The Lorelei Signal
Sorrow and Angie
Written by Grace Giska / Artwork by Marcia Borell
My mom and I make an interesting pair. Her birth name is Sarah, but she’s been Sorrow for as long as I can remember. Sorrow was born when a tree came crashing down on a dark forest highway. No one heard her limbs snap as the car crashed and tumbled off the road. No one except me. I called and called until my voice gave out, raw and harsh like the wind echoing all around. Until someone found us both in the wreckage, Sorrow, and her little Angie—that’s me.
After the crash, my mom spent a long time stewing in her hospital bed. On bad days, she hated me worse than her doctors and therapists. She developed a cold, empty stare that made me shiver. To make her feel better, I drew pictures of flowers—red poppies with black spots like burn scars—while the nurses drew her blood and ran their tests.
The doctors said she was lucky to be alive, and we had good days sometimes. On the best days, my mom treasured me like a favorite house plant. One morning, she lifted a limp finger and pointed out to the facility’s front yard. The green grass outside was a mirage that we both admired through thick tinted windows. She asked me to go and find her a four-leaf clover. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I couldn’t leave her. I couldn’t explain it, but something about the accident had tied us together. If I wasn’t right beside her, I wasn’t a person anymore. Instead, I colored every piece of paper that the nurses brought bright green like the untouchable world outside.
Eventually, they moved my mom to a new facility. She called it the Nursery. I was her darling, her baby-girl, her “look how big you’ve gotten!” doll. She bought me new clothes for school, pink dresses with lavender bows. I was excited and anxious, because I was probably way behind the other kids. I could barely remember any of my school friends from before the accident.
The woman in the room next door said my mom was crazy. Sorrow and I chose to ignore her. At least, I did. Maybe mom didn’t because after the neighbor complained about us, I faded for a while. That’s the best way I can explain the strange things that happened.
Someone said that tragedy often feels like a dream, soft around the edges and sharp around your heart. When I was away from Sorrow, I felt like she was disappearing forever and I was disappearing with her. I had these nightmares where we were back at the scene of the wreck and she was dead. Or we’d be together at the hospital, and she would die on the operating table.
When I faded, the nightmares stopped. Everything fell into a never-ending blackness. And from my abyss of emptiness, I sometimes heard voices. I overheard one of the doctors say that my treatment was finally working. All I knew was that I never got to wear my new school clothes, they vanished in the darkness too.
When I returned from the fade, we didn’t live in the Nursery anymore, and I was different. My insides felt all twisted and tied up. Everything hurt, from my bruised purple fingertips to my left ankle that swelled at least twice its normal size. I was sitting outside on the lawn in front of a strange house. All the grass was dead. I sensed that Sorrow was near, but something had changed.
I stumbled towards the house and let myself inside. Two men were arguing in the living room, I heard them but I couldn’t see them. Peaking around the house, I breathed a little easier when I saw that they were only arguing on a TV.
It was an old black and white film. The two angry men were getting louder and louder. One of them cursed and slammed a door; the sound spooked me right out of my skin and my whole body convulsed. My hands were still shaking long after the rest of me stopped. I needed my mom. Sorrow had to be here somewhere, or else I wouldn’t be here.
A clatter from upstairs scattered my thoughts, they rolled like marbles into crevices within my mind. When did I become so broken? I followed the noise to a small, messy bedroom. My mom was in there facing a mirror, brushing her white-blonde hair over her shoulders. Her hair was longer than before, and her face was different. Her skin was pale and wrinkled where it should have tan and smooth, her eyes were dull, and her shoulders hunched forward. I thought she looked like a nervous turtle. A suitcase filled with old clothes, her pink-striped makeup bag, and some toiletries was at the foot of her bed.
My breathing quickened as I looked at the old woman who was also my mom. Our eyes met; she looked away first. Sorrow whispered my name like an apology, putting her hairbrush down on the bedside table and pulling me close. Her hug felt like being wrapped into a freshly-laundered cloud: dreamy and light. I tried to hug her back, but she was already pushing away, knocking me down on the bed. Suddenly, I couldn’t see and I started to fade. My vision spiraled towards the blackness and I struggled to drag myself back to the bedroom. I clung to the bedpost with sweaty hands, refusing to let go.
Sorrow bent down and took both my hands in hers. I took a deep breath and everything had color again. She pressed her nose to mine. Her skin felt strange, like rubber gloves.
“You’re all grown up. Just look at you.”
She smiled and my quaking nerves melted into giddy energy. It spilled like liquid candy through my whole body as my mom’s eyes lit up with pride. I tried to memorize every detail of her face. This was still my mom; she was different, but she was mine—she was all I had. Her eyes were the same color. Her cheeky smile was still the same.
“I’ve planned a trip for us,” she said in a hushed tone like she was telling me a great secret. The side of my head started to ache, and I rubbed my temple while I nodded. It was a new sensation, but I ignored it, focusing on the trip instead. Where would we go? I didn’t dare ask in case she might change her mind. I wanted to go wherever she went, away from this place that made everything feel sharp and painful.
We got in the old black Buick. Someone must have repaired it from the crash while I was away in the fade. Sorrow threw her over-packed suitcase in the backseat, then she adjusted the side mirrors and started the car. I was so pleased with myself to be sitting in the front, right next to her.
