They're out there.
And, I can guarantee that they like the boys more than they like us. The bad orderly boys in the white shirts. Not like nurse whites, but boy whites, orderly whites. Whites that mean a surprise bit of candy one day and a rough groping hand in your dress the next. Course I'm no stranger to bad hands anymore than I am bad boys in white, or even shadows come to that.
They hide them. Hide the bad boys and protect them so they can spring out and put their dirty minds and hands in you and stir you with their dirt like a mud pie till your brain is just wet dirt and stickiness.
The ones I can see are just doing their work; as innocent as they are white, just to look at them but I see more. I see the shadows. Even if I don't see the boys who hide,I know. Some hide and some pretend to be working all pure and white and industrious.
I see Beck for a minute before he disappears back into his shadows. He was their leader, or close enough. He certainly was the shadows favorite. The whitest and purest. He had hair like an angel, long for a boy and bunny soft. No one ever saw him doing a thing wrong, but I knew he had been touching my friend Jade regular for months. She said he was her boyfriend sometimes. and maybe she believed it. I know she liked the spooky comics he brought her. But presents don't ever create love from power, and I know he didn't ever pay her tears any mind when he wanted something done. Things I never liked to look at, though he asked me sometimes too. He said it was better if I did. But I just pretended not to hear and one time, when he made me, I just focused my eyes on the blank wall and went away, inside. No one could ever find me in the blank. If my brother and father who knew me so well couldn't, there was very little chance for a boy who just worked around me weekdays 7 to 3.
"There she goes, Dumbo the Flying Cat." I heard a boy voice say, but I couldn't have told you who. I wasn't listening, just walking to where they had my dust mop. I took her and began to push her around the floor. My father taught me that cleaning was the second most important thing girls were made for and if you were busy doing it there was always another girl who wasn't busy who could do the first. My father wasn't a big believer in the idea that it really mattered what girl was used for number one any more than it mattered what girl a man had to clean for him. I liked to call it 'number one' because he said it was the number one purpose for girls and it was dirty and humiliating and they might as well be tinkling on us.
The safer boy followed me into the hall, The black one. The one who played piano when they made us do singalong on Sunday afternoons. But he wasn't safer cause of that. Beck played guitar. The black boy was safer because he was touched, he was one of us. He wasn't gonna try anything with his grandmother right there. I never saw him when she wasn't following along. Chubby old woman, just a curl taller than me, in a faded flowered housecoat. He didn't see her, like I did, walking behind him all day every day. But I knew he could hear her. I only heard her sometimes. Boy oh boy, she yelled at him.
I can't imagine the doctors and nurses not knowing, since he talked to her out loud. But I can't imagine them letting him work here if they did. If the spirits and the shadows are why I'm here, someone who had one that seemed only to exist to bully and lecture him. That had to be worse, right?
Every one of us had seen him talking to her. Some days she might be both angry and afraid, and tell him we needed to be strapped to our beds, or we needed to have the devil whooped out of us with the cloverleaf cane carpet beater. And those things were bad, even I know that. What I also know is if he ever thought about number ones with us she yelled at him so bad he ended up rolled in a ball, crying and holding his ears, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry…" again and again.
Maybe grandma ghosts were still 'all girls together'. That was certainly something my grandmother always said was the most important thing. And that another girl could be forgiven anything that she might do to get ahead except abandon a sister to the hands of a man if she had a choice in it.
So when the black boy followed me I at least took comfort in the fact that whatever happened we were both keeping our clothes on and probably not even touching. Some of the bosses called him Andy. But they were the same bosses who called him 'boy', so I figured the ones who called him that french name were more likely right.
Turned out he was trying to get my dust mop. I guess the boys had broken theirs in horseplay and he had floors to do. But Isabella was mine. She was mine from my parents and she was my friend. And my helpmate. And my protector in a way. the boys couldn't take her so they couldn't demand I find something else to do with my hands. Only the doctors and nurses could take away our belongings as punishment. He could do just as good sweeping first and then wet mopping. and if he had to do a floor that might be too slippery to do in the daytime, let the night crew do it. Isabella didn't like him and wanted to stay with me. And don't say she's racist just because he was black. She liked Mildred just fine. Mildred was one of the nurses assistants and she was dark as a raisin and I would talk to her sometimes for ten minutes or more. Well write to her of course as I didn't talk with words so much anymore. Anyway, I would talk to Nurse Mildred and share a laugh, even, and Isabella never challenged me or said I shouldn't be so friendly with the help, like Mother did.
I'm not the first person who chose to be deaf and dumb when they'd had no physical injury, just inside. But some are too silent. Real dummies don't go silent into that good night. They make all sorts of squeals and roars and other obvious sounds of distress. just like hums or other sounds of contentment on the other side.
So I shrieked when he tried to take isabella from me. I wanted to strike him. but I knew as long as I gripped my friend firmly and just made incoherent horrifying noises eventually they would make him stop to shut me up. They might give me a shot, which I hated, but my friend was worth it.
The shadows hid when she walked into the room. I don't know if they did it because she shined too brightly, or if she was their queen, like Nurse Mrs. Benson. I couldn't really get a good look at her, because the shot from the morning had still made me logy.
Of course I couldn't just ask her. Nurse Mrs. Benson taught me that. Shadow queens do not like their reign over the dark forces mentioned, even on a notepad.
I certainly wasn't asking the shadows where their loyalties lay. They were liars and were much bigger than me.
Luckily on the sunporch there was a space behind a ficus in a big pot where I could roll in a ball and be totally hidden while at the same time completely bathed in sunlight. No shadows.
But it wasn't even ten minutes later when she was squeezing behind me. "I can see why you like it," She said. "Sun's so warm, leaves overhead. If it wasn't for the huge clay pot and a floor that reeks of wax and oil soap, it would almost be like laying under a tree outside."
I tried to get up and she put her hand on my shoulder. It was a gentle touch, but more than I could take. I balled up my hard little fist and punched myself in the right cheek. The hot orange flash centered me and it gave me a moment of clarity and self control, so I could calmly try to rise again.
Still she stopped me, now asking, "What was that about, kitten?"
"She won't answer you." Tori said. "When she's like this, she doesn't talk, and she hits herself like that if anyone touches her.
"Sorry, I didn't know." The girl said. I tried hard to keep my focus on the blank but I did get a sense of blonde hair and strength.
"Oh, she can't hear you. Or she doesn't listen. I don't know. Other times she can hear but not talk and just once she could both hear and speak but that only lasted a few minutes. The word is, the docs can't find any reason to be deaf and dumb. I honestly think she's faking and just forgets. But she won't move even if you yell right in her ear. The doctors say she's detached from reality. but I've seen her look at things. I've seen her pet a flannel blanket for an hour, she obviously interacts with the environment. Even writes notes back and forth for a little while with a few girls she likes. she mops the floor seven even ten hours a day. but she doesn't talk or show she's listening."
"Boy, you sure do know her business." The girl said.
"Thank you." Tori said.
"Was not meant as a compliment. So what's your name Mrs. Grundy?"
I almost laughed. The girl was naming the character wrong. Mrs Grundy was a neighbor known for her priggish judgement of others. But the girl used it in the more common, nosy neighbor way. still it was funny.
"My name's Tori." Tori said haughtily."Well how's that working out for you, Tori? Get a lot of satisfaction, do you, from always being in people's business?" the blonde asked.