Danae went to breakfast and glanced around before getting the tray with her name on it. The room was mostly empty. By the door, a bald head, keys, shoes with laces, a crossword. A muttering voice in the corner. At the table by the sink, there was a girl with a miserable light brown face, and hands trying to spread peanut butter on toast with the rim of a styrofoam cup.
Danae sat across from her. “Hey.”
Danae watched the girl’s hands for a moment as they tried to spread peanut butter. Then she looked down at her own tray. Coffee, tea, orange juice, burned scrambled eggs, white toast, butter, jam. She started spreading butter on her own toast. She dropped the knife twice. Her hands didn’t seem to quite belong to her.
Danae finished and looked up into brown eyes staring wistfully at her. “Here,” she said, holding the plastic knife out.
A glance at keys and shoelaces in the corner, shaking her head gently. “I’m on finger foods. You’ll get in trouble.”
Danae nodded vaguely and sipped her orange juice. The TV was on behind her.
Have you lost a loved one to complications of gastric bypass surgery due to surgical staple defects?
A voice floated from somewhere outside the dining room. It sang. “Pour qui ces ignobles entraves, ces fers dès longtemps préparés? Ces –” a door slammed.
Danae looked around, but hers were the only eyes searching. “Did you hear –” she stopped abruptly, fear pulsing gently into her wrists.
The brown eyes flashed with amusement. “They tied him up.” Danae’s heart hung in the comfort of knowing that this girl, at least, had also heard. “He’s tied to the bed. He’s been singing all morning.” Why was she amused?
“The more they try to sedate him,” the girl’s voice continued, shaking with either triumph or laughter, “The worse the singing gets.”
Danae picked up a dulled green colored pencil from the collection scattered on the table, smoothing her fingertips over the last of the letters etched on the side. “Why don’t they just…” she paused, thinking. “Knock him out?”
A brown hand floated down onto the table. “And lose the concert?”
Sometimes exercise isn’t enough. You’ll need a better diet too if you want to be skinny. FatMelters Plus is convenient for your busy, busy lifestyle. Get one month of free shakes when you try FatMelters Plus!
A pair of low heels stood in the doorway. “Group time! Wellness track in room six, dual diagnosis in the sensory room.”
Danae stood up, holding her tray. The floor slanted under her, but quickly turned back aright.
“Not you, hon. You go along back to your room and wait for the doctor.”
Danae nodded and loped along the hall back to her room, glad to be going back to her bed to wait. She was cold.
She fell asleep before the doctor came in. “Good morning, Danae,” said a tremulous, viscous voice. “My name is Dr. Sheehy.”
Danae mumbled some gibberish as his tie came into focus, and she sat up obligingly. “Hello.”
“How are you doing this morning?” Perhaps his voice lived in the same place as the air that bubbled out when the faucet started to run. Danae started to wish she had gone to group.
“Fine.” She stared at the interlocked diamonds on his tie, wondering what the difference was between a diamond and an off-kilter square. She tilted her head slightly back and forth. Square. Diamond. Square.
“So.” His suit leaned back in its chair, but she couldn’t catch his eyes. “Can you tell me a little bit about what brought you here?”
Lights along the side of the highway gliding up over her head. A dark room, yellow plastic chairs to either side, cramped sideways, shouting, moans — but before? A white blade, something warm, her fingers sticky… or a dandelion, its wish blown away but to waste.
“M-hmm.” The chair creaked. “And why did she decide to do that?”
I can’t deal with this — this — goddamn it, Danae — “Cause I decided I wanted to kill myself.”
“M-hmm.” A pen scratched at wood, but the wood had paper armor on. “Now, why did you think that ending your life was a good option?”
On a cold spring night before the animals had started their racket, she could have been anywhere in the world with a patch of open grass — every other living creature vanished, leaving her in this haven of gentle melancholy —
“Seems like the thing to do when your life sucks.”
“What makes your life suck?”
The sky was big enough to share her sadness, the ground enough to share her anger, even the flowers raising small fists.
“Nothing…” diamond. Square. “Nothing in particular.”
The chair creaked. The pen scratched. “Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“Just an older sister.”
“And are you close with her?”
“Why do you think that is?”
“She’s not at home.”
“Is she at school?”
What kind of idiot are you? Your father isn’t ever home anymore because he’s working so hard so you can go to school. The least you can do-… as Danae sat in her closet and listened and shook, she understood that love was a kind of broad sadness. She crept outside, once the doors had slammed her sister away, to share a sort of unsoliciting prayer — “She was at college for a year. Now she just takes community college classes, ‘cause she’s working and she lives on her own.” It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, I just don’t want to live at home-… I can’t do this with you, this halfway — you were the one who decided to leave. Either come back or be out of my life — our lives — entirely.
For a few more minutes, Danae stared at the tie and answered questions, with their voices sloshing back and forth, and then: “What would you say if I told you you have severe depression?”
Words were gone for a moment, but they came back. “I don’t think I do.”
The paper armor would surely break soon. “Well, why don’t we go through the symptoms.” He went through them.