We cut through downtown, where people rushed everywhere like ants. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, besides, we drove so fast that I could barely see the rough shapes of them. The radio was shouting something about a code blue. Meanwhile, my mom sped through a red light and kept driving. We were on the highway, headed towards the town limit sign. We’d never gone this far, not since the accident.
“Mom, where are we going?”
She tightened her grip on the steering wheel while I squirmed in my seat. I didn’t want to annoy her on our first day back together, but something wasn’t right. I was torn between wanting to simply be with Sorrow and wanting to know what was happening.
“Mom,” I said. She pushed harder on the gas, and I dug my nails into the edges of the seat.
She glanced at me, watching my shoulders sneak up towards my ears. Then she eased off the gas, “Angie, we can’t keep doing this.”
“What?” I asked. We weren’t going real fast anymore, but I knew we were approaching something.
“This,” she exclaimed; her tone took me by surprise. “I thought that you were gone after the crash, but I could still see you. I heard you.”
“I was there, Mom.”
“I know. I know you were,” her voice trembled. “But you have to wake up, Angie. You have your whole life ahead of you.”
“Mom, you’re my life,” I shouted at her as we drove closer to the neon-yellow town limit sign. We didn’t have much time left. “Why are you being like this? I just got back to you.”
She didn’t take her eyes off the road. “You need to let go of Sorrow,” she said. “Grief makes ghosts out of all of us, even you.”
“Mom, I’m not a ghost.”
She said nothing and I started to panic. My head was throbbing. “I don’t know what I am, but I’m real.”
We were less than fifty feet away from the yellow sign. It was so bright, it hurt my eyes. My heart was beating faster than it ever had before and it was pounding so hard it hurt. A part of me screamed that we had to stop the car before we crashed like last time. I couldn’t do it. I refused to accept that I might lose her again.
“Mom,” I begged, reaching for the wheel, but it was too far away.
“It’s time for you to move on, Angie,” she said. We coasted past the sign, flying into a blinding field of yellow lights. I braced for something terrible to happen as my heart rioted like a rabid animal trapped inside of me. An electric shock radiated through my whole body.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself in a white bed surrounded by blue ghost people. No, wait; they were real people, doctors, and nurses. I recognized their voices as one of them pulled a pair of sticky white patches off my chest, and another person pulled an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. Her blue gloves touched my cheek, mimicking my mother’s fingertips. I inhaled deeply; the air smelled like freshly-laundered clouds.
“She’s back,” one of the doctors yelled across the room.
I pulled at the mask on my face. “My mom?” I slurred. Why was my head so heavy? I poked at a piece of drool-soaked gauze with my tongue. It tasted like copper pennies.
“Your mom? Oh, yes. Yes, she’s okay. We’re more worried about you right now. You’ve been involved in a serious accident, okay?”
I nodded and let the doctors run their tests. I’d seen this all before when they helped my mom, but never experienced it firsthand. It was exhausting. It must have something they put in my IV. I remembered watching them give my mom all sorts of IV bags. Thinking of her made my heart rate spike, and the spike made all the nurses panic. I should have been there for her. Her name floated past my ears—They called her Sarah, not Sorrow. Where was she? The same nurse who touched my cheek hooked me up to a machine and everything blurred. I relaxed. I wanted the fade to come and take me away. The darkness didn’t scare me, as long as Sorrow was waiting for me on the other side. I shut my eyes and looked for her. Was she still there waiting for me? Driving down the highway headed towards the crash? I didn’t know. I tried to summon the blackness, but the fade wouldn’t come.
After what felt like years of waiting, the doctors and nurses woke me up. They said I was stable, but I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to go back to Sorrow. They said that couldn’t happen and that I needed to eat.
As I finished a cup of lemon Jell-O, a woman wearing all black with bright red hair came to visit me. At first, she just sat by the bed without saying a word. I was okay with that. Then she asked me if I’d like to see Sarah, my mom. I told her my mom was dead. She didn’t live in this world.
The red-haired lady said my mom was in a coma. A machine was keeping her alive so I could say goodbye. It was the same machine that they’d used to keep me alive until I was stable.
“The dream machine?” I asked. I had the smallest glimmer of hope that I’d be able to go back to the world we’d shared together. Just the two of us.
“Sometimes people have dreams there,” said the lady.
I wasn’t very good at walking yet, so she put me in a wheelchair. We went across several never-ending white hallways. I heard voices through the walls, the men from the TV were part of the eight o-clock news broadcast.
When I saw my mom, lying in bed. I thought she looked like an angel. She was dressed in a white gown and she had a neat line of stitches across her forehead. Her skin was tan. She was young and beautiful again. This was my real mom.
The lady pushed my wheelchair right up against the bed so I could hold her hand while they turned off the dream machine. I squeezed it tight and I imagined her driving down the highway. There was no ghost sitting beside her in the passenger seat. The old black Buick sped past the town limit sign, up into the mountains. Sorrow didn’t stop at the scene of the accident. because there wasn’t any accident this time.
Grace Giska is a full-time adventurer who spends most of her time on a horse, in a cave, or climbing rocks and trees. She’s also a freelance writer who works in a variety of genres. Her work can be found with Ramifications, Ebook Launch, and Malfunction Magazine. Her newest piece, “The Problem with Conservationists” can be found on Yorick Radio Podcast.