4 min

When madness knocks

The stranger in the storm

The unexpected storm blows in and disrupts our lives.

Jamie’s crashing here for the night. It’s 10 pm and we’re lounging about the fire, intellectually discussing how to be more daring and creative with our lives. We tease our inner artist, daring it to let loose. The living room glows with candlelight; another blackout, the third this week.

Two hundred yards from us a young woman lies in the snow willing herself to die. She decides instead she’s thirsty. She stumbles across the field, climbs our six-foot wire fence and knocks on our back door. The cat freaks. The dog goes ballistic.

Jamie and I bolt up. Heart racing, I open the door.

“Can I have a glass of water? I’m off my medication. I was lying in the manger over there. I’m suicidal.”

The kitchen is dark and we can’t see her face. I bring her in out of the cold. Jamie gets the water. My husband Mark is awake and listens from the shadows. I call 911.

She asks for a dry pair of jeans and hangs her wet socks on the handle of the fireplace. Her windbreaker will dry quickly.

She ties her sandy red hair back. Her face is young and hard, like a tomboy’s, and she talks like she’s on speed.

“What’s your favourite Christmas carol? Mine’s ‘O Holy Night.’ My boyfriend just fucked another girl. He’s probably a homosexual.”

The idea amuses her. I clench my jaw to keep my eyes from rolling. Headlights fill the room. We haven’t seen a car go by for hours so it must be the cops.

We get on our boots, glad to divest ourselves of this dark stranger, hand her over to the authorities and get to bed. The headlights disappear. No one knocks at the door.

Minutes pass slowly. I phone the police again. The dispatcher says to me, “A tree has fallen just around the corner from your house. The wires are down. The officer can’t make it across the tree.” Flabbergasted, I say, “She’s highly volatile.”

“There is nothing we can do.”

I start to panic. We live on a single-access country road. My voice begins to rise. “So, what are we supposed to do?”

“Wait for Hydro to come.”

“That could be days!!”

In the bitchiest, least sympathetic tone she snipes, “What do you suggest I do about it?”

I bark back, “No, what do you suggest I do about it!”

“Lock your doors,” she replies flatly.

“I can’t lock my doors. She’s already in my house!”

Helplessly, I hang up. My gut sinks.

Jamie finds out our unexpected guest has eaten half a bag of cheese popcorn for dinner and downed a whole bottle of homeopathic medication called Rescue Remedy. Between handfuls of corn chips and hummus she calls her parents long distance.

She begins to scream, “Where the fuck do you think I am-I’m in HELL!”

Then, “Mommy, mommy, it’s happening again.”

Her mother asks to speak to me. I get on the phone to explain the situation to a very frightened and apologetic woman. “She likes to sing loud songs,” she says. I assure her we’ll call once we know anything.

It’s midnight. We’re alone and no one is coming.

“I’m so fucked up. I just read The Beauty Myth by some chick. It makes me wanna be a lesbian. The world is so fucked.”

She starts to wind up again and begins to pace. She phones her mother again. Screams. Cries. Hangs up. She walks to the living room and rolls around on the floor, stretching and pontificating about the nightmare of men, momentarily enjoying her own madness-in part, because she knows she’s right.

But it doesn’t last long. Her pain overwhelms her again.

In the other room, Mark steals his chance and calls the police again. My man doesn’t get angry often.

“Look,” he tells the dispatcher. “We’re inside a horror film here. The button is on pause. You don’t want to see anyone push play. What if she had a gun? I don’t care if the power line is down. WALK AROUND THE FUCKING TREE!”

We’re playing hide and seek with demons, not knowing who’s it. Jamie takes the flashlight and goes outside, determined to pin the cop down when he arrives. Inside, this troubled young woman is on the phone again, this time with her father. It’s the sound of murder or rape. “Don’t kill the goat!” she screams.

This is so over the top, I relax. She slams my office phone down as if to kill her father. She sighs. “There, that feels better.”

We return to the fireplace, both feeling rather Zen-like, knowing it can’t get much weirder.

“Nice house,” she tells me. “Why don’t you have any kids?”

Feeling plucky I say, “I’m gay.”

She steps back. “What about that beautiful woman you’re with?”

“She’s gay, too.”

She drops her jaw. “Is the whole world gay?!” she asks.

I walk to the window wondering where Jamie is. “According to some queer theorists, yes.”

She begins to put her socks on. “Fucking homosexuals…”

With a swagger to my voice I say, “Careful sister, you’re in the wrong neighbourhood tonight.” We both laugh.

We’re quiet. We begin to sing. “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining; it is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth…”

I match her voice with the same intensity of feeling. The irony isn’t lost on either of us. It’s two in the morning. It’s been a long, bizarre and strangely beautiful night.

Headlights shine into the room. We dress and all walk up the snowy road singing together. We approach the police car. He’s young. One cop for the whole island during a winter storm. I shake my head.

She makes the cop apologize. To his credit, he does. She thanks us and quietly slips into the back of the cruiser. They drive off. I notice the snow has stopped.

I hope her Christmas is brighter.