by Kelsey Page
The frail man swept his eyes across the file one last time before directing his attention towards the window. Under the frame sat a young man in a hospital gown. “Hello, Mason,” Mr. Weller addressed the teenager, “The weather is nice today, huh?” He spoke in low, soothing rumbles, a voice deemed appropriate for a counselor. Sunlight glinted off his glasses as he grinned.
The adolescent turned quickly to peer out of the window above him. “Sir, it is snowing out. I suppose it’s pretty, but I wouldn’t call it nice weather.” He returned to his seated position to look back at Mr. Weller, who answered, “Well, I was being facetious, but yes, it is quite mystifying. I’m not sure if we will ever escape this dreadful weather.” Mason flinched at Mr. Weller’s words, as they proved him mistaken. He stirred in his seat. “Oh, o-of course. Stupid, you’re stupid, Mason.” He scolded himself under his breath, and his sunken eyes darted frantically from the ground to the door.
“Nonsense,” boomed Mr. Weller, “I hear you are one of the smartest kids in your grade. It is my fault for trying to kid. There is no reason for you to plan your escape,” he said while acknowledging Mason’s search for removal from the situation.
It was deep into the winter months and the air was frigid. It weakened anyone left outdoors for too long, which prompted the staff to start arriving hours before their shift just to claim the parking spots closer to the building. All the front desks were required to display a tip-like jar to help ensure that the heating bill could be paid without having to dive too deep into the savings account. Fundraisers for the hospital usually began well into the spring, which meant that the leftover funds were almost dried up by this time of year.
The constant pulsing of warm air from the vents created a stuffy atmosphere separate from the outside world. Mr. Weller coughed into his sleeve, and Mason snapped his head up at the startling sound. “Sorry about that. It’d be nice to get some fresh air in here, don’t you think?” Mason’s eyes slowly traveled back to the floor where he began dragging his foot across the carpet. “Yeah, but I don’t really like the cold, sir.” Mr. Weller chuckled heartily and shifted in his office chair before speaking again.
“So do you remember where we left off last time?” While waiting for an answer, he closed the file in front of him and slid it in the top drawer of his desk. Mason mumbled to the floor. “Yeah, they gave you my test results, and you asked me how I felt.” Mr. Weller grabbed a pen from the front of his desk and rifled through a side drawer for his journal. “Yes, that’s correct. Would you mind answering the same question? How do you feel this morning? Anything new?” Mason brought his eyes to meet his counselor’s.
“I feel fine,” he said forcefully. “People keep asking me that — every single minute of every single day. No one ever cared before. What’s changed?” His knuckles became white from gripping the arms of his chair, but his face remained unchanged. “Mason, the people here care about you and your well-being. If not personally, it’s at least their job to make sure you’re progressing while you are here,” Mr. Weller stated firmly. Mason exhaled with a snort of disgust.
“Do you really want to know, Mr. Weller? Do you want to know about the things I see when I try to sleep? The things that I’m not sure are real or imagined?” He finished with a scarlet face and heavy breathing. His sudden burst of anger seemed to remove whatever it was that left him absentminded and distant. Unable to decide on an appropriate reaction, Mr. Weller readjusted his reading glasses and leaned back in his chair, arms crossed.
“Well, Mason, quite frankly, yes. I would like to know what it is you’re seeing at night. But first we must identify what we need to discuss during our sessions,” he said, avoiding Mason’s aggressive questions altogether. “You were in an accident concerning your parents, mostly your father. Do you recall any of those events?” Mr. Weller asked with uncertainty, for he was not sure how aware Mason was of his situation. The air grew thick with tension. It tasted metallic, like blood, but it was only from the air ducts that were long due for replacement. The curtain that had been drawn back for mere seconds returned and Mason was once again in the shade of his own reality.
He shifted in small movements while he spoke, and his straggly hair concealed his face. “Yeah, I remember. My dad, he would get furious at my mom. I knew he hit her. Then she would cry. I never saw much. My dad would throw me into my room and then lock me in there. If…if I made a sound he would come after me,” he grew quiet. His body began to tremble more with every horrid word he said. Mr. Weller attempted to slow down. “Do you… know how you ended up here?” Mr. Weller knew, of course. The staff members were well aware of why this seventeen-year-old boy was brought to the facility.
The boy wrung his hands as he recalled what brought him here a week ago. A rugged voice left his lips as he admitted, “I couldn’t take it anymore.” And he was correct. His father was especially drunk that night. Windows were shattered, furniture destroyed. His breaking point was when he spotted the crimson blood on his living room carpet as he was dragged to his bedroom by his shirt collar. The heartbreaking thing about the human experience is that a person can only experience so much horror and trauma before reality starts to slash away at their sanity.
The only light visible from inside the one-story house was in the living room and the nearby kitchen, which housed the well-kept knives. Mason was locked in his room, this time with a chair stuck under the doorknob on the other side. The teenaged boy sat against the door and phoned the police, but they were not quick enough. Not for Mason, not for his mother. Her cries made him shatter his bedroom window with his desk chair and sneak through the back door. The glimpse he caught of his father’s bloody knuckles urged him to grab the unused knife out of the kitchen drawer. The way his father came at him like an animal ready to kill caused him to turn the knife on himself. And when his father didn’t back down, he pressed the knife into his skin with a little more force and dragged it down through his flesh.
“The police came in the house and took my dad away. I don’t remember much else after that.” He paused and glanced around the room at the pasty white walls and the dusty bookshelf placed by the door. He swallowed hard before asking, “My mom is dead, isn’t she?” Mr. Weller was pleased that Mason was beginning to understand his situation, but his heart broke for the teenager. He gave a hesitant, solemn nod nonetheless. It meant that his father was in prison, likely for the rest of his life.
For four more weeks, Mason came back to Mr. Weller’s office. Sometimes he came in two or three times the same week. He began to share what haunted him at night.
“She just cries, Mr. Weller. And I can’t move, so it’s not like I can try to console her or anything like that. I wake up eventually, and she’s gone,” he finished and Mr. Weller scribbled in his journal. Without looking up from the paper he asked, “And your father? Do you see him at all?” The boy sank down in his seat. “Yeah, but those nights aren’t so great,” he muttered, “If I do see him, I usually can’t fall back asleep.”
The conversation gradually shifted from where he was to where he was going. His aunt and uncle’s house had a room waiting for him a little ways down the coast where he would finish his last years of school. The rest was up to him, Mr. Weller said.
On the day of his departure, Mason stood leaning against his bathroom wall across from the mirror with his shirt lifted to expose his stomach. Running almost parallel to his navel was a defined line two-and-a-half inches long. It was mostly healed, but the initial wound was prevalent. He ran his pointer finger along the raw skin, only flinching once. He met his gaze in the mirror, and for the first time in a while, he was not frightened by his own reflection.
Is a scar a scar, he thought to himself, or a constant reminder of what created it?