New Short Fiction: Cheshire

20 Feb

I’m starting to get back into the swing of writing again. Here’s something I banged out while listening to Homestuck Vol. 5 today:

*

Cheshire

Four dark walls with a patch of light in the center of the floor. Four walls covered in cloth, soft, padded. Rough like an airbag but not hard enough to bruise or traumatize. Hands crawling across the square panels of cloth, counting out of boredom, of idle curiosity. Each square is three hand-lengths high and wide, and there are six squares up the wall, along the wall, across the floor and the ceiling. There is room to move around, to walk and stretch. There is a door, somewhere, but it is covered in the pads the same way the rest of the room is, soft and safe, so it’s indistinguishable from the rest of the wall when closed and locked. Attempts to discern it have failed, even after weeks of trying.

At least I think its weeks. The colour of the light through the gap in the ceiling is the only indicator of the passage of time. If I stand perfectly still under it on the right nights, I see the stars move across the sky, sometimes even the moon. I’ve seen many starry nights standing on the padded floor staring up through the glass hole in my padded ceiling. I have no way to keep count because they will not give me pencils or pens or markers or ink, except under close supervision, and then only after good behavior.

‘Good behavior’ means remaining silent. It means not biting or scratching myself or any of the guards or the other inmates. It means eating all my food in the allotted amount of time. It means taking the pills when they give them to me and not just hiding them in my cheek or puking them back up again. It means not trying to bash my skull against the wall or tear the cloth padding. It means not singing songs to the people on the other sides of my walls or telling stories. Good behavior is, as far as I’ve learned, being invisible.

If the doctors deem my behavior good enough, I sometimes get to go outside. Some days I’m permitted an hour in the common room down the hall and to the left, with some of my friends, or people they expect me to make friends with. I’m uninterested. They all stare at me like I’m one of them, like I’ve lost my mind and found madness to replace the hole in my head. Once we played cards, but I started to talk to the Ace of Clubs more than Gina across the table, so they put me back in with the padded walls. They gave me a jacket that trapped my hands so I couldn’t braid my hair or scratch my nose or count the squares with my hands.

The pills make me lethargic; I can’t stand up when my dosages are higher. My sleep is dreamless and dull, full of figments just out of reach. The doctors watch me take them now and make sure I’ve swallowed them though; I can’t escape my walls into dreamland, because when I do I wake up with blood on my hands and scratches on my arm and I’ve written it again and again all over the walls of my room in red smears: “WE’RE ALL MAD HERE” or sometimes “OFF WITH HER HEAD”. They find me laughing to myself, or so they tell me. They always want to know what’s funny about what I’ve done to myself. I never tell them. Never give them words, only a grin, a cat-smile that leaves them alarmed and writing figures on paper that correspond to dosage levels.

I see Doctor Carroll three days a week, sometimes more if I’ve not been demonstrating good behavior, and he spends each of our sessions asking me questions about what he calls my delusions. After four meetings, I stopped answering with the truth and responded to his questions with silence. We both know progress will not be made unless he starts believing me or I start believing him. We are both people of faith and strong conviction, and we are not willing to waver in our certainties. I imagine this is what religion is like.

Once they permitted me an hour outside on the green with some of the other inmates; I chased a rabbit to the perimeter before they caught me. It did not have a pocketwatch out, nor did it wear a waistcoat. I told them I was perfectly aware of this, I merely wanted to ask him if he knew the Queen. They kept me inside after that, and now I only see the rabbits through the windows in the common room, and none of them are white.

Doctor Carroll tells me that I’ve been with him for six months; I ask him if we should celebrate and if he has any tea and he abruptly changes the subject.

They brought me here because I tried to walk through a mirror, that’s what they said. Found me in the study with my arms covered in broken glass and blood pooling at the bottom of the mantle. Apparently I whispered to them of nursery rhymes and chess pieces before falling unconscious. I’m not allowed to play chess either, because I inform my opponent that we are at war and that the black pieces are supposed to be red. Like the cards, when I refuse to touch the red cards and ask them where the tarts went.

Everyone sounds mad without context. Dreams do not qualify as context, however, as dreams qualify as slightly lesser forms of delusions and therefore should also be considered a symptom of my problem.

Sometimes I think Doctor Carroll encourages me to tell him my stories because he’s writing a book. He takes much longer with his notes than any other doctor I’ve seen. His grins are never Cheshire; they’re worse. He indulges me more than most when I do talk. Even calls me Alice when he knows that’s not the name on my file.

I wonder if he’ll note me in the dedication. Call me his muse and label it a breakthrough when I eventually rejoin regular society while receiving fat royalty checks for sharing the story he told me was nothing but the delusion of a girl with little to do and a big imagination.

I will probably never get out of here. The bars on the ceiling are too high and the padding of the walls is too thick. Even if I lie and pretend that I know none of what happened to me was real or true, they will know my intent is to escape and I will merely return to them two weeks later with more injuries and ravings about caterpillars and queens.

Sometimes I think the moon is my friend; I see it in a crescent and think it is smiling. Cat-smiles coming to rescue me from a realm where madness is unacceptable and treated with medicines and babble. Four walls bleached white to cover the bloodstains. White padded squares, dented where my head has rested upon them. A hole for the sky that taunts me with its Cheshire curve when the moon waxes or wanes.

We are all mad here. No rescue from hatters or hares. No cakes or drinks to help you shrink or grow away. No more roses or teacups. The only jabberwock I have to slay is the one that pulls me between what I know to be true and what tells me my truths are mere madness. None of my days are frabjous.

Four walls to keep me in. Walls to keep me safe, safe from myself and the dreams. Dreams I wish would come back. I stare up at the Cheshire sky before the pills damn me to dreamless sleep and tell it I miss it, and if it could bid my old friends hello the next time he visits them for tea. I would like that very much.

*

Comments, suggestions etc. are welcome. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

 

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