"My bird cries out all the time, especially during the morning when it sees the other birds flying by from the window. She hates her cage, I know she does. But it doesn't know, it doesn't understand."
"That sometimes it's safer in the cage. Sometimes, it's easier."
The world stopped at the end of the highway. He didn't know for sure, he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, but he had a suspicion. He threw rocks across the highway as a child, wanting to find where the world ended. He was always surprised when the school bus drove that ten mile journey to his home to take him away. He thought sometimes perhaps it'll vanish over the horizon and never come back. He hoped sometimes that it'd never come and take him away.
It'd been three years since she had last seen him. He seemed so much smaller than in her memory. She could see him through the windows in the lobby, her eyes were drawn to him, to his image. He was folding clothes with the nurses, carrying on in happy conversation. He was lean and tall like she had seen in the nightmares, but so much frailer, like a wind could blow him away. He folded the clothes in some methodic fashion, quicker than the nurses who had made it their living. He had a golden smile, and looked as though he wouldn't hurt a fly, as though he were incapable of hurting a fly.
He was afraid of her, she could tell. He saw her, he dropped the clothes, he turned the other way and walked off.
"Norman!" The nurses called. "Oh, gosh, Norman, where are you going?"
"You're not supposed to run off like that!"
They tried to stop him, but they touched him and he pushed them to the floor, and ran.
They found him not too long after, he hadn't gone far. He had curled up in a corner, stuffing his tall figure into a little cupboard where they had kept some cleaning supplies. Is she still here, he asked when they opened the door. All she wants is to talk to you, Norman, the Doctors say, it'll be good for you. You knew sooner or later you'd have to confront this. Have I not done enough, he asked, have I not given you enough?
They tell him how much progress he's made, how well he is now. They tell him how he had been handed down to them because he had been deemed too safe for the other places they had sent him. When he arrived he had had no trace of a self, there was no remnant of a boy named Norman Bates in his body. When he came he merely sat in the warmth of the sun by the windows, watching the birds. But the Doctors came, they spoke to him, even if he replied in silence. And somehow he had gotten through to them, he had become his own person. They said he'd never be cured, and there he was, healthy, himself, helping the nurses with their chores.
At this rate, Norman, they tell him, you'll be out of here within the year. You'll be free.
They're all cruel idiots.
He can remember the smell of his room. The smell of his Mother's room, it smelled like her hair. He remembers the feeling of the peeling wallpapers beneath the tips of his fingers. The feeling of the dry paint on the house. He remembers how prune his fingers became after washing the motel's sheets. He remembers how the world ended at the end of the highway. And people would pass by in their cars, only sometimes stopping because they were too tired to continue. They'd stay a night or so, and then they'd get into their cars and go to the end of the world, never coming back, leaving just as they had arrived.
He came to welcome new people with a sort of needy warmness. He was a charming person, they amused him with their attention, if only for a fleeting moment. Strangers who became rarer and rarer as they became more and more precious and necessary. He learned all about their lives, where they were going, where they had come from, why they'd chosen that particular highway. He figured out lovers and families, he understood whole histories from little conversations. He consumed tidbits of conversations and small talk like anyone would eat food. It became a resource to live by, the fleeting and passive interactions with the world beyond his own.
He remembers how his Mother loved her new husband. He had grown in those years, he was a man by most definitions and he did not require a father, even as the new husband tried. It was upon his arrival that Norman realized how truly useless he was.
He'd throw rocks at the edge of the world. And he'd watch the birds fly away. Then one day he threw a rock and killed a bird.
Lila Crane stares down at him in the cupboard. He hides his face from her, but she has such piercing and beautiful eyes, so similar to her sister. They demand something out of him, her eyes, something he's unsure if he can satisfy and provide. He hides behind his boney hands, he refuses to leave. She just stares down at him, almost disappointed, almost apathetic, a look his mother used to show him.
You didn't tell me, he blames the doctors, you didn't tell me she was coming, I wouldn't let her, I wouldn't have let her! But they insist in their calm and soothing words, they say he needs to speak with her, that it'll be best for him, but they don't know, they don't understand.
