Rabbits in the garden, p.15
Rabbits in the Garden, page 15
“Thanks, I guess.”
She cautiously avoided the other women on her way to an empty chair in the circle, but one of the patients deliberately stuck out her foot and tripped her. When Avery lurched forward, a pair of friendly arms caught her, but when she met Flint’s eyes and smiled, a portly woman nearby started making kissing noises.
“We were in the middle of Karen’s story,” Nurse Foster said as she snapped her fingers and all eyes returned to her. “Please continue, Karen.”
“Well, like I saying, my mother was always scared of the basement. All her life, she was scared of basements, so I guess she figured I would be too. So, when I was bad or doing something she thought was bad, she used to lock me in the basement. But she’d forget about me, or maybe she just didn’t care enough to let me out until a minute before my father got home. Either way, I’d be locked in the basement for hours, sometimes all day, and I guess I got pretty lonely. It was really quiet down there. So, I’d talk to people, people I made up to get me through those times. But when I moved out of my parents’ house, the people didn’t go away. It seems like every time I’d feel sad or lonely or rejected, one of the basement people would pop in and try to cheer me up. I tried to explain it to my friends and coworkers, but no one understood. I had to quit my job, and I stopped socializing entirely. Then I was all alone in my house and the basement people were all I had.”
“But you understood that they weren’t real,” the nurse urged.
“Yes, but I still couldn’t make them go away. I tried confronting my mother about it. I thought maybe some kind of closure would get rid of them, but she just called me crazy and made me come here. She’s the reason I’m like this, and all she could do was call me crazy and sweep me under the rug. God, I hate her. She’s the worse mother ever,” Karen said, and Avery couldn’t prevent a little scoff from escaping her lips.
“Did you have something to contribute, Avery?” Nurse Foster asked, but Avery shook her head ardently.
“Wait, I know who you are now,” one of the older women said as she pointed a stubby finger at her. “You’re that girl who killed all those people. The Martha’s Vineyard Massacre, right? Wow. I bet you think you’re hot shit, don’t you?”
“Not at all actually.”
“So what made you kill those people?”
“I didn’t, since you ask, and I really don’t feel like talking about it right now.”
“Come on, enlighten us, Little Avery Norton: what drives a kid to chop up a dozen people?”
“Back off, Meg,” Flint hissed.
“Shut up, firebug,” Meg spat back.
“Be quiet, both of you,” Nurse Foster said crossly, but then she folded her hands gently and a smile rose back to her face. “The group wants to know, Avery, and you will have to tell us something eventually, but since it’s your first day, we’ll let it slide. Enjoy it. You may not get so lucky next time. This session is adjourned.”
As the rest of the group promptly pushed their chairs against the walls and moved the furniture back into place, Avery remained sitting until one of the women kicked her chair and almost knocked her out of it.
“Up!” she barked and Avery quickly complied.
“Jesus, what’s wrong with these people?” she asked Flint.
“You’re in a lunatic asylum, Avery. Did you think getting moved to another ward would lessen the amount of crazy around you?”
“No,” she replied, but when Flint shot her a skeptical look, she shrugged and shoulders and said, “Alright, maybe I did. I guess I thought adults would be more mature and seem less crazy because of it.”
“It’s quite the opposite actually. Adults that act like kids are way more annoying that kids that act like kids,” Pam said as she walked up and slapped Avery on the back. “How’s life, Lizzie?”
“How do you think? I’m still in here, aren’t I?”
“What happened? I was sure you were going to get out,” Flint said.
“My mom tried to take Sophie just like Natalie thought she would. At the funeral, she read some letter she claimed was written by Natalie. It made it sound like Paul was dangerous and Natalie wanted our mom to take care of the baby. I guess I didn’t have the best reaction.”
“They gave you the shocks, didn’t they?”
“How did you know?”
“Hurt arm, sizzled forehead, a vacant, Violetish expression: you’re a walking, talking member of the electroshock club. You’re lucky to be walking and talking at all,” Pam replied.
“Darian, you’re up,” a nurse announced from the nurses’ station, and a slim blonde sashayed out of her room and began prancing down the hall. “Avery, you’re next.”
“You’ve got to see Doctor Yingling.”
“I’ve seen enough.”
“Not in his opinion. He’ll show you a lot more, I guarantee, but you’ve got a while before then. Darian always uses the most of her time. She’s extremely friendly, if you know what I mean. She’s pretty much the Sheila of the women’s ward,” Pam said, and while Avery waited for her turn with Doctor Yingling, she and Flint gave her a tour of the place she regretted calling her new home.
“Avery, Doctor Yingling will see you now,” the nurse announced.
“That was quick. Darian must’ve been his first of the day. He never lasts long on the first one,” Pam said.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t worry, Avery. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” Flint assured her.
“But if you want to be treated well, you should,” Pam added. “Besides, when’s the last time you did something you actually wanted to do in Taunton?”
“Now, Avery,” the nurse said sternly. “Just up the hall, take the second door on your right, and then the first on your left. You can’t miss it.”
