"Dr. Chandler, Iíd like your take on the Edgerton case thatís been in the news so much lately. Iím sure you--"
Davis Chandler, Ph.D., LSAT, held up his hand in the stop! gesture of an old-time cop. "Yes, yes. Interesting case, that." Why do female psychologists so often look like school librarians, he thought as he faced the bulky-sweatered woman whose hair wisped about her face though there was no breeze. He felt the audience--who, moments earlier, sat as blank-faced as if they were watching television--stir with interest. Scandal junkies. Heíd feared this would happen if he opened his lecture to questions. After his years of research on Juvenile Anterograde Dissociative Syndrome, that everyone should focus on this one, non-representative case, was, well, frustrating at the very least. But maybe he could use the media buzz to educate the American public. Heíd labored in obscurity entirely too long.
He cleared his throat. "The Edgerton case? Sounds to me like there's more than just JADS present, multiple pathologies in fact. I can understand the splash the case has made, since the presenting situation was so, shall we say, teen slasher flick?"
A smattering of laughter.
"A carnival. Mm...hmmm. Iíve always suspected those places were dangerous."
More appreciative chuckles.
"And a House of Horrors, no less. But be that as it may, my 'take', as you put it, is that the paraneoplasticity of the Edgerton boy was atypical, falling outside the JADSí parameters. Plus, the police psychologist who interviewed the mother..."
"So, Mrs. Edgerton--" the police lieutenant leaned forward, hands on his knees. "Ms. I'm not married. Yet."
"Yes, ah, Ms. Edgerton, why don't you tell me again what happened, starting--"
From the beginning. I can't believe he wants me to go over all this again. Doesn't he have any appreciation for my recent trauma? I know he's trying to see if I contradict my earlier statement. I mean, he needs to realize that just because what happened was... crazy...doesnít make me crazy.
So I decided to play along. "I know you think...everything...is my fault because I overheard that fat cop say, 'Sheís dirty.' What? No, I donít remember his name. Why would I remember something so trivial after what I've been through?
Okay, Iíll start at the very beginning, from when I got up this morning. Can I just talk into the tape recorder? Alone? You're making me kind of nervous, and, besides, everybody tells me I have a way with words, especially description."
Okay. So this is what came down: I'd decided on Thursday to take Brandon to the Big Show Carnival even though taking him anywhere--to the laundromat or the Inaminit market only a block away--was a major production. You see, I felt it was important that he be exposed to a variety of different environments, and the lights and rides and trailer trash people of the carnival certainly qualified. But change and deviation from his routine are big no noís for him, so I had to grab him by both shoulders and push him out the door; then we did our walk/drag thing to the bus stop. The driver accused me of shorting him a quarter. Check with him; I know he'll verify that. Anyway, Iíd read in "WellSprings" that bad moods are contagious, but nothing fazed me because I knew Eric--my boyfriend, Eric Henderson--would be returning from a business trip on Sunday.
On the bus, Brandon played with his shoelaces, and I looked out the window as downtownís Gold Rush storefronts--their cobbled sidewalks lined by tubs of geraniums--faded into Squanee Estates with its interchangeable pastel houses and treeless lots. Generica. The first time Iíd heard that word was when Eric played his Deathrocker album for me. Generica, that about sums the Ďburbs up, don't you think?
Anyway, we finally arrived at the carnival grounds and I had to elbow my way through the crowds, hauling Brandon to the frozen custard stand with its rows of light bulbs like the makeup tables of old-time movie stars. He pissed--irritated--me, I admit it, when he deliberately dropped the cone I'd spent over two dollars for. He wouldn't get on the merry-go-round, so I rode a horse sidesaddle, waving at him each time he blurred past. At the House of Mirrors his reflection was stretched into that of a fat boy, but it was weird because he didn't look all that different. The whole time we were walking around looking at stuff, I kept up a running commentary--I believe verbal interaction is enriching. Like, I'd say, "Would you look at that?" and "Whoa, isnít that something?" at everything. But you had to know Brandon, he just stood there, face blank as a boiled potato. That was good, wasn't it? Face blank as a boiled potato; I'll have to remember that.
