The Daughter Portal | Silvan E. Spicer
Updated: Sep 23, 2019
If my mother ever reads this, which is assuming she would read this—assuming I would ask her to read this and then that she would give it more than a cursory glance—I’m not sure how she would react. Probably with anger. Probably like a betrayed lover, which is something I don’t even want to begin to try to understand.
Maybe if I were to write a novel instead of this, perhaps a fantasy novel, then she could begin to understand. She would be able to separate her guilt from her actions the same way I’m trying to hide my memories in a story.
But my mother is not the intended audience here.
She can be self-deprecating in the most guilt-inducing ways.
I was lifted out of her womb, my well-being hers, my anger at her her anger at herself, my happiness her happiness, my sadness her sadness not her sadness but her vitriol, because how dare I make her feel sad.
I never did any of it on purpose. Really.
One time I told her, “it’s not my fault I exist. I never asked for this.”
She wept like I was turning down a precious gift.
What would I need if I were to run away?
The first time I asked myself this question, I filled a small sack with all of the things I deemed important to me at the time. I knew—I hoped—that that night I would awaken to see the shadow of a boy floating on the far wall of my room. Being a child forever wasn't important to me, but to fly was. And to fly away, up into the stars.
I think now of the bright green hatchback that has led me far away from where I grew up. I named her Kiwi. Perhaps I should have named her Tink.
I never ran away from home as a child. I wanted to do. I planned to. I packed for it. I waited patiently for Peter, for Dumbledore, even for Professor Oak. To pull me into their world. Somehow.
And now, I have transplanted myself halfway across the country, where at least I can gaze upwards, and think, and write.
What I’m thinking about writing right now is the fantasy novel I want to show my mother. Assuming she would read it. The only books she really reads nowadays are books like Medical Medium—Life-Changing Foods: Save Yourself and the Ones You Love with the Hidden Healing Powers of Fruits & Vegetables. I think it’s easier for her to believe that not drinking fresh-pressed celery juice every morning is the reason her children grew up they way they did, rather than accepting that maybe she had a hand in it.
Writing works better for me, personally, as a means of shameless escapism.
The protagonist of this fantasy novel will be named Emma Nathaniel. She’s in the midst of writing the final installment of her own fantasy trilogy, a series that’s been surprisingly popular. She is affectionately devoted to the project, some nights even dreaming that Tandell the archmage falls asleep in her arms, although she knows he will end up with Malora.
Malora has her own problems right now though, as she attempts to flee a horde of murderous goblinoid anarchists who are intent on summoning and providing a physical body for the All-Consuming Power of Destruction.
Tandell’s brother, Geliel, is Emma’s conscience. He is currently in a cave, on top
of a mountain, atoning for the sins of his flesh.
When I first visited Kansas—in a rental car with my mother that she refused to let me drive, no matter how sick of driving she got—I was unsettled by what seemed like emptiness. The sky revealed to me all that was not there. In Maryland, the forests and the hills hide this. In Kansas, you drive fast, in a straight line, and the sky surrounds you.
I quickly came to love the Kansas sky, once I moved here on my own. In Kansas, the sky is in-your-face blue, a blue you can swim in. Sometimes I walk outside and find myself grinning, thinking, aaaahhhh, big sky.
I had night terrors as an infant, or so I’m told. I don't remember them. What do I remember is the childhood insomnia. I had to think of specific things to be able to fall asleep: Fighting pirates with Peter. Being advised by Dumbledore. Showing my Pokemon collection to Professor Oak. And I had to keep myself from thinking of specific other things. Things that all children probably fear and experience as real. The things that go bump in the night. Subtle shadowy figures.
I had occasional sleep paralysis up through college.
I also have recurring nightmares that my mother is plotting to murder me.
What is it that I desire to escape from?
How many times have you tried to kill me while I sleep?
No character I have ever written has a loving mother. If that’s what I really wanted, you’d think I would have written it down by now, imagined it in some way.
Instead I gift them idiot mothers, demon mothers, smothering mothers, abandoned mothers, dead mothers. Anything but a mother who understands her children’s needs and provides for them.
Some characters in Emma Nathaniel’s fantasy trilogy: A librarian, an archivist, a historian, a prophet, and an archmage.
They all walk into an inn.
This is not the setup for a joke.
