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Rabbits in the garden, p.6

Rabbits in the Garden, page 6

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  “Is there anyone here like me?”

  “You mean is there anyone here for murder?”

  “No, I mean anyone like me: normal, innocent,” she replied, but again, the nurse didn’t answer; her face just curled up into a smile that possessed more than a hint of condescension.

  “This is Nurse Moore and Nurse Mathis, and that’s Nurse Radcliffe over in the Nurses’ Station. Lavatories are to the left, and straight ahead is the common room. For now, you’re restricted to using it only in the daytime, but that may change pending your first evaluation with Doctor Aslinn.”

  It was interesting how similar the nurses looked: neat and tidy as if they’d gone through the wash and press along with their uniforms, and they all had sweet, soft faces with the obvious brand of fatigue around their eyes. Avery searched for some hint of evil, but the presence of smile lines of each nurse’s face alleviated her suspicions. That didn't mean, however, that she trusted them in the slightest.

  The common room reminded Avery of the sweltering days on the island, days so hot that you could do nothing but sprawl out, sweat, and complain. The emotions in the eyes of the patients covered the entire spectrum: from intrigue to distrust to anger to complete disinterest.

  “This will be your room,” Nurse Meredith said as she gestured toward a door with a plump number eight painted on it, but before she could open it, the door flew open on its own and a girl tumbled out backwards.

  “Rachel, what is going on?” Meredith demanded as she steadied the girl.

  “Ask Flint. She started it. She always starts it,” Rachel replied with a huff.

  “Well, Francine, what happened? Why did you push Rachel out of the room?”

  Avery inched forward and craned her neck to see inside. A wiry teenager with strawberry-blond hair and skin that would’ve been completely white if not for the abundance of freckles was sitting cross-legged on the bed with her arms folded, forehead crinkled, and bottom lip pouted.

  “Not the room. My room,” she corrected in a wispy voice.

  “No, Francine. It’s not your room. It’s the hospital’s room. We’ve been over this, haven’t we?”

  “More times than necessary.”

  “You make it necessary, Francine. Why did you push Rachel out of the room?” she asked, but Francine clamped her mouth shut and averted her eyes. “Rachel?”

  “I found - ” she started, but when Francine shot her an icy look, she said, “Nothing. I don’t know. It was my fault.”

  “Don’t avoid the issue, Rachel. What did you find?”

  She twisted her hands together and kicked at the floor as she muttered regretfully, “Matches.”

  “Sandra! Matches!” Nurse Meredith shouted, and Nurse Radcliffe ran over, flicking the bubbles out of a syringe.

  “She’s lying! I don’t have anything!” Francine screamed as Nurse Radcliffe stormed into the room and grabbed her arm. “Nurse Radcliffe, stop! You don’t have to do that. I’m not even fighting you!”

  “Where are they?” she asked, and after a few moments of defiance, Francine grumbled and ripped the book of matches out of her pocket.

  “Here. There’s only one. It’s not a big deal,” she said as she threw the matches down onto the bed, but when she tried to sit back down, the nurse shook her head and gestured toward the door.

  “Really? Come on, Sandra, this is ridiculous!” Francine whined as the nurse steered her out of the room and down the hall.

  “I’ll be right back,” Meredith said and marched after them, leaving the two girls alone.

  “So what are you in for?” Rachel asked Avery.

  “Me?”

  “Yeah, you. What are you in for?”

  “A lie.”

  “So you’re a compulsive liar?”

  “No.”

  “So, yes?” she asked with a smirk as she pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket.

  “No, I’m not a compulsive liar. I’m here for something I didn’t do.”

  “Right,” she scoffed.

  “It’s true.”

  “Sure. Does anyone have a match? Flint nicked my last one,” she yelled at the common room and walked away, leaving Avery alone to teeter between the corridor and room eight.

  She tried as best she could not to make eye contact with the girls walking up and down the hall, but she felt every inquisitive glare tear her down until she felt two feet tall.