He thinks that if he just stalls a little longer she'll get tired and leave. He argues with the doctors, he starts speaking nonsense like the other crazy people do, he's starting to copy conversations he's had with strangers, he's going around in circles with his words. He goes to the wall and holds himself there, he breaths out, his breath being pushed back at him.
"I've done something terrible haven't I?"
He made it his job to kill the birds. He became increasingly good at throwing rocks, and then he started setting up traps for them. Feeding them and killing them one by one. His mother yelled from her window, she told him to clean up the bodies, he holds up a dead bird to her. He says see, Mother, see how pretty it is when it is still, look at the wings, here. He opens up the wings for her, he flaps them for her, see, he asks her, she how pretty it is. She runs out of the house and beats him with a stick she throws like a whip. She relented eventually after he had cried out that time went by so slowly there. After he had admitted that he was tired of throwing rocks to the edge of the world. She made him read the Bible however, and see why it was wrong to kill, but since man was given the animals to rule over, she felt perhaps it was best.
He remembers in grade school a lovely little girl he had liked. He brought her the feathers of the birds he killed. No flowers grew around his home, only weeds, so he felt the feathers were good replacements. He remembers how he enjoyed her long hair brushing up against him as he chased her up and down the playground. And he loved chasing her. His mother beat him with books when she found out, when the girl's mother called to invite Norman to a birthday party. It was on the weekend, when Norman usually didn't have many chores around the house, but mother in her mind felt that there were countless chores that day. That was her main excuse, that's what she yelled as she scratched scars into his back, only briefly did she ever mention the idea of the boy leaving her. When he went to school the next day he brought her no feathers, he never chased her again, he spoke to no one, he sat and did his work, and went home to do his work.
He never hated her, he doesn't believe so anyway. He quite oppositely loved her with all his heart. He'd curse himself for his inability to ever follow her commands exactly right, her beatings, he felt, were well deserved. His lack of friends was her way of protecting him, and oh, how she'd protect him. During the raining days where it felt as if the house were to blow away, she'd scream and he'd scream, and all they'd have to do was hold each other from the wind and the rain. The little boy slept in his mother's bed, where it all smelled like her hair.
"Norman." Her voice was softer then. "My little Norman."
She traced her fingers up and down his limbs.
"My beautiful little boy."
She was younger then, as he was. All her cruelty and all her beatings were repaid in a loving embrace and endless kisses. There in the bed during the rainstorms they'd talk. There he learned the wonder of silence, and the evil of women. She had such awful things to say about women. Thank God, you're a boy, she'd say, and he'd feel special. Thank God, he blessed me with a beautiful little boy. She distrusted herself, and at times alluded to being the cause of his dead father's death. But he was too young to understand her self hatred, and thus he'd never recall it, and never make it part of what he projected his mother to be.
In his mind she was always beautiful, always cruel only to be kind. In his mind she was a pillar of her own strength, though her body was brittle, her soul was strong, stronger than his, and it would bend him until he snapped. But he loved that about her.
Sometimes she'd hum while they did chores together. Sometimes she'd hum when she'd lock him in the closet for doing the chores wrong.
Lila Crane never left. Even as he screamed out nonsense loud enough for her to hear across the asylum. Even as he pointed at her and with all his might attempted to bring evil into his face, but he could not. It wasn't something that he could create, it was something that just happened. She stood through the window, through the wall of the sane and the insane, unfazed, unafraid.
Finally he had screamed himself out, all the strength of the day that had been reserved for chores had left him. He was weak, gutless, like Mother said. He went into his room, sat in his bed and curled up, holding his body tightly in his own arms, preparing for her coming. He stared at the walls and closed his eyes and tried to imagine what it was like with the sun in her air, on the days when she could walk on her own, and was fit enough to even chase him down the stairs.
He remembers the new husband, and how he found out how useless he was. That day when she brought him over, and he was just a young man then, a teenager still in school. The day she came home from the groceries and had carried him along with their food. He remembered how she stared at him, with such interest, such contentment. He remembered how they'd talk for hours and hours and he was not allowed to speak. Hello, Norman, the new husband finally said, I'm glad I can finally meet you, your Mother's told me all about you. It's true, Norman, Mother said, I told him how you're my precious Norman, the apple of my eye, the shining light in my days. The new husband smiled at him, I hope we can be friends, Norman, if nothing else, you are grown up after all. Nonsense, his mother said, he's still a boy.
