There are brighter tops of cold high glorious mountains without doses; and there are also low dark caves and cages, depths and being frozen and where it's hard for me to remember the most recent things said to me, more headaches and deathly cold that feels they'll last forever. But then they don't and I fly.
It's mild. The point is to pass as one of them. I can live on less medication and keep stronger dreams at my choice. What does she know?
Sometimes pages can flow like a waterwheel foaming high, streams of ink and a heady knowledge of the parts balanced on both sides and all the proof to know it's right as the universe exists, add simple mathematics even in a void; sometimes nothing and I sit still and lost inside. You can't find yourself unless you're lost first.
Biology was like that. Ms Harper's questions were the sort that had you search instead of scribble from memory, dig up two pieces of knowledge and find something new from them joined together; you thought and there it was. Books and words and facts don't care what you are. She handed me a syllabus of everything done that year and the parts in the textbook that fit together, and I felt I wanted to.
Sickle cell trait is a mutation that began in Africa when a crossover mismatched on a single point and instead of two good hemoglobin beta genes there is only one; which can cause damage if you are in high altitude and lack oxygen but helps you against malaria; and despite the mutant change it is passed on. Edward Ferrars admired tall straight trees instead of crooked; hothouse flowers rather than nettles and thistles; tedious silence instead of telling the truth; and he must have been deathly boring with no imagination and I'd have hated him.Sometimes I felt as if I told the same story from opposite directions.
Hello yourself, I wrote back, and spent Ms Enn's class swapping notes at the far desks. I remembered to bring the forms from Kagin, and stayed away from people and in empty classrooms when I could. I walked for a long time in daylight on the weekend, and wrote to my mother under a green hill that I'd see her soon.
She was wrong and I stay myself.I closed my eyes and let the colors flow around my memory of pictures magnified below a microscope.
It lasted until I was alone with Ms Enn again.
"You haven't been taking your meds like a good boy, have you?" she said, and the red nails tapped over the desk.
I can lie. "Yes! Yes, I have. I've done everything. People watch whether I go to class and I do—you can't say I haven't—"
"No. I know the way the grotty minds of the likes of you work. You did the opposite to my suggestion. Probably went under the minimum the doctor said. Tell me I'm right," Ms Enn said.
I hadn't bothered to take anything that morning. Her red hair crackled and seethed. The nail taps hid a painful furnace and the sickening smell of burning things.
It's—not all the monsters I can see are real—I folded my arms. "No, I won't tell you, I won't..."
"I should bring it to medical attention. Recommend your doctor to raise the doses, perhaps. Tell me," she said, and her voice was much slower than the painful gallop of her nails. "What would you think of that, Xavier Swan?"
A furnace the shape of an iron cage, the bars searing hot in a prison. "No," I said.
I can think because my world's not grey—but maybe—I can think—
"I was wrong to undercut the dose. And I was wrong to try to lie about it," I said, almost proud of the second sentence. "I found...a dose that balances a sensible medium. I ought to stick to that instead of experimenting. I will from now on."
"You remember what I told you. You're not a stupid boy," Ms Enn said. "Be good and tell me. What did I say?"
"Three and two." It slipped out; I should have tried to lie. She'd spoken too fast, a grey voice. "I...it's okayto incomplete, numb, avoid—" The words were trapped in my throat and I jumped ahead.
"No, it's not. You've every look of a troublemaker, and I made up my mind to avoid that the moment I saw you," Ms Enn said. "Lithium, eskazine—a calming combination."
I'd tested her. I made a test and she failed with those words.I watched her.
"Could I get that in writing?" I said. "Sometimes I hear things—you know it's typical—"
"My student showed distinct intransigence and mental disturbance and I made a certain recommendation to his medical adviser," Ms Enn said. "Is that what you want?"
I'd stood and paced; papers were falling under my hands, clutter of Ms Enn's. I couldn't remember doing it. She looked very pointedly at the mess on the floor. "No," I said, knotting my hands together to keep them still. "You've changed my mind."
"Very good. Pick those things up." I controlled myself, moving slowly because I had to. She relaxed, lighting a cigarette. "You're thinking you'll try to fake it. Don't. You're far more transparent than you think. It doesn't matter if I'm guessing; only if I'm making the right guesses. And I am, aren't I? Go back on the meds and be nice and tractable to the sane citizens."
"It goes grey. Everything goes grey. If I take enough. I can't do that," I said. "I can't livelike that."
Too calm and I'm empty. Dreams go away. I'd never lose myself that way again.
Ms Enn lowered her smoke, leaning forward like a banded red snake. "Do you know what I'm required to do if you're threatening to kill yourself or harm someone else? Involuntary psychiatric confinement in the county hospital. I wouldn't even need your father's permission; but I'm sure he'd give it to help you.
"Do you know what would happen there? You've probably already been somewhere like it, but this is how it'd be here. They'd lock you in a small ward and make sure you'd enough tranquillisers in you to avoid any suddenactions. Or any actions at all, really. They'd use someone watching you twenty-four seven. Padded walls, plastic mattress, nothing you might use to hurt yourself. No bedsheets, no clothing, if you might hang yourself with it. You'd be naked on a plastic sheet below an observation window or two. So I have to ask, is suicide really what you're threatening?" She smoked lazily, lolling her head back.
Well. I know what I don't want.
"I probably wouldn't, I'd somewhere else— She only has me. She doesn't have anyone else. As long as she'll wake up and need me—I wouldn't do it." It was the truth. I looked down at my hands, curling and uncoiling like worms.
"'She' being your mother? Very Oedipal," Ms Enn said, grey smoke curling from her mouth.
There is one thing I have left. I have only a year. Less than a year. Less than a year and I can go— I can look into the future and make forward plans, it's one of the things I have that means I can think as well as anyone, means I can pass as if I'm not crazy—I thought.
"Don't say that. Don't you—" dare, I was about to, but knowing her I stopped myself.
Do you remember your mother ever touching you in any way you didn't want?
No. I understand—comprehend, apprehend, fathom—what you're saying very well. Don't bother simplifying it into childish language. She never did. You're the vicious ones for implying it!
"Like I'd take out my own eyes," I babbled. "The story's more about fate—you can't avoid what was written in the stars even if you try hard—the son you abandon will be saved and grow up to destroy you—and a man walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night."
"What an interesting digression," Ms Enn said, smoothly grey. "There's no point to try to distract me. Watched cell at the county psychiatric—or back on the right doses?" She looked at me, and made me look back. In her eyes were red-black stiff scales.
"I've never tried to hurt you."
"Proper progress comes from anticipating problems." I didn't answer back. She stubbed out her cigarette in a half-filled ashtray. "Less backtalk already. Come along to class."
She would be inflexible, I thought, watching her sit bored, watching her read from photocopies sitting on the desk. She wants...quiet. She wants obedience. She knows but doesn't care about the writing in the back because it's still quiet... I lowered my head into my arms, because I was tired, and tried to rest.
The school library was fairly quiet during lunch hours; away from people and tumult. It was small, much smaller than most public libraries, most of the textbooks printed in the sixties and some far older books scattered through them like odd intriguing grains. The largest section was the five-eighties, decimal system: new books on plant life, glossily printed with pictures, many of them focused on the local flora and some very large and costly. A smaller one bore Bodhi's surname. Plants of the Olympic Peninsula: A Field Guide, Helen Cullen. Privately printed, plain-covered, and with colored illustrations ordered in the back. I'd left it alone.
Myths and fantasies, for comfort; books like my mother's textbooks; lines of rhythm that sung like words should, but sometimes fell flat; and I liked to know what nobody else did. Hidden in the back shelves was the safest place.
Any words. I have to still understand words, I have to stay myself. I'm starting to hate this.
I found a dusty dark brown volume in the religion section that had been untouched for some time; birth omens and superstitions in ancient times. If Ms Enn was born with two heads and scales on her neck the king would be slain by his brother in a war...
I was late to Ms Harper's class and received a glare. Bodhi Cullen's dark head wasn't visible. I sat a chair apart from fair-haired Erin, comfortably alone; still feigning normalcy.
She thought I was frightened. Stupid girl.Erin sat next to Val on her right, watching the teacher's every word.
I feel almost clear. Neither high nor low. Waiting for the house to fall.
"See me after class," Ms Harper said, returning homework marked in red pen. Erin looked at me, filing out.
"I know it's the junior lunch hour before my class, so there's no excuse for failing to read a clock," Ms Harper said, folding her arms. "Don't be late to my class."
I could see why only Bodhi dared to say things to her; she was stronger outward than Ms Enn, like an uncompromising thick tree. I'd forgotten to try to give a reply when she spoke again.
"Do you enjoy biology?"
"I've read some books."
Ms Harper gestured impatiently. "You've not done badly, though some of your tangent ideas are completely disproven and this work is very disorganised." She pointed to a section crossed out in heavy red ink. "The third-century crisis of the Roman Empire isn't exactly relevant to punnet squares."
"History class," I said.
"Yes, I know. You'll find Mr Al Hira roughly agrees with my assessment," Ms Harper said. "You don't read your work before you hand it in, do you? Look at Erin's." Small neat blue writing in perfect small rows, possibly with little hearts dotting the i's. "She takes her time. It's a useful lesson to learn, especially with all the foolish distractions such as cell phones and social networking on a screen." She whisked Erin's work away again.
"Stay working with her as your lab partner," Ms Harper continued. "Next practical's chromosomes—then comes the annual blood drive." She reached on her desk for a form. "Most have already done this; this needs to come back from your father. That's all. Don't be late for your next class."
The fair girl wasn't far from the door still. "Ms Harper..." she began to me, walking to mathematics. "She's...she's w-wonderful, isn't she?"
I don't care. I really don't care.
"She knows so much about her subject...and she's such an amazing teacher," Erin said. "And her hair...it's so pretty in the sunlight shining past her, isn't it? Like dark liquid gold...and her voice... And I'll do my best to be a good lab partner, it's my favourite class," Erin finished quickly.
"It's inconsequential," I said coldly. "As are you."
Erin seemed to fight against sudden tears at the insult. "I was right," she said softly, "and if I could help you, then it would be right to try." She took herself ahead.
Some of this isn't real.
"Freak," said a boy I'd seen by Bodhi Cullen's side, and stuck out a leg to trip me; I fell, gathered up my books, but nobody was there any more. The walls closed in like the bars of a prison. Someone spoke in the background without a face—no, that probably wasn't real. Words on a page were always the same, you could always go back to them and pick up the dropped threads, and they always echoed in the memory.
In the days before I went from screaming at—everything—to nodding and doing everything I was told and losing myself. It's a small death—Tess passing by the stone of a hanged thief, dreading her own hanging because Alec Stoke hurt her too much and then she murdered him— A library-book, a yellow paperback that stayed with me.
When at a right-hand intersection and an amber light...
It was after classes. Coach Kagin was another one who really didn't care; wanted nothing from anyone. And he left me alone to read the manual while he gave practical lessons to others. It was tedious. My thoughts spun elsewhere; I tasted copper and fire in my mouth as if I'd bitten myself.
Lose myself to dreams or to the sort of grey walls that come inside my head. Or naked below a panopticon with too many eyes gazing in, magnified—a fire drill and a rooftop trap.
A/N: Chapter title is from Sylvia Plath. "And her hair is so pretty" - Baldur's Gate ref.