“Aw, does the baby need someone to hold her hand?” Meg asked mockingly, and although Avery wanted to hang her head and shuffle away, she stood tall and glared at Meg just like her mother would’ve glared at her.
Much to Avery’s surprise, the ferocious glower actually caused Meg to back away, and Avery headed down the hall with a new confidence in her stride. She followed the nurse’s directions to a door with “Doctor Stephen Yingling PhD” in large gold letters, but when she turned the knob, it was locked.
“Just a moment,” a voice said hurriedly, and when the door popped open, Darian walked out with a cigarette clenched in her teeth, trailed by a ribbon of smoke.
“He’s all yours,” she said with smirk and made no attempt to avoid bumping into Avery as she walked by.
“Come in, Miss Norton,” Doctor Yingling said as he stubbed out his cigarette and tucked a brass Zippo lighter in his shirt pocket. “Have a seat.”
The couch was the same one Doctor Aslinn had in his office, but Yingling’s felt more worn-in. Avery’s eyes danced across the degrees and paintings hung around the room, and when her eyes returned to him, she realized that he’d been staring at her.
“I take it you like my office.”
“Doctor Aslinn had a secretary. Why don’t you?”
“I don’t like having anyone who’s not a trained therapist in an earshot of my sessions,” he replied. “How’s your shoulder?
“Better. A little sore but better.”
“Enough to lose the sling?”
“I think so,” she replied, and when she winced vocally, Doctor Yingling stepped up and helped her slide it off.
“You were lucky to have only dislocated your shoulder. A lot of people end up with broken bones.”
“Yeah, lucky me,” she grumbled.
“I understand why you don’t like me, Avery. If I was in your situation, I probably wouldn’t like me either, but you have to understand that I’m here to help you.”
“Does everyone in this place follow the same script or what? If you people wanted to help me, you would’ve released me ages ago.”
“You mean when I accept the guilt for my mother’s crimes.”
“It’s a little more complicated than that, but yes, we believe you can’t even begin the recovery process until you admit that you need recovery.”
“The only recovery I’ll need will be to help me get over the tortures of this place.”
“Our intention isn’t to torture you, Avery…”
“If you say you ‘only want to help me’ one more time, I’m going to scream,” Avery snarled, and a tiny smile crept up Doctor Yingling’s cheek.
“Go right ahead. I’m used to it,” he replied and sat on the arm of the sofa. “What is it that you hate so much about being here? What is it about the outside that you think you’re missing? I guarantee you’re a lot happier and healthier in here than you could ever be out there.”
“You think I’m happy?”
“I think you could be if you allowed yourself, but if you keep thinking that you’re unjustly imprisoned, you’ll never be happy. A stubborn mind never finds progression, my dear. Even people in bondage sing songs of freedom, but every song you sing is an elegy, and that only makes you sadder,” he said as he moved from the arm to the cushion beside her. “I can help you, Avery. I can give you whatever you think you’re missing. I can make you remember how it feels to be happy.”
He leaned into her so subtly that she didn’t notice how close he was getting until his face was inches away from hers.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Do you miss being touched, Avery? I often find that’s the thing my female patients miss most about being out there: closeness, tenderness, the warmth of a man.”
He forcefully pressed his lips against hers, and for a moment, she was too shocked to process what was happening, but when his lips tried to part hers, she pushed the doctor away and slapped him across the face.
“How dare you! You’re disgusting!” she shrieked as she scooted away from him.
“But it made you feel alive, didn’t it?” he asked with an eyebrow crooked slyly.
“It made me feel sick! How could you do that? You’re a doctor, for God’s sake!”
“Exactly. I’m a doctor, your doctor. I say whether you’re sane or insane, whether you have to stay or you can go. Do we understand each other?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“My ward has the highest success rate in the whole hospital, Avery. I can help you win your freedom, but you have to play by my rules. Don’t force me to turn you into one of the lifers.”
“What would I have to do?” she asked meekly with her skin trying to crawl off of her bones.
“Everything I ask of you. And you don’t have to worry if you don’t know how to do something. I’m a very good teacher,” he said and Avery felt a burning stream of bile creep up her throat. “If you want, you can think about it and let me know your decision during our next appointment. Ask around if you have to. I’m certain your friends will recommend you play along.”
“You mean you - with Flint? And Pam?”
“Pam, yes. Francine is being a bit indecisive like you, but she hasn’t been here for long. She’ll come around, just as I’m certain you will. You’re a smart girl, Avery. Make the smart choice,” he said as he sat down at his desk and folded his hands in front of him. “That’s all for today. Thank you, Miss Norton.”
She stared at him in stunned silence for a few moments, unable to believe what had just happened, but when Doctor Yingling turned to his paperwork, Avery stood and walked rigidly out of his office. She was so disoriented by shock that she turned the wrong way. The door said “no admittance”, but she pushed it open anyway and faced a storage closet pack to the nines with large amber bottles. It didn’t awe her though. She simply turned around and walked back to the ward with far less verve than when she’d walked out.
“Where’s my room?” Avery asked the nearest nurse who pointed toward room 14.
