top of page

The Sandpipers


Access PDF here.
Many sections are incomplete.

[Untitled Project C]


Access PDF here.


[Untitled Project B]

     They sat in an arc, six voices with variations of his face. Harvey called it his peanut gallery. They reclined in chaise lounges and looked through his eyes. And on the curved table ahead of them lay a single wooden hook.

     He first described it to his mother, at twelve. She was unconvinced.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     The plane was wet, Harvey decided. Not dingy or sweaty, but wet. Like together, their breath had condensated, lining the walls with damp. And stink, Frankie said.

     He looked at the man’s watch beside him. It was late afternoon but still dark.

     “It’s not right anymore,” the man said.


     The man – Morris, Harvey remembered – adjusted his watch. “The time. It’s probably three a.m. here.”

     Harvey caught himself staring at the men’s hair. A few were shaved clean but the rest, more or less recently buzzed, pricked up like algae in swamps. Mostly black and dark brown but the occasional blond. No red. (He felt Rich’s disappointment.) Even some gray and white, which made Harvey look away. The women’s plane was probably thick with hair, he couldn’t help but think. Maybe even a redhead.

     In the hours that passed, Harvey drifted in and out of sleep. He woke to a loud crackling.

     “Good morning, men. Due to unforeseen complications, we will be landing commercial today. Estimated arrival time is 0740. Lieutenant Vega will walk you through the procedure.”

     They later landed on the tarmac, and the men filed off the plane. The airport, Harvey noticed, didn’t have edges – every corner was sanded soft, to a curve. Baby-proofed. Their boots fell heavy, turning people away, making the thick noise soldiers made in satires. He felt cartoonish. He watched Morris’ head – a brown egg – and let Odette’s hums drown out the footfalls.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Camp Cloud announced itself in big, thick letters on a sign outside its front gates. Beyond this, beige barracks with rounded tops stood in rows. Larger buildings and arch-tents lay between and past them, in similar shades. And surrounding the camp were green hills, shaggy and dark against the starving patches on the ground.

     It seemed to Harvey the war hadn’t reached camp. It was unspoiled. The wind, their new voices and soles, and the occasional door or dish cut through the quiet; but everything else was still. Unlike most of the quarters, his barrack’s shades were drawn. He leaned against the door but heard nothing.

     The room was whiter than he expected, with eight taut-cover beds. A man lay on one near the door, his eyes shut, and Harvey cleared his throat.

     He sat up in bed, sharp like he hadn’t been asleep, and said, “That one’s yours.”

     Harvey nodded and said, seeing his uniform, “Fredrick.”


     “There’s another Pryce. Just call me Harvey.”

     Fredrick smiled. “Alright, Harvey.”

     Their other six bunkmates were out, Fredrick told him, with others from camp.

     “Nothing’s happening,” he said.


     “Nothing’s happened in the last few months. We send out teams for reconnaissance, but it’s been quiet on the front.”

     They’re coming, Andres said in a high-pitched voice. They’re co-ming for your blood, Alonzo said, louder on the offbeats. Rich said, Boys, knock it off. Harvey kept his face still.

     “Do you think they’re planning something?”

     “We think,” Fredrick said.

     “Like an attack?”

     “Something like that.”

     Harvey paused. “Tech? Nuclear?”


     Coming, Alonzo sang. Frankie said, Shut up.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Frankie was six. This was his main trait: his youth. His boyishness. He also hated bad smells and messes and generally, bad people. He came first, when Harvey was seven.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     The on-assignment soldiers returned a week later. Fredrick and the others crowded outside, screaming to them like heroes. Harvey lagged behind, his voice straining to match their volume. But the troops didn’t echo their enthusiasm – they labored through camp, some carrying packs but most empty-handed, wearing dirt-dry uniforms with sun stains. Fredrick stopped one of the men as he turned to enter the barrack. He asked what happened, but the man sighed and shook Fredrick off, slipping away.

     Two soldiers – a man and woman – came in near the front and encouraged the cheers. They looked like pulled taffy, and they mimed, waving their spindle-arms, crouching and holding their hands to their ears in faux-listening. The man leap-frogged over the woman, who then penguin-walked, then caught the man in a trust fall before dropping him in dramatics. After which he jumped up, his arms and legs stretched like a starfish. Harvey couldn’t look away. Neither could the others – the camp was roaring, its mouth wide open. Fredrick shook his head, laughing. People whistled and screamed. But then Harvey saw Morris at the far end of camp, also shaking his head – with a thin line for a mouth.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     It was lunch, and Harvey was sitting with Fredrick and Natale, the spindle-man. Natale told them that before the war, he played games full-time.

