Chestnut-sided Warbler (Small Lives Series) by Suzanne Stryk, 2004.
In the psych hospital, my roommate Gina told me she could cure me of all my diseases. She stood in our little white room with the window and the bars over the window and said: Like your cynicism, your bitterness, and all of your not-believing. It was snowing outside.
I believe in things, I said. I crossed my arms. What don’t I believe in?
Unicorns, apple pie, world peace, and happiness, she said, like she had rehearsed the answer. Her hair hung over her forehead.
Not real, stupid, impossible, and non-existent, I replied. I gave one finger to each point. (I gave world peace the middle.) All variations of the same thing, I said. Or, theme, I didn’t say.
Are you being ironic? she said.
Yes, I lied.
She came forward to where I sat and laid her hands upon my head. I let her rub them all around. Her hands smelled like oranges. She pressed her thumbs into my eyes, for a better grip, and I saw an explosion of stars and purple shapes, all of them a variation on the last thing I saw outside, before I came to this hospital: a homeless man, shirtless and cold-looking, walking up and down between rows of traffic. He held a sign in his hands. I AM HOMELESS I NEED FOOD, the sign said. The cardboard was wet with snow. The cars drove past him, haughty with their non-believing, and though the snow cast a glare across their windshields, I could see the people in the cars were haughty and non-believing, too. This floated inside my eyes, the homeless man’s nipples exploding into stars.
Mm, Gina said. Interesting.
That’s enough, I said. I was beginning to see my mother.
Lie down, said Gina. Lie down. She pointed at the floor and tapped her foot. Lie down because there’s nothing to be scared of.
Who said I was scared? I said.
Beneath her hair, Gina’s eyes were a new kind of wild. Not Dixie-cup wild, but truth-wild, like she was using those eyes to dig through me. I thought then that Gina—Gina who saw dragons on the wall at night—was the sanest person I knew. Truth-dragons. I lay on the floor.
Don’t be scared, she said. Shh, she said.
I closed my eyes. I let her do it. I felt her sitting behind me and then she laid her hands across my forehead. They were heavy slabs of flesh, warm and clammy.
Shh, she said. Stay still and everything will be all right.
She took her hands away. Cold air blew above my face and shadows moved across my eyelids. Something banged against the floor.
Don’t open your eyes, Gina said.
And then I heard it, the sound coming like from behind her teeth. Gssshhh, I heard. Gssshhhh . . . the noise continuous and loud, except sometimes the noise broke like an engine revving up—Gsh, gsh, gsh—before it became a long, drawn-out gsssshhhhhssshhhh again.
Are you ready? she said. The noise stopped and then it started. I felt what must have been her finger in the center of my forehead, hard, pressing harder.
Yes, I said. My voice cracked. It could have belonged to someone else.
Petrina Crockford was born in Del Rio, Texas and raised in California’s Central Valley. Her fiction has appeared in the Feminist Wire and is forthcoming in Meridian. She lives in Baltimore, MD.
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