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Headshot
Headshot

  Julien Boyer

  Copyright Julien Boyer 2014

  julienboyer.net

  @sitarane

  Creative Commons:

  Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

  (CC BY-SA 4.0)

  Cover art copyright A.E. Rothman 2014

  aerothman.com

  facebook.com/aerothman

  Creative Commons:

  Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

  (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

  The TV was on, and Eeva was watching. She didn’t know what the happy people on-screen were about at all, but they were happy, and Mom liked them, so she liked them as well. One of them was hoovering the floor with a shiny purple vacuum cleaner. The same one Mom kept in the closet. Now, the man on TV was showing how easy it was to empty it. He held the whole thing over the bin, flicked a switch and a neatly packed chunk of dust slid out of the container. Mom never managed to take out such a perfect cube of dirt from the one they had. She had to reach in for it. It was messy and it made her curse a lot. The happy man on TV wasn’t cursing at all. He was beaming, very content. He said that the first people to call would get some sort of steam accessory that went on it, for only twenty-nine nineenine. Or maybe hundred-twenty-nine nineenine. The figure didn’t stay up long enough on the screen for her to be sure. It didn’t matter though, because they already had the steam-thing too.

  She really liked to see their vacuum cleaner on TV. But they always played the one with the cocktail machine right after. She didn’t like to see the cocktail machine on TV. Mom had ordered it too, but only Mom was allowed to use it. And Eeva didn’t like it when she did. She watched anyway, feeling a bit tense.

  Next, the happy people on TV started on about the one that made you lose weight. That one always confused Eeva because the happy people were lifting weights and doing push-ups instead of losing weight. She had asked Mom to explain, but Mom always shushed her without answering. She would have asked again, but Mom was in the kitchen. Eeva brought back her attention to the TV. She had heard the humming of the cocktail machine.

  Before the happy people went on to show how the food processor could be used to make all sorts of delicious-looking meals, she heard a great noise coming from the kitchen. She was so startled that she actually jumped in the air. Like when Mom slammed the kitchen door really hard. But the door was open and hadn’t moved. And there were no other doors over there. The fridge maybe, but it would have made all the bottles chink and there had been no such sound. Just that loud slam and nothing.

  “Mom?”

  Mom didn’t reply. That happened sometimes when she used the cocktail machine too much. But it was too early for that.

  “Mom?” She stood up.

  Everything was so still. The chatter from the happy people had been absorbed by the silence. The door of the kitchen was a bit ajar, inviting. She stood up.

  “Mom! It’s not funny!”

  Sometimes Mom and her would play hide and seek. And sometimes Mom would hide so well that she couldn’t find her. Then Mom would happen upon her with a big “Booh!” and she would be so scared and so upset that Mom had stopped doing it. Or so she thought. She stood up and took a few steps towards the kitchen. Nothing moved. Had she gone somewhere and Eeva hadn’t noticed? But then, who had made the noise?

  “Mom! I’m scared!”

  She took another step. She could see the fridge now. The fridge was open. But she didn’t pay attention to it because she could also see Mom’s hand. As if Mom was lying on the floor. She froze. What was happening? Why was Mom lying on the floor? Maybe she needed help standing up! Eeva took the three remaining steps to the kitchen door. Mom was on her back. And she was surrounded with a pool of thick red goo. And a bit of her head was missing.

  Eeva screamed at the top of her voice.

  * * *

  Her voice was gone by the time a policeman pried her away from Mom. She’d been screaming for a couple of hours before a neighbour finally called them up. And they took another hour to come. By that time, she had lost her voice and the policemen outside could only hear her sob. Another two hours passed before the firemen came and knocked the door down. She had been conscious the whole time. She would never remember any of it, though. But she would always know she was awake and conscious for the whole of it. The pain had burned right through her memory, only leaving a charred hole in it.

  She wouldn’t remember much of what happened right after either. The police couldn’t question her because her voice was gone. Grandma had just been notified and was still on her way. She lived far so it would be half a day before she arrived. One policeman just hung around with her. The other uniforms were probably busy measuring the hole in Mom’s head. They might even have thrown a blanket on her shoulders. They might as well have gone home and left her there for all she cared. They were no use. They never found the killer. Even though they went all-in, Grandma had told her. Put their best detectives on the case and all. Not because Mom was such an important person to them. Just because they couldn’t figure it out, and it puzzled them. They found the bullet in the wall, in the middle of the blood splatter. They computed the direction from which it had come and found that it intersected the kitchen window. Only the kitchen window wasn’t broken, and was locked from inside. So the killer had been in the kitchen, right ? So they looked at the floor and found foot prints that weren’t from her or her mom. But the door hadn’t been forced, there weren’t any fingerprints anywhere, nothing had been stolen… They simply had nothing to start from. Her mom wasn’t just unimportant to them. She was no one remarkable. Why anyone would go shoot a bullet through her head was a mystery to everyone. They had contacted all her recent former boyfriends and they all had an alibi. None of them could have afforded a hitman, none of them had a motive, and it didn’t look like an ex’s revenge at all. It looked more like the work of a mafia professional. Which was out of question because the mafia never killed women, right ?