     “I was big,” he said. “One of the biggest names in first-person-shooter streaming.”

     Fredrick said, “Is that why you enlisted?”

     “To shoot people?”


     “No. I just felt like… I couldn’t not.”

     “Dad in the military?”


     Fredrick nodded.

     Andres and Alonzo fake-shot at each other, ducking behind their chairs and saying pew! pew! When they shot. Frankie said, I’m the game master! Everybody listen!

     “I was a journalist,” Fredrick said.

     Andres shot Alonzo in the leg, who flopped on the floor. Help, Doctor, he said, reaching towards Rich. Rich said, You need a doctor, alright

     “Gwishin worked on a ranch.”

     Harvey thought about what he was. Professionally, a shuffler. A motor that arranged and cataloged paperwork. But more earnestly, more deep-set:

     “I always wanted to be an architect.”

     “A gamer, a rancher, a journalist, and an architect. No wonder we’re here. Who needs us?”

     Natale said it as a joke, but it didn’t land. They stayed there, picking at their food, before dispersing.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Alonzo and Andres were identical twins, both twelve. They liked girls (sometimes) and play-fighting and making Harvey laugh. This was their reason: to keep Harvey laughing.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Some nights after the soldiers returned, Fredrick said to Harvey, “It’s our turn.”


     “Soon, I think.”

     “But it’s only reconnaissance. We aren’t fighting.”

     “For now.”

     “Stop trying to scare me, Fredrick.”

     “We’re not in America, Harvey.”

     Looking at the hills curled around them, holding Camp Cloud like a bowl, Harvey knew they weren’t home. They were in a barrel at sea, rolling in salt, waiting for a savior – or death.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     The night before they left, Harvey lay in bed awake. He waded through himself.

     He’d look for Park while they were out. Surely they’d pass other bases. Surely he’d be there. Surely, Rich said, he won’t understand. Odette said, her hand on Rich’s knee, He has to. Frankie curled up, asleep behind them. Rich sighed and laid his hand on Odette’s.

     Park, after all, was why Harvey came.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Harvey was in the back of the second Humvee with Fredrick, Gwishin, and Bergeron.

     She’s hot, said Andres. Harvey didn’t have to hear the rest to know he meant Bergeron. When Gwishin danced with Natale weeks before, he wasn’t close enough to see her. What he first thought was lank, he now saw was gaunt. Bones that had outgrown her skin. And most noticeably, her face was dimpled and gathered, like someone had sewn her up wrong.

     “It’s why they call me Gwishin,” she said, watching Harvey.

     He blinked, then looked at her tag. Java. “Gwishin isn’t your name.”

     Fredrick said, “Nobody told you the story?”

     Gwishin smiled when Harvey shook his head. She sat up straight and leaned forward, moving her hands like in front of a campfire.

     “I was on my first assignment, out in the jungle –”

     “There aren’t any jungles on the mainland,” said Fredrick.

      “ – when a boar leapt from behind the trees –”

     Bergeron said, “Do boars leap?”

     “I was in the city and a cart-worker started screaming, calling me a Gwishin. The others heard, and it stuck.”

     “Wait, what’s a Gwishin?”

     “Women ghosts with black hair and mangled faces.”

     Check and check, said Alonzo. Shut up, said Frankie, she’s nice.

     Harvey didn’t know what to say. He stayed looking at Gwishin, trying to find something beautiful. Something he could latch onto and think, How cruel; she’s beautiful – but he couldn’t, and so he looked away. He heard Odette sigh.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     As they drove closer to the city, the greens got lighter, brightening from Camp Cloud’s pine hills to chartreuse grasses. Fredrick had switched spots with Morris, who sat inside, in the Humvee’s backseat, when they stopped halfway to piss; now, Morris sat beside Gwishin, their backs to the Humvee, facing outward. Bergeron leaned against the side, also looking out. But Harvey lay with his back to the wall, watching them. 

     Gwishin did look like a spirit, he thought. Neither pretty nor foreboding – just a flash roving the countryside.