His words echoed strangely in Danae’s head — she wasn’t quite sure what exactly he was saying. Symptoms… insomnia… weight. When she was twelve years old, she refused to clean her room. One day her mother went through her room and sorted her stuff into piles — keep, move, donate, trash. Danae had to argue hard to get her owl pellet collection back.
“Now, with the right medications and some therapy, we can get you feeling somewhat better. I’m going to write you a prescription for a medicine called trazodone. You’ll take it in the evening with your sedative, and you should start to feel better within two months.”
“Are you going to keep me here for two months?”
“No. We’re a short-term ward. We very rarely keep anyone longer than two weeks. As I was saying… even when you do feel better, it’s important that you keep taking the medication. Lots of people have to take it for their whole lives, because relapse is a probable outcome with major depression, which is usually a lifelong illness.” His pen clicked. “I’ll see you again before your discharge. Make sure you go to the groups.”
Danae thought about getting up and going to group, but she didn’t see much point in it, so she went back to sleep.
When she woke up, her mouth felt so dry it hurt. She went into the dining room and drank about six styrofoam cups full of water.
“You’ve just missed lunch,” said a man in the corner. Had she seen him before? He looked back at his clipboard, writing letters into his crossword. “There’s a sandwich for you in the fridge. Group in fifteen minutes.”
Danae didn’t think she would want the sandwich, because she was still so thirsty, besides that it was mostly just bread and mayonnaise, but she ate the whole thing without really paying attention. Then she wandered out into the hall with another cup of water and waited for group to start, reading the list of names and room numbers written in dry-erase marker on a board in the hall. She saw that the names of the two men in the room opposite hers were John and Moses.
Visiting hours were from six to seven in the dining room, after dinner. Danae sat at a table with her mother. For a few minutes, she didn’t think her mother was going to talk to her. Her mother just sat there looking at the corner between two walls and the ceiling, her eyes growing redder the whole time. Danae sipped her water and pretended not to notice. She waited.
After a minute, she grabbed a coloring page and some of the ubiquitous colored pencils and drew a rabbit on the back of the page. Some-bunny loves you, she wrote, and nudged it across the table.
Her mother looked at it for a second. “You’re not in preschool anymore, Danae,” she said rigidly.
“I know,” said Danae. She thought for a moment. “The doctor says I’m just going to keep relapsing. Maybe it’s not worth it for me to go to college next year.”
Her mother shook her head. “What did you think we were going to do without you?”
Danae paused. Maybe her mother hadn’t been listening. “Well, we’ll be spending plenty of time together if I have to be a dependent my whole life.”
Her mother crossed her arms and stared at Danae, waiting for her to answer her question.
“Oh, I don’t know. Have a funeral, I guess. Then go back to your regular lives, get over it. Think about me sometimes and get sad. Not have to drive me to soccer practice all the time. Otherwise, not much different from what you do now.” Danae shifted uncomfortably. She had to pee.
“We would never get over it,” her mother said, and looked back at the corner.
They sat in silence for a couple more minutes. A staff lady came in with a girl who Danae thought looked a little bit older than her. “I’ll go get Molly and come back,” said the staff lady. The girl sat at a table by the window.
True to her word, the staff lady came back with the girl Danae had talked to at breakfast. Her friend jumped up, smiling, and hugged her. “Hey, Molly! How’s life on the ward?”
Danae shifted from one butt-cheek to the other, trying to keep from peeing her pants. She didn’t think they were very absorbent.
Her mother mumbled something.
“I’m just not a good mother,” she said, still not looking at her daughter.
Danae thought about what to say to that. “You do all right,” she said, patting her hand uncomfortably. “And hey, with the medications they’ve given me, I’ll never be awake enough to kill myself, so don’t worry.”
“I haven’t given you what you need,” said her mother. She started crying then in earnest. Danae pretended not to notice and focused on squeezing her legs together. They sat there. Danae watched Molly and her friend. They were playing some kind of card game. Danae wondered what it was that her mother thought she needed.
Danae just couldn’t hold it in anymore when her mother’s tears started dripping on the table. “I’ve really got to go to the bathroom,” she said. “Been drinking so much water. I’ll be right back.” She stood up and rushed out.
She sat on the toilet and thought about how she had never known a greater, less complicated joy than emptying her bladder.
She washed her hands. Sitting by the stream on her father’s company picnic, her sister hummed a hymn that might have been the servant song, swinging her feet and staring far into the mountains.
When Danae got back, her mother was standing up, her coat buttoned, swinging her purse over her shoulder. “You don’t want me here anyway,” she said, and walked out.
Danae stood on the cold linoleum floor as her mother left, shoulders bent forward just the way that her sister’s had been that day when–
“Rough,” said someone behind her — Molly. “Do you know how to play poker?”
Danae stood uncomprehending for a moment, but recovered quickly. “Do I,” she said, and padded over in her non-slip socks.
“This is Danae,” Molly said to the other girl.
“Pleased to meet you,” the girl said to Danae, who decided that Molly must have learned her name off the white board. “I’m Amelia.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Danae sat. Molly gave her some sugar packets. “Your chips,” she said, grinning. “The real ones are worth twice the fake.”