Nothing but a boy.
The chores were carried out thanklessly. All the work he had done for her, all the labor, all the friends he'd sacrificed, the pretty little girls he'd given up on. What were they for now? Nothing. He couldn't be all that his Mother needed, he was just an unnecessary component to her, a remnant of a father now dead. He was leftovers, nothing more, and his purpose was only to work.
During the raining nights he no longer went to her bed. He had grown accustomed to the winds, he was no longer afraid of them, but just by tradition the winds had given him permission to enter her room. But now there was no place for him, and he realized then, there never was. He was just a substitute, and a poor one at that. He had no use anymore, he was pointless. In those coming months Norman Bates died inside himself and his body lived only to carry out its duties as it had always done, for the love of a thankless Mother.
He traces invisible lines on the walls when she comes in. He doesn't bother to rise, he doesn't look at her. She takes the chair and sits it in front of his bed, waiting for him. But he's too weak and he finally looks over at her.
"Hello, Norman." She says.
Her voice breaks his heart. He doesn't let her see it, he curls up only slightly under the covers, tracing invisible lines on his wall.
"Norman, can you hear me?" She asks, impatient.
"Yes, I said yes, I can hear you."
He slept inside his skin. His body moved and carried out the chores his mother depended on him to carry out, but he wasn't there. He could speak and look at you, but he wasn't really there. In his sleep he wondered what his father was like. His mother destroyed every trace of his existence, all except for Norman himself. It's as if she blamed the father for dying, that she somehow resented him, and tried to forget everything about him. He worked the weeds around the house and cut his hand and wondered if his father had similar hands, if he was slim like him, or was he stronger, was he all his Mother wanted out of a man?
He thought sometimes, he could sleep for the rest of his life. Inside his own skin, his self-made coffin, where it was warm, and safe, and constraining that eventually he'd suffocate to death. But then that day came, when his Mother didn't even look at him, when she was too busy smiling from the new husband's kisses, and his proposal ring. No one would know they were going to get married, they wouldn't have the chance to tell anyone. Norman poisoned them that night.
If you asked him then, years later, he wouldn't be able to tell you exactly why he did it. Well, you see, he'd start out, I was content to spend the rest of my life working under my Mother, that wasn't the problem with me. It's just for some reason that night I killed them, both of them. I was happy I thought, with the small place she had for me, but I guess not. He'd nod and smile, happy and satisfied with his answer. Because it is true, he was content to be but his Mother's slave to serve under her and the new husband, but that night for no reason he can understand he killed them. The Doctors will tell him he was never happy, he was acting out of rage and anger and jealousy, but he'd say no, no I didn't feel any of that.
Regardless of the reasons, they both died that night in their sleep, naked and on top of each other. Norman got up that morning and did his daily chores, he had forgotten that he had killed them.
When the police came they ran up the stairs and tore him away from his home.
"What's going on?" He yelled at them. "What are you doing!? You can't go up there, that's my Mother's room! No! Stop it! What are you doing!?"
They rushed the house, they invaded the world, they came up the highway and tore everything he had away from him. They were holding him down at the bottom of the stairs as he tried to tear away from them to go and protect his Mother. But his small little body didn't have the strength to push them away. He thrashed in their arms uselessly. They came down the stairs dragging his Mother's dead body, and he cried out. He called her name, he held out his hands for her to take them. He remembered all the nights she had held him, her golden boy, her miracle, her beautiful boy. He remembered the softness in her voice, full with the most love any creature would be willing to give him, she loved him endlessly, forever, infinitely.
Again and again he called out to her, as if he thought if only he could scream louder it would will the body back to life, the hands would move once more, she'd grab her son and take him away. But they had closed her eyes and she was limp as they walked her down the stairs. He screamed at the body then, angrily, no longer pleading, but commanding. They held him down, he almost touched her hand.
