Matt watched the Bennett carriage pull away with Priscilla safely tucked inside. He put his horses in the livery stable and dragged his feet on all the way to Glenwood Street. With Min’s emotional state growing increasingly unstable, Matt was glad he had put those locks on Mother’s door and window. He couldn’t stop working to babysit his sister.
Matt heard whimpering coming from behind the tool shed as he opened the gate. His heart stopped when he saw his mother hiding from Min. He ran to her and dropped to the ground beside her.
“Mother. It’s alright. I’m home mother, it’s alright.” Matt reached out and took her into his arms so that she wept into his chest. Matt wished for the billionth time that she would speak. Once she quieted down, Matt stood up and squared his shoulders.
“Stay here, please.” Min wailed on the settee; he could hear her from the verandah. As he pulled open the screen door he saw that every plate, glass, and cup they owned had been thrown at the wall. He picked his way through the rubble. The letter from the University of Manitoba was shredded on the settee beside her.
“Minerva Hartwell, what is the meaning of this?” Matt lost his patience. His fists clenched at his sides. He wanted to pick her up and throw her against the wall.
Pull it together, Matt. She’s a woman. You are three times her size. What is wrong with this woman?
“You’re going to leave us. You’re going to get your degree, and you’re going to run away with that woman,” Min screamed into the pillow. “I hate you! Don’t leave me! I hate you, Matt, but don’t you dare leave me!”
Matt turned away from her and scrubbed his hands over his face. He tried to recapture the feeling of bliss he’d experienced on the buckboard only eight hours ago. He recalled Priscilla’s beautiful face tilted up to the sun and took a deep breath. I have a life, a job, and an upcoming career. Min has nothing. She is not functioning as an adult. She will never function as an adult. She is to be pitied.
“Min, I will not be running away with that woman. She is married.” The words caused him actual physical pain as they left his mouth.
How would he continue without her?
Already, she was like sun shining in through windows that had been covered in darkness for ten years.
Min sat up; she put the pillow down on the settee as more tears pooled in her eyes. “But school. You’re leaving us to go to school.”
“I am taking a week to go to Winnipeg and sit the final exams. Yes, I will be doing that. I had planned to ask Mrs. Bennett if she could take Mom while I am away, and then you could have your own space. It would be like a sort of vacation for you.”
“Oh.” Min’s face went from weeping and anguished to calm.
“Min, you have nothing to worry about. I am not going anywhere.” Matt’s heart dragged to his toes as he said those words. “Once the exams are written and I’ve passed or failed, I can work here in Oakland. Mom is too fragile to move anywhere else. You have to believe this. We cannot have these scenes any longer.”
“What scene?” Min blinked. Matt’s eyes narrowed. Her face was completely composed as if she hadn’t destroyed every glass and dish in the house.
“Our mother is weeping in the garden. You have broken every dish in this house. What do you mean, what scene?” Fury crawled up his throat. All the years of diffusing, fixing, and settling choked him. More and more his frustration left him shaking from the effort of restraining himself from violence. Anger was his constant companion. “Are you trying to make everyone miserable because you are? What’s the truth about you, Min? What makes you do this? I want to understand.” Matt stopped himself from taking her by the shoulders and shaking an answer out of her.
“When the rage comes, it consumes me,” she said like a little child. “I can’t stop it. It’s like a prairie fire. It seems to come up out of nowhere, and it roars through me until I destroy everything that bothers me. Then I feel empty. So, I cry because when there is no rage, I don’t feel anything.”
Matt took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You’ll have to clean this up. Every speck, every shard of glass.”
“I just feel so tired. When the rage goes away, I feel nothing and sleepy.” Min went to settle back down on the settee. Matt knew, she craved dark, silence, and nothing but her own thoughts and feelings. She shrugged, completely oblivious to the weight that wore on Matt. When Min felt bad, when Min was having a spell, she went to bed. For days. Whatever small contribution she added to the home was left to Matt. The selfishness of an incurable pushed Matt to the brink of breaking down himself. There was never a ‘sorry I’m not well.’ Never a ‘when I feel a little better I’ll do your share to give you a rest.’ No, there was an arrogance to Min. The world, Matt in particular, was there to pick up the pieces, and she felt no responsibility to pick up the pieces for him. They tiptoed around her. She demanded it. She went to bed as if she had no idea their lives required her to actively participate. Matt’s heart hardened as he watched her pull a blanket over herself. There was no greater selfishness than the selfishness of Min.
“I don’t care if you are tired. I will bring Mother in here, and you will clean up. Everything.”
“But I can hardly keep my eyes open.” Min rubbed her eyes.
“Minerva, I have worked all day. I am tired, too. You made this mess, you will clean it up. Are you listening to me?” Matt spoke in a low and controlled voice. He had never spoken to her this harshly before. She had to be dealt with. “Stand up,” Matt said.
Min rolled her eyes.
“I said stand up,” Matt repeated. Like a four-year-old who wants to defy a parent, Min finally stood up and slouched in front of him. “If you hurt our mother, if you lay one hand on her, Min, if I come home from work and I find her terrified in the garden again, I will have you arrested for assault and battery. It will be a simple thing to have you locked up, if not in jail, a sanatorium. One word from me, and they will take you away put you in a straight jacket, and I will personally throw away the key. Are we clear?”
Min’s eyes flashed with fury. “Come on, Min, let’s see what you do with that in your exhausted state.” Matt went to the corner of the kitchen and found a broom and a dust pan. He handed both to Min. His eyes locked with hers. Her eyes were the same colour, but held no conscience. No remorse. No soul. May twenty-ninth was fast approaching, and he shivered with fear for his mother. If there was an option, he would take it. There were no options. He raced through all the scenarios in his head every night, and nothing presented itself. All he could do was hope Min didn’t hurt her. What will Min do? Weary of that question, Matt was overcome with defeat and exhaustion. The constant wear and tear of dealing with Min’s moods left him not only weary but furious. Her moods dipped lower and stayed down longer. Her actions were increasingly damaging.
The family member who is the sickest rules the house.
Matt’s mouth hardened as that thought settled in his mind. Min ruled his world, and he needed that to stop. Short of killing her or institutionalizing her, he just wasn’t sure how.