You pinned me with your black sphere eyes,
you know that all the rope's untied
I was only for to die beside…
Open ears and open eyes, wake up to your starboard bride
Who goes in and then stays inside
Oh the demons come, they can subside.
The happiest man at Pritchett 3 was Mumby, the breakfast server. He knew us all by name, every single patient, and remembered which foods we liked best. He sang to us while we waited in line, songs he would later tell me were the same ones his mother used to sing him when he was little, growing up in Haiti. He said they were meant to calm inner troubles and keep the devil away, and a part of me still thinks there's some truth to that.
Every day, he wore an apron that said "Mumby's Kitchen." It had hot chili peppers and flames drawn on it in glittery puff paint, like the uniform for a server at a chain of Mexican restaurants. Everybody loved Mumby. Everybody would line up to be greeted by Mumby—who said "welcome to my world! The world of food!" to every patient, every morning—even if they only got scrambled eggs that they didn't eat. He was the only genuinely, unabashedly positive person that ever came through that building. And the rest of us, who had unhappiness so severe that it needed medical attention, liked to be around that positivity. We could touch happiness, even if we couldn't feel it.
On the morning of my first breakfast at Pritchett 3, Mumby greeted me like I was newborn member of a loving family. He first saw me and his face split into a searing smile, dozens of white teeth on dark, dark skin.
"Welcome to my world! The world of food!"
He reached his arms out to me over the catering table, bending his knees lightly like he could hardly contain his enthusiasm. It didn't feel cheesy, or forced, or over-done. It felt real, like I was being reunited with an old friend who had been waiting ages to see me again.
"And who is this young face I see? A new arrival!"
I smiled back at Mumby, less because I was uncomfortable to be publicly noted and more because he was just so happy, and I feel the phantom of his happiness squeeze my shoulder in comfort.
"What is your name?" I knew his accent was Central American as soon as I heard him, but I couldn't pin exactly which country it was from at first.
"Kit! Welcome, welcome."
Mumby remains the only person at Pritchett 3 who did not ask me to repeat my name for clarification. "What will you have, Kit?"
I hadn't been hungry in weeks, and didn't feel inclined to eat any of the catered food I saw in warm water baths under hot lamps. But I also hadn't eaten anything in nearly two days, and surely some vital organ was beginning to shut down. With the expectant eyes of Mumby settling on my face and a line of impatient inpatients snaking behind me, I knew I didn't have much time to deliberate. So I shrugged and told Mumby to load my plate with his personal favorites.
He smiled at me, pressing a finger to his temple and winking as though we'd just communicated a secret somehow, that he and I knew something that the rest of the kitchen didn't. He pulled a Styrofoam plate from the pile on the catering table and began to scoop food onto it, whistled as he did so. I didn't think people actually whistled.
I jumped at the feeling of her breath on my neck and the soft lilt of her voice, spinning around to see Violet's face only inches from mine. Her face broke into a smile when my head whipped to face her, and she laughed, shaking my shoulders.
"Relax. I'm not what you should be afraid of."
"What should I be afraid of, then?" I asked her as she sat down in the chair directly across from mine. She crossed her arms and rested them on the table, nodding towards my plate.
"That food you're about to eat."
I looked down at the pile of food in front of me.
"Mmmhm. It's from a company called Delightful's. My dad used to order from them whenever he had work functions or something, but then he found out that they didn't enforce sanitary processes in their factories and they only use, like, twenty-eight percent actual meat in their products."
"Well, that's…" I dropped the plastic utensils in my hands and leaned back in my chair, sighing. "Delightful."
I hadn't been hungry in the first place. But now, with the option to eat having been taken away from me, I suddenly wanted the food, despite not having a particularly big appetite for it.
"There's prepackaged containers of cereal in those cabinets back there," she said, pointing over her shoulder to wall of white vinyl cabinets identical that looked identical to the ones in the med room. "The selection will probably be shitty, since the good kinds go a few days after we get groceries, but at least it's edible."
Fortunately, she watched her hands while she spoke, so I was free to watch her lips move with her words. She seemed to be perpetually smirking, a ghost of a smile on her mouth even when neutral, even when cursing, even when her eyes looked so sad. I wondered, like I had wondered about her skin, if her lips were as soft as they looked. I wanted to know what they would feel like on mine, just for a few moments, unmoving, mouths closed. I just wanted to be familiar with how she could feel.
