Did you know you can turn the ceiling fan to whirl the other way in winter? Supposedly, though I can’t say I’ve noticed the difference, it pulls the cooler air up to lessen the chill in the room below, forcing the warmer air to circulate in the lower part of the room. In December, when the snow is thicker than Danny Bloomingdale who lived three doors down and, at 16 still managed to sometimes tie his shoelaces together, and icicles drip like frozen snot from the gutters of your house, there’s no such thing as warm air. It’s all cold, but just in different shades.
Freezing, bloody freezing and frozen.
But what if it works, even just a little? What if the change of direction makes those air particles dance a different jig? What if it does go from frozen to bloody freezing to freezing, the change so tiny it’s only noticeable as a few less ice crystals in your breath? But it’s worked nonetheless?
A miniscule change is still a change. Just because you can’t see it or taste or feel it, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t occurred. Isn’t that how chaos theory works, at least partly? Every thought, action and even breath has an effect on something else? Six degrees of separation between you sitting on the loo and a tree falling down in Mexico.
So the ceiling fan, spinning its little head off, backwards, can alter the temperature in a room. A fraction less cold, your mood can improve by an equal tenth of a degree, the difference between kicking the cat out and shooing him through the door. On the one hand the cat runs into the middle of the road, screeching. On the other, it pads out, wondering what the white, wet stuff is sticking to its fur. The car swerves to avoid little puss or passes by happily, the driver singing along to a 80’s rock classic. The car hits the pushchair carrying the new born baby, narrowly missing the mother on their way back from being shown off to the new grandparents.
Or the mother pushes through her gate and gratefully enters the warmth.
The driver, later commits suicide because he can’t live with the death of a baby, not knowing that, though you never get used to it, you can get through each day, always being eaten away at, but with always more to be eaten. Or he hurries home to his own family.
The mother wraps puts her baby to bed, or she begins to randomly kill drivers of 2008 Ford Focuses, desperate to find the driver of the car that smashed into her child. Until she is caught. Until she is sectioned. Until she is interned under the care of one Dr Henry Connors.
Until she makes the acquaintance of a man who used to be called Sin Matthews and is now simply known as Sin.
She cries most of the time, mourning the loss of a little girl she’d known for nine months but held for only a few hours. I offer her an arm, a shoulder, a tissue. All are gratefully received but none can fill the gap. None can even stand on the edge of the abyss and look down, dizzy at the darkness below.
The little things matter. It is, apparently, all in the details.
You can turn the ceiling fan to whirl the other way in winter. Remember that some day.Learn More
“What is Bill Posters supposed to have done?” So started the conversation that killed Tuesdays.
Innocent questions have led to worlds colliding, man facing off against man, handbags at dawn and hissy fits.
“Were you looking at my missus?”
“What did you just say?”
“Do you want fries with that?”
From the utterances of such comments, wars have been waged. A battle can be fought between countries, families, religions and even shoppers after the last tin of beans on special offer. The god you worship, the borders of your land, or the fact that you don’t like salad cream can be enough to bring out the big guns or the heavy handbags. And it can be started in a heartbeat.
My coin, my precious two pence piece, was the cause, or at least the catalyst, for so much destruction, but it can take much less than the flip of a coin to bring chaos a-hunting. Chaos, in all his many forms, doesn’t mind from which little acorns grow the mighty oaks of dissent. That he can sit back and watch the show, feet up, snacks and drink at the ready, is enough. Chaos is fairly chilled. He doesn’t need to work hard at his job – he has us lot to do the grind for him. All he needs to do is stir it up a little, like the gravy for the Sunday roast. Then he can chow down on the fun.
An old joke, though, should not be the stuff from which bedlam begins. Should it? Did anyone lose their temper from being asked how the chicken crossed the road? Did a knock knock ever turn into a knock out? I wouldn’t have thought so, but stranger things have happened. Especially in here.
In here, one Tuesday, is when something strange happened.
OK. I can give you that – this is an asylum. Strange is part of the wallpaper – all shades of white with some white thrown in for contrast. Although if Strange had a colour, I’d have thought it’d be a bit more purpley, maybe with some green tinge on the edges.
Days don’t have meaning in here. Well, of course they have MEANING. Monday is still the first day of the week and there’s still seven days until the next one swings around and whacks you over the head. We don’t replace the names with random words like changing Wednesday to Wibble or Friday to Igglepop. But you forget them. Not the names, but the days themselves. They become less real. Like they used to exist, and still do – wandering around outside the windows, peeking in every so often to see what a world without time might look like. Each morph from light to dark to light again is just another few ticks of the clock. What does it matter what day it is when some people can’t remember their own names – and don’t want to?
