I recognized the knock on my ofﬁce door as Nurse Amy’s. I’d just completed my morning prayers, ending, as always, with Dear God, let everything broken be unbroken.
Amy is short and dark. “I hate to tell you this, Hank, but Tiffany has escaped.”
“She has an appointment with me in ﬁve minutes.”
Amy’s look was pitying. “She went out yesterday afternoon …and didn’t return.”
Main Street becomes a highway as it leaves town both east and west, but we don’t think of grounds privileges as an escape risk. Despite the hospital’s indignities, despite being at the mercy of ward staff who are uneducated and often mean, only a tiny fraction of patients have the nerve and the wherewithal to plunge back into the predatory world.
The roadway is not asphalt but the bodies of Doberman Pinschers, Tiffany had written,
Sometimes they come back to life
Still, a yearning to swim in her father’s pool, a desperate longing for her children, or an urge to feel the dangerous textures of the world against her skin, any of those could have pushed Tiffany to run.
The clock was ticking. Law dictated that there would be three days during which the cops might ﬁnd her. After that, she’d be discharged, and her bed would be given to a new patient.
Everything is gone
but they demand that I get out of bed and brush my snaggle teeth
Can't you hold me, Hank? Hold me close as if I were beautiful?
In my years of working at the hospital, I have developed a sort of x-ray vision, theability to see inside the patient. Under the ugliness is often beauty, under dysfunction, capability.
I catch glimpses of Tiffany before her illness smeared and distorted her. I see her
in sunshine, looking up from where she is kneeling in a bed of rich earth in which she’s planted ﬂowers. Her white blouse is soiled. She doesn’t care, but it’s the carelessness of vibrant life, not the dull apathy of disease.
I crossed the campus, crossed Main Street, and pulled open the heavy glass door
of the Gate. I’d taken Tiffany there for lunch many times.
The other diners scrutinize me—
they are ready with hidden buzzers to call out the murderers and rapers
The restaurant was nearly empty. Leona the waitress ﬁnally came over, and I asked if she’d seen Tiffany.
“She’s gone? Good. She won’t insult me any more.”
The air was unseasonably chilly as I walked the four blocks to Highcastle Pharmacy.
The counter girl hadn’t seen her either. I stood in front of the lipstick display and read the names of the colors.
You buy me a tube of lipstick I shake from medication and you guide my hand
I always examined her newly colored lips closely. In those moments I sometimes imagined what it would be like if all the barriers between us—including her illness—were suddenly to collapse, and we could be together.
Our unit director’s nephew, Toto, was in a grunge band, the Ceades of Destruction. Toto had ugly, prison tattoos, hair cut in ragged patches, and eyes that spun like pinwheels. I knew that the Ceades’ house had been one of Tiffany’s hangouts, when she was free on grounds privileges.
When I walked in, Toto was lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling. The body of his electric guitar was on his chest and its neck stretched down between his legs. “Wazzup, man?” he said.
“Have you seen Tiffany?”
“Yeah, she’s here. She’s been shagging Freddy the Sandwich, our new drummer.”
How can one’s heart both soar and fall to the pit of one’s stomach at the same time? I was ready to vomit with elation.
“You want her?” Toto led me into a room with a bare, cum-soiled mattress on the ﬂoor, empty beer cans scattered around.
“They probably went to score some weed,” Toto said. “You gonna bust her?”
“She needs treatment.”
“Aw, she’s no more wacked than the rest of us.”
“She’s a chronic schizophrenic.”
“Yeah, sure——and someone once slapped a Ford logo on my Gibson guitar. Dig, sometimes you’ve got to let people be who they are, work out their own karma. You can’t just lean in like a shade-tree mechanic, spray ‘em with WD-40 and re-torque their internal combustion with your giant fuckin’ wrenches, you know what I mean?”
“Yes, you’re saying that terror and confusion are Tiffany’s fate, and we should
just step back and let her die under a freeway somewhere.”
“Listen, I’ve got to head for the McJob, man, but make yourself home on the range.”
Drowsy, I lay down on the spot where Toto had been. I picked up his guitar to use
as a blanket, just to see what it felt like.
When I awoke it was night and the house was dark. I sneezed four times and felt dizzy. I’d probably inhaled some methamphetamine from the couch cushions. I stood up, still holding the guitar. It would make a good weapon. I headed for the room where Tiffany had been crashing. No grunge punk was going to interfere with my treatment plan.
About Mitchell Grabois:
Short fiction by Mitch Grabois has appeared in nearly seventy literary magazines, most recently Memoir Journal and Marco Polo Arts Mag, both to be published this Spring. His novel, TWO-HEADED DOG, was published in April l2012 by Dirt e-books and is available for Amazon Kindle.