t really smoke the orchid did you? You probably got high on whatever chemicals they used to keep it looking so perfect.”
David paused for a moment to pretend like he did smoke the plant, and then began to wonder if he really did ingest a part of it somehow. “No… No… I didn’t smoke it. Or eat it. But it was a trip.” David’s eyes floated unfixed for a moment as he caught a glimpse of the memory of the evening.
“Did you dream of Mom?”
“Yeah, actually. I did… She’s still as beautiful as ever.” David smirked.
Gwen smiled back, glad her dad had a much needed night of rest, and time to think about her mom. “Well, if you’re planning on getting another good sleep like that you might want to take care of that orchid. It looks like some of the leaves are browning a little.”
“Good catch. Maybe I should prune it. Prunning is good for a plant, right? And I don’t know what to believe about this little guy…I mean, it was only one time. BUT, I’m not gonna be ashamed to have the pot on the nightstand next to my bed tonight.”
“Well, I’m glad. You deserved some rest.”
There is a mystery in the realm of sleep. You are unaware of the transition until you fall completely to it. As though some magical veil falls over your eyes, taking sight from one world, only to give sight through the spirit into another. It is in our sleep we are taken, whisked to the fantasies buried deep within our most honest desires. All we’ve ever wanted. Love. Peace. Rest. Yet among the greatest human emotion is the seed of doubt. A seed of fear. It is in this seed that the barrier to peace grows with thorns, transforming the sweetness into nightmare.
That first night was so perfect. So full of life and passion and the love of childhood romance. But ever since then there was a cold air in the room. Amanda would return, but now she was distant. Silent. Unmoving. She would stand in the corner, petting the orchid, and stare at David with great disappointment.
Gwen hearing the distorted hum of ambient videos muffled through her dad’s door, knocked.
“Dad…. Dad! Are you okay?”
“Huh? What? Yeah?” David responded. His eyes were drooping. Red even, with dark skin sinking in below his eyes. He said he’d been getting good sleep, but it appeared as though he hadn’t slept a wink in the 4 days he had the plant.
Gwen crept cautiously to the bed, where David lay, his laptop beside him running from one video into the next without direction. With a gentle hand, Gwen closed the screen, allowing the sound to turn off. “ Are you sure? You look glazed. Were you even watching that video?” She asked. David didn’t answer. “Ever since your birthday you’ve been looking thin and even more tired than you did before. Have you still been getting good sleep?”
“Yeah… I think. I don’t really know. I think I’m sleeping. I see Mom every night. But now she doesn’t talk to me anymore. She just stands in the dark…. Watching… staring at me. I think she’s mad at me.”
“That doesn’t sound right. I think you need to have a night without the plant. It might be making you sick.”
“Maybe you’re right. I just… I see her face. She’s there. Your mom is really there. I don’t know… How can I not have here with me?“
“Dad…” Gwen choked back tears. “I’m gonna cancel plans with Hazel tonight so I can stay home with you.”
“No. Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll be fine. You have a good time at the movies."
“Okay. I won’t be out too late. I’ll check on you the moment I come home.”
“Sounds good, sweetheart. Have fun. I love you, baby.”
She came again. Amanda. That beautiful haunting soul. Staring from feet away. Looking upon her husband with sadness as his eyes take hold of her position in a way he can’t tell if he’s really seeing her at all. An uncertainty that provoked the spirit to break her silence.
“David…” Amanda spoke sternly.
“Amanda. You can’t be here. You’re just a dream. I must be sleeping again.” David responded, staring through the quite visible body of the standing specter. She stepped closer, reaching her hand down to caress the clammy white skin of the sickly man.
“Oh, David. Is that all you see when you look at me? A dream? This face I put on for you? You haven’t slept in a week and still, I stood by you the entire time. And how did you treat me? You cut me… over and over again.” She said as wounds opened on her flesh, showing various painful nips and slices of chunks missing from her once perfected form.
“No. That’s not true. I’d never hurt you.”
“Look at me. You cut our leaves. Each day you pulled more of our pedals. And now you put us out in another room…"
“It didn’t have to be like this, David. You were warned. You read the pot yourself. You saw the words.”
“The pot? You mean that riddled gibberish on the side?”
She recited the poem in a hypnotic trance.
“By midnight bloom An orchid’s dream to bend the world of what; To joy or pain Within your reign Lest paradise be cut"
“We could have been so happy together. But you had to ruin it..”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Forgive me, Amanda. Please.” David pleaded.
“Why did you do it? Why did you hurt me.”
“I was trying to keep you healthy. Prune you. Cut out the bad parts.”
“Bad parts? You thought I had bad parts?” She reprimanded. David shrunk in his weak guilt, and shameful ignorance. “I see… Take these.“ She handed him a long fat pair of razor sharp scissors.
“I don’t understand. What do you want me to do?”
“Show me David. Take these scissors and cut out the bad parts.”
“On me? I can’t. People aren’t like that.”
“I said ‘show me, David.’ Do what you did to me. Now. Cut it all out.”
He was lost. Sad. Weak. He saw the glimmering midnight light reflect in the pair of silver knives fixed upon a screw. The blades pressed tightly together, making metallic scratches as they opened and closed in his hands.
“Do it.” Amanda commanded.
It was loneliness that brought him to his first snip. Letting the warm red blood stain his cold pale skin. He whimpered. He was tired of disappointing her. He would do anything to make her happy and so he spent the next hour or so, pruning his flesh.
The door shut suddenly. Loudly. Signifying the presence of another woman. His daughter, Gwen, had come home. “Dad! I’m back! Are you still awake?”