They took her away, and he rode in a police car to the station where they wrapped him up in a blanket and allowed him to sleep there. He had no one else, he went from home to home in the little town down the hallway, sleeping on couches, doing chores around the houses before anyone had time to stop him. He started to look like a corpse himself. He ate only what would keep him alive for another few hours. He stumbled around the houses so quietly and meekly. He spoke not a word, not to anyone. But they spoke to him. The kind townsfolk always talked to him, telling him about their day as he did their laundry or cleaned their dishes. But he heard none of it. He was asleep, dying and suffocating inside himself.
Sometimes he'd forget himself, and forget the house he slept in was not his own. He'd think he was home, doing his own dishes, setting up for a fine dinner between himself and Mother. And he'd hear her call from the stairs. Norman, my boy, my beautiful boy, how are you? I love you, don't forget that. Never forget that.
Lila Crane doesn't move her stare from him.
"Won't you look at me?" She asks.
"No, no I will not." He says.
She rises and sits on his bed beside him, her back scrapes against his legs through the sheets.
"I'm not afraid of you." She tells him.
He looks up at her with such horror and pity inside him.
"I didn't want to see you." He says.
"I could tell since you ran away from me."
"What do you want from me?"
"I want to know why you did it."
"The Doctors can tell you that."
"I want you to tell me."
She stares she has her eyes.
Oh, Mother, I miss you so much.
"She was my sister, Norman." She tells him with such harshness. "She was my sister and now she's dead."
"You need closure." He said. "I understand you."
Ten years ago Norman Bates killed his mother and her lover. There was a funeral in the winter, while it was raining. They buried the lovers side by side near Mr. Bates. Norman stood above his Mother's rock, her gravestone marked with her name. He had not an umbrella, just a coat. A woman then, once a little girl that he had loved to chase came up to him. She handed him an umbrella.
"Here you go." She said. "Take my trusty umbrella."
He looked at her, and hated her.
He walked up to his Father's grave, in all those years no one had visited it. He stared down at it expecting something to happen, but nothing happened. The loneliness, that all consuming thing still lived inside him, nothing changed. All he was staring at was a rock in the ground with a man who shared his last name.
He still didn't speak, the townspeople were starting to get worried, fearing perhaps they should go ask for further help in a bigger city. A doctor, they said, one that could help him. He'd sit in Church for hours as they'd talk about him in the other room, he stared up at God and cut holes in his hands with his fingernails.
No one knew back then that he had taken her body out of the coffin and they buried nothing but books in her grave. He had been given time with her alone. The doctors said she died of spoiled food, she and her lover. He stood above her as she lay in that coffin.. There were many times he'd sit by her in her bed, awaiting for her to wake up. He stood there somehow expecting her to wake at any moment. But she never did, she remained lifeless. He grew the courage to finally touch her, he held her hand, he made her grip his, hold it like a mother should. She was positioned awkwardly but it was fine enough for him to feel her.
"I'm sorry." He told her. "I've done something terrible, haven't I?"
He didn't cry. He touched her cheek, it was cold to the touch.. He traced the features of her face, he felt her hair flow in between his fingers. And a horrible anger grew in him. How dare they, these people, these strangers who hardly knew her, take her from him? He was, after all, her son. Should not what remains of her belong to him? It was he who would appreciate her most, and he felt it'd be a waste to leave her in the ground. They were taking her away again, down the stairs, holding him too tight to grab her. But there was his chance. He grabbed her, she was lighter than a feather, he took her to his car, and he took her home.
He went back to the Sheriff's house where he was staying. He went to the funeral. Then ten years ago on a hot morning after the rain he heard his Mother and felt her hug him from behind. He was so skinny then that her arms fit around his whole body, she laughed and smiled, and her lips scraped against his neck. Ten years ago she whispered in his ear and on that day he told the Sheriff that he felt well enough to go home. There her body slept in her bed as she always had. She rose at the sight of him with a happy smile. She never mentioned her husband or her new husband.
Lila Crane's hand touched his arm, it made him jump, but she held him down. He was so small, so skinny, his bones creaked on hers.
"Her name was Marian Crane, even though she told me it was Marian Samuels. She ate like a bird. She was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." He tells Lila. "But she was sad, horribly sad. Her heart wanted something she could not give it. I saw it. I saw it in her, because the same feelings live inside me."
