16. It Happens When She Can’t Get Things Right

“Thank God you’re here,” says Alexandra almost sharply when he opens the door of the caravan. “She’s been awful, distraught. I can’t do anything with her.”

Inglorion sets down his bags, takes off his sword belt and quiver, and crouches down next to mother and daughter. Alexandra is hovering over Rosalee, and looks almost frantic with frustration and worry. Rosalee has what looks like a bundle of kindling, a few dozen twigs that she’s bound together with twine to make little figures. She’s resolutely arranging and re-arranging them on the floor, trying to place them in some kind of rank and order. Once she finishes an arrangement, she’ll sit for a moment, rocking herself, picking and biting at her cuticles and lips. After a moment or two, she sweeps the bundles into a pile and starts over. 

Normally when Rosalee arranges objects, she’s calm and focused. She quickly settles on a logic or aesthetic that pleases her, and executes smoothly and deliberately. It annoys her when Alexandra and Inglorion get in the way of her work — she will move Inglorion’s papers and ink with little huffs of disapproval — and she may become irate if either one of them tries to alter her arrangement, perhaps by clearing a path for walking or, on one dire occasion, by removing dried thistles that she’d carefully tucked into the bedclothes. Now she can’t arrange the bundles to her satisfaction. In her indecision, she bites her cuticles ruthlessly. Her dress is speckled with blood at the cuffs and hem where she’s been blotting the ooze from both thumbs. 

“Hey, baby doll,” Inglorion murmurs.

She shoots him an angry look, and continues her work.

“Hey, Rosie. Can I interest you in a song?” She ignores him. He looks up at Alexandra, who’s now perched on the edge of the bed, looking tired and worried. “How long has she been like this?”

“Off and on all week — different activities — things I haven’t seen her do before. She’s started pulling her hair out, biting it.” Now he sees that her hair is thin in a couple of spots on the crown, and the ends are ragged near her face. “Nothing’s changed,” Alexandra says. “I haven’t done anything — her diet, schedule — everything’s the same.” She stops, takes a ragged breath and says, “This isn’t the worst part. She’s been having temper fits. She can’t make things work out and she gets angry.” Alexandra is a calm parent. At worst, she might get frustrated and snappish. It worries Inglorion to hear tears roughening her voice.

He takes a seat next to her on the bed. He puts his arm around her shoulder, and she starts to cry, buries her face against his chest. He can tell there’s something she’s not saying. She keeps making a little gesture with her hand, opening her mouth and closing it.

“What is it, honey?” he asks.

“I’m really scared,” she says finally. “She keeps hurting herself.” Now she’s crying gustily. 

He makes little shushing noises, holds her hand. “I’m so sorry you were alone with it. You should have sent for me. Did you let Collatinus know?”

She shakes her head. “I didn’t — I can’t explain — I don’t know him well — it seemed — he’s not…”

“It’s OK.” He realizes that in a crisis, she didn’t want to turn to a gray elf, a foreigner. “What’s she doing? Can you tell me?” He fishes out his handkerchief and hands it to her. 

She blows her nose. “I’m sorry to be so … it really shocked me. Maybe it won’t seem to bad to you, but….” She blows her nose again.

Inglorion does think she’s probably overreacting, worn down from her hard week. Rosalee’s unhappy, but on Inglorion’s distorted personal scale, a little self-harm is unfortunate, but not unexpected. “What happened?”

“You’ll see in a moment. It happens when she can’t get things right.”

They watch for another quarter-hour as Rosalee arranges and re-arranges her bundles. After each round, her rocking becomes more frantic, she bites herself harder. Finally she wraps her arms around herself and starts to dig her nails into her upper arms. She scratches and digs at her skin, mostly to little effect, because her nails are ragged and bitten short. She stops, starts arranging the bundles again. 

He gives Alexandro an inquiring look.

“No, that’s not it. Keep watching.”

The last round is quick. Rosalee places the bundles hastily, almost sloppily. She slams the last two into place on the hardwood floor, and they break apart. She’s enraged now, and clumsy in her anger. She snatches up a bundle and tries to pick it apart, grunting with frustration. She fumbles and drops it, which triggers a kind of manic rage. She slams her palms on the floor again and again, screeching and grunting with each blow. She stops for an instant, panting, then very deliberately crouches down and starts to bang her head against the floorboards. In that horrible instant, Inglorion feels Alexandra wince and sob with each impact. He releases his hold on her, and crouches down next to Rosalee. 

