Melinda had a terrible night’s sleep and awoke that Saturday morning with a deep ache in her gut.
It was probably hunger, she told herself. She had gone days without eating. Melinda wasn’t sure if it was the memory of April’s blood-stained teeth or… the other thing that she couldn’t yet bring herself to think of that had put her off her food. She wasn’t sure how long a person could live without eating – her insides already felt like they were already chewing themselves apart.
Her mother called upstairs to announce breakfast was ready, but the thought of even the plainest toast churned Melinda’s stomach. Another wave of nausea rolled up inside her. How much more could she throw up before nothing was left?
She clamped her hand to her mouth but it wasn’t vomit that bubbled up. It felt hot and sharp and all encompassing. Like whatever it was, was growing inside her, stretching her skin, trying to find a way out.
The pain intensified to the point where she thought she might pass out.
The only way she could describe what happened next was that it felt like her body opened up and all the warmth fell out. The hunger was fading and was replaced by a new kind of empty. As she gasped for breath and grasped for the bed frame, she felt the presence of something around her, swirling like a mist. She clamped her hands harder over her mouth but she could still feel this darkness penetrating her, lifting her and turning her around until it found a way through her defences.
“Mum,” she whimpered as coldness took over and she felt like she was flying.
As her feet landed softly back to the rug, Melinda blinked. Whatever it was that had just happened, it had ended as soon as it had began. Surely it was just some sort of hallucination. She knew that sleep deprivation could make someone hallucinate; perhaps hunger could do that too.
“Breakfast, Melinda!” her mother called again.
“Coming!” Melinda replied and hastily threw on whatever clothing was on the floor.
“Everything OK Mellie? Heard a bit of commotion.”
“Fine mum. I think I had a nightmare or… something. All fine.”
Her mother smiled. “You hungry today? I made you cheesy porridge.”
Melinda was ravenous and cheesy porridge was one of her favourites. So why did it sound so unappealing?
She had only managed a tiny mouthful before the nausea was back and she had to run upstairs to the bathroom.
As she returned downstairs she found her mother waiting for her.
“Mellie. Can we talk?”
It wasn’t really a question. Melinda sat down.
“I’ve noticed that you have been off your food and rather sick lately…”
“…and as you know, both of those things can be symptoms of something…”
Please mum, stop talking.
“…so I was wondering if there’s anything you wanted to tell me?”
Melinda shot to her feet, her mum jumped up beside her.
“I’m not pregnant mum.”
“Are you sure? Because you know you can tell me if you are.”
“I’m sure and I know I can, but I’m not”
“A hundred percent? Nothing’s a sure bet, Melinda, not since that new mod.”
“Because you know sometimes people can get carried away; these things can happen by accident—“
Melinda lost her temper for the first time ever. “I’m absolutely, a hundred percent positive mum, because no guy has ever paid even the slightest bit of attention to me. Not that it’s got anything to do with you.”
“Oh.” Her mother’s mouth was puckered and small and Melinda instantly felt bad. Where had that come from?
She sighed, the anger dying as quickly as it had risen. “I’m sorry, mum.”
“I’m sorry too. I really didn’t mean to pry, Mellie.”
“It’s just you know, your birth mum was so young and-“
“It’s OK mum.” Melinda couldn’t hear this story again, not today, not in this weird frame of mind. “It doesn’t matter.”
Melinda had very few memories of her life before adoption. All she really knew about her birth mother, Rose, was that she had apparently loved Melinda very much; she just hadn’t loved herself enough.
She had spent the rest of the morning drawing in her sketchbook. As with so many times before, it featured various images of a woman. Her hair would change, her nose would change, even her chin. But Melinda would always draw the same brown eyes. It was the only feature she was certain she had inherited from Rose; they always looked so sad.
Today she lacked inspiration. She placed her pencil down and headed to her bedroom mirror. She would do this sometimes; gaze at her own face with a soft focus and try to imagine it was Rose staring back at her.
At first she couldn’t quite believe was she was seeing. Or not seeing. She subconsciously rubbed the mark April had left on her wrist. Someone was winding her up. It was a photo, a trick.
Melinda backed away from the mirror, unable to take her eyes off it, wondering who had set her up and why. As she brushed back against the bed, she nudged against the curtain. She saw it flutter in the reflection where she should be.
No. It couldn’t be.
Now the panic was setting in. Melinda picked up a book and threw it towards the mirror. She watched it flying towards the glass from nowhere.
Then everything fell to pieces.