     Bergeron nudged Harvey to look at Morris. He looked. Morris’ eyes were closed, his arm leaning out of the Humvee into the open air. The watch was still on his wrist – still wrong. And he thought how Morris looked like he belonged. He and Gwishin both, but while Gwishin looked like a ghost, Morris looked like nature.

     Not my type, said Rich.

     Odette hushed him. She said to Harvey, Is he yours?

     Harvey froze and faced Bergeron. He thought very purposely, She’s beautiful.

     Rich said, So?

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Rich was gay. He was the kids’ wrangler, clever but often cranky. He appeared at the same time as Frankie, after Harvey watched his father get raped outside a bar.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     The trail of Humvees drove quickly through Seoul, down the less-(but-still-very-)trodden streets. People stopped walking as they passed. Sometimes, children waved at the soldiers in the open backs. Even less often, the soldiers waved back. Their lieutenant told them to keep her heads and hands down.

     Frankie urged, Wave. Harvey didn’t.

     Just north of the city, they stopped at a base’s gate. Camp Kkachi. Harvey thought, like a prayer, Park, Park, you must be here, Park.

     They were in the camp for one hour, enough time for their lieutenant to gather intel, and enough time for Harvey to find out Park was there. Once. A woman said he was sent on assignment the day after he arrived, and he hadn’t been back.

     “Did his squad return?”

     She nodded. “They looked for him during the next assignment but couldn’t find him. The lieutenant declared him missing months ago.”

     Joseph snorted. Harvey felt sick. He was sick, in fact, and threw up on the concrete.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Harvey sat in the backseat now with a man who didn’t talk. He found this comforting. Too often, he thought, his outsides were as loud as his insides. Now, he could focus entirely on his thoughts – and the others’.

     They drove north, ever-nearer to the border.

     Alonzo: Watch out, commies! Andres: We’re swashbucklers! Alonzo: Pirate captains! Andres: Argh! Frankie backed into his chair: I don’t want Harvey to fight!

     I won’t be fighting, Harvey thought. He hoped it reached Frankie. He wouldn’t be fighting – he’d be two dark eyes, looking for Park and for news on the enemy.

     He looked out the window, watching each person they passed. Ensuring they weren’t Park, hiding out in the hills.

     I wouldn’t blame him, said Rich.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Harvey shared his tent with Morris. He couldn’t sleep.

     They camped in an open field, twenty-or-so tan spots in the grass. Just past them, a rice paddy. In the distance, mounds, closer again to the green from Camp Cloud. Harvey wandered the field, leaning over the rice paddy, tasting his fingers after dipping them in the water, squatting in the mud. He watched clouds pass over the black sky. Eventually, Harvey found his way back.

     He was awake. Morris was screaming. He thought it was Morris – his mouth was open – but it was a woman’s scream. It was a man’s scream. It was a person’s horrible, curdling scream.

     Morris opened the tent and ran out, yelling Harvey out, too. Ahead, he saw red grass. Suddenly, Harvey was pulled back. 

     He was inside himself, and Rich was there, and Odette, Alonzo, Frankie, and Joseph. They sat him in Andres’ chair. Turned it around. Covered his ears. But there wasn’t enough covering for it. It was everywhere.

     He didn’t know what was happening. Everything was unraveling, spinning and spinning until it dizzied itself. Andres came back, Alonzo left, and Rich held Andres in his lap. He screamed, and there wasn’t enough covering for it. 

     Rich smothered Andres’ face in his chest. The outside was pouring in. Time, out. 

     Frankie was gone, Alonzo was back, and Rich held both the twins while Odette held Harvey. They pressed and pulled his shirt and burrowed into him. Rich was a hole.

     Odette whispered in Harvey’s ear, It’s time for me to go.

     Harvey nodded, his head still in her hands. She disappeared, and he covered his ears where she had been. 

     He had no one inside to divert him. He was the inside.

     Frankie fell into Rich, who rocked him, and the twins lay on the floor. Frankie wailed, and it couldn’t be covered. It seeped between Harvey’s fingers and bled in his ears.

     It was a long while before things quieted. He uncovered.

     Joseph sat back. The boys, and Rich, were still. 

     There were human noises like whispers in the background.

