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Rabbits in the garden, p.8

Rabbits in the Garden, page 8

 

Rabbits in the Garden
 


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  The day the verdict was announced, Avery wore black. She had resigned herself to a lengthy stay in the hospital, but she hadn’t expected it to last for six years. She couldn’t imagine losing her entire adolescence to the banality of six years in Taunton, but as she was straddling the line between belief in her innocence and acceptance of her guilt, she couldn’t help but start to think herself deserving of it. She became withdrawn, losing herself more and more in self-doubt and troubling speculations that eroded her sanity with each passing day. No matter how far she inched toward the edge, however, Flint was always able to pull her back. Although Avery formed bonds with most of the more lucid girls in the ward, she and Flint formed a friendship to rival the one she'd had with Paul.

  “We haven’t heard from you in a few weeks, Avery. Do you have anything to share with the group?” Nurse Meredith asked.

  “Not today.”

  “You shouldn’t avoid the situation, Avery. You shouldn’t keep your feelings all bottled up.”

  “I’m not. I’m angry. I’m sad and disappointed and lonely. I haven’t kept any of that bottled up.”

  “You seemed happy last month.”

  “Last month there was still a chance I might get out of here soon. Last month I still had a shot at a normal life.”

  “It's the work we do here that ensures you have a normal life when you do get out.”

  “Then why is Pam back in here? Shouldn’t the work she’s done have prepared her for life after being discharged?”

  “We’re not talking about Pam. We’re talking about you. People are different. They have different ailments and different levels of determination,” she replied.

  “It seems the work we do is more about you than us. If we appear normal to you, we’re cured, but how do we know that you’re normal?” Avery asked.

  Nurse Meredith smiled and set down her pen and pad.

  “Dear Avery, you don't think that's an original thought, do you? Many of the girls sitting right here have asked the same question. The truth is that as long as you insist upon battling the people trying to help you, you’ll never get better. You need to let go of your anger, let go of your fear and let go of this refusal to accept recovery.”

  “No matter what I do, I’m out when I turn eighteen.”

  “You’re out of this ward when you’re eighteen. It’s up to your doctors and nurses to decide whether you can be discharged or simply moved to an adult ward. The law may have put you here, but only we can deem you ready for release.”

  Avery clamped her mouth shut and lowered her head. Nurse Meredith said it in kinder words, but in essence, she'd told Avery to tow the line or risk eternal imprisonment. However, that was easier said than done. She kept her mouth shut for the rest of the session and zoned out on the ramblings of the other patients, but while Brianne was complaining about the girls purposefully tripping Tyler, Avery's silent trance was broken by someone screaming her name. At first, she thought it was only in her mind, but when the screaming got louder, the group began to turn in curiosity.

  “What on earth is that?” Nurse Meredith asked as several girls crowded around the window, but Avery pushed through them to the front and wrapped her hands around the bars.

  He was running left and right, yelling with his hands cupped around his mouth, and his voice was already starting to sound hoarse.

  “Paul!” Avery shrieked, and when he didn't turn right away, Flint started shouting his name, as did Sheila and Frankie, and before long, the entire group was shouting, and he ran to the window.

  “Avery! Oh Avery, are you alright?”

  “What are you doing here?” she exclaimed.

  “We’re visiting my grandfather in Boston, and I begged my mom to bring me here. But the people up front wouldn’t let me in. I’m on some sort of list.”

  “A list?”

  “Tell me you’re okay, Avery. I’ve been so worried about you.”

  “I’m fine, all things considered, but I miss you,” Avery replied, inciting a mix of genuine and sarcastic sympathy from the girls.

  “I miss you too. I still can’t believe you're stuck in here. It’s not fair. You’re innocent.”

  “I used to think so.”

  “Keep thinking it, Avery. You are innocent,” he said. “Do you hear me? Avery Norton is innocent! Say it, Avery! You’re innocent!”

  “You need to let go, Avery,” Nurse Meredith whispered into her ear. “It’s the only way you can get better. You need to look ahead to your recovery. The past can only drag you down.”