She groaned when she saw Darian spread out on one of the beds, but when her roommate looked up, her face curled into a fake smile.
“Well, if it isn’t Miss Sloppy Seconds,” Darian said in a snarling sing-song.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Avery replied as she started unpacking.
“Oh that’s right; you prefer being called Lizzie, don’t you?”
Avery spun around to find Darian right in her face, and even though they were eye to eye, Avery seemed to grow taller as her anger increased. She looked down on Darian and growled pointedly,
“Back the fuck off.”
Darian was noticeably taken aback and her eyes darted as she tried to find a suitable response, but nothing came and she slunk out of the room. Avery relished the silence, and her heart slowed to a crawl as she exhaled her anger. It was the second time she’d recalled her mother’s tone in order to scare someone into submission and she hated doing it, but by God, it worked every time.
“Are you alright?” Flint asked when she came in and saw Avery staring at the wall.
“No, I don’t think I am,” she whispered, and when Flint sat down beside her, her resolve tumbled down her cheeks and she collapsed against her friend’s shoulder.
“Did you - did Doctor Yingling - ”
“No, but I have to, right?”
“You don’t have to. I haven’t.”
“I know. He told me.”
“Isn’t there some kind of doctor-patient confidentiality thing?”
“Do you think you’re going to do it?” Avery asked.
“I don’t know yet.”
“But you’ve never done it before, right? With another person, I mean?”
“No, I’ve never done it before.”
“So do you think you could really lose it to Doctor Yingling?”
“Do you think you could?” Flint asked.
“No, but it’s the only way I’m getting out of here, right?”
“It’s not the only way.”
“Flint, be serious. These people are never going to let me out.”
“Unless what?” Avery asked and Flint shrugged. “Unless I take the blame for the murders? That's what you're thinking, right?”
“It doesn’t have to be true. People used to do it all the time; I read about it. A long time ago, the King of England made everyone sign a contract saying they’d changed religions, but not everybody really changed. He could never take away their true beliefs.”
“This isn’t about beliefs, Flint. This is fact. This is the truth. I’m innocent,” Avery said and exhaled heavily. “But I can't sleep with Doctor Yingling. And I can't lie.”
“I don’t think I can either. Guess we’re lifers, huh?”
“To hell with that,” Avery spat. “I’m sane and I don’t deserve to be treated like this, and neither do you.”
“Avery, I’m not like you. I deserve to be in here.”
“That’s not true. You’ve been my best friend for almost six years. I can’t even think of a time when you didn’t sound completely normal.”
“How I talk isn’t how I think,” Flint replied sadly. “It’s an everyday struggle for me to act normal, Avery. The fire has a hold on me, and sometimes, I just can’t help myself. I only hope that when I turn down Doctor Yingling, he’ll only skimp on the sympathy and not the treatment.”
“How can you say that? You’re not crazy.”
“Yes I am. I’m sick, Avery. I knew it long before I was ever in here. But I’m not so crazy to think that you should have to go through the same shit as me.”
“Then help me, Flint. I need to get out of here,” Avery said as she grabbed her friend’s hands. “If what they said was true and Paul is back in Boston with Sophie, my mother will be coming for them. I know it.”
“Avery, you’re scaring me.”
“You can’t be nearly as scared as I am. I’ve already lost my sister. I don’t think I could bear to lose Paul too.”
“There has to be a way. There has to be. I can’t stand another day in here.”
“You have to.”
“I won’t!” she boomed and then continued quietly. “Just tell me there’s a chance. Tell me you’ll help me if I find a way out.”
“Of course I will.”
“Whatever we do, it’ll work. We’ll find a way, Flint. Then we can go anywhere. You, me, and Paul: we could start a new life somewhere where no one knows us.”
Flint looked like she had a response prepared, but she didn’t say anything. She just lowered her head and nodded before starting out of the room.
“I’ll think of something. I’ll get us out of here,” Avery said, and it made Flint lean against the door with a deep sigh of defeat.
“I didn’t believe you were a good person when you first came to Taunton. There; I said it. I didn’t believe you for a long time,” Flint confessed.
“It’s alright, Flint.”
“No, it’s not. Because of everything I heard about you, I didn’t think you were a good person, but with everything you heard about me, you thought I was a good person from the beginning. You were the only one who ever did that, and it wasn’t just with me. You treated every crazy person as if they were in situations like yours: good people left to rot in this horrible place. For that kindness, I owe you so much I wish I could repay. The very least I can do is this,” Flint said, and before Avery could speak, she closed the door.
Exhaustion rolled over her and pressed her against the bed, but her mind raced with speculative plots that set her heart aflame with the near possibility of breathing fresh air again. She could almost smell the sea, the crisp, thankful sea that would carry her away from the sorrow of her past. But somewhere below the salty aroma, she caught the familiar scent of daylilies, and where there was water, a garden began to grow.
When Nurse Phillips called Avery’s name for her appointment with Doctor Yingling, she tried to be confident in her resolve, but her legs felt like rubber and her wobble increased with each step toward his office.
by Jessica McHugh have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes