Cherie takes a quick breath, renews the buzz.
Nurse Humphries appears at the door to see what the ruckus is about. I look helplessly at Allison, afraid that if I try to say anything, I'll make things worse. Allison takes her sister's hand, pulls her down to her chair, smoothes her tangled hair.
"Sorry about the noise," she says. "Cherie's okay now, aren't you, honey?"
Cherie eyes the nurse suspiciously, then nods emphatically. "I'll be good," she promises sweetly.
As the woman retreats, Cherie cocks her head like she's listening to her voices, then mumbles back at them.
"I just wanted to help," I repeat. "I didn't mean to upset you."
It galls me to have to apologize to Cherie's sickness, but if we don't keep her calm they'll throw us out and lock her up again.
"You used to be so pretty," I tell her. "Maybe if you parted your hair on the side, went to the dentist and got a partial plate..."
Cherie snorts. She looks like she's gearing up for another fit. Allison shoots me a warning look, changes the subject.
"Now that Mom's here, why don't we go out? Cherie wants to smoke. Maybe we can take a ride, do a little shopping?"
Cherie beams. "Can we go to WalMart and buy clothes? They steal all my clothes here."
"They don't steal your clothes," I say. "You put them in the communal laundry and they get sent to other wards."
"Mom, please," Allison says.
I hate Allison acting like she knows more than I do about how to treat my own daughter. But it does seem that everything I try backfires. Since the day she was born,
Cherie never understood how hard I tried to put her on the right path. Sometimes I think she went crazy just to spite me.
twenty-eight years old
They're stealing my stuff. Everyone here is in on it. Even the air here is poison. Hate, fear, death floating around. Don't breathe it. Don't breathe it. Why am I here? What did I do wrong?
You are not the cause. It is my will. Everything is of that.
Everything is filled with my holiness.
I am You? Not a loser any more?
You are. Only those who scorn me lose. They are those you see as living dead --pretending, stumbling, blind.
Then fly me to your Heavenly Palace. I'm an alien in this world. Why am I locked up with these zombies? Why am I still here?
minus nine months
"I have an assignment for you, dear one, if you agree to accept it. A physical manifestation."
"I don't know, Boss. I don't see the value in this individual consciousness stuff. I like it here where it's all one."
"I know you do, angel. But I have a job waiting there for you."
"Only you have the particular combination of skills and quirks to carry off this assignment."
"Flatterer. So what do I have to do?"
"What do you mean, nothing? Am I going to die being born?"
"Oh, no. You will have a relatively long life, although you will not enjoy most of it because of the state you will be in."
"What is it? Brain damage? Will you render me paralyzed? Some great deformity?"
"Not exactly. But you will never amount to anything by that world's standards. You will choose what seem like dead ends. You will spend time in a mental hospital."
"Why? What have I done to deserve it? What do I need to learn?"
"This one is not for you, angel. It is a life of service. You will show people parts of themselves they refuse to look at. By opening to themselves, they will learn to love others."
Copyright Suzanne Gold, 2001. All rights reserved.
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