I notice I'm sucking my tongue again and force myself to let go. Cherie was always a devil, and overly sensitive, in the good and the bad way, susceptible to nuances that everyone else in her life ignores. And so am I. I feel guilty for being the sane one, assuming that I am. I may not hear voices, but I have plenty of delusions of my own. The fundamental difference between us is that my story is more socially acceptable than hers, for which I'm embarrassed to realize I'm thankful.
She examines the watch on her wrist, moving it around to admire from different angles.
"Thank you very much, sister, for this generous gift," she says. "I love you."
"I love you too, sweet thing."
"I know. Let's play gin."
fifty-five years old
Turning the car into the lane that leads to Cherie's depressing hospital, I thank the powers that be for the taxes from gambling in Atlantic City that pay for New Jersey's mental health system. If it weren't for that, Cherie would probably have landed in my lap.
I hope Allison's here by now. It's about time she made it to visit her sister. Cherie will be her responsibility when I die, although I'd love to be free of her while I'm still alive. I'm tired of worrying about her, but I can't just abandon her. A mother has to protect her children, like when they were in the womb.
The spacious and grassy hospital grounds aren't bad, if it weren't for cigarette butts and foam cups everywhere, but the buildings look like a prison. What did I do to deserve this?
Better lock the car. With all these crazies around you can't be too careful.
My head aches as I drag myself up the ramp to Cherie's building. I ring the bell and wait for one of the grumpy, lazy psych-techs to open the door. I'd rather turn around and go home but Cherie needs me.
It seems like an hour before the door swings open. A very fat woman in stretch pants and a white lab coat glowers at me.
"I'm here to see Cherie Krazny," I tell her.
She shuffles down the hall to the elevator and I follow. Rifling through a bulging ring of keys, she chooses one and inserts it where the call buttons would normally be.
"Second floor, left to Ward B. Ring the bell next to the door at the end of the hall."
She sounds like she's angry at me. Does she think it's my fault that Cherie's crazy?
The elevator clanks and rattles its way upward. Alone in the compartment, I wonder again if I did anything to make Cherie the way she is, and what I can do to fix her. Allison seems fine, sane enough to be a therapist at least. I'm an ordinary everyday person. And even though Warren could be infuriatingly obnoxious, he wasn't certifiable.
Abruptly, the elevator stops but the doors don't open immediately. I start worrying about being stuck here. When they finally slide apart, the cold gray hallway hits me with the smell of piss and disinfectant.
There's another bell at the locked door to the ward. I push it, and peer through the chicken wire-fortified window. A psych tech, a man this time, sporting a lush handlebar moustache, answers my ring, using his overly muscled body to block the entrance. I tell him who I am.
"What's in the bag?" he asks, reaching for the goodies I've brought Cherie.
I surrender it, knowing he has to rummage through everything to see for himself.
He pulls out the tube of lipstick, inspects it to make sure it's still sealed.
"Nail polish okay, no file though. Too dangerous." He pockets the Revlon nail file, inspects the cigarette pack for forbidden matches, opens deli containers of food and sniffs them. Does he think I stashed a gun in the potato salad?
Copyright Suzanne Gold, 2001. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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