     Odette was singing, with his voice. It was softer than he’d ever heard himself. And in focus, through his eyes, he saw Gwishin. Red, convulsing. He realized he’d been crying since he woke up.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Odette was Harvey’s white swan. She was gentle, nurturing, and warm, and always put Harvey first. She was everything he’d ever wanted in a mother.

          ----               ----               ----               ----               ----

     Joseph wasn’t allowed out after Park.

[Untitled Project A]


A Beginning Chapter

     They want me to know what day it is. They’re insisting it’s Wednesday, it’s Wednesday, Trudy, say it back, and I say, “which one,” and they say Wednesday, Trudy, today is Wednesday, like I’m five, and I’m trying to ask the date, “which day,” but they’re not listening, they’re getting agitated with me, not knowing that I don’t care if it’s Wednesday, it could be Sunday, I just care if it’s April or May.

     Actually, I don’t. But now I know it’s Wednesday.

     Wednesday means meatloaf.

     Meatloaf means brown puke by the plant by the window. It’ll probably look like dirt spilled over, or like a nurse dropped her coffee, or like the plant shit itself. I wonder what plant shit would smell like. Maybe it would smell bad, like regular shit… or would it smell earthy, like truffles? Truffle pigs sound cute. Georgie should’ve gotten a truffle pig. The farm.

     I haven’t been here long. I came in at night, on a weekday, sometime recent. Maybe last Wednesday (since today’s Wednesday). It was dark.

But then I woke up the next morning and there wasn’t any dark for miles. It was like stepping into a bulb. And then stepping into the bulb again and it hurting your eyes a little less. People wear all kinds of clothes here, but nobody wears black--nobody wears anything darker than the brown of a tree--and my eyes are still adjusting. No trees here. No trees, no black, no truffles, and no days except Wednesday. Today.

     I’m sitting with girls today. There aren’t enough tables for an island, so I sit with girls. One of them throws up after dinners, one talks like a radio, one hears angels, and the others sit. Today, Casey Kasem is talking about her time on the road. She probably listened to a lot of the radio. She probably cranked it so high the angels in the other girl’s head could hear it. The angels probably didn’t like that.

     “So there I am, in nothing but a turtleneck and the guy’s briefs, holding both my thumbs up like a retard. You know, it’s a wonder--”

     “Shut up, Jean. Nobody’s listening to you.”

     “I’m listening.”

     “But to who?”

     “The angels,” Jean pipes in.

     Everyone laughs then. I stare at my meatloaf and wonder where the flavor went.

     My dad would say it walked off in protest.

     He protested once.

     Someone should protest the meatloaf.

     “What were you like before all this?”

     “Shit, I rode horses and pretended--”

     “Shut up, Jean. I meant Rose.”

     “I was a criminal justice major… I ate, slept, and breathed it, too… I wore sweet dresses that were almost too short, but never were, and I ate lots of fruit… And my mom was so proud of me, every day.”

     “And then shit hit the fan.”

     “Can you stop with the ‘shit’ already?”

     “I had a boyfriend.”

     Everyone turns to me.

     “I had a boyfriend and a job and the world.”

     There’s a beat where the girls just watch me watching the window.

     “And then shit hit the fan.”


     I echo, “It hit the fan.”

          ~~~               ~~~               ~~~               ~~~               ~~~

     It doesn’t look like dirt, coffee, or shit- it looks like puke. And a little like Rocky Road ice cream, but mostly just puke.

     We’re in our after-dinner slump now, everyone on the ward packed in the den like sardines. I’m on the floor. There aren’t enough couches and there aren’t enough chairs and I sit on the floor. Far away from the puke by the window.

     The TVs are on and something’s playing. There are some men, some women, and everything moves fast. Fast and fake and fictional. And so far away. I can’t watch. My head spins.

          ~~~               ~~~               ~~~               ~~~               ~~~

     Trudy, do you know what day today is?

     My favorite day used to be Sunday. Everyone in town was at church, but not me. I was too busy and important to go to church. I had things to do, people to see, places to be. And I did, I saw, I was.

     Trudy, are you listening?

     I’m listening to the wolf cry to the blue corn moon.


     “Can you paint with all the colors of the wind…”

     Is that the song from Pocahontas?


     It’s Thursday. I don’t know why he needs to hear me say it, but “it’s Thursday.”

     Thank you, Trudy. That’s right.

     Why can’t anything be black?

