This story is by Leslee Hare and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“Well, what are you going to do?” Heruka’s voice ricocheted from my crown into my chest, made a few rounds of my heart, sunk down into my gut. Hollow inside.
“Like I have a choice. You’re not gonna get me outta here, are you?”
My shadow slumped against the wall.
Heruka had no shadow.
“Knew it. You set me up, didn’t you?” Sat back on the bed. Not gonna let this get the best of me. “And you want me to believe you’re real.”
Sunlight rolled over my tucked legs, radiance sliced into strips by the steel bars on the window. Dappled leaf shadows danced over my hands resting in my lap’s hollow. Thighs itched on the rough blanket, through my shorts. Beef stew aroma snuck under the door, drifted past the bed, towards the window.
Closed my eyes, head tilted back. Searched mentally. There you are.
Bliss flooded up my legs, filled my hips. Shot to the top of my head.
I remember Tibet. Piercing wind, clear sky. Bells ringing. Monks dive into ceremony inside the temple. Chanting.
Time to go. I turn and walk away into the cold. Into my next lifetime.
The energy in the psych ward dorm room stilled. A bird chirped outside the window. North Georgia in April was much warmer than Kham.
Mr. Reed howled, outside in the Common Room. Reminded us we’re all going to Hell. Sharp clatter, muffled skittering of something across the floor. Myrna yelled. Warden’s voice pounded low and firm, clearing the room. Shuffling feet. Day Nurse spoke to Myrna. Reassured her she was not in Hell. Quiet.
I opened my eyes and looked out the window. “You told me you’d take me to Arizona. It’s peaceful there.”
“We set you free.” My spiritual guide caressed my cheek.
“Free? You call this free? How the fuck is this free?” Looked for something to throw. Only had my prayer beads. Not gonna throw my mala. Even onto the beds across the room. Besides, nobody to throw them at.
Pulled the beads out of my bra, held by the tassel, dangled the deep green aventurine drops over my lap. They began to sway. Watched. Calmed. Deep breath.
The Buddha’s voice soothed. “Give us time.”
My eyes followed the beads. Anger swelled.
“Don’t shut us out.”
“You made me lose my son. My house. I did what you asked. Now they think I’m crazy.”
More silence. The beads swung wildly.
“You could do it if you wanted to. Manifest and show up at the nurses’ station, sign me outta here. But you won’t.”
“Do you see the benefit in acting like others?” He hovered close. Gentle and firm.
“No, I can’t see past this vinyl mattress and these people talking to themselves. How can I think clearly with that going on?” Didn’t gesture. No need. He already knew everything in the room. Of the room. From the room.
Knew everything that ever was.
Let me rant. The only anger in the room was mine.
“Namkhyen, can you trust us to straighten this out?”
Felt the Buddha’s words deep inside. The arc of the beads steadied. “How long?”
“Hard to say. Depends on what humans do.”
Didn’t like that answer. “So, you never intended to come and get me, take me to Arizona.” Straightened my back higher, rubbed against the bumps in the wall paint. “You knew I’d end up here after that ambulance ride. You lied to me, so I’d leave my kid at school. Forever. Can’t help anybody from here, Heruka. Involuntary status. Seems pretty fucked up to me. And you expect me to trust you.”
“We can’t just snap our fingers and change the world. Others affect us.”
Ripples of unrest coursed through the empty room. Mrs. Mason’s husband’s ghost stirred on the corner bed. Robin’s demons exploded through the concrete block wall from the Common Room, bounced off the window. Ignored them. Focused on my guide.
“We have to work within the rules. How this world operates.” My mattress sunk to the left, as if he sat there. But he was weightless, formless, timeless.
“You think it’s no big deal for me to languish here. For how long? You can come and go, don’t have to eat and sleep. You can wisp out of the room when Robin starts wailing in her sleep and Luisa starts pacing.”
“You’re taking the Risperdal now. That’ll get you out of here. They say two more days. Then a fresh start.”
