Sin… Shirley Temple…

At first it seemed cute, the way she would pick her nose and show you the “buggers”.

She was funny like that. Yes, it was disgusting, but she was far too sweet to turn anyone’s stomach. You half expected her to be wearing a little flowery dress with her hair in bunches, licking a lollipop.

She was our own little girl. The one we all looked out for and felt pat/maternal towards – or both in certain cases. In a way, you wouldn’t have thought she belonged in here. It was a bad place, as she would often remind us.

Like we needed reminding…

“Don’t like it in here. It’s a bad place. The walls look angry and they shout at me.”

I could sympathise. Glaring white, meant to look sterile and clean, did look angry. It looked like it was furious, in fact, at being stuck in here with us lunatics. Why couldn’t it be in a palace or hotel, painted in lovely neutrals, instead of being made to look like it was barely holding the Sun in check?

Why indeed. I doubt Connors had put enough thought into the general decor of the hospital. Saying that, I suppose he actually had. Burn out their eyes and their brains will be easier to get to to fix. But their will will have gone up in smoke along the way.

She’d sit and talk to anyone, and it was rare that the company was unwanted. Her view of the world was filled with the wonder only a child could conceive of. Why didn’t the clouds fall out of the sky, or break when they hit each other? Why was grass green, when lots of pretty rainbow colours would look much nicer? And why couldn’t she have a piece of that rainbow to play with? She’d give it right back!

And no-one could fail to raise a smile when her giggles filled the room.

But then there were her tantrums. Then there were her banshee-screaming, floor-rolling, leg-kicking tantrums. Over nothing in particular. The wrong song on the TV. Someone sitting in the seat she wanted to use, or standing at the window where she wanted to be. The fact that it was probably Thursday.

I say ‘probably’, because it could be any day in a place where the weeks merged into a scribbled-out calendar of gloom.

Her moods could turn on the toss of a… of a coin… and she could spin from tantrum to tiara in a heartbeat. Her eyes would be magically dry once more and her smile would be as sweet as a sugared doughnut with extra sugar, dipped in sugar. So sweet, in fact, you felt like you’d gained 3 pounds just by spending a few moments with her. When her tide turned, the hair you’d pulled out sprouted back and your blood pressure settled back down to acceptable levels.

She’d skip, too. It seemed impossible for her to walk. A bounce always had to run up to her and bump her into the air like a playful dog that wanted you to throw that frisbee just one more time.

Most of the time, apart from when she changed from delight to demonchild, she was the spark that ignited the flicker of a smile on your face.

Her name, Annabella, suited her Shirley-Templeness.

Everyone liked her. Unfortunately, that included some of the orderlies. Fortunately for Annabella, Silverback, a huge brute of a man with the IQ of a postage stamp but the heart of a football pitch, was very protective of her. The one time Dominic – Dirty Dom – had gotten a little too close, in more ways than one, Silverback had ensured that we all heard the snap of the arm. It earned him a month in Room 101, but he didn’t care. He was a sandwich short of a finger buffet.

She exuded innocence.

Bizarre, really, since she was 34 and had once been the busiest prostitute in town until her drug dealer had wanted payment on top of the cash she was giving him, and had taken her mind and memories and soul along with it. I suppose he thought of it as interest. Or a bonus.

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