Welcome to the second of 3 post slots from our creative in residence for April- Ben Cooper who, over the next 4 weeks, will be sharing some of his pieces with us.
When I was young I had this bad habit of chewing pencils when I was nervous, the taste of yellow paint, wood ‘n graphite was soothing. Now that I’m older I know how that chewed pencil would of felt if it had a mind. I’m worn to a nub. Life has seen fit to sharpen me, until it hit metal ‘n eraser. There’s not much of me left ‘n people keep wanting more.
I try to be nice to her, she means well, but I don’t like her. She is sees herself as the black sheep of the psychiatrists, a rebel with a cause. She says she only cares about us ‘n doesn’t give a fuck about what the other psychiatrists think. That might be true, but every group session she leads turns into a litany of wails about the other psychiatrists or her ex-boyfriend or how different she is. She drowns out every other voice in the circle. I feel sorry about laughing about her with Bill ‘n Rudy, but if you endlessly complain your ex-boyfriend, even dudes will get catty behind your back. Laughter, swallowing up yells, making things bearable.
I’m terrible with names, until I put a face to a name I just think of them as New People. There are nameplates next to their bedrooms, but my eyes skip over them. I’ve seen so many nameplates. It’s just paper, a label, a cheap printed slip slid behind a piece of Plexiglas. The New People don’t stick in my mind too much, mainly because they don’t want to be seen. They sleep. They hide…
Some quite literally…there’s a girl here who isn’t suicidal. She’s hiding from her thirty-something year old gangbanging boyfriend. She’s smart, does well in school…’n she’s incredibly dumb..Her boyfriend taught her how to deal ‘n she gets off on the thrill of being a drug dealer. To top off everything, she tried to break up with his violent ass, so his gang’s hunting for her. How do I know all this? She told me. She happily squawked about her bright future as a drug kingpin. You hire minors to do your dirty work, so you ‘n them don’t do jail time. Her family drives miles every day in order to visit her, to bring her treats ‘n give her support. Lucky git. They’re good people. I hope she finds a better life for herself. She makes me worry. I don’t have a daughter, but one day I might. What if my daughter got into a predicament like her? Bill worries about her too, but I try to be optimistic…I tell him she’s young.
Rudy didn’t mean to be rude when he kept calling Christina a guy. We all thought she was one. She had been moved in during the night. The first morning, there she was, all skin ‘n bones, wearing a baseball cap, sweatshirt ‘n jeans. Grave face ‘n gravelly voice. Huddling, trying not to make eye contact. Clutching at her knees ‘n sinking into the sofa. She had been a firefighter, a hero, but she had lost hope. Lost herself in alcohol ‘n drugs. Her little daughter had an incurable disease, a rare genetic disorder that less than a handful of people have. She wasn’t taking it very well, but how can you take the eventual death of your child well? I guess you try to make the best possible life for your child ‘n spend as much time as you can with them. Life is short ‘n uncertain even under the best circumstances. That just sounds like platitudes to my ears, but if a kid of mine had to go through what Christina’s daughter is, I’d try my damnedest to make life good for them.
Some people here, while not being dangerous, can be quite vicious. There’s a lady here, I don’t know her name ‘n there’s no way she’ll ever tell me. I’m quite happy that she’s tits up on drugs because she’s scary as fuck. She thinks the white coats are poisoning her ‘n everybody else is in on it. She growls, scowls ‘n stares at us all. She never joins in meals, conversations or activities. I once found her crying ‘n I asked her if there was anything I could do to help. She screeched at me to fuck off ‘n that I wasn’t her doctor. I’m one of few people she talks to, out of nowhere she’ll just say things to me. All the other worn children try to avoid her like the plague.
There is no permanence here. People are interchangeable. I came here with the clothes on my back ‘n one day another will take my place. My name thrown in the bin, another placed behind the glass. There’s a giant lost ‘n found here where we can take clothes if we need them, the cast offs of countless people. Bedding, towels ‘n scrubs are all locked in a communal linen closet. Individuality is frowned on by the dowdy matrons. Destiny’s tank top is lust. Rudy’s Chuck Taylors are vanity. Carina’s painting is sloth. All sins in a matron’s eyes.
Time here is marked by meals, but the whiteboard is the diviner of the day.
The whiteboard tells us what will be done ‘n it tells the nurses who we are ‘n who they should look after. Rudy is known as Udy because he erases things when no one is looking ‘n Carina sticks in an extra art activity. The whiteboard is a crumb of freedom in a hive of mindless drones automatically following the whiteboard’s will…keeping us safe from ourselves. There is real no future here only the present or a few hours ahead.
Nameless for all your name tags…legion. Poking your heads in the morning to merrily wake me, if I hadn’t already. Poking your heads in at night, to make sure I haven’t hung myself by my bed sheets…clipboard in hand. Clucking…How can you read ‘n write in the dark?…
I see better in the night, it drowns out the stalking grandmothers, blank walls ‘n shatterproof glass. I keep my door open, the matrons coo at what a good boy I am. Weariness gnaws my thoughts, but sleep rarely visits.
Familiar faces pop through the doorway. I know the night nurses, it’s a novelty to them to be known. They are the ghostly guardians of the sleeping ones. While the other children fitfully sleep, I explore spaces where the matrons can’t peek into.
Oh Lord of the Crayons, you decreed this place is a psyche ward not a playground from your office chair throne when Carina got up enough courage to ask for the crayons. You smugly denied her while you texted on your phone. How does it feel to be lower than a rent-a-cop? The guards here are decent fellas. While you try to be god of the paperclips ‘n loonies. If you were on the other side of this glass you’d learn grace. We colored in fairies with fading ink. Carina wore a nervous smile, tomorrow she would be free from the Lord of the Crayon’s reign.
Quietly you go about your business. A gentle giant, turning up in unexpected corners, in the midnight hours, a touch, a word. Whispering to Rudy in his mother’s tongue…scaring all the boogeymen away. Loved by all…broken children, matrons ‘n white coats alike.
There are no real stories here….beginnings, middles ‘n ends all happily strung together, all tied neatly in a bow. I’m broken ‘n so very tired. Will I ever be put back together again? I hope so because at least with Humpty Dumpty if all the King’s horses ‘n men failed to piece Humpty together again, they at least had scrambled eggs for their breakfast. I’m a mess that’s not benefiting anyone…myself included. My mind’s a fog. Nothing is solid. Everything is just fever dreams ‘n a sepia swamp I’m drowning in.
Hi I’m Benjamin A. Cooper, okay at writing, terrible at writing bios ‘n very happy to be a part of this project.
Ben will be back on Wednesday 7th May with another piece of his writing. Tomorrow, we will have our 4th Hot Potato section featuring Sam Grainger and some more Transformations poems. Hope to see you there!
You can read the other three sections of our Hot Potato collaborative short story here.
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