Anyhoo...whoa, I can't believe I said that! Anyhoo instead of anyhow. My father, may he rot in hell, used to always say that. I can't imagine why that expression popped into my mind just now. Anyhow, as I was saying, it was the carnival's railroad-car-sized "Hairy Joeís House of Horrors"--with its foil-covered windows and its peeling floor-to-ceiling pictures of a mummy and a vampire--that stopped Brandon cold. He even looked away from the tied-together shoelaces he twirled with the same precision as a cowboy would his lasso. He did that, you know, twirled those shoelaces all the time. Made me apeshit.
So since Brandon seemed kinda...taken...with the cheesy place, I nudged him toward it. A young couple exited, laughing and squinting into the sunlight. The guy wore an "In the Event of the Rapture Can I Have Your Car?" t-shirt. Brandon just stared, his face slammed shut. That's good, too, huh? 'Face slammed shut' whoa, I'm on a roll. So, yeah, anyway, Brandon was standing there with his duh expression, which he always wore except when he threw one of his hissy fits. This is something funny about me: I called Brandon my pint-sized Chief--Chief, you know, the hulking Indian guy in "One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest"? Who never talked until he said, "Juicyfruit"?
"Master Brandon prefers to 'do his own thing,' as you Yanks put it," my boyfriend Eric joked one evening last spring when we sat at a picnic table by the SpringSide Apartments'--that's where we live--playground. Eric just shrugged when Brandon wouldn't look at him because he was too engrossed in arranging and re-arranging his TinkyTimeToys: red, blue, yellow/blue, yellow, red.
God, I miss Eric, can't wait 'til he gets back. He's going to be upset when he hears what happened to me...and to Brandon, too, of course. But back to Hairy Joe's...Brandon followed me up the ramp that slanted like a handicapped entrance into the House of Horrors. You see, I knew it was a long shot. The place could over-stimulate him--like the sound of vacuuming, dogs' barking and strangers' laughing do--and cause one of his meltdowns where bystanders feel obliged to help me heft him over a shoulder and wrestle him out of whatever place we're disturbing.
One time, oh, late last May I think it was, after Iíd shared the concerns I had about Brandon to Eric, Eric just looked deep into my eyes and told me not to worry, that I was a wonderful mother. Heís so empathetic.
I'm not used to sympathy, not with the family I had. But I feel I can tell Eric anything. So, anyway, last spring we were just hanging out and I said, "If I should try to--god forbid!--discipline Brandon, you should see the looks I get. But enough of my problems. How 'bout that beer? Iíve got Coors, Bud Light, Corona." Earlier, when Iíd seen Eric ducking behind the lilac bushes in back, Iíd yelled that it was "beer thirty"--Iíd heard the expression from the Barton College students. Eric had looked over at me, surprised, then laughed tears into his eyes.
"A Colorado Kool-aid would hit the spot, to use a--"
"A Coors. Itís like a nick--oh, never mind."
I watched Ericís Adamís apple bob as he glunked down half his beer in one swallow. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then said, "Uh, about Brandon. What happened?"
Itís wonderful how curious Eric is about my everyday life. "It was just the same old, same old, when Brandie gets into one of his moods. Once this Nosy Nellie had the gall to straight out ask me whatís wrong with him." I looked at Eric and smiled, "Oh, never mind," I mimicked him and he grinned so wide it squinched his eyes closed. Iíd felt such a glow of pleasure.
Funny I should think of that now, but I guess I'm wanting to remember some good times. So I better quit beating around the bush and tell what happened at the Big Show. It was real humid which is unusual, what with Squanee Springís altitude and all. I felt like Iíd spilled sticky orange juice over my entire body. I'd hoped the House of Horrors would be dark and air conditioned, but the stuffy heat enveloped me the minute I pushed aside the canvas flaps and yanked Brandie inside. Miraculously, he didnít balk.