He grips her upper arms, pulling her from all fours onto her knees, pins her arms by her sides, wraps his arms tightly around her, and holds her close to his chest. He presses his face against the top of her head — she’s fighting him hard, screaming for all she’s worth. He says loudly and firmly, “No, honey. No, Rosalee. Come on, sweetheart, don’t. Come on, honey.” He holds her still and talks to her for a very long time, until she stops struggling and screeching, begins to snuffle. “There you go. Oh, honey, you’re OK. I love you, baby.” Instead of fighting him, now she’s pressing her face against him, rocking it back and forth, soothing herself. “There you go, Princess Rosie. I love you, honey.” After a time, she curls up on his lap. It finally seems to register that he’s there, he’s come to visit her like he always does. She gives him a kiss, which she always does with a sudden, lunging motion. She seems calm, almost sleepy. He strokes her hair, kisses her forehead.

Finally he looks up at Alexandra. She’s still on the edge of the bed. She’s wrapped her arms around herself, too. He says softly, “That’s it, huh?” She nods. “That’s pretty scary.”

He pets Rosalee for a few more moments, and she falls asleep in his arms. He carefully picks her up, shifts her to the bed. She’s sunk in the deep and sudden sleep of childhood. They cover her tenderly, blow out the candle, sneak outside to talk.

They lean against the side of the caravan. Inglorion exhales gustily, and his shoulders slump. “I’m sorry, but I really need a cigarette.”

Alexandra laughs unsteadily and says, “Maybe I should start.”

“It has its uses,” he says as he lights up. He smokes in silence for a moment, then says, “I’m sorry, Alexandra. That must have been a rough week. I can’t imagine how you got through it.”

“I should have sent for you. You’re good with her. You always know what to do.”

“Sometimes I do.” They’re silent, watching the smoke curl up through the still night to the stars above. “Poor honey. Nothing’s changed? Her diet and schedule? Everything’s the same? Are there any new people around? Noises nearby?”

“I can’t think of anything. I’ve racked my brains. Nothing has changed. Even the weather’s the same.”

“Is it OK with you if I go talk to Collatinus? I know you felt weird about it. But I don’t know what else to do.”

“What will you ask him?”

“How bad it was. What he did with me. He said something about how I would cut myself until someone stopped me. That’s why I grabbed her, because I figured he probably did something like that, just kept me still until the impulse passed.” Standing there, leaning against the caravan, bending over the last couple of drags, he looks tired and sad. 

“OK. Yeah, I don’t mind if you go. I just didn’t feel like I could.”

“It’s OK. It’s easier for me. I know what to ask.” He finishes the cigarette, rolls another. 

She asks softly, tentatively, “Do you remember how it felt? What it was like?”

“Yeah. I do now. But I don’t think I can talk about it.” A flash of misery crosses his face, and he busies himself with fishing out a match, striking it, pulling the harsh, hot smoke into his lungs, the red glow on the tip of the cigarette. He extinguishes the match, sets it aside. He’s careful not to litter around the caravan. If he did, they’d be knee-deep in cigarette butts by now. 

“I’m sorry,” he says finally. “I’m really, really sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“It is, though. I didn’t will it, but it’s me. Poor honey. I love her so much.”

“I do, too. She’s wonderful.”

“Isn’t she?” They’re quiet again, watching the smoke and stars. It’s chilly. The dew begins to fall. “She’ll make it through,” he says. “I did.”

“It scares me,” Alexandra confesses. 

“Me, too.” He finishes his cigarette, gives Alexandra a quick hug. “Do you mind if I stay here tonight? I’ll go to an inn if you want, but it’s late and I’m tired.”

She smiles. “No, you’re good. Just keep it down when you start elfing around at four in the morning.”

They curl up with Rosalee between them. Alexandra takes Inglorion’s hand, and falls asleep holding it.

Inglorion dislikes feeling Alexandra’s hand in his, because he is preoccupied with memories: The inarticulate rage, how it crested higher and higher, seeking an outlet. He felt he would drown or smother, die from it. Cutting stopped it. He remembers now, Collatinus pinning him down, speaking to him sharply: Calm, firm, steady. The horrible, choking emotions ebbed when Collatinus held him still, and he did not have to hurt himself. Over time, Inglorion learned to hold himself still when no one else could or would. It took so long — decades, really. 

He knows it will be long and hard for Rosalee, his sweet little Gypsy daughter. He strokes her ragged hair, and slips into trance to the sound of her deep, even breath.

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