“Here’s what I know about depression, Eric.” Even before she lived as a memory, Eric found it hard to envision his mother knowing anything from depression. “The deeper you are in it, the more comfortable you become wallowing. It’s messy, it looks bad to others, but you feel just fine. You have to get up from depression.”
He knew it was a dream, but he ignored the sudden manifestations of reality. Sandra’s hands on his shoulders. “I’m getting out of it, but Dad’s acting like he’s one with sadness. Can you help him?”
“Wake up, Eric!” He loved Sandra’s warmer presence, but he wished she’d be less eager to start the day. He could hear her pacing every which way from midnight on in the guest room she had set up. In a way he felt he needed to bury, Eric was flattered she fussed over him.
“I have a banana,” said his mother. Right, it’s still my own dream, disappointed his mother didn’t make a special visit to his dreams. “Delicious. Full of vitamins. Nutrients. Potential naughty jokes.” Definitely my dream.
“Thing is, to get any of that, you need to pull…” She failed to pull the peel. “…the peel. See, it’s not easy. The easiest way would be to pull the top, but that brown chunky part hurts my hands. Sometimes I pull too hard and it rips off. But if you don’t hurt yourself or the banana…”
She continued to fail peeling. “You reveal the merits within, right?” Eric helped her, as Sandra ran down to the kitchen to deliver a rude awakening.
“Right, Eric! You need to peel your dad’s skin. Maybe literally. But,” she paused for an air of drama that was not his mother’s brand, “maybe figuratively.”
Pots and pans clanged, as his dream returned to the subconscious.
“That reminds me! The first metaphor I had! Depression is a lot like mud!”
“Did you say m–”
“ERIC! Thank goodness you’re up!” Sandra was in a green apron, though he realized that was thanks to grass stains.
“Sandra, not to seem ungrateful,” though he definitely was, between the disgusting mud resting all over the house and Sandra, her need to be up all night distracting him, not to mention even if it wasn’t her intentional fault, Derrick threw Eric out because Sandra made him happy.
She made him happy. He told his pent-up grievances to take a break. The grievances went to the bathroom and smoked.
“I’m grateful to you for putting me up, but why are you waking me up as early as…” The clock read 15 o’clock. He had to do math.
“It’s three,” she said in a hurried tone. “Sorry, I don’t know what your sleep schedule is.” She looked over her shoulder towards the window. “We have a few hours left to spend at the library.”
Three o’clock? Eric’s sleep cycle frightened him. He realized this had in fact been his normal hour to begin the day, and that he passed out usually at midnight.
“I’m sorry for jumping on you like that. Let’s go to the library.”
“Yes! And it’s okay. I kind of like it when people jump on me.”
He wanted to follow that up with anything at all, but one look at Sandra’s face informed him that she was teasing him.
Eric didn’t mind the mud anymore.
It was a warm library; happy families and studious cheerleaders packed the rooms tightly enough that one could walk on them as any floor. There was a sign by the front desk advising against that.
At the desk stood a clean-cut man, about early-thirties. His hair, greasy and black, occasionally complimented his clothing, bow tie and rolled-up sleeves notwithstanding. His eyes, rarely open, resembled a satisfied napping cat. His demeanor could also be said to seem cat-like.
“Welcome to our library, sir. My, that is one jacked-up looking hand. All red and stringy. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Guess you should feel lucky your face doesn’t look like that, right?”
Sandra leaned over Eric’s shoulder. “This is Harold Neamus. He’s the last shift during the day. He’s like this with everyone.” Eric became more determined to amend his sleep cycle.
“Oh!” Harold’s face became squishy with a nirvana of cruelty. “It’s the giant baby! Is she yours, sir? She’s come here before without a guardian, and I tried turning her away.” Eric felt weird, as though this dialogue was too specific to annoy him.
Harold tickled Sandra on the chin, leading both her and Eric to crush his hand. Their hands were locked, crunching a wincing librarian’s fingers in the process. They blushed the moment their eyes locked.
“Sir, I will not have… YOUR KIND in here. This library is a safe haven for happiness, and that means no baby-kissers.” Harold looked up at the giant baby. “Would oo wike a wowwy, baby?”
Sandra’s nostrils flared, relieving Eric that no mud came out of them. “I would NOT spike my mommy–er, MOTHER, and I’m not a baby!”
“You are! You are a giant baby, a one-month baby, yet you can walk and talk!” He examined the mud on her sneakers. “Still pretty messy, though. Look, trust me that you guys shouldn’t be like this, okay?”
