Abigail looked out at the meticulous lawn with topiary animals trimmed by the man in room 117. In the distance, mountains stood guard with broad purple shoulders crowding the horizon. Like an origami landscape, her world was fragile. Footsteps of orders and questions echoed down the hall with the crescendo and accelerando of pointy toes. A knock and click, then a bird beak poked itself through the crack in the door, “Hello, Miss Abigail. It’s time for your session.”
She kept her back to the bony flapping jaws of the head nurse and stared at the courtyard fountain, stained turquoise, as if food-coloring had been put in the water to make it look more beautiful than clear. Transparency was less interesting; saturation more desirable. Reality was never held in high regard at the asylum.
“Put on your slippers, the tile is cold this morning. I’ll not have you catching pneumonia.”
Abigail slid her slender feet into the blue terry slippers waiting with mouths opened wide, ready for their medicine. This was the weekly ritual—the shuffle and slide to the evaluation room, where the good doctor sat cross-legged, reading glasses mid-bridge, pen and pad kissing one another on his lap.
“Good morning, Abigail. How are you feeling this morning?” His salmon tongue flopped behind yellow dentures. The sweet sick smell of a half chewed cigar lingered in the beige drapes—drawn, awaiting a pitted orchestral overture before opening. The clinking of a stainless steel spoon against his coffee cup was the cymbal roll. The drapes opened, as Abigail tugged the string. She was the puppet-master here, little did he know.
“Looks like it’s going to be a lovely day.” His paper mache’ head never turned toward the window. He always said it was going to be a lovely day, but it never was. She coughed and spat in her palm, then smeared the spittle onto the nearby pane.
“Take a seat, Abigail.“ He paused, scribbled some absurd secret, then proceeded with his monotone spiel, “ I see you haven’t been cooperating with the evening nurse. I encourage you to take your sleeping pills as prescribed. Sleep deprivation is not conducive to your health. You do want to get better, don’t you, Abigail?”
She pulled the green vinyl captain’s chair close to the radiator and propped her feet on the paint-flaked rusty accordion pipes. Her stringy blonde hair crept over the chair back like vines climbing a graveyard wall. She picked at a scab on her wrist. Around the edges, she shoveled her small grimy nails until she could peel back a thick rind and see the pulp of her flesh oozing.
The doctor continued his parade of well rehearsed acrobatic questions. Secretly, Abigail wanted to applaud the way the contortionist phrases were able to bite themselves in the ass, but instead she wore her mask and remained stiff and quiet as a mime frozen in a store-front window. The timer dinged and the homing pigeon nurse returned on cue. The doctor folded his legal pad and stared at the phlegm portrait she painted of him on the plate glass. He said nothing about it, kept a poker face, and asked her to sign the standard form admitting she refused to speak. She took the pen in her hand, it was still warm and sweaty from his palm, she could feel his pulse thumping beneath the engraved gold plating.
The nurse lead Abby back to her room, past the opened door of the topiary man, who sat folding paper towels into tiny swans then dropping them into his bed pan. He looked happy.
They moved to the women’s ward, through the double doors, where a shriveled spinster sat at her wheelchair-watch with back arched like a cat and a hiss in her voice, “Who goes there?” Her cane waved in the air: a warrior’s spear demanding an answer.
The nurse pushed her out of the way, “Go back to your room, Mrs. Sinclair. The king has requested your presence.”
When they reached the threshold of her private room, Abigail recognized the smell of gardenia, the pictures of orange flowers with black centers she plastered on the walls, the collection of violets from her mother along the sill, and the bowed balloon bouquets from family and friends with cards sticking out of them like raised hands, each begging for attention, holding a week old birthday wish. The nurse escorted her to the bed and reached for the alcohol and band-aids on the bedside table.
“If you keep picking at this wound, it will never heal.” The nurse swabbed away the faint trail of blood from Abby’s wrist and secured the adhesive bandage with a sigh.
Inside Abigail’s room, days and nights played tug-of-war like siblings fighting over the same noose. Then finally, the resonate bells from the chapel rang their hymn of praise; Sunday had arrived. After eating powdered eggs and cold toast served from a noisy cart that went from door to door in garbage truck fashion, Abigail was treated to a hot shower. This was the one luxury she looked forward to each week.
The nurse came and escorted her to the shower. Abby stepped inside and let the warm water massage her fisted muscles until they opened like her pores.
Alone, her soprano voice bounced from wall to wall, echoing, until the vibrations loosened her fears. Her scab became soft and pliable. She pulled it away painlessly and the wound did not bleed. She put the scab into her mouth and began to chew, tearing it into tiny pieces, then let them wash down the drain. She sang without words to stumble over, the melody held no questions, no answers, just the soft petting “la-la-la” of her tongue. When the hot water began to run out, the song faded into her trademark silence. The nurse reached in, turned off the water. Abigail stood, naked, shivering, feeling wounds tighten as they dried, puckering like taut lips.