My muse dances in front of the windows at exactly four each day after the final roll call of names before the channel get switched from day-talk-shows to some pre-approved movie. I have been drawing her covertly for days. Well, days because she’s only been here a week. Candice. That’s what they call her. Before Candice, there was Janine; but Janine had to depart. For the present, Janine beat her devil and there was no room for her to stay. It’s a revolving door. Three come in. Two go out. Two come in. Three go out. As long as you get your passport stamped.
I’ve never spoken to Janine, but she seemed nice enough to all the participants in this experiment, and she would sit still long enough for me to draw her. Always from a distance and in secret.
Don’t get me wrong. I draw other things, too. The door that divides the nurses’ station and the patients’ abode, what we all call, a rec room. The plastic cup filled with water that dissolves my medication before I drink it, as I hate to swallow and chewing is not an option. The soft sole shoes without laces gathered at their daily post under my bed. I mean there are plenty of generic things to draw. But the beauty of human form is more intriguing, especially when it’s in the constant movement.
But Candice is different. She’s loud and inconsiderate. Her lack of self-awareness only amplifies the misguided confidence. Still uncertain whether I like her, but her long fingers are fascinating, like the river taking you from home. A flicker of existence in one space, then a glow in another. It’s best to look at her through an unfocused lens… and there she is dancing, when a moment ago she’s been screaming at the top of her lungs, threatening her life. But, as soon that hand struck four, she collected her voice and started dancing. Like a wind atop, striking to go in a completely opposite direction. From distress call to a happy child of five.
So, I draw the sharp curves, with ripples of her movement. Dot, dot, dot… dash, dash, dash. It’s my fever.
“Hi, Mute.” Brandon high-fives my hand as he passes by and keeps on going, high-fiving another innocent bystander until he leaves the room. “Good day, ladies!” He politely greets the nurses.
“Good day, Brandon.” One of the nurses answers him, as one of them always does.
Mute, well, that’s just my nickname and I’ll leave it at that. It’s self-explanatory.
Candice still holds me in captivity, until she meets my gaze, and I drop my stare in an abrupt fear, pulling my knees closer to my chest, trying to hide my notebook. She has succeeded once to grab the notebook out of my grasp, only to toss in the air, shouting one obscenity, “Cunt!” I’m not sure if she was calling me the cunt or herself; nonetheless, I would rather not have the performance repeated, and hide my notebook under my shirt.
I know it’s silly, but you never know when people’s best intentions get to them in this place. I mean, best intentions in the sense of outbursts of an argument, dissatisfaction, pain, guilt, fear, anger. It’s hard to control all of our emotions when we’re caged, under surveillance, and must obey every disciplinary action. Otherwise, there are consequences… and there are always consequences.
So, here I am wondering in the solitude of affection among estranged beings who lack regard to anyone else’s need. Can I blame any of them? Not really. After all, I’m imprisoned myself. The puzzle of my mind. The fear that at any moment I can escape reality and stutter nonsense. It’s not my moral standard that creates such ablaze dysfunction in my neurological pathways but it is my neurological pathways that break my compass.
“Are you creeping again?” Candice stands before me with her hand extended as if demanding something. Something I should hand over.
I shake my head, side to side.
“No?” She asks with force and quizzical expression. “Stop staring at me.” Another strong tone, the one that means business. “Get it, Mute?”
“Yeah.” I murmur.
“Next time I’ll burn your pages. I know your number.” She threatens and I don’t take her threat lightly.
I’ve seen it happen before. The fight that left one guy with a gush on his cheek or food hurled onto someone’s bed, and it’s not even to be vindictive. Mostly it’s due to the fact that we’re teenagers and we don’t know how to deal with our emotions, especially when our hearts get broken. All typical teenage angst. It has nothing to do with the number of slashes on our wrists, that our brains fire at millions of seconds faster than a typical person’s, that we’re too sad to get out of bed, that we’re too anxious to talk to anyone, that we perceive the reality that isn’t there. We love and our hearts break just the same.
“Here. You’ve done it again.” A voice mutters inside my head. A voice that argues his position to his right, the disagreements he believes he has with me and this is an argument of how pitiful I am talking to girls. “You are a creep.” A final prescription. “You are a creep. You are a creep.” A mocking whisper and I curl my fingers to numb my inadequate feelings, then close my eyes and exhale.
Remove myself, erase the voice. “You’re a good person,” I mutter to myself and open my eyes.
It has been a grisly day as the rain outside mocks my mood.
Candice’s absence by the windows has been replaced by Vic, who sits in silence torturing his own mind and watches the rain. He has asked plenty of times before, “Aren’t you aware of the tragedy of our simply wasted life?”
I usually nod to agree and move from Vic. I always move on from anyone who tries to have a conversation with me because all I believe is that there’s only treachery, treachery, treachery… torture, torture, torture.
“So, what’s the word this hour?” Dylan interrupts my thoughts, knowing exactly what to ask, knowing exactly what’s on my mind: the obnoxious habit of echoing a word three times, and then another. At times I murmur it at random and somebody notices my imperfection and makes a commentary. It’s a helpless situation, but amusing now and then.
“Treachery and torture,” I reply.
“Wow. Two words.” He smiles. “Why treachery and torture?”
“How else would you describe this asylum?”
“Well, asylum is a place of refuge. That’s tough to say that your place of refuge is treacherous and torturous.” Dylan teases me, I know it. “Tell me how you really feel?” He smiles.
“Indefinitely innocent and content.” I jab in return, or at least I attempt to.
“Well, for fourteen, it’s okay to be innocent., but too young to be content. There is so much more to rebel against, to fight for, to see.” Another tease. “You should talk to her.” He means Candice. “It’s good to talk.” Words of scrutinizing wisdom and I hate them.
“I’m fine,” I mutter.
I’m not fine.
“Okay.” Dylan sighs and lets the conversation slide. “I got the Childhood’s End as requested,” and he hands me the novel adding another suggestion, “Read something more upbeat for once. Hm.”
“Why not? Might learn something.” Dylan nods and exposes another playful smile and leaves, tending to another patient.
From all the nurses, Dylan is my favourite. He’s most compliant, generous, and understanding. He can even be a friend… and I was completely wrong earlier in my narrative that I’m among estranged being who lack regard to anyone else’s need but their own. If anything, we are more attuned to another’s voice, words, thoughts, feelings. If only I was less frightened to be myself and eliminate the fuss of meeting the impossible expectations, maybe then I will be happy, believe that people can be honest and loyal, and not mutter.
© Jacob Greb — 1999
first appeared in Marias at Sampaguitas magazine
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