But the love his Mother had for him vanished soon, and was replaced only with her cruelty. Her voice aged as he aged, ten years she became older, ten years her heart died and she was nothing but a monster. But he loved her still, he need her still. Even as she forbid him from her bed, even as she whipped him still and scolded him and called him a weakling. Even when she killed all the pretty ladies that he had dared to almost love.
"All I wanted was to touch her." He told Lila. "Her skin seemed soft, it glowed in the light in my office. She was wet from the rain, but somehow still dry."
He cut holes in the walls so he could see all the pretty ladies, in their youth they were like his mother. Their bodies were fine and strong, like hers, they slept in their beds soundly however, never requiring his company to make them feel better. Mother called them whores, but he knew secretly they were angels. Angels who came by every so often, trying desperately to free him from a Hell he never wanted to leave.
"She loved me." Norman goes on. "Not like that, I believe everyone loves each other, at least a little. She loved me out of pity."
Mother scolds him, yells at him, fights him. It drives him crazy wanting more of the pretty ladies. One day he wants them to come, to ask him to stay in their bed on a raining day so he can protect them. Because that is what he'd do. He'd worship them, their bodies, their soft voices. He'd protect them in the rain in their beds, and he would do all the chores for them. They'd never have to leave their beds, Mother didn't. He'd do everything for them.
Mother tells him, in the back of his head, where it echoes to the rest of his body, how weak he is. How her beautiful boy became nothing more than a disappointment. She'd beat him all over again like he was that child all those years ago. She'd stop and tell him how much she loved him, and then beat him all over again. He'd sit by her bedside, she'd whisper the commands for the day to him. He'd read her books, she'd tell him to sit up straight. She'd tell him to lift her to the window, she wanted to watch if any customers came by.
He went into town sometimes, leaving that world. He went grocery shopping and picked up things. He smiled at everyone, he made small talk. They never talked about Mother, but they asked how he was, how he was doing at his home, if he wanted anyone to come by. But he'd smile like he was happiest person in the world and say he was fine.
He'd come home and she'd be yelling at him, her voice rupturing something inside him, perhaps his soul. Her voice echoed into his ribs, into his blood, it made his heart break.
And it was like this for ten years.
He made a hole in his room where he kept his birds, he peeked into the next room where the pretty ladies slept. He watched them in their routine, how they varied doing the same day-to-day tasks. It fascinated him, their character, their bodies, every inch of their skin. And Mother would yell at him from the back of his head, for she saw his perverted thoughts as clearly as he did. And he was so disgusted with himself, and she was so disgusted with him, but he wanted to see. If he could not have, if he could not touch, he would see, he would see. In his mind he feels their skin on his, his hands wrapping around their ribs. They're all so beautiful, like Mother once was. And she hears this, and she yells, but he doesn't stop, because he can't stop. His Mother is not herself, and he's looking for her again in all these other pretty ladies.
It was the same for Marian Crane. She tried to tend to him, to care for him, but he couldn't let her, and then he let himself kill her, because he wanted her so bad, that it frightened him.
"I killed her because I didn't know what else to do. Because inside me I knew what my Mother wanted, and I could hear her so clearly, and she drove it in me, she pushed me and she pushed me, and it was just me. I know that now, I always knew, but you don't know. She was in me, she lived inside me, I kept her alive, she needed me." He shakes his head. "I was her flesh, I was her vessel, my skin was her skin, my voice was hers. She was inside me, she could have done anything she wanted with my skin, and she did. And on the best of days in the summer she would hold me and tell me how much she loved me, and on the worst days her voice would crack me in two and there was no alternative but to submit to her will."
He looks up then, up at Lila Crane who has her sister's eyes, so strong, so independent, they'd kill him. All the pretty ladies and their stares would kill him. He looks back up at her.
"I'm sorry." He says. "For what I've done to you, what I've taken from you. Try to believe me when I tell you I know what this feels like. I haven't forgotten."
She stares, satisfied.
Then he lowers his head back down to the pillow.
