Become a Fan
By Rachel P Kendal
Saturday, October 19, 2002
The silence is hurting my ears. There are noises; snoring, coughing, farting. But these noises heighten the silence into a mind-splitting roar.
As I lie here, the glow of a rising sun is illuminating the blinds at the window opposite my bed. I have watched the sun go down, night take over the next shift, and now the sun is beginning to retrace its steps ready for the new boringly repetitive day.
I glance at the clock on the wall. Quarter to six. Some time earlier, a few hours, a few minutes ago, I don't know, Mr Benson in the third bed along was keeping me amused. No, let me correct that, he wasn’t keeping me amused but he did elevate me slightly from my pit of boredom. His words had rung out, bouncing off the walls, but had woken no one. Hardly surprising seeing as most of the guys in here are knocked out for the night anyway.
I used to think I was having a re-run, a second series if you like, of my hallucinations, when Mr B first started talking in his sleep. Now I’ve come to expect it and as I lie awake most nights, really I’m just lying in anticipation of his next dream antics, his unconscious stories and chilling cries.
I don’t know why he’s in here. I want to know. I’m not nosey, not really. It’s just that this is the only time he ever says anything. When he’s awake he doesn’t say a thing, doesn’t look at anyone, sometimes even refuses to open his eyes. If you ask me he’s stark raving mad, but then everyone is in here. I’ve tried telling Dr Galloway that I shouldn’t be in here but he tells me it’s for my own protection. What are they protecting me from exactly?
Mr B has gone quiet. This should be my cue to sleep but as usual the bed seems to have changed shape, my limbs are too awkward and I just don’t fit snugly anymore. So I fidget, I turn from side to side. The covers are getting tangled around my feet. In my anger I kick the sheet off the bed and rise. No one else stirs. The window beckons.
I often stand by the window in the dead of night, peering through the blinds. There is not much to see but it is peaceful. The dawn light now conveys a garden, flowers, trees. I love nature. In all my twenty-eight years I have never appreciated nature as much as I have these last six months that I’ve been locked away in here.
A tear escapes and crawls down my face, and with a nicotine stained hand I smudge it across my cheek. I’ve seen many men cry in here, but I will never let anyone see me cry, never. I could never show a loss of control. The only person I’ve cried in front of, apart from my sweet mother, was my girlfriend, as I buried her.
Now I bow my head as I think of her. She was just 23, a baby. From the start she needed my protection. All she wanted was happiness. So I gave her happiness and sacrificed my own, but she was worth it; so beautiful and kind. She was a goddess, with long brown hair and soft doe eyes. She had a tiny perfect nose and slightly crooked teeth (which I wouldn’t have changed for the world) concealed behind soft, kissable lips.
I let go of the blinds and look around me. At the far end of the ward a nurse sits behind a table, pretending to make notes. I know she is keeping a close eye on me. I’m not really supposed to be out of bed in the night but it’s quite a regular occurrence. She knows I’m not going to flip; I’m not one of the crazies. I’m just here for my own protection.
Turning back to the blinds I peer through a gap again. I like to look at the trees in the garden. There is one in particular. I don’t know what type it is but it reminds me of my baby. She would know what type of tree it is. She was intelligent, she knew lots of things. I worshipped the ground she walked on. Now, as soon as I get out of here I will be able to worship her properly, and she will reach out to me, extend her beautiful limbs to me, flower for me, live for me.
I remember when she first told me her dream. It was a very hot day. We were sitting on a blanket in the middle of the park, right next to the fountain. It was her idea to have the picnic there. She said it would be romantic to hear the splash and feel the spray of the water as we ate ham sandwiches and pork pies. She was right. But then, when I look back on our three-year relationship, it was always romantic, even when we were stuck in the lift in the multi-story car park. She had panicked and I was there to protect her. That was romance. But the day of the picnic has stayed in my mind as clearly as a newly developed photograph. She had told me of a dream she’d had the previous night. As she talked I remember her brushing a hair from off her face, and laughing in that special way where her head would tilt to the side and her eyes half close.
In her dream she had been a tree, a huge oak, and in the wind her leaves rustled musically and her branches swayed. And even though she was rooted to the ground she had felt completely serene and totally free.
“And then what happened?” I had foolishly asked, waiting for the rest. And she had glanced away, embarrassed.
“Then I woke up. But it was the most beautiful dream I ever had.”
From that moment on I knew how to bring her total happiness.
