The Stage

1.

There had been a hole in my nightshade ever since I was five. It never bothered me, but then I lost my mind.

I pulled out a bolt of daisy-patterned fabric from the bottom of my closet and started sewing curtains.

As I clumsily threaded my needle, I held the daisy cloth before the lower half of my body like a screen. I walked over to my mother like that, a needle in one hand and the other supporting the curtain across my abdomen.

“Mother, I want to be a virgin forever. ”

She only laughed at me.

A few weeks later, she committed me to the mental ward.

2.

The doctor conspicuously drew the curtains open to reveal a mirror built into the wall. I knew that there were people behind it, documenting every single careless word.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“I had one for three months. We just broke up.”

“So, you’ve been sexually active then.”

“Yes, but I’ve never had sex.”

“You have never had sex?”

“No, I’ve never had sex.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my figure in the mirror. I noticed how my hands moved erratically in the air, choreographing my words as I spoke. I pretended that I was on a television show with millions of viewers watching through the mirror. At the end of the interview, I imagined myself shaking hands with the doctor, saying, “It was so good talking with you,” and then I pictured myself exiting the room without a white¬≠ clothed escort shadowing me.

“Have you noticed any strange smells?”

“Yes. One day when I walked into my room, it smelled like deer, and there was grass in my bed.”

“When was the last time that you had your period?”

“A week ago.”

“Have you been hearing things?”

“Hearing things?”

“Have you been hearing voices?”

“No.”

The doctor closed his notebook and returned his pen into his shirt pocket. Then he closed the curtains. The interview was over, and he walked with me out of the room. He led me through the adjacent door where my audience was waiting behind the fake mirror. I was met by a group of white coats all holding clipboards with sheets of paper.

“Hi,” they said simultaneously.

“I think that we can do something for you,” the doctor said.

In the distance, I heard the sirens of an ambulance. Its wail hurt my ears.

“Is there something wrong with me?”

“That is what we are here to find out.”

3.

A nurse showed me to my room.

“Visitor’s hours are from six to seven,” she said, shutting the door behind her.

I wasn’t thinking about my mother as I looked into the plastic mirror above the sink. My face was a rubber band about to snap; I was a pool of body parts in a fun-house mirror. I felt sick.

I wanted to find the nurse and tell her that I was going to behave.

“I’m not one of those loonies who likes to break things just to hurt myself. I want a real mirror for godsakes.”

I turned away from my distorted reflection and faced the white walls. Someone had scrawled in wiry letters the words “I want to die” along the horizon of my bed. There were holes in the white plaster where the same person had been bored enough to chip away the paint with fingernails. A dark metal grate covered the only window in the room.

If I were to jump, it wouldn’t have been for reasons of suicide. I wanted to kick the metal griddle out the window and flee the hospital’s cement property unscathed.

For lack of anything better to do, I pressed my cheek against the metal surface and thought of rubbing my face against it like a slab of flesh on a cheese grater, but then my mother walked in.

“Hello, darling. How are you doing?”

I pulled my face away from the window without expression. There was a faint griddle pattern embedded in my cheek.

“Fine.”

“Do you need anything from home?”

“I just want my books.”

I started crying.

“Just bring me my books,” I said in between sobs.

“Okay, honey.”

And then she left the room.

My cries must have been audible through the closed door because I heard a dull tapping on the other side, followed by an “Are you okay?”

A young girl walked into my room. I couldn’t help thinking that she was ugly. Her red sweater flared against the colorless room. There was a soft pink reflection on the plaster surface where she stood closest to the wall.

She didn’t belong in the ward.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Terrible.”

I looked at her small face nestled in a wreath of uncombed split ends. I caught her gaze for a moment, and then we both nervously said at the same instant:

“Why are you in the hospital?”

It was instinctive as inquiring about someone’s name, which should have been my first question.

“Why are you in the hospital?” I repeated.

The pink glow from her sweater flickered on the wall as she walked over to my bed and sat on my pillow. I sat down beside her.

“I was born here.”

I eyed her curiously and waited for an explanation.

“My parents met in this hospital. They got married in here, and they had me, and then they died in here. I was still a baby at the time. I had nowhere else to go. The nurses let me stay out of pity.”

Why are you in the hospital?” I asked again, shocked.

Why are you in the hospital?” she retorted. Her tone of voice wasn’t adversarial. It just indicated that asking the question a second time was inappropriate.