What I said earlier about Brandon's tantrums? I don't want to give the impression that they happened all the time because they didn't. Nothing like Connie in 3B's little brat. I thank God daily I don't have to put up with Ruthieís constant yammering, "No!" "Me!" Girl go poo," from dawn 'til dusk.
So the morning of the carnival was pretty typical. The policeman wanted me to tell exactly what happened, right? But let me backtrack a little. I woke up and heard the reassuring thump-thump-thumping from Brandieís room so I went on my usual Saturday run. That's where I head over to Ruxton, huff and puff up the steep part past the tile-roofed Sparkling Waters well, to the parking lot of the passenger train that takes tourists to the top of Mt. Squanee. Then I turn around and it's all downhill, easy running.
Back at the apartment Brandie was still entertaining himself, so I showered, pulled my hair back with a banana clip and smudged on this new stuff called eye rouge. I had coffee and biscotti, read the Sentinelís "Squanee Sightings" column about the lah-di-dah goings-on of Mallie Jamison "seen at the Spleen Associationís Kick-off luncheon dining on salmon in puff pastry and wearing an off-white St. Roberts suit."
Then I ran a tub and got Brandie. He was staring at the cottonwood tree outside the window, bumping his head against the wallpaper above his headboard. For variety he'd kneel and rub his hand against the erased-out area, over and over like he was petting a cat. His big plastic diapers were so wet they stuck to his body and they reeked with the astringent smell of urine. I plopped him into the bathtub, and he sat there still as a lump of pink Play Dough. Before I could scrub him down I heard the commotion from the play area.
I rushed into the kitchen and peeked through the blinds. Ruthie had her chubby legs oíed around the footrests of the wooden duck swing, and Connie was struggling to lift her up and off. Why Connie takes her to the playground so much is a mystery to me. You know how some cats are house cats, never go outside much? Brandie is, well, what you could call a house kid which made life a lot easier. I read an article in "Daily Insight" magazine where this psychologist said you bring the people you deserve into your life, and I know thatís true; I mean, I met Eric didnít I?
Anyway, Ruthieís face was streaked with tears, rubbery-looking. "Donít you tune up your face like that or Iíll give you something to cry about," is what my mother would of said to me, but Connie just issued her usual idle threats about time-outs. Sure enough, Ruthie started shrieking: "No!" and "Swing!" in her whistle-high voice.
I could still hear her through the bathroom door. Brandie sat in the tub exactly where Iíd left him, fingering his favorite tile, the one with a corner broken off exposing the streaky dried yellow glue underneath.
Sure, Brandieíd been known to go stiff as a plank as Eric called it. Eric lived in England for a spell and uses lots of wonderful expressions: he "rings up" someone, he likes what Iíve done with "the flat." He told me once that Brandie "needs some more petrol"--Iím not quite sure what that meant, but I know petrol is gas. So. Guess I better get back to, to...what happened.
The woman frowned as if displeased, "Iím not quite sure I'm following you--"
Gee, big surprise, Dr. Chandler thought.
"Are you saying that there were anomalies present that mitigate a JADS diagnosis?"
"Not exactly. In my opinion, the boy--Brandon--did exhibit many JADS' delineations. But there were certainly other factors that influenced the tragic outcome of this case. For example, I feel there was an added layer of almost a JADS Munchausenís Syndrome by Proxy as well as..."
So I guess I better get back to the subject at hand. Subject at hand, I sounded like a college teacher then, didn't I? Anyway, inside Hairy Joeís House of Horrors, Brandon didnít weird out even after a brief flash! of light illuminated a fakey-looking human head. It sat on a barstool covered by a tablecloth splattered with red paint. A real hatchet was buried in the top of the head; it oozed fat, plasticky caterpillars of pretend brain matter. A small sign read: "Lizzie Bordenís Father." Brandie stared, almost looked interested, so I decided to kick back. I'll admit it, I was worn out from dealing with him all morning. But just because I wasn't a perfect mother or anything, doesn't mean I'm responsible for...for what happened.