"How long were you married for?"
"What?" My eyes snapped to hers, which looked remarkably rested for someone who got so little sleep. I briefly questioned the truth behind what she had told me the night before, then realized that she had no reason to lie to me. She would gain nothing from it.
"How long were you married for?"
"You've got a tan line."
"What…" I knitted my eyebrows together and turned my head, eyeing her suspiciously. "What are you talking about?"
She grabbed my hand and held it up in front of my face, tapping the place where my wedding band used to be.
"Tan line from where you used to wear a ring."
I don't usually remember the first time I touch someone. I couldn't tell you the first time I physically touched my first girlfriend, or Alma, even, or any of the girls in between. But I distinctly remember touching Violet for the first time. How her hand was so much smaller than mine, cold and soft and dry, and how just feeling her skin on my skin sent a shot of something sour and hot down to the pit of my stomach and made me swallow.
"How long were you married for?" She asked, still looking closely at me.
I could tell her. I could tell her everything, if I wanted to. I'd spent the past three weeks reliving the last six years of my life, fiercely and excruciatingly analyzing every single detail, trying to find the exact moment where something went wrong. I needed something to blame, something that I could point to and shout at and peg for all of this. I needed an explanation. So I mulled over my entire relationship with Alma in a desperate attempt to find one. All the stories were well-rehearsed in my head. All the details were ironed out in the synapses. I could summarize it all for her before breakfast was over. But I was too tired.
I pulled my hand away and immediately felt a deflation, a loss. I wanted to grab her hand back from her, hold it against my chest to see if that would intensify the sensation, but I knew I couldn't. The timing wasn't right and I didn't know her well enough and in the time it took me to consider it, to debate whether or not I could get away with it, the grace period had been lifted–it wasn't appropriate anymore. It wouldn't be a continuation, but something forced, something choppy and new and unexpected. So I put my hands on my lap, far from her and her hands and her face and all the other places they wanted to be.
My therapist looked like my tenth grade history teacher. That was the first thing I noticed when he shook my hand outside his office, introducing himself with a level of enthusiasm that only someone as regular as him could have. Especially this early in the morning.
"You must be Kit," he said. "I'm Oliver. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
Finally meet me. Like I was a mutual friend he'd heard a lot about at work parties. Like I was someone important, someone famous. I couldn't exactly doubt that he did actually find it a pleasure to meet me, since his voice didn't lack sincerity. His voice didn't lack or contain an excess of anything at all, in fact. It had a finely tuned easy timbre that would have been soft to the touch but not too sweet. Just like Mary, he'd perfected a euthymic tone. It didn't make me uncomfortable, but it didn't soothe me, either.
"Aren't you a doctor? Shouldn't I be calling you doctor something?"
"Would it make you more comfortable to call me doctor?"
A flash of white and a rough cotton blanket on my torso and my arms tied to plastic hospital bed rails, sores blistering where the restraints chafed my skin when I tried to pull them away over and over and over.
"My other doctor said that."
My other doctor. The too-handsome doctor that eventually came in and untied the straps and put ointment on my wrists and wrapped them in bandages and for weeks everyone on the ward thought I'd tried to slit my wrists and I told them no, no. And they were relieved. And I told them no, no, I overdosed. And they became wary of me once again.
"Is it a young doctor thing? You guys think it's trendy to be called by your first name?"
He smiled halfway.
"They say that patients are more likely to open up to doctors when they call them by their first name. Makes them feel more at ease."
"Where do they say that?"
"Well, this isn't the Harvard hospital."
He smirked at me. Not with disdain or resent, but more with warmth and reverence. Like he'd thought it was funny. Like he liked me.
"I'm Dr. Thredson."
"Nice to meet you. Doctor."
"So what brings you to Pritchett 3? Why are you here?"
I was sitting across from him in his office, which looked nothing like what I'd expected it to. The ceilings were low and the lights were dim and there was only one painting on the wall, one of a forest during autumn with a mountain towering up behind it. There was a wooden table to my right, and all that was on top of it was a box of tissues and a clock. Other than the chair he was sitting in, the chair I was in, the table, and his desk, the room was bare. Oh, and the carpet. Stupid fucking carpet.