“I have psychosis.”

“Oh.”

There was a pause. She looked at me inquisitively through a veil of web-like hair.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure,” I said, slightly annoyed.

She didn’t say anything for five minutes.

For five minutes, I stared at her.

She lay on my white bedspread like a crimson stain. Her feet swung above the floor, not because she was short but because she was restless. The pink reflection danced on the wall; she was constantly moving.

“What’s your name?” she asked me.

“Dolores.”

“I’m Enid.”

Without another word, she sprung off the bed and strode briskly out the door.

4.

The lights batted on in a flutter of eyelashes as the nurse wheeled a cart into my room.

“Rise and shine,” she said, taking a paper cup off her cart.

I opened my eyes to a gigantic fluorescent bulb. The plaster walls were tainted a pale yellow from the artificial light.

“Enid?” I said, drowsily.

“Time to take your medicine.”

I sat up in bed, and the nurse placed five white tablets into my outstretched palm.

Through the window, it was still dark. I hesitated before taking the cup from her waiting hand.

“What time is it?”

The nurse looked at me blankly.

“Six O’clock.”

I grabbed the cup from her hand, spilling some of the water on my shirt, swallowed the pills, and collapsed onto the mattress. The nurse wheeled her cart out the door and turned off the lights.

“Have a nice day.”

I returned to sleep, wishing that the window had curtains to shut out the encroaching light.

“At seven O’clock report to the dining area for breakfast.”

I abruptly sat up in bed. I heard a voice, but no one was in the room. Inconspicuously placed above my bed, there was an intercom painted white to match the color of the walls. I fell back asleep as the intercom repeated its message.

I felt warmth on my eyelids. Sunlight entered through the window. I shook myself out of bed, brushed my teeth, and took a shower before going to breakfast. I walked into the dining area. Enid wasn’t there.

I sat at a table alone and picked at my food from a plastic tray, discontented. Around me, other patients were chatting. Noise collided from their mouths in trumpets of hummingbirds. I left the dining area, leaving behind a tray of cold eggs and stale toast. I returned to my room. As I was making my bed, there was a knock on the door, and then Enid walked in.

“Where were you?” I asked.

“I don’t normally eat breakfast.”

I looked at Enid. She was wearing the same clothes as yesterday.

“Let’s go to my room.”

There was another knock on the door. A nurse arched her neck in.

“It’s time for the mandatory therapy session.”

Enid and I reluctantly met the other patients in the lounge. There was a doctor sitting at the head of the table. He had black bushy eyebrows and blinked incessantly.

“How are you feeling today, Dolores?”

“Fine.”

“We were just about to discuss the importance of relationships. How do you feel about relationships, Dolores?”

I looked at Enid who sat down next to me. She was busily preening her hair.

“I think that they suck.”

The doctor nervously laughed while the other patients cast their eyes to the floor. The doctor regained his composure and began again.

“Since this is Dolores’s first therapy session, I have to explain to her how they are conducted.”

His hand rested upon a stack of white paper. He stood up and passed out the blank sheets around the table.

“We begin the therapy session with a question, then someone answers the question and provokes discussion among the patients. After the discussion is over, I pass out paper so that each of us can write down our goals for the day.”

The doctor looked at me through his long eyelashes.

“I would like each one of you to write down your goals for the day. Then we will go around the room to share what we have written.”

I stared at the white rectangle in front of me, feeling as if I was about to give a presentation. Enid began to fold her paper into an origami flower. The other patients were rapidly scribbling down their goals. My pencil remained suspended above the paper in hopeless contemplation.

“We’ve had enough time to process our thoughts. Let us start round robin beginning with Enid.”

Enid held a paper flower in her hand without saying anything. The doctor calmly blinked his eyes three times.

“Enid doesn’t have anything to share with us today. Let’s start round robin in the other direction.”

I focused on my blank sheet of paper, fully aware that there was still time to jot something down. Partially listening to the other patients recite their goals, I scoured my brain for a statement.

“I am going to eat less today.”

“I am going to do my homework today.”

“I am going to do my laundry today.”

“I am going to have a good visit with my dad today.”

There was a pause in the rhythm. I realized that it was my turn. Without thinking, I said:

“My goal is to get out of here.”

The doctor’s eyebrows furrowed up into a hairy caterpillar, and Enid started laughing.

“Dolores and Enid are dismissed from this therapy session.”

The doctor looked back and forth between us without blinking.