Anyway, several teenagers pushed in behind us so I flattened Brandie and me up against the cheap metal railing--like ones you see on porches in the suburbs--and let them pass. The police should try to find them somehow, talk to them, see what experiences they had at the creepy place. I bet people come out of the woodwork telling about things that happened to them at Hairy Joeís. I mean, it's a well-known fact that carnies are often criminal lowlifes. So I tried to scoot Brandie along with my index finger and thumb on his neckís pressure points, but he was so hunkered down it was almost like heíd grown roots.
"Donít pull that shit on me now," I hissed in the direction of his ear; it was hard to see in the darkness pierced only by pinpricks of color that lingered after the light bursts. He stood, unmoving. Okay, sometimes I talked to Brandie that way, as I'm sure my bitch neighbor Connie will blab to you. So I must be telling the truth, right? Because if I was lying, I'd make up this story that was all sweetness and light.
What you've got to realize is that sometimes Brandie and I didn't have to communicate with words. One morning, when I was working on my tan, I tried to explain that to Connie the Control Freak. She was all concerned because Brandie was alone in the apartment, but she just wanted to lord it over me what an Earth Mother she is, how close she is to her little darling. Close, uh huh, the kid clings to her all the blessed day. Plus, itís so obvious Connie is jealous of Eric and me, but what does she expect? She wears these awful, shapeless linen things--says theyíre supposed to be wrinkled--and has lost only five or six pounds, tops, of her "baby weight." Baby weight, my ass--Ruthieís only a year younger than Brandon whoís almost four. So. Where was I? Oh, right, after about the twentieth flash of light in Hairy Joe's, Brandie let me lead him through another flap where this gross, furry thing swooped down from the ceiling and flew in my face. Then I heard a tape-recorded screechy sound, I knew was supposed to be a bat. "Place might be too scary for you and the little feller," is what this pock-marked geezer had told me when he took my money, but I thought he said that to get me all...what's the word?...titillated or something. I mean, I never would have taken Brandie to a dangerous place; remember, I'd seen the couple come out the side door, laughing.
So I did this Helen Keller imitation and pat-pat-patted down the walls until I found another opening. And you know what's weird is that I remember thinking: there's nothing scary about this place except the feeling of being smothered by the heat. We stumbled into a room lit by strings of white Christmas tree lights. On the far wall hung four grimacing masks topped with big hanks of the nastiest wig hair: "Bluebeardís Wives" was printed on the sign. A ragged piece of poster board tacked next to one of those swinging saloon-type doors like you see in cowboy movies read:
Warning! Faint of Heart, Exit Here
And I was like, yeah, right. I was kicking myself for getting suckered into the stupid rip-off joint in the first place. But I wanted to get my money's worth, so I pushed Brandie through the doors and splat! this liquidy goo glopped all over me. I yelped and tried to sling it off my hands and t-shirt. I couldnít believe the two-bit carnie place would deliberately ruin its customersí clothes. I looked down and the stuff was the color of bright red, fresh blood; I kid you not, but it was so thick and goopy it was like in "Ghostbusters" where they say, "I was slimed." It was more disgusting than scary. And, yes, I know I don't have any of the stuff on me now. It was some kind of special effects would be my guess.
I caught sight of Brandie who didnít have a drop on him. I was pissed because I thought this big bucket of what was probably, yech, animal blood--you know, like in "Carrie"--had been upended on me when he was the one who didn't care if he was filthy dirty; he'd even play in his own shit. Let me tell you, that boy would try the patience of Mother Theresa. So there I was, covered in this blood/slime gunk and, well... Brandieís expressionless, oh-so-innocent face just infuriated me; I admit it. Like my mother used to say, my hand was itching to let go a good slap. As I swung around in his direction, I caught sight of these long strips of white cloth hanging from the ceiling. I remember thinking, at least the stupid huckster owners are smart enough to provide something to clean up with.
I tugged at one, and instead of it pulling loose so I could use it, it got tangled up with the others and they started to move all together. Like a big car wash, as God is my witness. The strips seemed to rain down on me, and I fell to my knees and covered my head with my hands. I was whimpering like a baby and then this mummy-type creature--you know how they look, with crisscrossed strips of fabric and little bitty holes for their beady eyes--was all over me, and I felt touchings and strokings on my body even on my...intimate...area though there were no hands moving or anything like that.