But Tuesday was different. Tuesday was Music Day. MTV was piped into the recreational room, over the speakers and the television set attached to a bracket high up on the wall, securely locked in a scratched, excrement-stained perspex box. Tuesday was the day when people smiled. Some even danced – or shambled… or shuffled their bum on their seat because they were too drugged up to do anything else.
Until Lissy, blonde and a little bit… special… asked that fateful question.
“What is Bill Posters supposed to have done?”
Innocent, that’s what she was. Oh, not in deed, not indeed. She was far from innocent in deed, but she was one of life’s innocents. Blonde, not just by hair colour. Naive and gullible. Which was how she ended up being a guest of Dr Connors. A carnival of errors had passed by her town and she’d gone on every ride from noon till doom. Not literally, of course. There’s carnivals – or fun fairs at least. Rides that are too expensive and hook a duck style games that are too loaded against winning. But a carnival of errors? You don’t find them crammed into spare carparks in the middle of town, full of screams from the not so scary rides, music blaring and candy floss being chomped by the bucket load.
But one passed by. And she was the sole paying customer. Being who she was, trusting and… special, in a special kind of way. She killed her mother’s boyfriend. Heads and hammers don’t mix, and Lissy wanted to find this out for a fact. Her brother told her to, and he was her big brother – by eight years – so she almost always did what he said. She trusted him. Well… you would, wouldn’t you?
The problem was, her brother had died years before, along with her father, in a car accident. It made it difficult for her brother to tell her anything.
Still, though, she insisted her brother had told her to do it. The boyfriend was evil and wouldn’t just be happy with her mother. Get him before he gets her. That’s what her brother said. Apparently. Grief can be a horrible thing. It can twist your mind, playing with it as if it were a cat’s cradle. Thumbs in, fingers out until the whole thing is one big knot. Then you end up here. At least they have nicely padded cells, just so you don’t hurt yourself.
Tuesday. I can’t remember what was playing. To be honest, and I’m nothing if not honest, even though it’s a wonderful, gratefully received, brain-numbing-breaking thing to have, the music always seemed to fade into the background. You were so used to the mutterings and utterings of everyone else, you found it easy, and automatic, to tune out noise. Even MTV. Still, though, with it singing around the back of your head like a fly on stage in the karaoke bar, you smiled and danced, shuffled or nodded your head.
Sitting in the middle of the floor, just to the left of the no-man’s land of the Corner-copias, was Lissy. Knees up tight under her chin, hands gripping her toes, just begging for someone – usually Terrence – to come along and push her over, Lissy stared at no-one and nothing in particular. She was frowning. I saw her, with her brow furrowed and her face looking more puzzled than a 500 piece landscape. I would have said something – asked if something was wrong (not entirely the stupid question you’d think considering we were in a mental hospital), but she seemed to be working something out. Then she asked:
“What is Bill Posters supposed to have done? Why does it say on all those big pictures by the side of the road that he’s going to be prosecuted? And why don’t they have a picture of him?”
Three people looked at Lissy, special and make-allowances-blonde as she was, and laughed. Whether she realised there was no such person as Bill Posters (although I’m sure there’s some parents, somewhere in the world, cruel enough to give their child such a name – a bit like calling your son Sin), or she was oblivious and thought there really was a vendetta against this poor man, who’s harmed no one and just wants to lead a quiet life, those three didn’t care. It humoured them and there was little to be humoured about in here.
An orderly, Carl Withers (whose real name was Weathers – but this place is this place) shook his head. ‘Idiot patients’ was clearly written on his face. I smiled. I liked Lissy. She was quiet, unassuming and usually fairly happy. Her dead brother, and her not so dead mother, never visited her in the asylum so she was no longer haunted by ghosts pushing her to do things she really shouldn’t be doing. Most either ignored her, wandering aimlessly in their own little worlds, or didn’t hear. One man had none of these reactions.
His name was Edward. If you even tried to call him Ed, he punched you. Right in the face. Fast and sharp, the reflexes and accuracy of someone well versed in fast and sharp punches. He was a loner, mainly because the majority of patients had been punched in the face. He wasn’t seen in the recreation room very often thanks to the number of visits he paid to room 101. Fast and sharp wasn’t only restricted to the patients.
He was sitting on the front row of the bolted down chairs that faced the television set. He stood, walked over to Lissy, bent down and said quietly in her ear:
“His name is William.”