“We should go, Dolores.”

Enid rolled out of her chair. I chased her as she bounced through the corridor like a red ball.

5.

The door to Enid’s room was ajar. The walls were fleshly painted. Above her unmade bed, there was a photograph of a young couple. I looked at the opposite wall, trying to locate an intercom only to find that there wasn’t one. I then faced her mirror expecting to see an amorphous body, but instead, I saw my figure restored to its normal shape. Her mirror was made of glass. Startled, I quickly said:

“What is the point of therapy if we never talk about anything important?”

“What is the point of being in the hospital if you aren’t sick in the first place?” Enid retorted.

“Look, I’m told that I have psychosis.”

Enid turned to me, cross-eyed.

“Look, I’m told that I have psychosis,” she said in mimicry.

Enid’s hair reminded me of a defensive octopus calculating the precise moment to squirt its black ink. Her mockery confused me. I felt a hostility that gave me goose bumps. My own mother committed me to the ward, and I was always told that mother knows best.

“Let me show you something,” Enid said, taking the offensive. She dragged me to the mirror and stood behind me, propping up my body in her arms.

“A sliver of silver.”

Enid pushed me towards the mirror.

“A gram of slam.”

I stepped backwards, suppressing a giggle.

“A pill of nil.”

She pushed me into my reflection.

“See, you look sane.”

Enid halted her rhymed verse for an instant while I inspected my image in the mirror. She remained standing behind me. Tuffs of her dark hair spiraled about my face, turning my reflected image into a psychotic medusa.

“I need a haircut.”

“Sure you do, but the nurses don’t allow patients to handle scissors.”

“That’s really inane,” I said, using my fingers to comb my hair into a ponytail.

Without warning, Enid pushed me into the mirror again. I caught myself before my head hit against the glass, and called out, “a sliver of silver” before I cracked up laughing.

“Shhhhh,” Enid whispered, “Do you hear birds chirping?”

I became quiet. I looked out the window but didn’t see any birds. Down the hallway, I heard a high-pitched whistling sound that struck the ear as mechanical rather than melodic. It gradually increased in volume, and then a nurse pushed her medicine cart into the room. Its wheels were caked with bits of white paper and strands of hair, causing them to squeal upon rotation. The nurse took five white tablets and a paper cup from the cart.

“Dolores, you are supposed to be in your own room.”

“I’m just visiting with Enid.”

“Okay, but go ahead and take your medication.”

“I thought that I just took it though.”

“You take medication three times a day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and then once in the evening.”

“Oh, I wasn’t aware of that.”

She placed the tablets in my palm. I took the cup of water from her hand, and asked:

“What are the side effects of this medicine?”

The nurse delivered a memorized response.

“Dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, increased dreaming, nervousness, loss of appetite, dry mouth, weight gain, vision changes, decreased sexual desire, insomnia, and fatigue.”

The room began to twirl in gyroscopic revolutions. I sat down on the floor to avoid falling over.

“These side effects disappear in a week,” the nurse added.

She wheeled her cart away and shut the door behind her. Enid pried me off the floor, pulling me towards the bed.

“Maybe you should take a nap. You took tired.”

I crawled into Enid’s bed, waiting for the dizzy spell to pass. Her tangled sheets curled about my body in serpent-like form. I felt goose bumps reappearing on my arms and pulled one of the sheets closer to my body.

“Do you ever make your bed?”

“No.

“Enid, can I ask you something?”

“What is it?”

“Why do you have curtains on your window?”

“The same reason why I have a glass mirror, Dolores.”

“Is that photograph of your parents?”

Enid only nodded. She stood by the bedside, half-heartedly playing with her hair. Her sweater turned to a dark crimson hue because the nurse had absent-mindedly turned off the lights, and the curtains were drawn, hiding the afternoon. I thought about Enid’s messy bed; it seemed as though Enid never took a shower either. She smelled like a deer. I started talking, apathetic as to whether or not she was listening.

“I stopped taking showers when my boyfriend and I broke up. I wasn’t depressed that we broke up – I just didn’t feel like taking showers anymore. I also didn’t feel like changing clothes anymore. I remember the doctors asking me if I noticed any strange smells, and I said that my room smelled like deer and there was grass in my bed. The smell was probably just me. And the grass was probably from my shoes. I also didn’t feel like taking off my shoes anymore when I went to sleep. The fact is, I never really went to sleep anymore. I had really bad insomnia because I was afraid that my boyfriend was going to break in through the window and touch me. I would stay up all night, panicking, thinking that the shadow I saw through my nightshade was a person walking around my house trying to find the best way in. It was really just a bush outside the house. I was just so frightened, letting my imagination ruin my life, and now I’m here in this hellhole where they drug me so much that I can’t eat or sleep properly”

I drifted off to sleep. I heard Enid singing to herself a lullaby.