By this time Iím pretty shook up and just wanted to get the hell out of there. I looked around for a door and I saw a big, over-sized doorknob, like in "Alice in Wonderland." After I grasped it, it turned into this big hand that sucked me into another room. There it was black midnight dark except for a spotlight shining on a rail in front of a boxed-in window place, like you see at a zoo.
Okay, just because I'd lost track of Brandon by that point doesnít mean Iím a bad mother or negligent, or that what happened was my fault. I was scared to death and I wasnít being too rational. But I do remember thinking that the place really was a "House of Horrors" and I shouldn't have been so quick to pooh-pooh it. I guess I figured if I could just find my way out somehow, I would run to the old guy in front--probably "Hairy Joe"--and get him to shut the electricity off and stop all that was happening. And then I could go and retrieve Brandie.
I'd no sooner thought that than this, kind of like, show begins. The ratty velvet curtains parted, and there was this big mirror similar to the one at the Hall of Mirrors. I saw myself, just as if I was watching a movie about me. I saw my apartment, with its magazines and spider plants and papasan chair and everything, and then I saw myself shaking, just shaking the hell out of Brandie. His head was jouncing first to his chest, then arching back with the tender part of his neck exposed, then to his chest again.
And I know how awful that sounds, and suspicious, too, but I swear I was just watching, watching myself. It was some trick, I know it, just like with the mummy-creature and the gross stuff covering me and everything else. Everybody knows that serial killers have traveled with carnivals--I mean, that guy Otis OíToole, or whatever his name was, was a carnie. So someone should talk to that Hairy Joe guy at the front booth--if that's who he was. Ask him who worked for him, who wore the mummy costume, who triggered the bucket of pseudo-blood, and then I bet you'll have the solution to what happened to my little boy. He was the light of my life, I swear it. Ask anyone.
But hereís the strange part, and Iím going to share it in the interest of thoroughness. I mean, if I wanted to make up a story, Iíd leave parts like this out, right? I'd concoct a believable story. But, back then, when I was watching myself shake Brandon, it was also like he'd found me and was standing right beside me. I glanced over at him and he looked directly at me, for the first time ever. He met my gaze and I could see him, really see him so clearly somehow, even in the darkness. And here's something else unusual: Brandon, whoíd never said word one since the day he was born, not one, not Mama or pee pee (though Eric tried and tried to teach him to say Crumpet, the name of his cat) said, as plain as anything: "See."
Just, "See." And even though I was scared to death what with all the stuff that'd been happening to me, and my heart was whamming against my rib cage, and I could feel the sticky stuff again, this time trickling down my face, my chest, onto my hands, I remember thinking the oddest thing.
And that was: Iíd finally heard Brandieís "Juicyfruit."
Dr. Chandler cleared his throat. "Yes, Munchausenís Syndrome by Proxy, unheard of with the JADS' configuration. It appears that the dysfunctional nature of the Edgerton family dynamic was such that Dr. Rahn, lead CBI psychiatrist, speculated that the JADS' characteristics might have been exacerbated by the motherís subconscious desire for the childís behavior and affect to be infantilized, therefore more amenable to her lifestyle needs. Which would, of course, eliminate time-consuming interactions and demands.
Indeed, the case appears to be almost a potpourri of various psychoses. Iím sure youíre aware that Rahn has hypothesized that there was a degree of erotomania involved in the motherís psychological infrastructure. Perhaps you've read that her neighbor--Eric Henderson, I believe is his name--was quoted as saying that she had obsessive tendencies, would stalk him, and often acted like they were a couple. This, despite his having taken pains to point out to her that he felt he was too young for a ready-made family, that...
Stefan Case is a performance artist and inveterate traveler. The Big Show was written after a trip "to one of those parking lot carnivals and observing a stressed-out mother" as well as "reading this fascinating article on erotomania." He still hasnít finished his first novel "thereby setting some kind of writerís block record."