  She was dead for no reason. And Eeva kept this charred hole in her memory. It still burned. Even ten years after.

  She always thought that one day she would find the killer and confront him. But, now, she knew that she simply didn’t have it in her. She wasn’t even able to stand up to the other girls in school. And that would be if she found him, given that the best cops in town couldn’t, even when the evidence was fresh. Two years earlier she had gone into detective-mode, when she was thirteen, but quickly realised that that was it. The murderer had escaped, would stay at large. He would never be caught and punished for destroying her mother’s life and her own.

  She had the most horrible nightmares. The kind she woke up screaming to. Lately, they had become worse and worse. She had come to dread going to sleep. She’d drink too much coffee, stay up and slack on the web until Grandma came up for the third time. By that time it was two in the morning, and she couldn’t keep her eyes open anyway. She’d worm herself into bed and hug the pillow the way she had hugged Mom when they were watching TV together. She would quickly fall asleep and quickly find herself screaming and panting and shaking and wet with sweat. The next day, she’d fall asleep in school. The only place where she wouldn’t dream.

  She couldn’t take it anymore. She had started dreaming of Mom. Dreams that weren’t scary at all. Real memories of when Mom was alive. She’d wake up from those and cry and cry and cry until she had no more tears. She had to do something about the dreams. That’s how she ended up in Doctor Astikainen’s waiting room.

  “Eeva Roivas?”

  She stood up and walked into the office.

  * * *

  The doctor studied the recommendation letter from her GP with a slight frown. He raised his eyes to her a couple of times before going back to the pap
er. When he was done, he folded it back into the shape it had come out of the envelope and laid it on his desk, the long side parallel to the edge. His desk was surprisingly bare. She had expected it to be covered in stuff, though she couldn’t have said what in particular.

  “Could you be more specific about ‘Father unknown’?”

  Those were the first words that she heard Doctor Astikainen utter. That guy was direct. She used her usual answer. The one she gave to nosy school principals: “My mother never told anyone.”

  His eyes flickered for a second, like if he was already drawing conclusions.

  “You asked for hypnotherapy yourself.”

  She stared at him blankly for a while. Was that a question? He had probably read it in the letter. Since he stayed silent, she decided that it was a question and that she was supposed to answer something.

  “I thought it’d help.” He didn’t move. “With the dreams, I mean.” she added quickly.

  The doctor remained motionless. What was she supposed to do? All she knew about hypnosis she had learned on TV. He’d probably guess if she went into details.

  “It could,” the doctor finally said. “It will depend on you,” he added. “On how receptive you are. And how cooperative.”

  “There is nothing I want more than for the dreams to stop.”

  “That is what you think you want. The dreams about your mother, about your memories of her, you might not let go of them so easily.”

  “I do! I feel so bad when I wake up! I cry for hours! For God’s sake!” Who was this guy, to try and second guess what she really wanted?

  “Yes. Receptive and cooperative, you see. We might have a problem on both levels.”

  “Fuck!”

  She stood and walked out.

  That was the full extent of her first visit at Doctor Astikainen’s office.

  The following one was a little more fruitful.

  “The reason why you cry so much when you wake up is possibly because you are so happy in your dreams. You cry not because of the dream, but because you come back to reality, where your mother is absent.”

  She hated when people used euphemisms like that. She hated it also when they talked bluntly and said she was dead. She hated when people talked about her mother at all. The doctor was right about one thing, this was not going to be easy, receptive-and-coorperativewise.

  She tried to tell him some of the dreams, but even that, she couldn’t. She hadn’t even told Grandma. She stuttered for a full minute on the first sentence before bursting out in tears. That was the dream where she and her mother were running out of the kitchen, with the killer after them, into the bedroom and into the bathroom and into the kitchen (even though there wasn’t a door from the bathroom to the kitchen) and back in the bedroom, and the killer kept getting closer and she heard a gun shot, and she felt a spray of blood on her back, and the body of her mother collapsed on her, and she could feel the hot blood pouring on her, and she couldn’t get herself out from under the body of her mother, and she looked back at where the killer was and there was nobody. Just her and her dead mother.

  She practiced dream-telling a bit in front of the mirror before going in for the third time.

  * * *

  “Any more dreams since last week?”

  “Every night”

  “Anything special”

  “They’re getting worse. I have a new one.” She took a deep breath. “I was in the house, and my mom was sick in bed, we had locked ourselves in the room and the killer was in the living room. He was trying to kick the door down and the whole room shook every time. And then, I heard a key working in the lock, and the knob turned. And the door opened, and I didn’t wake up. I saw him.”

  “Was that the first time you got a good look at him?”

  “Well…” She thought real hard. Dreams are easy to forget. “Might be. I can’t remember a dream where I could see him so clearly.” That send him into a note-taking frenzy. She hadn’t realised that before and felt a bit silly that the doctor zeroed on it so easily. It seemed important.

  “What did he look like?” he asked when he finally raised his head.