Lissy, bless her, should have seen what was coming. I did and the way Carl Withers, with his right hand not quite as big as his left, pushed himself away from the wall he was leaning against, I was sure he had seen it too. Lissy, though, remained as unaware of the forthcoming event as she was regarding Bill Posters’ actual status. If she’d hadn’t, she wouldn’t have said, with a faintly amused-confused look on her pretty face:
It was three days later when she regained consciousness. Another two before she made it back to the recreation room. The first thing she said when she walked in was to me.
“I only asked.”
Edward returned to the fold two weeks later. He was subdued to begin with. A stint in Room 101, with its padded walls and obligatory strapped-up dress code, does that to you. Unusually, it was another month or two before he punched someone else. I think that’s a record.
But Tuesdays? They were dead. Whether the riot that ensued after Lissy’s face met with Edward’s fist was due to the time of the lunar month, or an unusually low level of drugs, or the fact that, as Connors said, all that loud music makes people anxious, no-one really knows. But Tuesday died, and the music died along with it.
When you take away sound, even background sound that nobody really hears, all that’s left is a sad silence.
And that can be deafening.Learn More
I can still feel it, you know. All of it. Almost hear them. The deaths, the pain, the screams.
I’m not immune. Not in any way. My signing myself up for Risperdal Roulette at the hands of Dr Connors wasn’t a way for me to deny what I’d done. It was to stop it happening again. I couldn’t ignore it or pretend it had never happened, nor that it had happened because of me. Not once I knew for sure. I’d tried my share of faux-ignorance, but my sister’s letter had picked that up and fed it to the shredder. And the shredder had gobbled it up and spit it out in a mangled mess of realisation.
It does fade, sometimes, and not because of the drugs. They don’t work anyway, not like they’re supposed to. I have to throw a fit of some kind to get them in the first place anyway. And they just wipe me out for a few hours. It’s all still there when I wake up, shackled to my bed, the straps cutting off the circulation to my hands deliberately so I’ll feel like I’m juggling a porcupine when they release me. It’s like a huge flat screen TV hanging inside my head, stuck on one channel. And the subscription costs more than Sky, Virgin and the television license rolled together. I pay in guilt, with interest.
Not that I shouldn’t. Not that I should get away without feeling and hearing every single death that taints my soul with its blood. Because I should. If I’m to blame, then surely I SHOULD be made to pay.
I don’t think there’ll ever be an end, though. Even if it never happens again, I still have their ghosts haunting me, invading me, tearing me apart like they’re waxing me one follicle at a time – with acid.
Acid wax? Never seen that on a beautician’s price list. Don’t think it’d be too popular really. But then I can’t see why actually wax is popular either. People pay to have hot strips tear out their hair from the root? What fun. Apparently now there’s foot baths with little fish in that eat the dead skin off your soles. Baby piranhas or something. Watch your tootsie toes!
I could do with something like that. A bath of piranhas to eat away the dead from my soul. To save the dead eating it instead.
But it does fade, occasionally. Whispers in the shadows. The glaring whites and the moans, shamblings and whimpers of daily life in here drowns it out.
There were floods a few years back. Waist deep in areas. People died. Of course they did. But apart from that, I was in a queue of traffic waiting at some lights. Cars further forward lay abandoned as the water level had choked the engine into submission until it gave up and refused to start. I, and I assumed everyone else, was praying their car would keep going, would hold its breath till they’d made it to where the water was less deep. The person behind me had his window open while he smoked a cigarette. A truck was coming from in the other lane, towards us, its wheel creating a mini tsunami over our cars. I looked behind me to see if the guy killing his lungs along with the rest of him had noticed. He hadn’t and when the wave hit him, he recoiled as if slapped.
When I forget… well, not forget but… don’t think about it all… When that happens, remembering again… it’s like a tsunami. It’s like a massive slap in the face with ice cold water. And I feel like I might drown.
Wish I’d brought me brolly.Learn More
Do you know how many shades of red blood comes in? You’d think it was just the one. Blood is blood, right? A touch of the claret, pumping its way around your body, supplying oxygen to all the little nooks and crannies. It’s all the same to you, me and the postman, isn’t it? Of course, it has all the bits that the rhesus monkeys were famous for – the pluses and minuses and the like. But you grab a wadge of plasma, mix in a shot of red and white cells and a couple of drops of platelets, give it a good Tom Cruise shake, and there you have it.
So it shouldn’t, you’d think, be any other colour than red, should it? And no shade other than… I suppose… blood red?
You’d be wrong. As would I. Me, wrong? It had to happen sooner or later.