"Sometimes I close my eyes and I go back to that day. I go back home, my house on my hill where I tended the weeds, where I felt the paint peel on my fingers. I can feel the heat and I can see where the world ends. Then she comes. I hear her in my head, and I beg her to have dinner with me. And my mother, she still whispers in my head. They tell me I'm cured, they tell me I'm better, but there are things where you can never heal. I don't care what they say."
"They say you'll get out of here in a year." She says.
"No. I'm never leaving here. It's safer here. It's safer in the cage, where I can close my eyes and go back home and see my Mother and see your sister."
"She's still there?"
"She'll always be here. And I can't…I can't go back out there. I can't go on faking it anymore, I can't go out there again. They can try and make me, but I won't do it. This is my cage, and I want to stay here forever."
He would have loved to stay as his Mother, like when they first found him. But slowly they chipped away at his mind, they pushed and pushed, until It was too obvious that he was not his Mother, until it was undeniable that he was just that boy, Norman Bates, who was next to worthless. When he was Mother he had her strength, he had her courage and her confidence. She could tear the whole world apart if she wanted, like she tore him apart.
But they took her away, bit by bit, they tried to clean her out, but her residue was all over him, she was inside his skin in places no doctors could get to. She wasn't just part of him, she was him in too many ways to ignore. He knew she was there, he felt her breath on his neck, she heard her whispers even if he couldn't decipher what she was saying.
He had become content with the idea that he was not himself anymore, and he never would be. But Doctors and everyone around him still seemed trouble by the idea.
But that day when Lila came, they kept telling him how well he was, and how he'll be leaving them soon. They said how young he was, how much life he's got left to live, and he was strong enough to claim it for himself again. They were excited for him. But he had no interest in living. He had no interest in dying either.
She was satisfied, she walked out the door, she spoke with some doctors some more. He left his room too, nurses congratulating him on reconciling with Ms. Crane. They smiled, the pretty ladies. They were going to push him out, he knew it, they'd pry him away from his bare and empty room where his bird sang to him. He'd go out into the world unable to live, with his Mother creeping back into him. If he gave her a chance he'd lose himself again, he knew it. He couldn't let her take him again, she had become so twisted in all his efforts to get her to love him.
Lila Crane had not left the building when she saw Norman again. He was not smiling, he was stumbling, leaving a path of blood behind him. No one said a word, no one moved, they just looked back and saw him coming towards them, with all that blood on his hands. Finally he made a sound, something that sounded like a cry, but not enough. It was perhaps, more akin to a declaration. He held up his red hands and made that noise once more, then he fell to his knees. He cried then, smearing the blood on his face to wipe away his tears. What he'd done, he done it on his own, and somehow he felt Mother would approve.
They ran past him and found the body of a dead nurse in the kitchen where he had dropped the knife.
"Norman!" They cried out, they all cried out. "What happened, why did you do it!?"
He doesn't answer them. He lies there on the floor, on his knees, his head down. When they leave him alone to get the body Lila Crane walks up to him. She kneels down beside him and he falls to the floor under her shadow.
"I had to." He shakes his head. "Now they won't let me out. I'd kill more people out there, I know it, I just had to do it once, now I'm safe here. Everyone is safe when I am here."
She puts her hand on his shoulder, and wipes the hair out of his eyes. He feels her fingertips and closes his eyes and feels her skin on his skin and imagines them on a bed too intertwined to be separated. He smells her for a brief moment, he can imagine her hair in his fingers.
Then he's back home. In that home where he grew up, making breakfast for Mother and he. She walks down the stairs in all her glory, she smiles at him, tells him she loves him and thanks him for the work, and pats his shoulder, and kisses his cheek. Then Marian Crane drives up that night while it's raining, and on that night he kisses her. He lives these days over and over again, managing to make them slightly different each time. He goes to the world, he throws rocks at where it ends. He finds the birds and keeps them forever. That is his cage, his trap that he set for himself, and gladly resides in. For he understands, sometimes the cage is there for good reason.
They wash his hands, they charge him with another murder, they diagnosis him all over again, and they put him in an empty room where he sleeps the days and nights away, dreaming inside his cage, where Marian Crane lives, and his Mother loves him, because Lila Crane wiped the hair out of his eyes.