His first memory? Quick! He does that on days like these when he is disoriented and at the same time overly aware that this is not where he wants to be.
It's not even a proper memory, more a whiff of a feeling, the sensation of being safe despite any facts substantiating it, merely based on the body warmth and love of his mother surrounding him in equal measures. His visual memories only go back to a time when he was a bit older, maybe three or four. Baking a cake with her, his mother's soft hands covering his smaller ones gently, playing a song for him on the piano and urging him to sing along. Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream… Then the music turns into dissonances, the setting different. They are in a tight, dark space, his mother humming the same song to him quietly as if no one else was supposed to hear it. Maybe it's because there is a monster outside searching for them to tear them apart.
The door to his room opens, ending his reverie. He takes a deep breath, the dizzying feeling of disorientation fading and making way for reality. It's quite nice in here actually. Pleasant colors, the bed is comfortable; he even has some books to read and a nice view if you ignore the bars. You only have to be polite to the nurses and doctors, then everything is fine. Plus it's advisable to avoid the other people living here. Most of them are angry or distressed. It's not their fault. They are sick.
"You have a visitor."
It doesn't happen often, but it does. He is not alone in this world. There are people who like him, maybe even love him although he has always had difficulties to associate that word with anyone but his mother. Usually it's his brother Dylan who comes to visit him and sometimes he brings Emma along. They have a daughter by now. Katie. He has only seen photographs of her. A lovely family. In the end, however, they don't matter. There is only one person in the entire world that matters and she never comes by. This is his worst punishment. Not being locked up or having to re-read the same books over and over because it takes the library forever to get new ones but being separated from his mother. It is torture every day anew.
Norman follows the nurse down the hallway, ignoring the familiar sounds of crying, screaming and hysterical laughter. One could think madness lived around here.
The room is small, a safety glass pane between him and his visitor although he wouldn't know why safety glass is necessary. Perhaps for the others, some can be quite scary. Only when he sits down, Norman realizes that he has not only one visitor. There is a little girl hiding behind the man that is sitting opposite to him. A sharp sting of resentment floods through Norman accompanied by something else he can't quite place.
Romero looks at him, the expression in his eyes strange. He has visited him before albeit always alone. Norman hated every minute. It was not him he wanted to see but his mother. A mother whose presence the sheriff deliberately has been keeping from him and apparently is planning to continue that cruel line of action.
"Don't be afraid," Romero says to the little girl. "Remember what we talked about."
"Okay." The little girl nods in earnest, standing next to Romero now, leaning against him, their intimacy causing Norman's pulse to quicken.
She looks about 10 years old. Blonde hair, blue eyes but a dark complexion. It's obvious that she is the child of his mother and the sheriff. The resentment is getting stronger. He didn't know they have a child. What else has the sheriff been hiding from him?
"Where is my mother?"
Romero looks at him, his arm wrapped tightly around his daughter. Protective, loving. Norman grimaces. The sheriff has always believed that out of the two of them he is the better man for Norma. Right now he gives the girl a gentle push so that she moves closer towards the pane.
"Happy Birthday," she says, smiling at him. "You look nice."
Norman didn't know it was his birthday today. Birthdays are no special days in here. No one to bake him a cake or sing him a song.
"The doctors said it might help you remember," Romero explains. "Otherwise I wouldn't have brought her along."
The disorientation is back. His last memory before they brought him here? Quick! Someone dying and he was in so much pain. Literally and figuratively. There is a scar on his neck and medication in his blood that can attest to that. The meds numb his feelings and cause the occasional disorientation. Despite his initial reluctance to take them, he has learned to appreciate it. Better than being aware of his surroundings and the longing for his mother 24 hours a day. Right now, though, the effects of the medication stand between him and a truth that is itching and scratching inside his head, trying to worm its way out as he remembers, indeed, bits and pieces.
A white nightgown, a dark, silent house and then… voices. Screaming.
You can't do that to me.
- It's what's best for us.
His throat constricts. It's hard to breathe. He coughs, gasping for air. Not now but back then and she does too.
Norman, please. I love you so much. Please don't do this.
She is crying now, holding him tight, no, pushing him away.
The front door opens downstairs, letting in fresh air. It makes it easier to breathe. Another voice, thick with worry.
Footsteps coming upstairs in a hurry. A reflection suddenly blinding him as the moonlight shining down on them is reflected in a sharp blade. A knife. Then pain at his neck, followed by warm blood pouring out. The defense reflex is instinctual, a quick movement, a body falling down the stairs. Astounding how a mere second is able to stop time and change lives for good.
Norman's eyes shoot up to meet Romero's. He is watching him.
The girl steps closer, becoming more trustful as she puts her hand against the pane. It's such an innocent gesture that he for once ignores his resentment and does the same. Even through the pane he can feel the warmth of her skin.
Romero looks away, then back at him. "I know it hurts, but you need to remember what happened." His voice is different. It almost sounds as if he was about to cry. "It wasn't your fault."