“Yeah? Well, what do I tell the doc?”
Soft knock on the door. Swung open an inch.
“Ms. Hare? May we come in?”
“Yes. Dr. Payne.” Shoved the beads under my butt.
The psychiatrist walked in with a nurse. Each carried a chair. Scuff of hollow metal on old terrazzo. He sat, rested the file and clipboard on his knees, nestled his hands to match mine.
Heruka hovered near him, invisible. Circled, then snuck back into my crown.
“How are you today?” The doctor clicked his pen and opened the file, looked down.
“Better. Got some rest last night.”
“Good. You seem better. You were right, a full night’s sleep helped. Excellent. And you’re taking your medications now. Thank you. Good progress.”
Watched him. Nice face. A shame. Probably an okay guy, at a cocktail party. Those days were gone for me now. I’d probably never work again, never tuck my son into bed again. Who’d hire an architect who hangs out with invisible beings? Who’s been in Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital? Dr. Payne could still go to cocktail parties.
Heruka stirred in my heart, rushing up, reminding me why I’d agreed to come here. The psychiatrist cocked his head. Waiting for me to speak? I had nothing.
“Ms. Hare, do you still think your friends are going to come pick you up in a limo and take you to Arizona?”
“Oh, no. That was pretty silly. Obvious that’s not gonna happen. I’m sitting in a state mental hospital.” And you wouldn’t let them take me, anyway. Clenched my jaw. Don’t say that out loud.
“Would you like to talk again about why you thought they were going to come to your house and take you? Why you thought they told you not to pick up your son at school?”
“Like I told you. Stress. Guess my mind created a good way to escape. Knew his Dad could take care of him better than me, right now.”
“I see. And since you’ve arrived here, have you had any thoughts of harming yourself?”
“No.” But I can think of someone I’d like to strangle. Heruka slipped out, swirled above the doctor’s head. I hooked him back into my heart. You’re not going anywhere, you so-called protector.
“Okay. Well, I’ve diagnosed this ‘brief psychotic break’. Your brother says he can pick you up on Friday. How does that sound to you?”
“Good. Just keep taking your meds and getting your sleep, and I’ll see you one more time before your discharge.”
“Okay, thanks.” The room, the shrink, the nurse. Everything flat and lifeless. They don’t see or feel any of this, do they?
Heruka twirled a ribbon of bliss to my crown. No. You don’t need to share anything else right now. The time for that will come.
I looked at the pair sitting across from me and shifted on the bed. Legs asleep. Beads bumpy.
“Is there anything else you’d like to talk about while we’re here?”
As if words could help. Just let it lie.
“I’m thankful it’s quiet in my head now.” Liar. Double liar. End this conversation.
“That’s the risperidone. I’m glad it’s helping.”
“Me too.” Vowed not to lie. Nine years, never broke it. This is just the beginning, isn’t it? I’m gonna have to weigh my words like this for the rest of my life. My heart sunk. I didn’t move.
They stood and opened the door. Chairs scraped the floor, folded, swung up and out the doorway. I was alone again on the bed. Reached, found the beads.
“That went well. Good job.” Heruka settled beside me again.
“Meaningless. You asshole.”
“Now we can get to work.”
“Right. No money, no possessions. Yep, feeling pretty powerful right now.” Puckered my right dimple, brow drew together. I sighed. “In the monastery, we had help.”
“We did that for centuries. Don’t you check out of this life and run to that again. You signed up for Ground Crew this time.”
Looked out the window. Leaves fluttered. Fingerprint clouds drifted, skipping beyond the bars. Eyes closed, I heard the song of distant companions. Find them one by one, anchor into that network. Skies and earth, filled with bliss.
Even animals could sense peace and draw near. Perhaps there was hope for humans.
I sighed, stretched my legs over the scratchy blanket, tucked my mala back into my bra. Rose to join the line for beef stew.
Might as well get going.