  “He had no face. Just a black hole. And a gun in his hand. He aimed at my mom. She couldn’t move. She was unconscious in the bed. I jumped between the gun and her. He moved so he could shoot her without hitting me. But I moved too. And he fired the gun. And I took the bullet in the chest. And I saw the blood running out of me. I turned around, and I saw that the bullet had gone through me and still killed my mother. In the head. I collapsed. I saw him leave while I was dying. I still didn’t wake up. It’s only when I died in the dream that I found myself suffocating in my bed.”

  “That’s very peculiar”

  Eeva couldn’t get used to his detached manners. When she started telling her dreams and couldn’t do it, he wouldn’t even encourage her. He’d just sit there, gazing straight into her eyes. But not like he was focused on her or anything like that. More like he had put his eyes on her for them to rest a bit after spending too much time on the computer. And now, she had just told him she had died in a dream, and he was probably going to bitch about some minor detail.

  “Most people would have woken up when he broke in. Weren’t you not scared at that moment, in your dream?”

  “You kidding me! I was shitting my pants.” She actually had wet the bed, but she wasn’t going to tell him that.

  “Failing that, you should have woken up when he shot you. Right before being hit actually.”

  He fell silent again, expectant, unbearable. She felt he wouldn’t speak again before the end of times unless she stepped in.

  “Well, I didn’t.”

  “You stayed in the dream for as long as the dream would allow you to. Right until the end.”

  Another please-break-me silence.

  “So what?”

  He leaned forward. “There seems to be a part of you that is stronger than your own will and that wants these dreams.”

  “That’s bullshit! I want them to stop. Just do it! It will work!”

  “On the contrary. From what I have gathered, hypnosis might make it worse. Until we figure out what it is that makes you stay asleep even after obvious wake-up cues, hypnosis would be a very dangerous step.”

  “Fuck!”

  She stormed out again. The one cool thing about this doctor was that he never seemed to take notice when she cursed or did something impolite like storming out of his office before being dismissed. Both of which she did quite often.

  * * *

  It was night when she hopped on the tram. She had one connection before getting home. She got there just in time for dinner. Her sessions with the doctor were scheduled for after school. It made a long day into a never-ending bore. She was exhausted when she got home. Grandma had fixed something, as usual. Normally, Eeva would do most of the kitchen chores. Grandma wasn’t in the best shape. She got tired easily. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or something in the way of that. What a family of psycho-girls they made. For a second, she wondered what kind of nutjob her mom might have been. Didn’t remember enough to guess.

  But she did remember many bits and pieces, starting from when she was three. She and Mom at the park, at the Mac Donald’s, in the bath, watching TV together, eating in the kitchen… Short and simple stuff, always happy memories. The very stuff that was surfacing in the mom-dreams. But she couldn’t remember specific stuff. Like her mom’s voice, or even what she looked like. Grandma could only find pictures from when Mom was a little girl, so she was stuck with her imagination.

  They had dinner in front of the TV. She cleaned the dishes. By the time she got around to starting her homework, it was already bedtime. That was fine, she never went to bed at bedtime. She wished she could just not sleep. But tiredness caught up with her, and by 1:30, she was lying on her bed, lights still on, laptop open next to her, casting crude light on her closed and twitching eyes.

  * * *
>
  She woke up feeling really weird. She couldn’t remember a nightmare. That was unusual enough. It was daybreak, which meant that she had slept all through the night. But there was something else. The ceiling had a weird stain. The bed was missing a couple of boards, and the room… Shit! This is not my room!

  She got up as silently as possible, trying to put her feet on the unstained bits of the rotten carpet. This place was a cesspit! The paint was peeling off the walls, the scarce furniture was all broken, where am I? She walked past a cracked mirror askew on the wall. In the mirror, there was a fat girl with sleepy eyes staring back at her. She suppressed a scream as it was leaving her mouth. The fat girl squeaked as well.

  She kept staring at her reflection, unable to process the information. After a whole minute of it, she looked down at her body. That was why she felt so weird. She had put on ten kilos overnight in addition to waking up in a new room. What was this? The twilight zone?

  The door behind her opened suddenly: “Are you all right? I thought I heard you scream.” She turned to face a woman whose face she had forgotten. She recognised her instantly nonetheless. Tears burst out of her eyes. She took a step forward, extending a hand towards the bewildered apparition: “Mom!”

  * * *

  “Before we proceed to this week’s dreams, I’d like to come back to the dream you told me about last time.”

  You mean, just before I said Fuck! and ran out slamming the door? “What about it?”

  “The description you gave me of the killer. You said he had no face. Could you tell me more?”

  She shuffled though her notes. Since she had started seeing Doctor Astikainen, he’d told her to write her dreams when she woke up, to capture the details that she would otherwise forget between visits. She found the dream he was referring to. She’d had it three times more, with variations. Sometimes, he kicked the door in. Sometimes he shot the lock. Sometimes she’d take the bullet in the belly instead of the chest. But there were no variation on the killer. Tall guy with no face. She said that to the doctor.

  “What do you mean, ‘No face’? As if his head had been cut off?”

  “No, no, just, he had a hole where his face should have been.

 
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