Eric noted a hurt tone hidden in Harold’s voice. Harold suddenly turned to him.
“Look, a month ago, her father brought her here. Please return her to his arms, if she can be carried.”
“MY FATHER IS DEAD!”
Eric balled up a fist. He wouldn’t need it now. Harold’s face softened.
“Oh, oh, oh my, my, my. You really don’t know. Oh, poor sweet baby mud girl.” Harold put up a sign to the front of the desk. “Come with me.”
The dank, stone room was behind a bookshelf in the erotic section. “We have a very old erotic section. No one goes here. This place must be guarded.”
Eric carelessly flipped through a magazine and stopped at a page with a buxom lady now older than his grandmother. “What, the erotica needs to be guarded?” Sandra swiped the magazine and leafed through its pages.
“What? No, this room! I come from a tribe of ancient therapeutic wizards. Does that sound stupid?”
Eric was growing reckless in comfort towards Harold, but risking nothing gets one nowhere. “No more stupid than my laundry room.”
Harold nearly dropped the book he was examining.
“What’s so stupid about it?
“It… you need to be sad to open it. My dad locked himself in there.”
Harold laughed in relief, although it sounded more like he cackled in pride. “So it is you.”
Sandra found an article that made her turn red. She stored the tips in her mind for use on Eric.
“Sit. I have much to teach you, uggo hand.” Harold flipped to the center of the first half of the book.
“May 1, 1590 A.D.
I am matthew. my masters, powerfilled men with the goal of easing the hearts of men. have constructed a plan to make a home to tame sadness. my masters and i will live in the quarters and the sad souls in the basement. further plans are unclear to me.”
Harold flipped further.
“June 3, 1590 A.D.
My masters have completed the home. they are now enchanting the basement. i am not allowed around yet. i examine the quarters for my masters and i. with the money poured into it, i expected more. floors creak, stairs croak. it is colder than the rain. the beds scorn my skin. i found a rash after sleeping on one. it is a home made for sadness.”
Sandra flipped to an ad that gave her a marvelous notion for her mud. She would ask Eric what he thought.
“February 24, 1591 A.D.
The home is near perfect, bar one flaw. the home itself is healing sad hearts of some men. the home is thus: my masters created a spell on the basement entrance. only those with heavy hearts may enter or leave. a dark key is made when closing the saddened man hand, to which he opens the healing room.
“Healing room…” Eric became immersed in the text.
“A shame,” Harold bitterly shook his head. “You use it for laundry.”
“Keep reading this gook, okay?”
“the room will grant the deepest desire for the sad men. my masters show wisdom. they cannot use sadness for evil. the sad men cannot manifest the death of any other man. the problem is that neither can they manifest life. many men are saddened by lost loves and few are being helped in the way of intention.
Eric gulped on nothing.
“my masters have a plan. they have acquired the deed for the land next door. it is a mud pit bought for near nothing. they plan on using the powers of God Himself. they will be Adam creatures, born from the desires of the sad to find their loves. my masters are wonder in human clothes.”
Eric’s whole being had a panic attack.
Harold snapped in front of Eric’s face. “By the by, Matthew never writes it down, but the masters made themselves miserable upstairs in order to get constant access to the basement. Since happy men couldn’t open it, the masters needed to remain sad to let the happy patients out.”
Eric jittered. “Really? How interesting.”
“Right? They couldn’t cast the enchantment to pick more than one emotion. And the masters, so kind, so understanding, wouldn’t allow the patients to feel trapped in sadness and reality. So unlike the happy men, they could leave freely.”
“Yeah, I figured that out! I got locked in after meeting Sandra!” She wasn’t listening. “You’re at the climax, right? You’re doing this to taunt me.”
“Heavens, no! Why, are you eager to read about Matthew’s skin growth documentation? He had many blisters, bruises, moles and rashes.”
Eric cupped his hair in his palms. “That’s all on the house?”
“Certainly. Oh, except for the mud house next door.”
“READ IT READ IT READ IT!” Life was happy to flow threw Eric again.
“Rude, rude, rude.”
“May 18, 1593 A.D.
This shall be my final entry. it is all over. my master of masters finally succeeded in casting the spell of life. before, we could only create half a life. half a being in the sad men’s hearts. most were satisfied, but not my master of masters. his spell needed perfection.
the magic had been simple. Adam creatures born from mud, but that meant they had an essence of mud. they were always dirty, dirtiest on the feet and less mud as it built up. the men were comfortable with the mud men and women. i fear them. i see no wives or sons. my eyes may be wrong, as master of master said, but i saw them as old as they were born, not their own age.”