  “I’m sorry about that, Avery,” Nurse Meredith said when she returned. “This is your bed. We have some sheets, a towel, some clothes…”

  “What about my clothes?”

  “We’ll get some of your things shipped as soon as we can. What’s most important now is for you to assimilate yourself into the community.”

  “Wouldn’t it help if I had my own things? I’d feel a lot more comfortable.”

  “Let us decide what will help you,” she replied and looked at the clock. ‘It’s probably best if we call it a day. We’ll start fresh in the morning.”

  “What do I do until then?”

  “I’m sure Francine wouldn’t mind if you borrowed one of her books. She won’t be back for a while anyway.”

  “Why not? What’s wrong with her?”

  “She’s an arsonist.”

  “And you put me in the same room as her?” Avery gasped.

  “Recovering arsonist,” she corrected. “Besides, I wouldn’t be so quick to judge if I were you. She might not be so happy when she finds out what you’ve done.”

  “But I haven’t done anything.”

  “The books are over there. I recommend the Bible,” she said and sauntered cheerfully out of the room.

  Once the door was shut, Avery felt the closure reverberate through every bone in her body. She stared at the bookshelf, at the leather book with “Holy Bible” stamped in gold across the spine, for several minutes, but the tears welling in her eyes made it difficult for her to see, and she collapsed onto the bed and buried her face in the pillow. When her eyes opened again, they burned, and her cheeks were damp from crying in her sleep. She was roused by the click of the door opening, but the light of the hallway blasting into the room woke her completely. A burly man dressed in scrubs walked into the room holding a girl, curled up in his arms, and he laid her down on the bed. Before he left, his eyes swept the room and caught Avery’s, and as he closed the door, he gave her a small nod that seemed somewhat apologetic. When the door shut, she saw Flint striped with shadows from the moon shining through the bars. She looked dead except for the slight rise and fall of her chest. She wasn’t, but it was enough to keep Avery from falling into a deep sleep. It was deep enough for a dream though.

  Avery dreamt of a garden. There were no rabbits to be seen, no plants in need of water, and no intrusive eyes watching her every move. There was only the supple felicity of the garden. She stood in the center with her arms outstretched to embrace its grandeur, and the grandeur was Paul, running towards her with the sunlight glinting in his eyes and across his skin as if he were covered in diamond dust. He looked more beautiful than any of the flowers in the garden.

  “No,” he said as he caressed her cheek. “I couldn’t possibly exceed every flower’s beauty. I don’t exceed yours.”

  “I’m not a flower,” she giggled.

  “No?”

  He pointed to the ground, and when Avery looked down at her feet, she shrieked at the thick, knotty roots emerging from the soil and coiling around her legs. They pulled her out of his embrace, and as the garden swallowed her, Paul looked at her with the same helpless devastation he'd had when she’d been torn away on the island. The expression stayed with her until the morning.

  “Who’s Paul?”

  Avery turned to see Francine sitting on her bed, furiously twisting the yarn tassels of her blanket between her fingers.

  “What?”

  “You said the name Paul. Who’s Paul?”

  “My friend.”

  “Boyfriend?”

  “He was. Not anymore I
guess.”

  “Did he break up with you?”

  “No, but he can’t really be my boyfriend if I’m stuck in here.”

  “Why not? Sheila’s got seven different boyfriends on the outside. They come to visit her sometimes. One time two of them missed each other by about five minutes. It was pretty funny.”

  “Your name’s Francine, right?” Avery asked.

  “Yeah, but only the nurses call me that. Everyone else calls me Flint,” she replied. “And you must be Avery Norton, the girl from the Martha’s Vineyard Massacre.”

  “How do you know about that?”

  “It’s all over the news. The papers too. You didn’t think you could kill seventeen people and have it slip between the cracks, did you?”

  “I didn’t kill anyone.”

  “That's right; they mentioned that you did it during blackouts.”

  “No, I found the bodies, and then I blacked out,” Avery attested and then growled in frustration. “It doesn’t matter. You won’t believe me anyway, just like everyone else.”