Since becoming a resident of this mental ward I have seen men come and go. I never find out what happens to the men who go. What worries me is the fact that I am still here. When am I going to go where all those other men have gone? Nobody will tell me anything. The only answer I get when I ask Dr Galloway is, “You can leave as soon as we think you’re ready”.
But when will that be? Surely I am ready now. I am anxious to go and see my girl. I want to see how she’s grown. I feel my anger rising and as my fist makes contact with the window, the nurse comes rushing over.
“Michael, what do you think you’re doing? Get back to bed before you wake everyone up.”
There is no point arguing, she would call the orderlies and they’d carry me off in a straightjacket or something. I don’t want to cause a scene.
I climb back into bed and the nurse rearranges my covers. A finger is held up to her lips and then she turns and heads back to her little table. I watch her large behind as it waddles from side to side and soon I am lost again in my thoughts.
“Michael look, there’s a heron.”
We are in my car. My beautiful girlfriend is squealing her delight at the nature that surrounds us. I love to hear her happiness, but I have more in mind. Today she thinks we are going hiking. We have never been hiking together before and she is obviously looking forward to it. In the boot of the car there are our provisions - hiking boots, sandwiches, flask, rope, torch, spade, axe. We have arrived.
As usual this summer it is a beautiful day. We both lean against the bonnet of the car to put on our boots, occasionally offering a smile or sharing a look that needs no words. I remember feeling so in love with her that day.
Of course I have told all this to the doctors. I’ve explained that I would have done anything for her. I just wanted to make her happy and give her all the freedom she craved. They think I am making it up.
On the hillside I find the perfect spot, right near a little stream which is decorated with an occasional flurry of foxgloves. I suggest we sit down in the shade of a nearby tree and eat our lunch, which my darling thinks is a great idea. It has always pleased me to please her.
As I begin to pack up the picnic things the perfect opportunity arises. A large cabbage white flutters past, glorious in the sun’s rays, and lands on a flower nearby. My partner gets up and walks slowly towards where it is perched with closed wings, quivering slightly. It does not appear worried by her presence. Kneeling down on all fours she whispers,
“Michael, come and look at this. It’s beautiful.”
Walking towards her the axe is heavy in my hands and I am breaking out into a sweat. But this may be my only chance.
Swinging the axe round above my head she does not see me as her concern lies still with the butterfly.
“I do this for you my love,” I whisper and as she turns her head to face me I bring the axe down and smash it into her skull.
Mr Benson is stirring. It is almost time to get up and once again I have been awake all night. I look around at the nurse, but she has been replaced by a young man. How did that happen? When? I must have been asleep. I turn onto my other side and put my hands over my ears to cut out the sound of Mr B’s mumbling.
The hole is almost big enough now. The sweat is oozing from every pore and my breathing is heavy. I fall to my knees and throw the spade to one side. A couple of feet away the crumpled body of my goddess is lying in wait. She doesn’t know her fate but I can guarantee her happiness. I crawl over to her, noticing the shades of red splattered on the grass that surrounds her. Her legs are bent, her arms splayed, but her face looks peaceful. Just the bloody gash on her forehead gives the game away; otherwise she may have been only sleeping. I pick her up in my arms, carry her over to the hole and drop her in. It is just deep enough. One last lingering kiss goodbye on her soft mouth. I try to wipe some of the blood off her cheeks but succeed only in smudging it further. A tear falls from my eye, rolls down my cheek and drips onto her own, my last gift to her.
“I love you,” I sob, and begin to fill in the hole.
From the time I covered the hole, washed the axe in the stream and walked away as if nothing had happened, up until about a month ago, is completely lost in my memory. I don’t know how I got to be in here, or why I am here. All I know is that I need desperately to get out. I need to know that I did the right thing, that I helped her. I need to know if he has grown into a tree yet, with her limbs stretched out to the sky. I can’t take this any more.
“Willow,” I cry, and jump out of bed. I think some of the other patients are awake now. Someone is wailing but I barely hear it. I am clawing at the blinds, trying to rip them down, needing to get out.
“Willow, Willow, I weep for you.”
But now I’m being pulled back. Two men in white coats, one on either side, are telling me to settle down, to be quiet. But I escape their grip and punch the window again and again, crying out her name till my fist is bruised and my throat is sore. And as the two men carry me off and the tears stream down my face, the name of my one true love is left to linger in the air.
Published in Strix 17, 1999
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|Reviewed by Karen James
|Loved it, kept me reading to find out why the guy was in a mental ward, very good characterisation done.|