by Caelyn Shaner
I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.
The voice hisses quietly in the back of my mind, natural as breathing, easy to ignore. Steady and constant, like a heartbeat. I’ve grown used to the silent whispers in my head.
I’m not crazy… I’m not crazy… I’m not crazy…
I rock back and forth in time with the chanting, staring up at the ceiling. I wonder how many of those little black dots are on the tiles. I wonder how many I can count before I fall asleep or am interrupted.
One… Two… Three…
I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.
There are one hundred and ninety-two tiles on the floor.
Four… Five… Six…
Eight hundred and four bricks in the walls.
Seven… Eight… Nine…
I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.
Twenty-four ceiling tiles. Forty-eight dents and scratches in the door. One window with four bars, one slot for my food tray to slide through, with six screws. Three door hinges.
I’m not crazy.
I hear the bolts to the door being undone as I reach number four hundred and nineteen. Four hundred and nineteen black dots.
It’s Dr. Eustace Hollis. He likes to tell me I’m crazy and that he wants to help me.
I don’t need help; I’m not crazy.
He steps inside – five sure steps. He asks if I’m ready to talk now, if we can begin our session without the problems of last time.
I say nothing. I don’t need to talk to him. “I’m not crazy.”
“If you’re not crazy, then tell me why you are in here.”
He is a repugnant man, with round, ruddy cheeks and beady little eyes so brown they are almost black. His forehead is too high and slick with sweat – is he hot or nervous? His breath comes out in little puffs past his thin, hard-pressed lips, stinking of fish. Wispy blonde hair barely covers his balding head.
There are seven round buttons on his white coat, five holes in each. A stubby half of a pencil and two pens in his breast pocket, one black and one red. Seven tiny patches of red ink bleed through the pale blue fabric of his shirt. He squirms when he notices me staring at it, pulling his coat tighter around him.
Uncomfortable now, it seems, his posture grows more rigid and his small eyes glare at me. “Answer the question.”
I shrug, breaking eye contact. There are four scuff marks on the floor to the left of my feet.
Impatient, he raises his voice. “Why are you in here, patient thirteen?”
I shriek, jumping as though he’s stuck me. I focus harder on the tile. Twelve chips around the edges of the one with the biggest scuff mark.
Incensed, he shoots up from his chair and towers over me, his sweaty red face an inch from mine, pinning me to my seat on the cot. The reeking stench of fish is overwhelming. He grabs my chin as I buck to escape him, forcing me to look into the dark little holes he calls eyes. I’m going to gag on the pungent smell of sardines and body odor. I can see the yellow tint to his crooked teeth.
“You are here because you attacked an innocent woman! You hospitalized your own teacher who would never do anything to hurt anyone! Tell me why, thirteen, would you threaten the life of Ms. Hayes?”
Fish and sweat, and spittle on my face, and his body heat rolling towards me in waves. Anger and panic and pain and darkness. Why does everything seem so dark? I can’t breathe, small, ragged rasps coming short and shallow. My heart a thundering slam-slam-slam in my ears.
“Why did you brutally assault Daisy Hayes, thirteen?” he roars in my face. He’s asked before, dozens of times. He’s tired of asking.
“Don’t call me that!” I scream helplessly. “Don’t call me that! Don’t call me that!”
“Why not? Don’t like being reduced to just a number?” He grins. “But isn’t that just what you deserve?”
“I don’t care! Just don’t call me that! Call me anything but that!”
Confusion dances in his little eyes for a moment. “Why not?”
I shake my head violently, but his grip on my chin tightens.
Escape, escape, I must escape. There is no way out. I’m stuck here forever, a prisoner in this hell. Stuck, stuck, stuck forever.
“That’s the bad number!” I cry.
“Tell me!” he hollers, hurting my ears. My chin feels like it will shatter between his fingers.
“It’s the bad number! It was me. I was thirteen. Ms. Hayes brought in cupcakes for the class, but there were only twelve. Twelve is my magic lucky number, and there would have been just enough, but Tommy stole an extra one when Ms. Hayes wasn’t looking.”
His confusion seems to make him even angrier. “That made you number thirteen. But why didn’t you fight Tommy? Or better yet, not fight anyone at all?” he asks, his fury gaining a cold evenness.
Great tears well in my eyes. “She called me crazy,” I sob, my whole body shaking. “I cried and I couldn’t stop. She got upset and told me not to be crazy. I’m not crazy! I’m not, I’m not! She shouldn’t have called that!”
The hate builds inside me until I can’t control it. She called me crazy, just like mama does. Whenever I got lost in the tears or the screams, whenever I couldn’t control myself, couldn’t stop myself from being bad. She always called me crazy when I hit Clara for stealing my toys, or when I used bad words in front of company. She said so when I lit the curtains on fire, or when I chased Larry around the house with her kitchen knife. She said I was crazy and she didn’t want me. She said I was a bad child and I never should have been born, that she should have stuck me in the nut house years ago instead of putting me in the special school that she said didn’t help me. She said she wished she’d drowned me as a baby.
He doesn’t realize I’ve grabbed his pen – the red one, its ink the color of blood – until it’s too late.
“I’m not crazy! I’m not crazy! I’m not crazy!”
I plunge the pen into his chest once, twice, three times. Gore sprays onto my face as I count the holes, screaming every time I puncture him again.
“I’m not crazy! I’m not crazy!” Four. Five.
I shove it in and yank it out, then shove it in again. He tries to fight me off, but he grows more and more distracted by pain and shock until he collapses onto the floor. He will never call me crazy again.
Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.
The door flies open and the guards rush in to stop me, but I will not stop. Not until I reach…
“I’m not crazy!”
Blood is everywhere, spilling onto the floor, dripping from his mouth. My hands are slathered in it. It’s sticky and wet and uncomfortable and scary. I freeze. I look crazy. The blood on my hands is crazy.
The guard grabs me by the hair and the arm, but there is still adrenaline in my veins. The smell of fish and sweat…and now blood, it burns in my nostrils. The metallic, iron-like taste of blood sears my tongue where it’s flown into my mouth. The sound of my own screams fills my ears; I’m drowning in the sound. I’m crazy, I think.
My hand moves on its own before I know what I’m doing. The pen sinks into the guard’s chest, but doesn’t go far before he reacts, flinging me against the wall by my hair. Immediate, fiery pain shoots through my head, like my skull is collapsing in on itself; I only have time for one last thought before the world goes cold and black.