  “Nope, and it makes no difference if I believe you or not,” she said as she hopped off of the bed, but before she left the room, she added, “Just don’t kill me, okay?”

  “Don’t burn me, okay?” Avery replied snidely, but Flint winked at her, and with a grin, she said,

  “You got it, Lizzie.”

  She disappeared around the corner before Avery could question her on the nickname, but another girl heard Flint’s remark and chuckled as she strolled past the room.

  “What does that mean: Lizzie?” Avery asked the girl in the hall.

  “You’ve never heard of Lizzie Borden, the girl who chopped up her parents?”

  “Oh. Yeah, I guess.”

  “Well, you’re our new Lizzie. She was in Taunton too, you know.”

  “Great, so everyone’s going to be calling me the same name as a girl who killed her parents?”

  “Well, it is pretty fitting. You did kill your father, didn’t you?”

  “No, I didn’t.”

  “They just identified one of the bodies as your father. I just heard it on the news.”

  Avery leapt out of bed and rushed to the common room where several girls were draped across the furniture, smoking cigarettes, and chatting amongst themselves. She had to struggle to hear over a girl named Brianne who kept trying to tell a story but kept getting distracted, and a girl named Sheila who kept snapping for her to “finish the fucking story”. Avery stood behind them quietly and watched in increasing horror as the television disclosed the newest facts about the aptly named “Martha’s Vineyard Massacre”.

  “…her own father, thought to have abandoned the family eight years ago, making it the oldest of the bodies discovered in the basement of this Oak Bluffs home. The police have yet to release the names of the other sixteen victims, and no official charges have been brought against either mother or daughter, but we have received confirmation that Avery Norton is indeed confined to Taunton State Hospital.”

  The girls hooted and clapped their hands at the mention of Taunton, but when a picture of Avery was slapped up on the screen, she gave a tiny gasp and the girls on the couch turned around.

  “Look, ladies, we have a star in our midst,” a plump girl with a crooked smile said as she circled Avery.

  “Leave her alone, Pam. It’s her second day,” Flint said.

  “Not her first rodeo though. Based on her experience, she shouldn’t have any problem defending herself.”

  “What, against you? I don’t even know you.”

  “You will, Lizzie.”

  “My name is Avery.”

  “Lizzie,” Pam sung mockingly.

  Avery could feel her rage boiling into her throat and clawing up to her brain. She clenched her hands into fists without being cognizant of doing so and her face had turned a fierce shade of red. The resonating sing-song pushed her forward, gritted her teeth, and raised her fists, but it was Avery herself who struck. It was Avery who aimed and made contact with Pam’s cheek and shoulder and anywhere else she happened to hit. She felt like a tornado of emotion: rage and sorrow, pride and self-loathing, but she wasn’t aware of the myriad of emotions until after she felt hands pulling her off of Pam. The next thing she felt, however, was a curious sensation: cold metal burrowing into her neck and hot fluid surging from her throat to every other part of her. Then there was the dizziness: the disorienting spin of faces and voices and heat covering her skin in cold sweat that made her want to faint and sigh at the same time.

  Then there was the sinking collapse.

  Then there was the darkness.

  Then there was Paul.

  CHAPTER FIVE

  A new kind of pain roused Avery from unconsciousness. It made her body jump involuntarily as her mind repeatedly screamed for her to get up, get out, and get away from the cold, but it was all around her, and she found herself unable of escape. Completely nude and hopelessly restrained, she thrashed around madly in the freezing bath, kicking at the chunks of ice floating in the water. Like millions of needles boring into her flesh, the water seeped into Avery’s body and stole her breath away. She felt so tired, so near death, and yet so awake. She screamed for help until she was hoarse and her head wilted onto the back of the tub. She wasn’t sure how long she was there, floating on the cusp of consciousness, but she did notice the door opening and several nurses walking in.

  “Help me. I’m so cold,” she squeaked.