When everything is white, and only one shade – glaring – you start to notice colours more. A scuff here, a vomit stain there. Shades of black, hints of yellow and green. And blood? You’d think they’d prefer to keep the place neat and tidy, wouldn’t you. Minimise mess and reduce risk. Bodily fluids are notoriously painful to clean up – especially if they’re fluids from your own body, as the slap on the head and the poke with the mop in your ribs as you’re made to clean it up are painful indeed. I think they enjoy it. They don’t mind if someone pukes a flat, grey slop of part-digested lunch, or urinates a sickly yellow stream down their leg from the window to the seating rows. They have a reason to pinch, punch, first of the month you. An excuse to push, pull, pirouette you. And dozey-do your pardners.
They, the orderlies, like their little games. They enjoyed a daily fix of sadistic pleasure gained, usually, from the pain or humiliation of a patient. Not all of them, of course. Jezzer Jeremy didn’t partake in the fun and he wasn’t the only one. But the desires of the few outweighed the objections of the many – especially if that few were big or slimy or just a plain bully.
So a slip of snot, a puddle of vomit or a stream of urine. There was no difference. You paid the same price. And if you didn’t do a good job of clearing up your mess – which is difficult with their drugs coursing through your body like an Han Solo running from Imperial forces, ready to warp into hyperdrive and take out the Death Star that is the dark side of your mind – the bits that make you weave on the wrong side of the cloth.
The price being, of course, an education into the myriad, rainbow colours of blood. Where to find said magical liquid? Well, you have a plentiful supply there inside you. Let’s spill a little and take a peek, shall we?
Do you know how many shades of red blood comes in? You’d think it was just the one.
You’d be wrong.Learn More
Sniffing. Can’t BEAR it. And there is ALWAYS someone sniffing. Like a reverse dripping tap, except, I suppose, the dripping is still there. You wait for the inevitable next one, wondering if they’ll be nice enough to choke on their mucus and give you some peace. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a racking cough as the person’s chest seems to want to exit their body via any orifice handy.
And it echoes. Each sniff races around after the remnants of the last, hoping to catch up, hoping to combine and join forces to become a solid force and take over the world, one nose at a time.
Can’t bear it. Mucous Mickey. Lovely guy. Really. But when you earn a nickname like Mucous and have a hook attached to your colostomy trolley to hold the roll of tissue, you have a problem. When you leave little greeny-yellow, sticky puddles wherever you sit, Houston, you have a problem. It doesn’t help when you’re floating on a fluffy white cloud of whichever drug cocktail they’ve served you with that day. So when you have a problem like Mickey’s, I, and any others who really can’t BEAR sniffing, also have a problem.
And there’s no escape. You cover your ears, but the sound wheedles its way into the tiny gaps in your fingers, teasing through until it finds your ear drum and then it uses it as a trampoline. You could try to go and hide in a corner, but they’re all taken up by the Corner-copias – a group of semi-but-not-very-lucid patients who all stare at the same spot on the floor from their respective corners. They never speak to each other, never share so much as a passing glance with one another, but they’re all fascinated by the same inch of polished, shiny white tiling on the recreation room floor.
Woe betide any who might step on the spot. Worse than the damage done to your mother from stepping on a crack. As one they’d leap up and descend on the perpetrator like a group of velociraptors on their prey. After the second dismemberment, the spot and the surrounding tiles became a no man’s land. It was as if they had actually disappeared from this plane of surreality, only to be seen by the chosen few – the Corner-copias. Your feet automatically made a small diversion or a large step to avoid them.
Of course there’s always one. One person, sane or otherwise, who has to take their life in their hands, swing it around their heads and dance till dawn. Spider, spider, burning bright, it’s always Terrance who starts a fight. Terrance. As irritating as sniffing, and with the same talent for clogging the back of your throat and messing with your sinuses. If there’s something you shouldn’t do, he’ll do it. If there’s something you can’t do, he’ll try. Walk on the ceiling? Fractured his skull and broke his arm. Kiss an orderly? One rib broken and a three month spell in Room 101, with only a smart little buckle-up jacket for company. At least it’s comfortable in there.
Step on the spot? Risk being pulled limb from limb? The okey-cokey was never meant to be danced that way – left leg in, left leg out, left leg in and run like hell. Never heard anyone scream so high. Not even one of those singers who can smash a glass at forty paces. They didn’t catch him though. The orderlies didn’t interfere, not that they ever really do, they just let the chase begin. But Terrence managed to avoid the clutches of the spot spotting clan that day and almost every other day since. One day they’ll catch him, and all our irritations will be at an end. One day he’ll put his left leg in and one of the Corner-copias will be shaking it all about.
Pity they can’t do anything about the sniffing though. Can’t bear it.Learn More