          ~~~               ~~~               ~~~               ~~~               ~~~

     We’re sitting in a circle, eight women and three men and one lady, and we’re the lasso of truth. It’s Saturday, and it’s Group Talk day. We’re Group B. We talk.

     The lady says, Today, we’re going to talk about Why.

     “Z!” shouts the man with the beard, raising his arm.

     “I wanna talk about Z too. I’m sick of Y,” Jean says.

     Another girl pipes up, barely above a whisper, “Y can go fuck itself.”

     That’s enough, ladies. We’re talking about Why, as in W-H-Y, not the letter Y. Do you understand, Patrick?

     “Yes. Yes. Whyyyy.” He drags out the last word like a whine.

     The lady nods. Now, by Why, I mean Why are you here. What brought you here today? What brought you to this place at this moment in time? Please, anyone, feel free to share.

     Everyone goes quiet. I can’t tell if they don’t have an answer or if they just don’t want to say it. I don’t and I don’t. I mean, I do. We all do. But we don’t. Do. Don’t. Do don’t do don’t do don’t. It sounds like a heartbeat.

     Rose whips her head around to look at the door. Beard Man turns to see what’s there and hums approvingly.  A couple others glance back. I don’t bother looking.


     All the lookers readjust back in their seats.

     Nope. Nobody. Nope-body.

     The lady, unperturbed, just sits up straighter. Then we’re going to pass Simon around. Can someone explain what happens when we bring out Simon?

     Simon is a white stuffed dog with one black eye. It’s his left eye.

     “I’ll do it,” says Throw-Up Girl. “When we have Simon, we pass him around the circle. Whoever is holding Simon can either answer the question or pass. But if you pass, you have to say why you’re passing.”

     That’s exactly right, Melody. We’ll start with Amanda, then go to Jordan, and so on.

     She hands Simon to Amanda, who holds him silently and strokes his head. He doesn’t look soft. He looks matted, like he was in too many wet t-shirt contests. Amanda starts to cry. She pulls Simon into her neck and lets her tears mat his matted head. Maybe she’s the wet t-shirt contest. She could win a wet t-shirt contest if she tried.

     Amanda, why are you crying?

     Amanda closes her eyes and shoves her face in Simon’s belly, sucking the stickiness back up her nose. A minute passes. Someone starts tapping their foot and Amanda pulls Simon into her lap. “I’m sad.”



     Why are you sad, Amanda?

     She starts tearing up again. “I don’t,” she says, shaking her head, “I don’t wanna answer the question.”

     Why not?

     “It makes me sad.”

     Well, yes, but why?

     “She said why. Let her be,” Jean says. “Just give Snot Simon to Jordan.”

     The lady sighs, but not in an upset way- in a soft, defeated kind of way. She tells Amanda to give Simon back, and then she pulls out a blue dog. He’s blue, has two black eyes, and is clean as a daisy, but is otherwise the same as Simon. For those of you who don’t know, she says, this is Sal. We use him when Simon gets too dirty. She hands him off to Jordan and gestures to continue.

     Jordan blames her dad. She says he left her and her sister. Her sister has some disability. I hope it isn’t the one that makes you look like the Elephant Man. Her mom had to work all the time. Or be with the sister. Who may or may not be the elephant girl. She was always alone.

     “So then--surprise!--I’m diagnosed with Bi-Ped.”

     She means BPD.

     She tells us more, but all I can see is tall, skinny Jordan standing next to a short, stocky girl with a face that looks like a shoe. A partially-melted shoe. A partially-melted, partially-shredded shoe. Like the shoe from Jumanji.

     We’ll talk more tomorrow, Jordan. Thank you for sharing.

     Sal moves through the group, past one middle-aged man who points at each of us and passes because “it’s none of their fucking business;” past Melody, who shrugs and says very simply, “because I hate myself;” past the young guy talking rapid-fast and tripping over his words; past Beard Guy, who tells us he’s here because he can’t control himself; past Jean, who says, “what happened to Z?” and then, “well, I’m here because I took a wrong turn on the freeway;” past a pear-shaped woman who both looks and sounds like a pear, saying she likes pears too much or something; and to me.

     Sal is soft. He’s much softer than matty old Simon. But then, Simon has lived. Has Sal?


     “I don’t know.”

     Think about it. You’re here for a reason. What is it?

     I think. The reason is that I woke up one day with a different head screwed on my neck. I don’t know why. How can I answer when I don’t have an answer.

