Miranda wasn't speaking to her mother, she was sure of that. Shut the door. Lock it, and stuff a blanket at the bottom so her mom's needley fingers couldn't wiggle through.
That thing she did when trying to apologize for any ostracization she committed. There was the sing-song voice, a bit of a coo-sound, and then the fingers started to stick through. Wiggle here, and then they would dance among the breadth of the door and wiggle over there.
"I'm sorry," was the song her mother sang. "I'm really trying. I'm a recovering fundamentalist..."
Embarrassed in front of a friend, and that worked. Overreacting when Miranda was caught making a good decision, and that worked. There was usually a trip to Whippie's Ice Cream for the expensive sundae, and that worked.
But not this time.
She knew her mother was working through years of living as an fundamentalist, trying to abolish her old frame of thinking -- one who was so quick to point out the sinners, that she didn't realize how much of a sinner she was herself. Her mother finally stopped going to that one church with all those women, those holy she-devils.
She voted Democratic at the last election, and she even stopped making such horrible, passing judgements on anyone she didn't know. She was growing, yes, and it was all because those she-devils ran out of women to attack, and they turned on Miranda's mother. It was the wake-up call she wished for her mother.
Deep down, Miranda knew her mother was more loving than that, more giving, and more forgiving.
The overdue, uncomfortable acceptance from her mother was finally bestowed upon Miranda her senior year of high school. The tattoo she got was no longer embarrassing. Her black-dyed hair was no longer witchy. The fishnets she wore under her torn jeans were no-longer something a prostitute would wear...especially with the giant sweater Miranda adored, the one that made her look like a black cloud.
It was shapeless.
"The jeans aren't even that torn!" she yelled that night, the night she finally felt the need to slip through her bedroom window without her mother knowing. "The sweater isn't even form-fitting!"
Before her mother's awakening, she often shouted through the door:
"The hate you give, Mom...the hate you give will be the hate you receive."
After finally coming around, of rinsing herself from the she-devils and that fundamentalist belief system, her mother just didn't realize the hate she was going to finally receive was going to come from her own daughter.
A daughter that had nowhere to go right now.
Bets, her best friend since mud pies, wouldn't understand.
Her father, the one that would console her in moments like this, could give her nothing but the epitaph on his marble grave marker.
She needed more than an in memory of, she needed the real thing, the only person who could subdue the overactive mind of her mother, who could pull her needley fingers away from the door, who could save her mother from herself -- the thing her father was so good at doing.
And the second best option was also gone, the other person who had the ability to subdue her mother.
Her brother Jack was at lacrosse practice and had to work and was going to spend the night at a friend's house to study for an upcoming test, a schedule rife with avoidance, a schedule Jack was apt at keeping lately, especially as their mother felt her way through these post-fundamentalist, widowed days.
It'd been over a year, and while the house had settled with just the three of them, the dust of her father's memory kicked up everywhere. She choked on it like an allergy.
Tonight her eyes were wet with that same reaction.
"Mom, you need to just let me make this decision and leave me alone."
The movement from behind the door stopped.
For the first time, her mother finally stopped and left her alone. She heard the carpeted footsteps walk away. Miranda stowed away on her bed, grabbed Overdramatic Teddy, the stuffed bear with the eyes so big, and pressed him against her face. She stood at the cusp of adulthood, and she knew the dumb bear was a child's way of coping, but if that's how her mother was going to treat her…
The letter had come that day. Her mother didn't even know she had applied. Miranda always knew it was the sorest of subjects, and although her mother never wanted to talk about it, the reaction...
A simple look at the emblem on the front of the envelope sent her mother into such screams, Miranda could've sworn a banshee had just been born.
It was instantaneous. Her mother's claw hand grasped at the envelope, and lucky for Miranda, she still clutched the letter, because her mother's talons tore the envelope in pieces.
"NO!" she screamed. "Never!"
Miranda pressed the letter to her chest, and her mother saw she had missed what she was really hoping to tear up. She reached after Miranda, grabbed her shoulders, and clutched at the letter.
"Give. It. To. Me."
Her shoulders burned as those needley fingers dug their way in.
Then came the slap.
Miranda swung her open palm across her mother's face with such force, spit flew toward the refrigerator in slow motion.
Miranda's eyes grew as large as Overdramatic Teddy's, and as she backed away, she apologized meekly, and then turned, running up the stairs.
It was daylight when the altercation occurred.
She locked her door, shoved the blanket under the crack, and hoped her mother didn't try busting it down.
Now, the air outside was as black as Miranda's hair.
Her mother had left her alone for a couple of hours, and while she felt terrible for striking her mother, she was not sorry.
Stirring from, what seemed like, hours of sleep, Miranda drunkenly moved her eyes toward the red numbers on her old digital clock to see that she had only dozed for one.
That's when the soft rapping started again.
"Mom, stop --" she said.
But the locked door clicked open, and with force, no thanks to the blanket on the floor, the door opened and her mother slid inside. She held a wooden box in her hand.
"How did you?"
A red cloud cast over her mother's face.
"My decision's been made," Miranda said.
Her mother closed her eyes, inhaled deep, exhaled, and then placed the wooden box on the bed.
"It just feels like it's something I need to do."
"I blame myself," her mother said. "I didn't talk about it. I should've talked about it."
"Talk about what?" Miranda asked. "I thought you hated the idea of it because of your old church."
And then her mother broke.
At first it was just a piece here, and a piece there. Her mother closed her eyes and drew her arms up toward her so fierce, so hard, like she was trying to hold herself together, but all the pieces fell to the floor at once.
A sobbing Miranda hadn't seen since her father died erupted from her mother. She rocked back and forth, trying to keep it all in with the strength of her weak grip. Miranda reached forward and held her mother. The tears lasted mere seconds, but they were the wettest and deepest Miranda had ever seen her mother cry.
The sadness was way older than her father's death. This dark heartache was older than Miranda. The sorrow she laid out in front of Miranda was just as old as her mother.
"I had a brother," her mother whispered into Miranda's shoulder.
Those words released Miranda's grip. She recoiled.
"I had a brother, Miranda," she said. "Your father was an only child, but I wasn't, not originally."
"His name was Alexander," she started. "We called him Xander because he was too sophisticated and intelligent to be an Alex."
Her mother smiled down at the box as these new memories started to bloom. As she started to tell the story, it was to the world, to the box, but not to Miranda.
Miranda felt like she was eavesdropping.
"He was just a year older than me. People thought we were twins. Your grandmother sure treated us as such, but unlike twins, we got along. We played together and shared friends in elementary school, and in high school, we would study together when our classes overlapped."
Then she looked at Miranda.
"Until I met your father, he was the only best friend I had ever known."
Her mother pulled out a cloth napkin, one of the good ones from the dining room, wiped her eyes and rubbed her nose. She put the napkin down, picked up the box and placed it in Miranda's lap.
"Xander applied to the Academy of Amusing."
And then everything made sense. This puzzle of her mother was still missing a ton of pieces, but an an overall picture began to show.
"He was like you," she said. "He was an Ordinary."
"It's something I just have a calling to do. I want to help people, creative people."
Her mother continued, not hearing a single word from Miranda.
"He went to that weird college, a place we could never visit -- it didn't even have a football team. He said that it never stayed in the same place, and at first we just thought he was crazy. We tried to visit him one weekend in the fall during his first year, and the address he gave my parents, you would never guess."
Miranda didn't try to.
"It was just a field. There was nothing there. It was like he lied to us, but that didn't make any sense. Never once did he seem like he wanted to just get away from home, to get away from me.
"We were never able to visit him, but the letters he typed me were on very real stationary. This Academy of Amusing was a very real place."
Miranda tried to interrupt her mother's reverie, but it was no use.
"That first year was hell for him," she said. "Pure hell, but he was determined to stick it out. I begged him letter after letter to come home, that this amusing thing wasn't for him, whatever amusing was…"
"Mom…I don't know what Xander went through, but I won't let it happen to me."
She looked up with an emptiness in her eyes Miranda had never seen.
"Honey, he killed himself."
Her mother popped open the lock of the box, and inside was a single piece of paper.
"Mom, you don't need to do this."
"I want to support you," she said. "I really do, but before you make your final decision, you have to read the letter he left. The Academy of Amusing isn't for people like us. People like us don't belong there."
Her mother pushed her weary self off the bed, and without looking at Miranda, she left the room, and with Miranda, the letter.