  “He’s the only one who believes me.”

  “Of course he is. He cares about you. He wants to protect you.”

  “What’s so wrong about that?”

  “It’s the same thing your mother did when you were young, when this whole thing started. As long as he keeps trying to convince you of your innocence, you’ll never get better.”

  “You're innocent, Avery. Say it!” he yelled.

  “Why can’t I just be innocent, Meredith?”

  “Because no one ever is. Not you. Not even him. Maybe someday he can help you, but right now, all he can do is hurt you. You need to surround yourself with the truth, Avery, and he only tells you what you want to hear.”

  Three guards rushed outside, and although Paul was able to slip out of their grasp, they eventually caught hold of him.

  “Avery!” he screamed as they started to drag him away.

  “Let go, Avery,” Nurse Meredith whispered again.

  “Please, say it, Avery! I want to hear you say it!” Paul pleaded.

  She looked down at him with her jaw trembling, and even at his distance she could see the sorrow welling in his eyes.

  “Say it, Avery,” Paul and Nurse Meredith whispered, and Avery wrung her hands around the bars, leaned forward against them, and closed her eyes.

  Even when she opened her mouth to speak, she wasn’t sure which one of them would be appeased until she said,

  “Goodbye, Paul.”

  As she watched the guards haul him away, Nurse Meredith patted Avery on the back, but she couldn’t help but feel that the nurse would rather be patting herself on the back.

  Job well done, Meredith.

  The girls and nurses disbanded, but Avery couldn't tear herself away from the window. Even though Paul was gone, she kept searching the empty, snow-covered field for the boy she had turned away. What the hell had she done? How could she have let him go? He’d come so far, fought so hard, and she’d just given up. Maybe it was for the best though. If she was the kind of girl who could give up on someone who meant so much to her, maybe he deserved better.

  “You okay?” Frankie asked with his head curled around the doorframe.

  “Yes. No. I don’t know. I don’t know how ‘okay’ is supposed to feel anymore.”

  “Flint and I were thinking of a late night game, something to take our minds off of things. Truth or Dare, maybe? Violet’s gone, so we can use her room.”

  “Where did she go?”

  “Where does she ever go?” he replied with a shrug.

  “It could be fun,” Flint said as she walked into the room, unaware that she had acquired a small shadow named Brianne.

  “What could be fun?” the girl asked as she slunk into the room, and Flint and Frankie groaned.

  “If we tell you, you can’t tell anyone else. Not even Tyler.”

  “Fine; that’s easy.”

  “We’re playing Truth or Dare tonight in Violet’s room.”

  “Can I play? Please?” she whined.

  “Okay, but remember your promise. No one. Not even Tyler,” Frankie said.

  “I don’t have to tell Tyler. He’s been standing here the whole time,” she replied with a grin and then jumped as if being stuck with a pin. “Ouch, Tyler! Watch your horns!”

  By ten o’clock, a small group had gathered in Violet’s room: Avery, Flint, Frankie, Sheila, Brianne, and Rachel.

  “Where’s Pam?”

  “She accid
entally swallowed her vitamin T,” Rachel replied.

  “Damn, I was hoping I'd finally be able to ask her how she ended up in here,” Flint snarled.

  “Even if she had come, you know she would’ve only picked dare to avoid that question.”

  “So, how do you play this game?” Avery asked and five sets of eyes shot to her in shock.

  “You’ve never played Truth or Dare? How is that possible?”

  “I usually played with boys back home, but most of the time it was just me and Paul,” she replied, straining a bit when she said his name.

  “What are you saying: Truth or Dare isn’t manly enough for boys to play?” Frankie asked with his chest theatrically puffed out.

  “Who are you kidding?” Sheila chortled. “Don’t worry, Avery. It’s easy.”

  “And Sheila knows all about being easy,” Frankie said under his breath, but she heard him and punched him in the arm.