“No…Don’t come in here… Please.” He begged.
“Dad? Are you okay? What are you doing?”
Her arrival shocked him in a way that jolted his whole body. He was guilty in the way a child drawing on the floor in crayon was guilty. He knew it was wrong and yet was compelled to continue doing the self-mutilated cutting. And now, even moments from being caught, he continued to cut through his skin.
“Oh MY GOD!”
She saw him, her father, with the appearance of being turned inside out. His eyelids were gone. His cheekbones exposed through a door of missing skin. His nose and ears a mangled landscape of cartilage.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? Where is your nose? Where are your ears? Your eyes! DAD. NO… PLEASE!” Gwen pleaded as her dad turned away from her, staring off into the dark shadows of the room as though hearing a voice coming from his nightstand.
“You see the way she looks at you.” Amanda instructed. “She doesn’t recognize you because she doesn’t see the pruning you’ve done for me. Show her, David. Teach her. You need to cut out the bad parts. All of them. Even on her.”
“Amanda, I can’t. Not Gwen. She’s our daughter. She’s our baby.”
“Dad, what are you saying? There’s no one there. You need help.”
“We could be happy again. All of us… Together.” Amanda’s voice commanded with a distorted guile. “PRUNE HER!”
David turned. Assigned the task to bring his daughter back into the fold of the family. What he always wanted. Everyone together, no matter what. He stepped slowly in her direction, wincing at the electric sting of fresh air on his open tissue.
“DAD! Don’t come any closer. No. Get away. You’re sick. You need help”
David’s weak frame and timid form hunched over as he could barely keep himself up.
“I’m so… tired, Amanda. I can’t do it alone. Will you help me? Please!”
“Dad, stop it. You’re scaring me. JUST STOP!”
“This is how it has to be.” David whimpered.
The apartment was small. Confined. There was no room to run to. No real escape for Gwen but to lock the monster that had been her father into the room with the plant. She stepped out, slamming the door behind her, holding it shut from the outside. She wanted to run away but she couldn’t leave her dad. Not like he was, bleeding to death in a sick fit of psychosis.
“You’re dying, Dad. I’m calling Uncle Eddie.” She leaned her weight on the door, holding it shut with one hand while selecting the contact with the other hand. It rang without response. She pressed that glowing green button again and again, refusing the offer to leave a message after the beep.
It was her last attempt.., just like the 2 last attempts before it, when the phone picked up.
“Hello?” Uncle Eddie spoke with the tired growl of sleep. “Gwen? What’s wrong?”
“Uncle Eddie! Something is wrong with Dad. He cut his face off with scissors. His ears, his, nose, his lips… even his eye lids. There’s chunks of meat and blood everywhere. He doesn’t look human anymore.”
Sudden shocks of weight slammed powerfully as the raw meated ran into the wood. The door bent with the pounding force. No words. No whimpers. No pleas. David was trying to escape.
“Lock yourself in a room.”
“I can’t. I’ve trapped him in his room but I have to hold the door shut. If I try to run, he’ll be let out. I need help.
“Okay… Okay… Shit!” Eddie rambled, thinking as quick as he could. Gwen could hear the hurried gathering of clothes and keys as he continued. “Call the police. I’m coming over right now.”
It was then that Gwen heard another voice. A familiar voice. One that she hadn’t heard in months. The voice of her mother whispering behind the walls, saying “You know what you have to do.” It was so unreal. So spine chilling, that the only immediate conclusion she could come to was that her dad was talking to himself in her mom’s voice.
“I have to fix her so we can be together…” David responded to the whispers.
“He’s sick, Uncle Eddie. He’s scaring me. Please hurry.”
The pushing on the door stopped altogether, when suddenly the sharp jab of long bladed scissors stabbed through the door and into Gwen’s chest. She screamed, falling to the ground in exhaust and pain. The scissors wiggled in the hole until freeing themselves into the darkness of the room. Then the doorknob turned casually as the door opened. There, in the shadow of the room stood the figure of a monster, holding the pot in one hand, and the pair of blood stained scissors in the other. The whispered ghost of her mother’s voice called out to him once more. “C’mon, David. Cut out the bad parts.”
“Dad? Dad? Oh my God."
David played with the scissors, opening and closing them with the squeak of a moistened hinge. “Forgive me, my sweet angel.”
“Dad! Please don’t?”
“I’m sorry, GWEN. I have to…”
Eddie heard it all as he rushed over. The snipping. The screaming. The crying. But worst of all, the silence. It took him 15 minutes, door to door. He tried the handle which was open, calling out as he slipped into the dark apartment.
“Gwen? David?” He crept slowly, gropping the wall for the light switch. The carpet sloshed with wetness beneath his shoe.
“I had to do it.” David spoke at a distance.
“What did you do, David? Where’s Gwen?” Eddie asked, connecting with the switch and finally turning on the lights. Everything was red. The girl’s art of failing to escape finger painted in blood over the walls. Chunks of meat and bone decorated the room like confetti. A weak and shriveled shadow rocked in the darkness of David’s room.
“Oh my God. David! What did you do? Where’s Gwen?”
David stepped into the light of the living room as a bag a chopped meat. His body fully skinned and mangled. “She’s with Amanda. We can be together now. All of us. Forever. Without the bad parts.”
Inside us all is a carnal hunger. A desire that springs from the deepest fountain within our souls. For some, the desire for love collapse the foundation of reality, permitting even the unthinkable. We all seek to cut out the bad parts, and eventually, the deepest longing wins.