  They stood around the tub with basins in their hands, and all at once, they overturned them and an avalanche of ice fell into the bath. Avery screamed and kicked the cold water onto the nurses, but it didn’t seem to faze them, and they left her alone again. The renewed cold started in her toes and crept up to her jaw which trembled so uncontrollably that she thought her teeth might shatter. The cold was so overwhelming that it made her see an icy wasteland with mountainous drifts of snow all around her instead of the dim room with empty bathtubs and mildewed floors. She heard herself screaming and the walls screaming back, but she couldn’t feel her screams; her skin, muscles, and the blood throughout felt utterly frozen. Eventually, she stopped fighting, possibly even stopped shivering. She accepted that the end was near and there was nothing she could do about it.

  When warmth returned to her body, Avery figured that it was because she had died and gone to Heaven, and Heaven was warm. But when she opened her eyes, she saw the barred windows of Taunton sailing past her as she was carried through the halls by a large man in scrubs. She knew that she wasn’t lucky enough to be in Heaven. She was swaddled in blankets but still feeling a residual chill from the ice bath, and her head pounded harder with each of the man's stomping steps. It was the same orderly that had she had seen carrying Flint and she expected to be deposited into her bed just as Flint had been, but when she realized the unfamiliarity of the corridor, she began to panic. Her mind raced with speculations of other tortures she might be forced to endure and whined as she tried to break free from the orderly’s grasp.

  “Calm down, girl. No one’s going to hurt you,” he said, but it gave her no solace. Obviously, the people at Taunton had a completely different idea of what “not hurting someone” meant. They reached a large double door that a nurse unlocked. The orderly carried Avery into an apricot-colored room where sat a plump woman filing her nails behind a desk.

  “Patient 8-1-5,” he announced and the secretary gestured for him to continue through the next door.

  Whereas the previous room had looked like a ripe apricot, Doctor Aslinn’s office looked like one that still had a few weeks to go: paler and less abrasive to her eyes.

  “Patient 8-1-5.”

  “Excellent. Thank you, Patrick,” Doctor Aslinn said and gestured at the large white sofa.

  The orderly set Avery down and she clutched the blankets tighter around her, suddenly aware that she was wearing a nightgown and wondering exactly who’d put it on her.

  “Avery Norton. So we finally meet. I u
sually try to catch new patients on their second day, but obviously something prevented that, didn’t it?” he asked in a gentle voice that possessed sharp hints of a nondescript European accent; however, Avery was too enrapt by trying to figure out how long she’d been in the ice bath if more than two days had passed. “You seem perplexed. Do you know where you are, Avery?”

  “I’m in Hell,” she whispered, and the doctor laughed.

  “So you haven’t lost your sense of humor. That’s good.”

  “I wasn’t joking,” she replied.

  “I see. So, as you may have already deduced, I am Doctor Aslinn. I am the Chief Therapist for the juvenile ward here at Taunton. I’ve been a therapist for over twenty years and written several books specializing in - ”

  “I don’t care.”

  “No? Usually, people your age are concerned about being treated by a stranger or someone they can’t be sure is qualified.”

  “I don’t care,” Avery repeated.

  “Why are you so angry, Avery?”

  “If someone accused you of murder, took you away from your home and friends, and locked you up in a dungeon for crazy people, wouldn’t you be angry?”

  “Actually, I think I’d be relieved to have the holiday. You could think of it like that, you know.”

  “Being tied up and left alone in freezing cold water for God knows how long isn’t my idea of a holiday.”

  “Have it your way. Let’s talk about something else,” he replied and folded his hands on the desk. “Tell me why you think everyone is so sure of your guilt except for you?”

  “Because my mother set me up. She was angry that I’d been spending time with Paul and that we saw her put those people in her trunk.”

  “Ah yes, the people in the trunk at the party with no witnesses at the vague place somewhere up island. Is that right?”

  “Yes.”

  “And how do you explain your fingerprints being on so many of the bodies?”

  “They were hanging on hooks and the light was out. I was pushing them away to look for the light. I didn’t know what they were.”

  “I see. Tell me about the rabbits then.”

  “The rabbits were an accident.”

 
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