The five of them create a spell of summoning. They cast it upstairs, in a room the archivist has rented. They’ve been meeting here weekly for the past few months, trying to figure out how to make sure it will work.
And tonight is the night: All of the preparations are complete, the floor covered in intricate glyphs and sigils as Tandell waves his hands around, muttering incoherently.
They are going to meet God. They are going to ask her to save them. They are going to ask her why. Why us. Why in this way. Why is the All-Consuming Power of Destruction about to be unleashed upon our land. Why was my brother murdered. Why did my mother die in childbirth. Why did only I survive that village fire. Why won’t you answer our prayers. Why are we alone down here. Why won’t you take care of us.
She gives me a hug when she picks me up at the airport, and then says, “The color you dyed your hair doesn’t match your skin tone. You should go back to a lighter color.”
“You need a haircut.”
“You need to at least wear makeup if your hair is going to be that dark.”
“You’re wearing that to dinner?”
I am wading through the muck again. If I laugh in the house my brother will punch a hole in the wall.
“I think it’s because I homeschooled him for a year,” my mother says. “Why doesn’t he have any friends?”
I spoon my mother for an hour while she sobs into my arms. “No one in my life makes me feel loved except for you. You’re the only one who cares.” If she knew how much effort I put into not caring—
I suggest therapy. “I don’t need that,” she insists.
Emma Nathaniel is having an aggravating case of writer’s block. Not completely true -- she is still writing. Instead of her novel, she has written 3,324 words of smut. The archivist and the librarian have just finished having the best fuck of their lives. Never mind that they will never so much as hold hands in the books.
Emma Nathaniel is in bed alone, one hand down her pants as she proofreads. The smut goes online. It’s hot. People like it. They don’t know who wrote it. That’s ideal. Four weeks till deadline.
Coincidentally, she is sleeping at the exact same time that her characters are finishing up their spell.
She wakes up on the floor of the inn, the one that her characters are in. She’s naked.
Emma Nathaniel knows that voice.
“Mother, you came.” She looks up and and discovers that Tandell is so much more handsome in the flesh than she had ever written him to be.
She knows that Pika, the librarian, is short, but she didn’t realize he was that short. He looks nervous. She feels the full blast of Q’xu (his name sounds kind of like kudzu, but I won’t tell the readers of the fantasy novel that), the archivist’s, cold stare. Now she understands the self-consciousness everyone else feels when he glares at them. And there sits Nova, the prophet, her wrinkled, curled-up frame resting in a chair. She will be dead before long. It was coming up very soon in the outline. Releshe, the historian, beams at her. Please don’t smile at me, the writer pleads in her mind, I’ve killed everyone you love.
Pika reaches forward hesitantly, hands Emma a blanket to cover herself up with.
The old banal thought I must be dreaming never crosses the threshold of her consciousness. She knows immediately that this kind of magic is possible here. She wrote portal magic into this world and it brought her here.
They explain that their world is in danger of being overrun by the All-Consuming Power of Destruction. She knows. That they need guidance, wisdom, answers. She knows.
“Please, call me Emma,” she insists. They begin to call her Mother Emma.
She knows that the All-Consuming Power of Destruction will lose. But not without doing a little bit of what is in its name first. It’s all in her outline.
Things my mother did without my consent when I was growing up:
Tweeze my eyebrows
Slap my ass, pinch my ass, etc.
Mutilate my toenails because she had to made sure they weren’t ingrown
Force pop my pimples in the morning before school (The scabs were more embarrassing than the pimples would have been)
Yank on my hair with a brush until I cried for her to stop. She didn’t stop because she had to get out all of the knots out of my hair
Reorganize my bedroom/throw out the belongings she thought were trash
Create a fake social media accounts and follow me
Put parental controls on my laptop, until I went away to college. I couldn’t read the Wikipedia article on World War II because it mentions guns too many times
Read my texts
Read my mail
Open my packages
She never read my diary though. She knew I had one. Why didn’t she read it?
Probably for the same reasons she wouldn’t care to read this.
I want these words to be occluded. I want to tie them up nicely with a metaphorical, maybe even allegorical bow. Restrain them and then put them on display. I stand in the corner, in the darkness, pleading with the scared, small child. I cannot hold you. Read this story instead. Fall asleep. Please. Fall asleep.