  “Really, it’s simple,” she continued, and when Frankie started to say “Sheila knows all about being simple”, she drew her fist back and said, “do you really want another one?”

  “Look, Avery, all you have to do is pick truth or dare. If you pick truth, you have to tell the truth, and if you choose dare you have to do whatever the person tells you, no matter what it is,” Flint explained.

  “What if it’s something I don’t want to do?”

  “You still have to do it. It’s the rules,” Frankie replied. “Watch. I’ll go first. Flint: truth or dare?”

  “Dare.”

  “Rachel, give me your matches,” he said and Flint’s eyes lit up. “I dare you sit with these matches in front of you for five full minutes without touching them.”

  “Oh come on!” she mewled.

  “You said dare! You have to do it.”

  She grumbled as Rachel set her book of matches in front of Flint, who promptly closed her eyes.

  “That’s cheating. You have to look at them,” Frankie said.

  “You’d better pray that I don’t think of something for you, Frankie, ‘cause if I do, you’re in big trouble,” she hissed and set her eyes on the matches.

  Her fingers twitched more than usual and she had to wipe her sweaty hands on her pajamas nine times during the full five minutes. When Frankie called “time”, Flint snatched up the matches and hugged them to her chest before begrudgingly tossing them back to Rachel.

  It seemed that most of the dares were like that: torturous tasks that tested the limits of one’s ailment, but it was with two forced admissions from Frankie and Sheila that gave Flint the inspiration for her next dare. Frankie had never kissed a girl, and Sheila had slept with every guy she’d ever kissed.

  “Frankie, I dare you to go into the storage closet with Sheila…and do it.”

  “Do what?”

  “It.”

  “What’s ‘It’?”

  “The big It. The only It. You know, It.”

  “No way. I’m not doing that,” he scoffed.

  “You have to. It’s the rules,” Flint replied as she crossed her arms over her chest and raised her eyebrow devilishly. “You used my fire fixation. Now, its payback time.”

  “That’s completely different. You want to touch fire.”

  “Hey!” Sheila squealed. “I’m not too keen on this arrangement either, you know.”

  “Fine, we’ll do it,” Frankie grumbled as he pulled Sheila to her feet and out to the storage closet in the hall.

  “Have fun!” Rachel sang.

  “If any of you think they’re really going to do it, you’re crazy,” Brianne said as she stroked Tyler’s ears.

  “Alright, Brianne, truth or dare?”

  “Truth.”

  “Finish your story. What happened on the day you were sent here?”

  “Oh, wow, that was an awful day. Seriously, it was ridiculously awful. Actually, the beginning of the day wasn’t so terrible. Although, I did burn myself with my mom's hot rollers. Have you ever done that? It really hurts, and you get a big ugly scab from it. It’s funny because I did it the week of school pictures, and so I had my picture taken with a big scab on my forehead, but not a minute after the picture was taken, I rubbed my forehead and the scab came right off. It didn’t even leave a mark. I felt so dumb. If only I’d rubbed my forehead before the picture was taken…”

  She went on for a while with Flint and Rachel interjecting groans of “Finish the fucking story, Brianne.” She never reached the conclusion, but no one seemed to care when the door to Violet’s room opened and Frankie slunk back in with Sheila on his heels.

  “So, how was it?”

  “I’ve had better, and I’ve had worse,” Sheila replied with a shrug and flopped down onto the floor.

  “No way. I don’t buy it. You didn’t really - ”

  “Yes, we did,” Frankie said sternly. “Now let’s just drop it.”

  “What’s wrong? It wasn’t good for you?” Flint joked, but with a growl, Frankie stormed out of the room.

  “So this is Truth or Dare...” Avery said after a long, agitated silence.

  “Yeah, this is why we don't play too often,” Rachel replied.

  “How about we make this the last game?” Sheila asked, and the girls nodded in agreement; except for Brianne who'd hardly gotten to participate in her first game.

  “Do you think he'll forgive me?” Flint asked Avery when they got back to their room.

  “Yes.”