Amelia dealt her in. Nothing good — queen high. While Danae was thinking about bluffing, Molly asked her, “So how’d you end up in this hellhole?”
Danae thought that was a bit of a stretch but said, “Wanted to kill myself. My mother freaked out and brought me here.”
“She must have been worried,” said Amelia.
“Your bet,” Molly said to Danae. “Hey, you seem less drugged now!”
Danae nodded. “A real and a fake,” she said, tossing them into the middle. She had decided to bluff.
Amelia called her on it, though, and Danae had to show her cards. “Queen high!” said Molly. “The kid’s a bluffer!”
Amelia had three of a kind. She started raking it in. “What should I spend it on?”
“Insulin,” suggested Molly.
“Hire a construction worker to build a hidden compartment in Molly’s room where she can keep her plastic spoons!” said Danae.
“My first trip to the psych ward,” said Amelia, “I played poker with my dad. We bet mental illness leaflets. It was all, ‘I see your Schizophrenia and raise you two Bipolar Disorders!’”
“What was Borderline worth?” asked Molly.
“I don’t think there was a Borderline leaflet. I don’t think there were any personality disorder leaflets at all, come to think of it.”
“What’s Borderline?” asked Danae.
They laughed. “This your first trip?” asked Molly. Danae nodded. “You know how I can tell?” Danae shook her head. “‘Cause after enough times in the hospital,” she said, “everyone gets a Borderline diagnosis.”
Danae looked at Amelia, who nodded. “That was my most exciting trip, when I got that diagnosis. Same day they told my parents we needed family therapy.”
“Well, that last one couldn’t have done you any harm,” said Molly starkly.
Amelia shrugged. “We never went.”
“Yeah, ‘cause your mom didn’t want someone telling her not to lock you in your room.”
Amelia pushed the cards across the table towards Danae. “So, I moved out. No need for family therapy.”
Danae dealt. They played four more rounds after that. Danae lost terribly. Molly about broke even and made Amelia put away all the sugar packets as recompense for cleaning Danae out.
“Visiting hours end in one minute,” the staff lady warned as Amelia was sorting the real sugar from the fake. She gave up and chucked it all in the box.
Molly stood up. Amelia hugged her tightly and said, “Hang in there. I’ll see you soon.” Molly shut her eyes. Danae looked away.
Amelia let go and turned to Danae. “Can I give you a hug?”
“OK,” she said.
Amelia put her arms around Danae, saying, “I think it’s been proven that you need seven hugs a day or something like that.”
Danae thought she wouldn’t mind. Some people are just good huggers, and Amelia was one of them.
Molly smiled sadly and stayed standing until she and Danae couldn’t see Amelia out the window between the dining room and the hall any more. “Want to color?” she said vaguely.
“Sure,” said Danae.
They sat back down. Danae chose a page with a garden. Molly turned her sheet over to the blank side. Danae colored the roses red and felt the old comforting despair settle back into her chest like so much tar. With the visitors gone, they could hear the TV again.
Does your mother disapprove of the people you date? Well, don’t worry, because we’re sure she’ll approve of the place you take your date! Fibonnacci’s Italian Restaurant on I-95!
“It all seems so fake sometimes,” Danae said recklessly. “We just paint the stupidity and sadness and poverty and death over with weight-loss shakes and fake Italian food.”
“Right. Why would you want to live in a world like that, or something?”
“Yeah,” said Danae, glad Molly understood.
“Sometimes I wonder if they even notice,” said Molly.
They kept coloring. Danae picked up a green pencil and carefully colored in all the stems and leaves. Then she looked at it for a moment, and picked up a purple. She slashed thick purple strokes onto the paper with no regard for the lines at all.
She looked out the window into the darkness. To her surprise, a man in blue scrubs just like her own was out lying on the grassy hillside, looking up at the sky.
She thought about pointing him out to Molly, but somehow thought that she would be betraying some secret she shared with him. He was so thin that he looked fragile, an effect that was heightened by the pale translucence of his skin in the moonlight. She knew at once that he had been singing earlier.
The wind shook the last of the dying leaves. Danae worried that the man would lie there all night and die of the cold. He would be covered gradually by the leaves. But perhaps, if he had a dog, he would be missed. She felt glad for him to die outside covered in moonlight, but sorry for the dog.
When the rains of autumn fell, perhaps his spirit would flow down into the river. She imagined his last sigh dissolving into the air as his limbs would go limp in relief and the leaves sink down onto his body.
Corrinne Green is a member of the Mount Holyoke College class of 2017. She is an English major and a chemistry minor on the pre-med track. After graduating, she hopes to spend a couple of years working and saving for medical school while studying for the MCAT and contemplating her decision to commit to becoming a doctor. At Mount Holyoke, she is a member of the Springboard Diving team. Corrinne also has a young terrier and spends a lot of her free time walking and playing tug-of-war.
Corrinne served as a Managing Editor for the 2016 Blackstick Review.