The girl is oblivious to her father's inner uproar, tapping her fingers one after another against the pane as she quietly hums to herself. Mr. Sandman…
Norman watches her mesmerized for a moment before he catches his own reflection in the pane. The light is harsh in here, not meant to flatter or create a comfortable atmosphere. He sees his usual brown cord trousers and blue sweater with a white shirt underneath. So why is his heart pounding? Why is he so afraid to look at his face? He does it every day, knows what he will see.
"Happy Birthday, Norma," the sheriff says, his voice strained, his eyes glazing over as his daughter continues her game.
Tap tap tap, quiet humming. Bring me a dream…
It takes all his courage to look at himself, at the blurry part he is able to see in the pane. Blonde, shoulder-length hair. A random memory that he started to scream when they wanted to cut it weeks ago interfering before he looks in his own eyes. Light-blue, center of the delicate features of a woman that can only be described as beautiful.
Romero gently pulls his daughter away from the pane. "Can you wait outside for me like we said you would? Remember the nice woman we talked to earlier? She is waiting for you and I'll be with you soon."
The girl obviously doesn't want to leave but complies anyway. "Okay, daddy." Then she leans forward and whispers something in his ear. Romero tenses before he gives in and nods his approval. She turns around. "It was very nice to meet you. I would like to come back and see you again," the girl hesitates briefly, "mom." Then she turns around again and walks out.
Romero waits until the door has closed behind her before he pulls his chair even closer to the pane.
"It was an accident. You didn't mean to kill Norman. He fell down the stairs when he attacked you with a knife. You only defended yourself. There was carbon monoxide all over the house. He wanted to kill himself and take you with him, but then you must have woken up."
Words. Just words. They swirl through the air and bounce against the pane, staying on the sheriff's side.
"Norma, please remember who you are, who we were. You have a daughter who needs you. I've been waiting for so long for you to remember what really happened. I never would have brought her here, but the doctors said that this might be our only chance. And the older she gets, the more she looks like you. I can't..." He swallows. "Please come back to us. I can't live without you any longer."
A body falling down the stairs. Soft, brown hair between her fingers as she was kneeling next to her son's body, his neck broken, his eyes lifeless, a scream leaving her throat that didn't even come close to represent her agony. Strong arms holding her as she felt herself slipping away. Some things are not meant to be. So they can't be no matter what the cost. Her son couldn't be dead. She couldn't have killed him.
Norma looks at the man on the other side of the pane, at his handsome features that are distorted by grief, her memories opening up a crack to let his words in. They sneak inside and search for a place to cling to. Not her mind. It begs to differ despite everything. But her heart… It twitches and aches and tries to hide behind years of denial and yet...
This is the third time that I've been married and I'm never gonna be good at it.
- We're gonna get through this. Okay? And I'm going to help you. And I'm going to help Norman.
She believed they would be able to make it. All three of them. And the man right in front of her did everything to make it possible.
Out of the blue, something inside her knees her in the guts. Norma doubles up, panting.
Mother? Don't abandon me. Not after everything we've ben through.
She looks at Alex. Did he hear that too? It doesn't seem like it. His mouth is moving, but the buzzing in her ears prevents her from hearing his words. Still she knows that he is asking what is wrong with her. What he can do to help. Because that's the man he is. Always worrying about her, always protecting her. Or not?
What is right and what is wrong? What is the truth and what a lie? Who can she trust?
"I love you," he senses something is going on, his voice urgent as if he knows he has to let these words slip in through the crack before it's too late. "And your daughter also loves you even if she only met you today. I told her so much about you." His voice breaks.
Norman's hand in hers, squeezing her fingers until she felt his muscles relax because he was… he is… Is it possible to live in a world where her son doesn't exist anymore but a little daughter who needs her? A husband who loves her even after all these years?
It feels as if something is tearing at her skin. Who will she be if she has to let go of her son? It's so scary.
"Say something." He is broken. She broke him. Unintentionally but still.
The world becomes quiet. Norma looks at her reflection in the pane again. Blonde hair, blue eyes, wearing clothes her son would have worn. The fabric itches all of a sudden. She stands up and so does he.
"Norma?" Worried but there is something beneath, another layer. Hope.
I love you, too. She doesn't say the words, but feeling them after all this time is almost too much. Is it worth it? That kind of pain just to be with him? Only time will tell. She sees him now, though, not the sheriff she hated when she was someone else but the man who has been waiting for her for all these years, holding on.
Something in her face must reflect that because he presses his fist against his mouth to suppress a sob.
"Alex?" Hearing herself say his name is weird, even weirder when he tumbles against the pane with a crash in an effort to touch her, his body ignoring the physical barrier between them.
The door opens, a nurse sticking her head in. "Everything okay in here?"
"Get Dr. Edwards," Alex hisses, his eyes never leaving Norma's face. "Now!"
He is clearly worried she might disappear again. She would like to assure him that this won't happen, but right now Norma is occupied with feeling herself, wherever she has been during the last ten years. Her arms and legs tingle as if she slept in the wrong position and was waking up. She lifts her hand, flexing her fingers before she touches the pane right where his face is.
"Our daughter. What is her name?"