Harold tapped his eyes. Eric whimpered.
“giant mud babies, walking around with men of false contentment. they lie to themselves. make up new stories about why are there. i did note they gradually get true memories, much like a baby will. my master of masters said i had wrong eyes. but he was disgusted whenever he saw a woman with a mud husband, a father with a mud son. my master of masters knew.”
Sandra took off a sneaker and measured her foot with her thumb.
“he vanished for a month into his quarters. there was constant sorrow heard from his room. when my master of masters emerged today, he reached a level of sadness unseen to any of us, a level that existed in his other emotions, he threw out the patients and locked us out with overwhelming sorrow.”
Sandra measured her armpit with her toe.
“i am the only one to recount the event, my masters all died. my master emerged with a mud man, his late brother. it was a mud man, my master of masters said, that had all the memories and qualities of the lost. i could not see a mud baby. the magic worked. but the mud man shook tremendously and forced his way into the jaws of my lost master of masters.
not to pause at this but i found a new mole. it is green and thick. i shall compose a book around it.”
Forlorn, Harold stood up. “It goes on that way. Now you know why you shouldn’t date a mud baby.”
Sandra turned to the table. “What are we talking about?”
“I mean it. She’s nothing more than a large baby. In twenty years, she can be legal. Find your respite elsewhere.” Harold pat Eric’s back. Eric did not pull away.
“Not this again. Why do you keep calling me a baby?”
A minute danced around the room with silence playing a deafening guitar solo.
Eric turned to Harold.
“She wasn’t listening?”
Eric contorted himself to face Sandra.
“YOU WEREN’T LISTENING?”
Sandra rubbed a cheek. “There’s a book I wanted to check out. Although,” she lifted the magazine, “I wondered if you’d let me buy this.”
Harold took the magazine from her. “It’s no use. A month back, an older gentleman came in here with her, asking me about your basement. Even then, she ignored me.”
Eric froze, an internal fire balancing him out. “Did he have a crusty beard, hair to his neck, thin metal glasses…”
Harold finished for him. “Yes, and he wore all black. He wanted a book on fixing a mud creature. Her.”
Sandra screamed at the door. Harold rolled up the magazine and plugged it in her mouth.
It all made sense, as much as any of it could have in the realm of emotional instability. Sandra was warm, like his mother. She liked blue nail polish, french fries, and his mother exchanged puns with him all the time. But she didn’t look like his mother, black hair and hazel eyes.
They didn’t look a thing alike. His mother had been small, frail and feisty, while Sandra was tall, bulky and awkward. Maybe…
“Half,” Harold hissed. “Half of the lost one’s traits. Sometimes internal, sometimes external, but not both.” Sandra and Eric gave him a worried look.
“You think this is my first mud being? Come over to my place some time and I’ll show you my album of all the mud politicians and mud entertainers I’ve met. Way bigger babies than you, kiddo.”
Sandra collapsed onto a chair.
“My life is over…” She wiped away some tears, first from Eric’s face, then from her own.
“Oh, forget it,” Eric wheezed. “Look Sandra, why go nuts worrying about it? So Harold calls you a baby. And yes, maybe you are only a month old. And considering my dad made you to be his wife, that means I’m dating my mother and my sister.”
Harold smirked unkindly. “Are you strawberry jelly? Because you’re on a roll!”
Eric clutched the librarian of menace’s labels. “Damn it, I’m TRYING to calm down the girl I love!”
Even silence sat this one out.
“Eric… do you mean that?”
“I love you too, Eric.”
Eric leapt into her arms. Her lips were soft, but dry. He loved her earthy smell caressing him.
Harold stamped his foot in a bratty rage. “You can’t be serious!” He sputtered. “How long do you know her, a day?” He pieced the facts together and calmed down. “Come to think of it, if you’re depressed and she’s a giant mud baby in love with you, I guess there’s no better pairing either of you could have.”
He was tired.
“More importantly, your father was furious that he couldn’t figure out what went wrong with the Master of Master’s spell. Where did you say he is now?”
Eric and Sandra kissed some more.
“Because he may not live if his spell fails.”
“Everyone may die, including Sandra.”
The kissing went to smoke in the parking lot.
“Harold,” Eric smiled in a way Harold hated: Genuinely. “We need your help. He holed himself up in the laundry room last night.”
“Good Sammy Ray! Why are we still here? Let’s save your dingbat of a daddy!”
On the way out, Harold ignored the line of literary fanatics waiting for him to return. The cheerleaders all made it into business universities.