     “I can’t pour tea from an empty cup.”

     The lady hesitates, thinking of what to say next. But before she can, Jean jumps in: “Preach, sister!”

     “Brother!” shouts the bearded man.

     Rose stands up and turns to the window.

     Sit down, Rose. There’s nobody there.

     “But why,” Rose says to herself.


     “A,” says Jean.


     That’s enough. Rose, sit down. Jean, stop entertaining Patrick. Patrick, please remember your practices.

     They don’t listen. We end up back in our rooms until dinner.

     I still don’t know my Why. I don’t think I ever will.

     But maybe I’ll know my Z one day.

A Middle (Partial) Chapter

     It’s him. He’s across the hallway, standing where my parents should be, looking anywhere but here. At anything but me. 

     I’m nine again, hiding behind a fencepost, watching him in the field. He’s ten, and knows I’m here, but doesn’t mind being watched. His family moved into a farm near town, and within days I stole one of their goats, back before I even knew who they were. Now, I know. I see him, with his cows in their field, round and warm-looking and calmer than I’ve ever seen a person. He never lets on that he sees me, never says a word or moves any faster than an old dog, and I know that he’s it. Everything I’m not, everything I’m missing, the string to my kite.

     But now, looking at him, I know he saw me that day. And I wish, like then, I could think myself invisible- it’d be easier to see him if I didn’t know he sees me back.

     I’m at the table I’m at every Friday, where I wait for my parents to visit, and he’s there, where I last expected him to be, walking down the hall towards me. 

     I’m lying at the edge of their property, flat to the grass, listening to him wrangle the cows. It’s the stillest I’ve ever been, every time I’m here it is, and it’s a stealth mission; I’m investigating the boy’s technique, ready to report any mishandling; I’m all in black and a ninja; I’m with the FBI, the CIA, NSA, the president; I’m watching and I’m listening. That is, I am until I open my eyes and see him lying, flat to the grass, on the other side of the pasture. In the exact position I’m in. Looking right back at me.

     I wish there was grass beneath me now. I wish I could sink into it, grow roots and age with the dirt. But I can’t. It’s too late. He’s standing behind the chair across from me. Looking right back at me.

     I sit there. He stands there. We stay there, neither one of us moving… until the nurses begin to get agitated. They shuffle, eyeing him and eyeing me and waiting for something to happen. Whispering to each other.

     Eventually, I tell him, “sit down.”

     He nods and sits. The nurses calm. I’d forgotten the way he moves. Like water on silk.

     “I didn’t know it’d feel like this.”

     His voice is just as smooth and tangy as it ever was, swallowing like sweetarts after a long day. I blink at him, forcing the words to come: “Feel like what?”

     We’re a year in, and by now I’ve settled onto their fencepost, sitting or tightrope-walking the line of it, playing Keep Away with the Hurren boy. I’ve yet to talk to him, and he’s yet to talk to me, but I’m ten now and I refuse to be the one to break first. If he wants to hear my voice, he’ll have to ask kindly for it. Elsewise, I’m not saying a word.

     He doesn’t. I break first. He slips in the cows’ manure and I laugh. I find myself trying to say things between the laughs, but can’t figure what they are. And it’s the first time I’ve seen him stumble, let alone fall… and he doesn’t react at all… so I’m in tears. The boy stands from the ground and brushes off his pants, then looks up to me. “That suits you,” he says.

     I pause for a minute, calming my laughter, “What does?”

     He smiles. I know what.

     “Like coming home.”

     I close my eyes. I know.

     I know because the minute I saw him, I felt it too- this feeling, that’d been balled and ripped and scattered in my stomach, suddenly settled.

The Final Chapter

     Should we be running? No, it’d be too conspicuous to run. This is right. Walking, waddling, paddling.

     Since my room is the closest to the door and Jean’s is the farthest, she’s leading and I’m tailing. Meaning: if something goes wrong, she and I are the first to go down. Maybe that should scare me more.

     I hardly remember what air feels like when it’s still crisp, before it starts to brown and sag from cheap conditioning. I remember loving it. I remember feeling the difference when I first got here. I’ll get to feel crisp air again tonight.

     We left all our clothes behind, partly as symbolism and partly because they were itchy as hell. Now, we’re just five women in our underwear shuffling through a dark ward. Thrilled to be free.