6.

When I woke up, it was dark outside. I got up, wanting to wash my face. Sharp objects crunched underneath my feet. There were silver slivers in the sink. I noticed a dark red object lying next to my white socks. It was Enid. I turned on the lights.

“Enid?”

I clung onto Enid’s body. She resembled a porcupine with shards of glass protruding from her chest. I couldn’t touch her without cutting myself. Slowly, I removed the fragments of glass from her body and pieced them back together on the floor. I looked into the cracked surface. There were tiny dots of blood speckling my face. Crisp lines sliced through my eyes where planes of the mirror were interrupted. I began to cry. I washed my face in the sink, sending glass fragments down the drain. Through the hiss of the running water, I heard a solid knock on the door.

“Come in.”

A nurse wheeled a medicine cart into the room just as I lifted my face from the faucet. Water dripped down my face in rivulets and I heard her ask me:

“What happened to Enid?”

I refrained from saying the word suicide. Enid wouldn’t have liked that. Instead, I replied:

“Oh, I killed her.”

The nurse looked at me wildly.

“You stay right there,” she stammered, “Don’t move.”

I watched calmly as the nurse hurried out of the room. Then I sank to the floor and wept over Enid’s face. I heard voices outside the door. My name was interwoven into a medley of accusations.

The doctor looked at the nurse reproachfully.

“Are you certain that Dolores murdered her? Enid could have just taken her own life. In her medical records, there is an indication that she suffers from a mild case of psychosis.”

The nurse had multiple creases in her pale forehead.

“I saw Dolores removing the blood from her hands. She also did not seem remorseful about Enid’s condition.”

The doctor put his head on the nurse’s shoulder.

“Enid has been with us for fifteen years…” he trailed off.

7.

Several doctors entered the room without knocking. I stood over Enid, arms behind my back, hands holding each other. A doctor pulled a white sheet over Enid’s body. My hands let go of each other. I bent down on the floor over her concealed figure.

“She’s beautiful. Why don’t you want to look at her?”

I lifted the cloth. Enid’s hair hung about her face like velvet drapery. I parted it away from her closed eyes and saw the pink color tainting her cheeks. She could have been alive, but the color came from my own hands. Covered in a mixture of our blood, they looked criminal; shards of mirror were embedded in the meat of my fingertips. I hadn’t noticed this, as I tried to wipe my own tears off Enid’s face, only scraping her cheeks with prickly fingers.

“Dolores, we just phoned up your mother. You will be transferred to another ward.”

I ignored the doctor and started to untangle the sheets on Enid’s bed. I felt like making her bed. I unbraided her blankets, folded them, and placed her pillow up against the headboard. Then I lay down on her mattress, closing my eyes without the desire to wake up. The room was spinning again.

8.

“Dolores, wake up.”

I opened my eyes. My mother was standing above me, a look of concern distorting her face. Half awake, I glanced at my surroundings. I saw colorful wallpaper and realized that I was no longer in the hospital. I stared at the hole in my nightshade, wondering why it was still there. I remembered making curtains to cover it up.

“The doctors wanted to transfer you to another ward, but I wouldn’t let them.”

My mother had a heavy book in her lap.

“I was going to bring your books to the hospital today, but then I got the phonecall–”

I interrupted my mother.

“What is psychosis?”

My mother opened up her book to a marked section.

“I don’t know, but these are the symptoms: inability to focus, mood swings, hyperactivity, paranoia, overwhelming thoughts, hallucinations, and loss of contact with reality.”

As I listened to my mother casually list the symptoms, my stomach made continual interjections, complimenting her monotone rhythm.

“Is your stomach singing to me?”

I laughed.

“No, I’m just hungry.”

My mother tossed the heavy book onto the floor and replaced it with a cookbook. There were several marked pages. She turned to the first one.

“I could make this for dinner. How does this sound?”

She immersed herself in reading the ingredients. The sound of her voice lulled me like a sedative. I fell asleep as if she were reading me a bedtime story.