by Shane Fallon
She has already eaten something today, that’s why. But they refuse to understand. Keep asking her if everything is okay. Three meals a day, they have always said. Anything else and before you know it you’re in the therapist’s office, a man with thin glasses and too much money judging you for more. But they don’t say “therapist,” they say “doctor”. An unfair word, if anyone cared to ask her. Too vague. Maybe he’s got a degree in organizational psych. She doesn’t know. They’re all displayed on the wall, his credentials, but in glossy frames behind his desk and there’s always a glare so you’d actually have to stand up and walk over in the middle of a session to investigate. Who’s going to do that? But, she figures, that’s probably the point.
They try and try and eventually she takes a bite, tossing the rest in the trash and leaving the cafeteria. Wonders what you have to do in order to get room service in this place. She’s seen people carrying trays while out for one of her strolls, and she knows they were food trays.
Back in her room, she flicks the lights off and opens the blinds. She turns on her desk lamp and pulls out her book, caressing the cover before opening to the first page for the thousandth time and beginning what has become a sort of ritual. She reads each page, each crossed out sentence still visible, the side notes and their arrows all engraved in her mind by now. And like each time every day for the past four months she arrives at the end and stops. Nothing comes to her. She shuts it and places it back in the drawer. Defeated, but unwilling to admit it.
She is in no place to admit defeat.
And just as she has each day she has spent here, she walks to the bed and collapses. She can’t seem to get over the hotel style of the place, no matter how many times she thinks it through. Everything is sterile, but in a way that makes you question whether or not it is clean. The full bed placed in the middle of the wall, its feet facing a generic desk with a small TV that only gets five channels. The far wall is lined with windows covered by a thin white curtain with a floral pattern embroidered in beige. The bathroom is by the entrance, before the room opens up a bit. The towels are starched to the point of rigidity and replaced every other day. Shower pressure leaves much to be desired and the little shampoo bottles smell kind of like an old shoe, so she has been forced to smuggle in actual product. The toilet is too low to the ground and the floor tiles are always frozen. Same sort of projected sense of comfort that a hotel reaches for but can never quite grasp. “Best in the country,” too. But she guesses there’s only so much comfort they can expect from its inhabitants anyway, so why try too hard, right?
She rolls over, searching the ceiling for cracks. Finding none other than those she could draw with her eyes closed, she shuts her eyes.
It was bad enough getting the tests. She doesn’t want to hear the results. At this point she doesn’t care either way. She wishes she hadn’t even bothered to find out. But her mother had done so much for her and asked for so little, so it seemed like something simple she could do to ease her conscience.
“Miss, the results came back…”
And she tells him to stop. She doesn’t want to hear it. She asks for a copy of the results to be sent to her in the mail, so she has time before the finality of it sets in. He asks her if she’s sure and she says yes.
Her mom’s not happy. Doesn’t trust her “feeling”. Is dismissive, maybe even rude about it. But she doesn’t get it, and she refuses to listen for any sort of explanation.
A week later there’s a letter in the mail for her. She checked every day before anyone else and it paid off.
She is alone with the house, old and silent and still. After stealing a drink from the liquor cabinet, she retreats to her bedroom with the letter.
She opens it.
And she doesn’t realize she’s screaming until her throat swells and she no longer can.
She opens her eyes, effectively shunning any sense of comfort brought by her dreams. It takes a bit for her to remember her surroundings, even more for her to recognize the uncomfortable state of her arm. The reality of it and its implications. The closet is open, therefore…
She feels nauseous, but there’s a bucket for that. The diarrhea will come later, and she knows it. The routine has become transparent to her. Many things have.
She turns on the TV, knowing that for all intents and purposes she is glued to the bed. One of those hospital beds that folds but is designed to seem like more of a convenience than a necessity. Bad news on four channels, a soap opera on the other.
She turns off the TV, having no desire to be inundated with the melodramatic or trite. You can feel the drip, more than you can hear it.
She presses a button and in a few moments, a nurse is at the door. Questioning, but obviously not caring. She asks him to open the shades so she can look outside. The windows offer little comfort on the fifth floor, other than the occasional bird or butterfly. Very few butterflies in this part of the city, though. Or at least outside of these windows. Still, she can watch the clouds do their dance along the horizon above the buildings that obscure half the view. The slow waltz of a thing that she feels must enjoy every second of its ephemeral existence.
She awakens to her parents on either side of the bed, caressing her back and legs. She doesn’t remember anything after she read the letter the night before.
Her mother tells her they found the mail. It was left on her dresser, so she wasn’t snooping. She just happened to notice it when they got home. She was just checking in, as a mother would. Maybe wanted to watch her sleep. See her daughter at peace, for once.
And she doesn’t know what to say. What could there be?
Her father leaves the room without a word. Her mother dismisses his absence, like she always has. In an obvious effort to change or return to the subject, her mother tries to talk to her about it.
And she screams. She flails. And her mother tries to restrain her and soon leaves the room, blood pouring from her nostrils.
The next day they tell her to pack her things. That she’s leaving in a week. Leaving her kitten and her few friends and the life she has grown accustomed to. And they don’t bother to be light about the fact that it is expensive. They don’t ask for her opinion but expect her to feel some sort of obligation or guilt because they’re spending money on the ‘best care possible.’
She spends her last night at home, her kitten under her arm against her chest. The intensity of the soft purrs in little deep breaths soothes her into sleep. The warmth of affection from her chin down to her stomach comforts them both.
After her first pleasant dreams in months, she is awakened by the cries of her kitten being torn away and tossed on the floor.
“Time to go, honey.”
She comes to, and it has only been four hours. The ache in her arm has spread from the inside of her elbow to her fingertips and clavicle. She glances at the desk across the room as every last thought meant for the notebook within it floats away into nothing.
The drip is just about two-thirds empty. Four hours in, twice a week, it looks like this. She glances at the mirror on the wall behind the TV.
She knows that this is how she looks today. That tomorrow her skin will have less color. Her eyes will be more sunken. A week from tomorrow she’ll have crow’s feet and soon enough gobs of hair will cascade from her scalp.
And, just like every day since she read it, she’ll wonder if it would have been better for her to shred the letter.