     It’s 11:00 and the day nurses are packing up. They head to the back around now to discuss the day (and presumably us), comforted after doing their rounds that everyone’s eased in bed, and the evening nurses step in around 12:00. We have one hour.

     Our first stop is Canderwal’s office. Jean swiped a bobby pin from Lady earlier in the day, so she pulls it out now and jiggles the door open. We all shuffle in and I close the door behind us. Knowing we’ll be waiting for a minute, we all take a seat- Rose and Melody in the chairs, Jean with her back on the floor and legs against the wall, and me cross-legged with my back to his desk. Canderwal was my therapist too. Rose, Melody, and Jean all had Washington, but Jordan and I had Canderwal. I’ll miss the guy. I wasn’t extremely fond of him, but so it goes. I wasn’t fond of cereal either, until I was locked on an eggs-and-toast-only floor. Now all I want is Fruit Loops.

     Jordan offered to shred my papers too, and she’s offering again now, but both times I pass. I don’t care if he keeps them. And like before, she presses: “Why should one small man have a copy of your life in his desk?” I say, “Why shouldn’t he?”

     “Because it’s your fucking life, Trudy.”

     Jordan can’t see me shrug from behind his desk, so I raise my hands up, palms open.

     I can’t see her either, but I’m willing to bet she’s rolling her eyes. “Whatever. He doesn’t deserve to have my life, that’s all I know.”

     Jean tilts her head back, so it’s facing me upside-down, and sticks out her tongue, mocking Jordan. I laugh. Rose looks where I’m looking and laughs too. Melody just smiles and shakes her head at us.

     Jordan finds her file--”aHA”--and wiggles over to the shredder. “Drumroll, please.”

     I start rolling my hands on the floor, Jean joins in with her feet against the wall, Rose with her feet on the floor, and finally, with some teasing, Melody joins with her hands on the chair arm. Jordan lets go. We stop our noise to listen to the papers shred, one by one, hearing as this section of her life dies. When she’s done, there’s a silence.

     “Stick it to the man,” says Jean.

     “The man’s been stuck,” says Melody, “let’s go.”

     We all stand up and head out the door, back in our orderly little line. Jordan, right in front of me, is looser than she was before. She already looks free. I close the door behind us. Bye, Dr. Canderwal.

     Jean passes the bobby pin to Melody, who passes it down to Rose. We stop at the corner, look, and round it. There it is: the infamous padded cell. Jean opens the door, which is kept unlocked, and stops. I’ve never been in the cell until now, nor has Melody, but neither of us squirms the way the others do. We don’t know how it feels to be alone in here. Everyone walks in, slow and cautious, and finally, I shut the door. Melody and I back against the right wall, and Jean and Jordan follow. Rose stands in the middle of the room, facing the opposite wall, steadier than I’ve ever seen her.

     “This cell,” she says, stepping forward, “is cruel” she drags the bobby pin along the top of the left wall, slicing through the padding, “and unusual punishment.” Rose turns the bobby pin to go down the right side of the wall, “it’s solitary confinement,” she cuts along the bottom crease, “and it’s unnecessary, and it’s degrading,” she curves up through the left side, “and it’s inexcusable.” Rose finishes and rips out a fat square of padding. She opens the door and tosses it outside the room.

     She moves to the next wall, still talking, and I wish we could record her. If there was a God, if there was any justice or fairness in the world, Rose would’ve never been here. She would’ve never heard angels, never left college, never ended up in this padded cell with a bobby pin in her fist. She would’ve been a criminal defense lawyer and “she would’ve kicked ass out there.” I look at Melody, who said it, almost reading my mind, and she looks back at me. I smile a watery smile, proud but sad, and she nods. We all watch Rose, and listen, and envy the person she could’ve been.

     Finally, she finishes with the walls and the ceiling, and we step out to let her carve out the padded floor. When she’s done, she throws it at us and we lift it above our heads like warriors, opening our mouths in silent screams of victory.

     Leaving the padding in the hall, we line back up and Rose hands the bobby pin to Jean, who kisses her hand and mouths something. I close the cell door and we round the corner. Two down, three to go.

     We’re in the group room. It’s in the heart of the floor, only partially contained, so I keep near the outer walls. Everyone follows me but Jean. This is hers.