I looked down at the awful thing, tracing its pattern with my eyes and trying to come up with a concise answer. Why was I there?
"Why am I here…" I repeated, looking over at the window beside his desk. It was screened over (all the windows were screened over) and on the other side of it I could only see the topmost branches of trees planted just outside the building. Third floor. All you saw was treetops.
"I'm sad, I guess."
"What are you sad about?"
"Nothing in particular."
"Really?" He asked. I heard children laughing outside the window, their voices coming in and out with the wind. I thought briefly that it was the whispering of trees, but couldn't long ignore the distinct sentences that came creeping through the screen.
"Where are the children?"
"The children. Listen."
He looked to the side and knit his brows, assuring me he was listening intently. His face relaxed with understanding, and for a fraction of a second I wished that he would tell me that he didn't hear any children, that it was all in my mind, that I would need to be sent somewhere else and left alone for years and years. That there was a pill I could take that would make this all disappear. That it would all be over soon, but I could stay here where I'm safe for as long as I wanted.
But he didn't.
"The first floor is a daycare for the children of hospital staff. They play outside sometimes," he said.
"Does it cost them money to send their kids there? The staff?"
"Truthfully, I haven't the slightest idea."
I looked back down at the carpet. It was some sort of oriental print, blue and purple and silver.
"I hate your carpet."
"I hate my carpet, too," he said. I looked up at him and met his eyes for the first time since I'd walked in the office. He smiled at me. I hated that, too.
"So are you really sad about nothing?" He asked. When I didn't answer him, he continued on his own.
"Your file says something about a recent divorce. Do you think that's why you're sad?"
"I think it made my sadness worse."
"So," he said, shifting in his chair, "you were already sad?"
I said the sentence once in my head before saying it out loud to the doctor and felt something heavy sink in my stomach. The truth of what I had finally been able to admit trickled throughout my whole body and seeped out through my pores, enveloping me in a realization I'd been avoiding for a very long time (whether or not I was doing so consciously is open for debate). Then I said it, a short, articulated sentence that felt thick and sinful in my mouth:
"I have always been sad."
I nodded slowly.
He was quiet for a really long time. Then he said in a hushed tone,
"I'm really sorry to hear that, Kit."
I didn't say anything back to him. But I don't think he was expecting a response.
"Can we talk about your divorce?"
I shrugged again.
"How long were you married for?"
"A while," I sighed.
"How long is a while?"
"Over a year."
"Was it a happy marriage?"
"I thought so."
I thought so. I thought when I came home at night and laid beside her and she sighed when I pressed my lips to her neck and wrapped my arm around her stomach, thought that when I told her I'd been thinking about her all day, that I'd missed her, that we were happy. I thought that when I told her I loved her every single day and bought her a house and a car and promised, promised that I'd go back to school next year, just next year, just one more year, that she trusted me. That she loved me too, and though things weren't ideal, that we were happy.
"…but I guess she disagreed."
"Do you mind if I ask you what her name is? Your ex wife?"
His voice was much softer than it had been before and I felt like there was something else in the room, something watching us, waiting for me to say her name so it could rip open my chest and pour in bleach just as soon as I did.
"I don't want to say it out loud."
He nodded slowly.
"Because it hurts too much?"
I waited for the answer to come to me and he waited for me to say it and we sat there, him looking at me and me looking at his ugly carpet and the words came to my mouth before I could think twice about them.
"If I say her name then it makes all of this real."
The edges of my vision started to blur and the colors all bled into one, purple indistinguishable from blue, blue indistinguishable from black, like laundry water after washing new clothes for the first time. I felt the corners of the room pulling away and the tug of numbness in my stomach and all at once I felt absolutely nothing. I became the hollow remains of someone who once sat in Dr. Thredson's office, a hologram, an outline, little more than a corpse. I was not there. But I do distinctly remember his voice cutting through the nothingness long enough to say,
"This is real, Kit. It's all real."
A/N: Thank you for you patience and kind reviews! Please keep on reviewing, I love your feedback. Knowing that you guys are reading and enjoying the story keeps me going.
Unimportant piece of information: I almost named this chapter "How Long Have You Been Married?" since that was the central question. But I had to go with something shorter. Oh well.
Thanks for reading. Review, favorite, follow! xoxoelvis