Back in the world Emma Nathaniel came from it is brought to the media’s attention that a burgeoning young author has gone missing. Disappeared. Poof. She is a pretty white-passing Hispanic girl so it becomes a very big thing. A detective is assigned to the case. He is nothing new: he has a sad history with women (his fault), he drinks too much, he leans against walls and smokes cigarettes. Somehow he is still charming—or that’s what the Hollywood casting department wants you to think. A beefy, scruffy Mulder.
His quest to find Emma Nathaniel will lend the novel an eldritch noir sensibility. I don’t really trust him with the task he’s been given, but what other option do I have? A woman detective whose quest to find Emma is laced with her own sense of maternal worry?
Maternal worry is poison at best.
And besides, if eldritch noir Mulder is the one who has to wade through the nightmare realms of the imagination to find Emma, even better. It saves her the trauma of trying to find her way back home.
Assuming she wants to go back home.
An interesting question to ask may be whether or not Emma’s time in her fantasy world will change what she writes when she returns back to her own world. This question leads us to ask just how much control Mother Emma has over her children. Is she conduit or creator? Sovereign or advisor?
“There is only one person I will talk to,” Mother Emma tells the group that has brought her here. “Geliel, the hermit-priest.”
Q’xu scoffs. Tandell frowns. “Nobody knows where my brother is.”
“I do,” she says.
Emma knows Geliel’s mind. Emma knows that he is the only one capable of understanding Emma’s unique position as a deity of this world. Knows that if she transmits this knowledge to him, he will lead them to victory. It is written in her outline that Geliel’s knowledge comes from ascetic purification and communion with the divine mother. She just hadn’t been aware that she was the divine mother.
She cannot be the one to tell them. Geliel will. She knows. She knows.
As long as they can make it there. She has not written this story so she does not know what awaits them.
I will write this story. I know.
It takes a couple months and a couple hundred pages, but they make it.
Emma leaves the cave where she has just spoken to Geliel. The rest of the party enters the cave, to hear what he has been told. He will tell them they must wait until he is ready. They must go back to their lives and have faith that Mother Emma knows what she is doing. It will be so easy for them to accept this that Emma wants to cry. They should hate her, but she has written a trust in the divine into the fabric of their being, into the culture that envelops them and the world that enfolds them.
She sits alone atop the mountain precipice and stares at the landscape below her. Although it existed within her before, she now scans it feverishly, afraid that she will forget it. She knows that she will never be able to describe the way that these jagged brown stones jut from the coniferous hills. That she will never be able to communicate the invigorating spicy-caramel scent of the firs on these hills, firs that have never existed anywhere else.
As she hears the approach of her companions from within the cave, the air several feet above her head begins to crackle and spark. It slowly splits open until she is gazing upward into what looks like a hazy, darkened room. A hand reaches down.
Beefcake Mulder’s eldritch noir arc is reaching its climax. “Grab my hand!” he yells. “Grab my hand and I’ll pull you through!”
She turns to her companions, and they look just as confused as she is. This isn’t of their world.
“You can’t stay here forever, just grab my hand!”
She steps backwards, but the hand grabs her before she is out of its reach.
Emma Nathaniel glances behind her, and her five companions stand stock still and watch as she is lifted upward into the portal.
“I love you,” she mouths to her children just before her head disappears.
She could have stayed there forever. She really could have.
I am now thinking that maybe a woman detective would have let her. Or maybe joined her, even.
The denouement follows. Please purchase the book if you care about it.
I do not give my characters good mothers, but I do give them children. Children whose hands search the air for fingers as they coo in the night.
At times I like to take what I call a dark shower. I set the water to scalding, get undressed, and then turn out every light. Energy begins to pulse out of the places where I believe my eyes to be and I spread outward. I revel in the smell of each soap and in the sound the hot spray of the nozzle makes on the ceramic that lines the outer corners of my awareness. Enwombed like this, I can reach my hand out and feel my fingers softly brush against hers. “Mother…” she whispers.
“Yes. It is all right,” I whisper back.
Silvan E. Spicer only exists partially on the physical plane. The majority of their existence consists of combing the astral realm for shiny story nuggets. They are a nonbinary writer currently based in Lawrence, Kansas, where they are working on their Master's in English Literature.