     Jordan watches Jean scramble around the room, while the rest of us stare out the window. The windows here are much bigger than they are in other buildings. In other floors, even. I’ve gone back and forth, debated whether it was a cruel thing or a kind one- looking out windows only mocks you with beautiful things you can’t have; but at the same time, it reminds you what you’re fighting for. Freedom. Space. Life. I still can’t decide which fits this place. Maybe both.

     “I hate those things. I don’t get why she wants them,” Jordan says.

     “I don’t want them,” Jean says. “Just Simon.”

     The rest of us turn, likely all ready to help, but just as we do, Jean finds him. He was under blankets in the chest-table. She picks Simon up, gives him a wink, and shoves him under her arm.

     “Alright, my shit’s done. Melody, your turn.”

     I look at Simon from the other end of our line and wonder, too, why she wants him. He’s not all that white anymore, and his fur is matted all over… and she has him squashed underneath her arm like a rag. What’s the draw?

     But even if I wanted to say something, I can’t now- we’re in the living room, at the front of the ward. The only walls are the one against the outside and the one between the group room and this one. The nurses’ station is right there. The doors to the nurses’ lounge are right there. And the clock, saying we’re running out of time, is right there.

     All of us freeze. Melody takes a deep breath and goes. She heads straight for the plant, the one by the window, the one she always pukes beside. None of us knew her errand, only that it was in the living room, so I think everyone’s as confused as I am.

     Jean raises an eyebrow and Rose shrugs in reply.

     That answers that.

     Melody picks up the plant, pot and all, and carries it to the inner wall, placing it on the mantle. After placing it, turning it properly, and letting her arms fall, she looks at it for a minute and then steps away.

     Everyone holds themselves until we make it to the last hallway. Then,

     “What the fuck, Melody?”

     “We could’ve gotten caught!”

     “I thought my errand was batshit.”

     “Look,” she says. “It’s just something I had to do.”

     “Are you--”

     “It’s just something I had to do.”

     The way she says it, the firmness in her voice, shuts us all up. We get it. Intimately, in a way most people never could, we understand. It’s just something she had to do. For whatever reason. It just is.

     So we deflate and look at the clock. Five minutes until the next shift.

     “Okay,” Melody says. “Who has the key again?”

     The girls turn to me. I swallow. The next five minutes move like molasses.

     I pull the key from my shirt pocket, pushing past the lint, and let it lie in my palm. I show them. They nod. It’s cold in my hand, the key, and      I can’t remember the last time I felt cold metal. Maybe it was the last time I drove, or maybe at my last trip to Georgie’s farm, or maybe I never felt cold metal at all. Maybe this is a first. It feels nice in my hand. Heavy.

     I hand the key to Jordan, who hands it to Rose, to Melody, and finally to Jean. She closes her fingers around it and digs both her fists in her hair. Sighs. I wonder if the key’s warm now. I wonder if it’s warm outside.

     “Fuck,” Jean says.

     “Preach, sister,” Rose says, smiling.

     “Brother,” Melody says, smiling too.

     Jordan snorts.

     Jean eases her hands to her sides and turns around, facing the door.

     Three minutes. Molasses.

     She presses the key into the lock and I can feel how the lock feels, being pressed into and spun. There’s a click. And then Jean pushes the door open to the stairwell.

     We run down the stairs, bouncing under our bras and underwear and slapping our feet against the concrete steps and not giving a damn.

I give a damn.

     The cold concrete against my feet is cold, like the key, and heavy all the same.

     We reach the bottom and stop, heaving from excitement and adrenaline and six sets of stairs. The sign is there, the sign we’ve been picturing for months at our feet: the exit sign.

     One minute.

     Jean leans all her weight against the door and it opens. She lets it go and runs out. Melody walks out behind her, then Rose, then Jordan. But it’s not warm outside. It’s cold, and it’s a parking lot. 

     Asphalt, not grass. Cold, not warm. Cars, not trees.

     It’s ugly. It’s darker than I remember. It’s worse.

     They’re jumping up and down and Jordan’s gone and Rose is holding out her hand to me and Jean is whooping and Melody is staring at the sky and I’m horrified.

     I don’t know that place.

     I close the door and hold it shut. There’s pulling from the other side for a minute, but it quickly stops. Time is up.

     They find me there, sitting with my back to the door, five hours later.

     Is today Wednesday?

bottom of page