DISCLAIMER: The Darlings are not mine. As far as I know, they belong to Nickelodeon, and Nickelodeon can keep them. Am not making money from this (unless you're feeling generous and feel like donating a sum.)
Ferguson stood in front of the bathroom door one afternoon. She's doing it again. He had wondered before whether these things were normal. If people sang in bathrooms, then what was wrong with talking in bathrooms? Bathrooms were the all-purpose versatile stage. He sang in bathrooms too sometimes.
"Okay," said his sister's muffled voice through the door. "Time for a Darling family update. First of all…"
Ferguson leaned against the wall, staring at the door's dull wood surface. But Clarissa didn't just do these things in the bathroom. He saw her talking to an invisible audience during breakfast or out on the porch when she thought no one was looking. Her words and movements were exaggerated as if she was conscious of someone watching her every move and she was putting on a show for them. Her mannerisms became jerky, sudden, and unnatural. He wondered, not for the first time, whether Clarissa needed psychiatric help.
The parents have noticed her weird behavior. They tried giving her a talk once, trying to see what was wrong. Clarissa had exploded and stomped off and, just as he thought, was found in the bathroom, narrating her life again. The topic wasn't brought up again, Mom and Dad assuming that this was a teenager phase their little girl was going through.
No it's not, he thought a little sadly. Or maybe it was a phase, but that didn't change the fact that he was worried. Ferguson stood in front of the door and, after much hesitation, knocked and said, "Clarissa?"
The one-sided chatter in bathroom did not cease. He tried again. "Clarissa? Hey."
"Just a minute, Fergface!" she snapped. "Haven't you heard of a little thing called patience?"
There was a time when that would've set him off and, taking the bait, he'd get hooked into an insult battle that could for hours. Now, however, he just sighed and said, "Yes I have, patience is a very useful thing. Clarissa, can we talk?"
Pause on Clarissa's side. "What? Hey who are you and what have you done with the real Ferguson?"
"Can we talk?" Ferguson said, knocking more insistently. "I'm serious, Clarissa."
"I was also serious about that patience thing, you know."
"Clarissa, damn it…" Ferguson began, frustrated. He sighed. "Open the door."
For a few seconds Ferguson didn't hear anything. Then the door opened and Clarissa stuck her head outside. She wore an expression of worry and concern. She said, "You're not supposed to say things like that here."
"Things like what?"
"Well… cuss words… like 'dammit'."
Something like irritation flickered across Ferguson's face. "That's not even a cuss word. 'Fuck' is a cuss word, and so is 'shit', but 'dammit'… no, not really."
Ferguson watched her flinch and frown at the words, and she flicked her eyes around the hall like someone would be watching, like someone would care. The hall was empty. In fact, except for them, the house was empty. Their mother was at the grocery store and their father was at an architect's convention downtown.
"Clarissa, I want to talk to you about something."
She looked like she'd rather not. She looked like she knew what was going to be discussed.
"I have to get back," she said uneasily.
"Brushing your teeth can wait," said Ferguson, slipping his foot in the doorway just in case. Clarissa glanced at it. "This is important."
"It's not just brushing my teeth," said Clarissa.
"Whatever. Flossing. Blow-drying your hair, whatever. Your hair is only slightly damp anyway. Clarissa-"
Her hand flew to her head. "It is?" she gasped. "It can't look damp at all! They're not used to seeing me with damp hair!"
She gasped, catching her slip-up, and set her mouth in a thin line. Ferguson tried to look into her eyes, but she avoided them.
"Who's 'they'?" he asked softly.
For a few seconds, there was a lull as he studied her, passive worry. Clarissa kept her eyes away.
"Clarissa, why do you do this?"
"Why do I do what?"
"You know. This thing." He took a deep breath. "Talking to yourself and stuff, and… are you alright, Clarissa? I mean, any problems at all? You narrate your life like-"
She suddenly exploded. "You want to know what I think?! You want to know what I think, Ferguson? You know you never listen to me, but you're going to listen to me right now. None of you listen to me like they do but for now you will!"
Who's 'they'?, Ferguson thought, taking a step back.
His sister seemed on the verge of tears. "So you're going to listen to me right now! I think this thing is none of your business! What I do in my life is no fucking business of yours! And you can never understand." Her face was twisted, her expression desperate, and she was gripping the doorknob so tightly Ferguson thought she might break it. "They love me. They listen to me."
"Clarissa, who's they?!"
"They love me!"
Clarissa's brother looked at her, and said, "We love you."
She let out an ear-piercing scream and lunged at Ferguson.
There was no time to duck. She pinned him to the opposite wall, digging her fingernails into his shoulders.
"You can never understand!" she insisted, and her voice sounded horrible. Dry, drained of something and refilled with the wrong substance. "You never will!"
She held him against the wall, quiet, seething, breaking, as they breathed in sudden twin gasps.
"And you never need to understand," she whispered hoarsely.
Clarissa let him go, took a step back. Took another step back. Took another step back, and silently swung the bathroom door closed in front of her face. Ferguson stayed against the wall, white-faced. Who's 'they'?, he wanted to ask. Who's 'they'?
He could hear her starting again inside.
"Brothers are soo weird!" Clarissa chirped to (who?). "Sometimes I have to wonder what my parents are thinking…"
Slowly, he approached the door, knocked once. He was ignored.
"Or you know what?" she continued. "If I were a brother, I'd probably throw myself off a cliff…"
Ferguson tugged on his shirt collar and looked at his bare shoulder. Bruises were beginning to form in the pattern of Clarissa's fingers. Red marks, turning purple.
As Ferguson walked down the stairs, he wondered if it was worth it to confront her again. (Yes? No? Leave and move on.)(?) He heard the lock click in the front door and a second later his mother came in, carrying a bag of groceries.
"Hey there, sweetie!" she greeted him, and smiled.
For a few chilling seconds, Ferguson felt as if he did not know his mother at all, as if there was nothing behind that smile, as if there never was anything, as if everything was… everything was… (It would explain Clarissa's situation.) As if everything wasn't as…
"Ferguson, are you okay?" Mrs. Darling asked. "You look a little pale."
"I'm fine." His voice shook.
"Are you sure?"
Ferguson gripped the banister tightly, unable to think of anything more to say. And he thought to himself that if the world should end right then, if the world should dissolve to a static screen of dyspeptic colors, he wouldn't have been at all surprised.