Characters: Alice (eventually Alice/Jasper)
I was born Mary Alice Brandon in Mississippi in 1901, to Josiah and Elizabeth Brandon. Father was the preacher at one of Biloxi’s churches, and Mother… Mother was his wife. That was all. She cooked, she cleaned, she waited on him, she procreated. He was blissfully happy with her, and, as far as I could see, she with him.
I wasn’t to really understand how much more my mother could’ve been until the sixties, and feminism started to hit. (God, I loved the sixties. ) When I was a child, though, a wee little thing with black hair and big blue eyes, I saw my mother as a paragon of womanhood. And, honestly, she was in 1901.
My father was a self-important man, prone to impromptu sermons. They were usually about the evils of something, and if directed towards me, ended in long speeches about Hell. My father had me thoroughly convinced that I was headed for Hell. Edward would’ve gotten along with him swimmingly, I think.
My memories of my mother have grown faint, mostly because she was such a quiet presence in my life. I can remember bits and pieces of things like having my unruly hair brushed gently, of the piercing glare I’d get if I misbehaved. One of the few things I do remember clearly, though, is the first time I made a prediction.
I was 18, and still lived at home, as my father hadn’t yet found a man “godly enough” to marry me to. The women’s suffrage movement was going full speed, and my father was wholeheartedly opposed to it. He believed the same thing about women that he did about children – they should be seen and not heard. This was terribly hard for me, as I have always had an effervescent personality. “Sit down, stay there and shut up” was absolutely the opposite of what I desperately wanted to do. In fact, I’d been barred from singing hymns in church due to my predilection for trying to dance to the music.
One day, Father decided that he was going to do these misguided suffragettes a favor and preach to them as they marched down the town’s main street with their signs. He’d had his parishioners build a small platform just for this purpose. (How horrified he would’ve been to find out how many of those parishioners’ wives supported the suffrage movement! I’m giggling picturing him, his face turning red, a vein popping out at his temple while his eyes bugged out in anger…)
I’d had the strangest dream minutes before he was set to leave. It wasn’t a dream, really – I was fully awake, but it was as if I’d been whisked away into a dream world. Images flooded my mind, and I cried out.
“Father,” I nearly shouted, “you mustn’t go!”
He looked down at me sternly. “Mary Alice, you will not shout at me in that manner.”
“I’m sorry, Father,” I said meekly. “I just… I… You can’t go. You can’t.”
“Your father knows what he’s doing, darling,” my mother said softly, hefting my two-year-old sister to her other hip.
Tears began to spring to my eyes, and my hands balled up into fists. “Father, please! Don’t go. You’ll be hurt.”
A soft look came into his eyes then. “I will be fine, daughter. Why would you think I would be hurt?”
“Because – I… I… I saw you being hurt.” There was silence.
My mother finally broke it and said “You just had a bad dream, Mary Alice.”
“No,” I cried, “I wasn’t asleep. It wasn’t a dream. I – I – I SAW it. In my head.”
Father’s look turned icy. Mother put Cynthia down and patted me on the head. “I think Mary Alice doesn’t feel well, darling,” she said to Father. “I’ll put her to bed.” She gripped my collarbone and led me away.
Hours later, I awoke to voices in the small house. “Lie him down there,” I heard my mother say, in a much louder voice than was usual for her. I crawled out of my bed and ran to where she was.
My father was sprawled out on the floor, white as a sheet. As I crept closer, I could see that his legs were splayed in funny angles at the knees, and he was bleeding. Someone – who, I didn’t know or care – yelled that they were getting the doctor, and ran out the door. My mother crouched down to him, whispering prayers, her tears dripping onto his unmoving hand. I watched as blood seeped into her gown where she knelt.
It seemed both forever and no time at all before a gray-haired man carrying a bag rushed in. He rudely swept my mother aside, poking and prodding at my father. My mother staggered back into the hallway where I was hidden.
“You,” She said in a hoarse whisper, seeing me there for the first time. She gripped my shoulders, and with a wild look in her eyes, shook me roughly. “Will he live? Will he live?”
I started crying again. “I don’t know, Mother. I’m so sorry. I don’t know.”
She put her face in her hands and cried as the doctor approached. “Mrs. Brandon, I must take your husband to the hospital straightaway,” he said firmly.
“Will my husband live?”
The doctor frowned. “I don’t know. I will do my best.” With that, he summoned two men to help lift my father, and they left with him.
