Sin… sharp sand…

“Sharp sand.”

Two words that once meant nothing, but now instil fear into the hearts of the unwary.

Teri, whom everyone thought was a Terry due to the oversized everything she wore that hung on her small frame like a marquee on a flagpole, short cropped hair and voice that was low and, well, ambiguous. She wasn’t androgynous, and once you knew, you KNEW, but you weren’t sure… not to begin with. And, as she (not he) shied away from any contact, you couldn’t MAKE sure either.

At first, and for a long time, if you even walked past her, she would shrink back – becoming almost visibly smaller. Her clothing, way too big, was like her protective shield and she retreated into it in times of threat – which, to her, was almost constant. Because of this, it was impossible to get to know her. Impossible to get anything other than a shaky, guttural “Go away”, hissed through clenched teeth, from her.

She was teased. By orderlies and patients alike. They’d poke her, taunt her, walk just close enough to be on the edge of the personal space bubble without quite bursting it. The patients I could sort out. A quiet word here, a veiled threat there. They listened to me. I was either saner or crazier than most and I was, in most cases, a friend.

The orderlies were another matter. I could do nothing to stop them having their fun. I tried talking, they ignored me. I tried asking Jeremy to intervene, he did, they ignored him. I had nothing to threaten them with. Yes, I had my… talents… but they were uncontrolled and were liable to be the tornado from the butterfly wing. I was here to NOT use them. I was here to HIDE, to SUBDUE them. I wasn’t here to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of Sin, either metaphorically or metaphysically.

So Teri was kept, pretty much intentionally, terrified.

But what of? What had happened to her that made her so afraid?

Yes, there were those who didn’t tell. There were those who kept their stories close and quiet and only let them out to haunt at night. Those that preferred the pain, because then they could feel. Because it would remind them that it wasn’t – or it was – their fault. They were the ones with the distant eyes, who would speak to you but would look past you as if you, the wall, the institute and the world weren’t there and they were gazing into the dark past of their personal purgatory.

But they weren’t in the majority. And even they would give little hints – tasters of the delicacies that made their lives and their minds so sick.

Teri didn’t. I don’t think she even kept herself to herself. I think she gave that part of her she feared, loathed and everso slightly needed to someone else. Someone who didn’t exist anywhere but in Teri’s head, but someone who would hold onto that hateful piece and keep it hidden. Then Teri herself wouldn’t need to look at it. She wouldn’t need to bring it out at night, unwrap it from the blanket of guilt and play with it – turning it in her hands and her mind, building it into something more than it was originally until it took on a life of its own and devoured her.

Teri didn’t. She remained silent. She stayed afraid. Until one day.

I don’t know what changed. Her level of torment hadn’t altered. The other residents had eased off and it was now only people like Terrence, who would tease for the sake of it, in a pulling the legs of spiders kind of way, that still prodded the jangling nerves. The orderlies regularly had their fun. Well, they needed something to relieve the boredom, bless ’em.

Something did change, though. Perhaps it was the person inside the person – the keeper of the secret – that had decided to hand in their notice and go spend their days on a beach sipping cocktails and dipping non-existent toes in the deep blue consciousness. Perhaps Teri had decided to take out her little bundle of psychosis and let it romp around in her cell until it grew tired and irritable and had turned around and snapped at her ankles.

Whatever it was… I was sitting in a chair. You alternate the chairs you sit in daily. Some know exactly where they’ve plonked their behinds every day for the last month. I don’t. It doesn’t bother me that much. But I do tend to – not necessarily try to – sit somewhere I have for the past few days. It puts a ripple in the monotony.

Teri sat down beside me, the spider to my Miss Muffet.

It wasn’t much of a conversation. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist. Her self-imposed silence had diluted her communication skills to the point that you could tell each sentence was forced, pushed out from within with every word taking a supreme effort.

“Sharp sand.” Simple and succinct. Said as if the two words were laden with all the meaning necessary for me to understand their import.

I’m not simple. I’m fairly, I think, intelligent. But I didn’t get it.

“OK,” I said quietly.

The ensuing exchange was both meaningful and meaningless. She made random comments regarding the weather, the colour of the screws holding the chairs to the floor and the way an unseen assailant had forced sand into her throat when she refused to hand over her purse and mobile phone when she was walking home along a beach one summer holiday abroad. At one point I didn’t know if grey referred to the colour of the food or the colour of the attackers eyes. She jumped from subject to object with a coherence that wavered between cobweb and candyfloss. But I grasped the meat from the mire. I realised in the end.

After her attack, three other shadows had continued what the first had begun. But they didn’t want money or mobile. They only wanted her. They came as a group and left as a searing scar on her soul. And all the while she had choked on the sharp sand.

It was why she didn’t speak properly. Why I had so much trouble understanding. What was left of her throat and her vocal cords after the three had mimiced the one couldn’t properly form the words.

She told me she was going to show me. I said no, that was fine. She insisted so I told her ok.

She told me to open my mouth. When you’re a lunatic amongst the loonies, you tend to trust your own. So I did.

Where she managed to get the glass, I have no idea. How she managed to break it into such tiny pieces and hold them in her small hands without the blood from the cuts dripping on to the pure white floor and being noticed, I have no idea.

How long it was before I could speak again, before my throat had healed, before I could eat solids once more, I really have no idea.

I don’t know what happened to Teri after that. I didn’t see her again, and I didn’t really want to ask.

But I’ve gone off beaches for some reason.

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