  “How can you be so sure?”

  “What else is there to do? If no one forgave each other in here, life would be even worse.”

  “It's not so bad, Avery.”

  “Maybe not before today.”

  “You mean not before Paul.”

  “There was nothing before Paul,” Avery sighed.

  The next morning, Violet was back, but when Avery walked into the lounge, she noticed that the girl seemed more spaced out than usual. She was slouched on a chair with her head tilted back and jaw slack, but her eyes were wide open, almost as if in fright, and Avery shivered at her catatonic expression. Even more disturbing was that Violet was slumped over in an orange chair rather than her usual purple. Avery studied her as she often found herself doing, but instead of Violet's eyes lazily following Avery's movement, her eyes remained fixed forward in a dead stare. The only sign of her continued life was the soft rise and fall of her chest, and the fresh wound on her freshly shaven scalp suggested why. It was something that no one talked about, mostly for fear that if one of them acknowledged the explanation aloud, they might be the next to go under the knife.

  In late February, a young girl named Bethany was brought to Taunton. Like Violet, she was an orphan, but unlike Violet, she never seemed to stop talking, especially to people who weren’t there. She didn’t stick around too long, a week or so, but the flu she’d had when she was brought in stuck around for a few weeks. Nearly everyone in the ward got sick. They were coughing, sneezing, running fevers, but Sheila had the worst of it. Even if she woke up feeling better than the day before, she inevitably vomited. Unfortunately, it usually happened before she could make it to the lavatory and thereby caused a chain reaction for all of the other ill girls who saw it happen. The custodial staff certainly had their hands full in late February.

  In May, Pam turned eighteen, and following a few tearful and fearful days, she was moved to the women’s ward on the other side of the sun bridge. The adult patients weren’t nearly as restricted and had more access to the gardens and paths that wound between the hospital buildings. So occasionally, the girls would look outside and see Pam amidst the mature patients of Taunton, and she would wave to them when her nurses weren’t looking. Looking down at her easily assimilating with the others that had been confined for God knows how long terrified Avery. Although she seemed content, perhaps even happier than she’d been in the juvenile ward, she was still stuck, and she seemed content with being stuck. Avery told Doctor Aslinn about her fears: not only that she would never again breathe fresh air but tha
t she would never again breathe free air. As usual, his consolations always came back to progress, to the “work we’re doing”, and they never gave Avery any comfort. The more “work” they did, the more she felt her strings of sanity loosen. It sometimes caused her to over-compensate her grasp on sanity and pull her mind so tight that her strings would snap. That’s when the nurses would slip a few more vitamins into her daily dosage or sentence her to a stint in the ice bath to cool off. However, after seeing the wound on Violet's forehead, Avery knew that she was lucky to get away with such easy therapy.

  One day in early September, Brianne was playing Hide and Seek with Tyler and making quite a racket in the process. She darted up and down the hall, jumped from couch to couch and burst into other girls’ rooms in attempt to find her elusive friend.

  “I can hear your hooves clicking,” she sang out as she crept up to room 5 and pressed herself against the door. “I can hear you panting.”

  “Tyler’s not in here, Brianne, so shut up and get away from my door!” Sheila screamed, but Brianne, convinced that Tyler was hiding somewhere in Sheila’s room, threw the door open and leapt onto her bed.

  She ripped off the sheets and tried to push Sheila aside to see if he was hiding behind her, but Sheila pushed back and knocked Brianne onto the floor. When Brianne continued to look for Tyler behind the boxes stored under the bed, Sheila jumped down, grabbed her by the hair, and dragged her out into the hall. With one hand still on Brianne’s hair, she started pummeling the girl and drew blood from Brianne’s lip and nose before the nurses could pull her off. Within seconds, the bruises appeared on Brianne’s face, and Patrick scooped her up to take her to the infirmary, but before she was carried away, she pointed back at Sheila’s room weakly.

  “There he is! See? I knew he was in there,” she whispered and then passed out on the orderly's shoulder.

 
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