One man stayed behind. I knew him; he was a faithful member of my father’s church. “Can I do anything for you, Mrs. Brandon?”
“Please,” my mother asked softly, “tell me what happened.”
The man bit his lip. “The platform… It wasn’t strong enough. We TOLD Mr. Zimmerman that David Barber shouldn’t be working on it. He’s too young. Had grand ideas… Wanted to make it higher, many times higher than planned, so’s all the women could see him better. We told him it was a stupid idea, but Mr. Zimmerman said that the boy should get some practice if he was gonna be a carpenter.”
My mother nodded.
“It – it was too tall. Not supported enough. I don’t think the Barber boy even used enough nails. It… fell. We got Pastor Brandon out as soon as we could, ma’am.”
My mother nodded. “Thank you.”
The man nodded in return and left, not knowing what else to say.
My father did live; the doctor was somehow able to staunch the flow of blood. His legs were left mangled and useless, and after months of laying in his sickbed, we were finally able to get him into a wheelchair.
He never looked at me the same after he recovered. Sure, I had had a “challenging temperament”, as he used to say, but I was still his daughter. Along with the fire and brimstone preaching did come fatherly love, stern as it might have been. Now, though, I was something else. Something untrustworthy. Something to be feared. Something that evil had chosen to roost in.
I tried very hard to be good. I prayed and prayed to God that these visions would please, please be taken away.
I then tried to convince my parents that maybe the visions came from God, since He seemed so unwilling to rid me of them. This earned me the one and only time in my life that my father had me beaten. He couldn’t do it himself, so he ordered my mother to do it. The same distrust of me that had taken root in my father had become part of my mother, too, so any motherly qualms she might have had about hurting me were gone. She thought she was doing the right thing.
My father started trying to “cure” me soon after. It started with his command that I should sleep with a Bible under my pillow every night.
I tried to hide my visions; my mother and father weren’t stupid, though. I could never keep the blank stare off my face when I had one. If I was lucky enough to have one when they weren’t around, then they could still tell by the set of my face later. Whenever the triggering event was about to occur, I couldn’t help but bite my lip, or try and excuse myself frantically.
As things progressed and it became clear that the Bible under my pillow wasn’t working, my father’s strategies became more stringent.
I was not allowed to leave the house, except at nighttime. I slept in a small locked shack on our land built for me, so that I wouldn’t corrupt anyone else in the house. Later on, I was put in the shack and not allowed to leave there. My mother brought me food, clothes, and water to drink and wash in every day. She was forbidden to talk to me, so I couldn’t corrupt her.
My father started visiting, then, for whole days. He’d take his Bible and pray over me continuously, commanding whatever demon had obviously inhabited me to leave. He did this for weeks.
It didn’t work, and my ability to hide that I’d had visions didn’t get any better, either.
Somehow, through all of this, I was still able to smile. I’d had my cries over what I’d been going through, and decided that it wasn’t any use to drown in sadness like a part of me wanted to. I decided to focus on the fact that, between Father’s visits, I was finally free.
I wore my hair down all the time. Why go to the trouble of pinning it up if I didn’t have to? I danced to my heart’s content, sang at the top of my lungs, kept whatever hours I chose, and wrote incessantly. I wrote my feelings down, my hopes, my thoughts, and my fantasies. Mary Alice Brandon, the famous dancer, beloved by a whole nation. She traveled the world with her handsome husband at her side. I imagined him with beautiful honey-blonde hair, wide blue eyes like mine, and a warm smile…
I passed my days like that, and without fanfare, turned nineteen. I hadn’t been seen by anyone save my parents for months, and wondered what the gossip around town must be. I wondered if I’d ever be released.
My wish came true on April 20, 1920. My mother opened the door to my shack and left it open. She looked at me with utter sadness and asked me to come with her. She blindfolded me and led me to my father’s car.
We drove for what seemed like forever. Finally, when she stopped, she led me by the hand into a strange place. It smelled of unwashed bodies, and I could hear distant cries and screams. My mother’s grip on my elbow released, and I heard her whisper into my ear: “I’m sorry, my Mary Alice. So sorry. But your father – we can’t – I…” Nothing more was said. My blindfold was taken off, and I found myself staring at a strangely pale man wearing dark glasses. My mother had left.
“Mary Alice,” the pale man said, smiling. “Welcome to St. Dymphna’s Mental Asylum.”