Fenn seems more comfortable with that, She looks up and down the hall, then lowers her voice. They like me, the nurses. They think I’m kind. “A writer,” she says. “Famous.”
I blink at her like it makes any difference to me. I need to know the color of her hair, but I realize how crazy I’ll sound if I ask.
“What happened to her?” I ask softly.
Fenn folds in her lips, shakes her head like it’s too sad to say.
“Assault,” she whispers.
I am skilled at containing my emotions. I wasn’t always, but killing people will change you a bit. I breathe through my nose—inhale exhale, inhale exhale.
“Nurse Fenn,” I say sweetly. “What color is her hair?”
This question does not come as a surprise to her. Crazy people ask crazy questions. What they haven’t figured out yet is that I’m not crazy.
Fenn is about to open her mouth to chide or answer me when Dr. Elgin comes striding down the hall. It’s a surprise to see her here. The other crazies part for her, giving her room to walk and looking at her with a certain adoration. Everyone likes her, and, by mutual consent, we all wish she were here more often than the stocky, curt Dr. Pengard. She acknowledges me with a nod, because I am her favorite, and slips inside the famous writer’s room. The screaming starts five minutes later. I run, not walk, to the bathroom. I might be responsible for her pain.
What color is her hair?
What color is her hair?
What color is her hair?
It’s on an endless loop in my brain. A carousel that goes round and round, making me dizzy. She’s been locked up in that room for days now, screaming for most of it. On one of those days a man came. Handsome, with a face that wasn’t made to smile. He was taken to her room, and then the screaming stopped for a little while.
I ask Dr. Elgin about her, but she presses her red lips together and tells me nothing. I overhear a nurse say her name, and I memorize it for later. It’s on the tenth day of her stay that I finally see her. Brown hair. She has a streak of gray at her temple, and I wonder if she had her stylist put it there on purpose. A nurse wheels her into the rec room, and sets her in front of a blank canvas and several tins of paint. She closes her eyes tightly and pushes them away, muttering something under her breath. Then she is gone, her room cleaned out and someone new assigned to it. But I know. Leroy hurt that woman. He took the rage that he felt for me, and he hurt her. And now I have to get out of here and stop him before he does it again. Once and for all. No mercy this time.
ON THE LAST DAY OF APRIL, after I’ve been at Westwick for just over four months, I tell Dr. Elgin everything. I tell her about Leroy, and what I did to him—the months of planning it took before I climbed through his kitchen window with the intent of killing him. I tell her how he overpowered me, and then deliver my suspicions that he drugged me and wrote the note himself. When I confess that I am the reason the writer screamed ‘pink Zippo’ from behind the doors of her room, there is nothing on Dr. Elgin’s face to give away whether she believes me or not. She simply listens as she always does. When our session is almost over, she promises to look into Leroy Ashley, and I feel a burden lifted from my chest. It’s good to tell. To have someone know who you are. But the next time I see her, she does not speak about Leroy or the writer.
“Margo,” she says gently, once I am seated. “Why doesn’t Judah come here to visit you?”
He has … or no, he hasn’t. Why did I suddenly think he had? I’ve been here for how long? I’ve written him letters—five or six—after the returned e-mail-but I hadn’t heard back from him. He is in Los Angles with his girlfriend, Eryn … or is it Erin?
“I … I … He’s…”
I grasp my head, press my fingertips against my temples. I suddenly feel swarmy. Is that a word? But it’s what I feel. Swarmy. Everything melding and melting together. Emotions and thoughts kicking up like a windstorm.
“Look at me,” she says. “Tell me about the first time you saw him.”
“We were children,” I say. “We grew up a few houses away. He just went to a different school.”
“No,” she says. “The first time you spoke with him. Tell me about that day.”
“I was going to get cigarettes from the store. For my mother. I saw him outside of his house so I went to speak to him.”
“And that was the first time that you spoke to Judah since you were children?”
“What was different about that day? What made you want to speak to him?”
I close my eyes. I can still feel the rusted gate beneath my fingertips, the moan as I pushed it open and walked down the path to where he was smoking his joint. The sickening sweet smell of pot.
“He looked so confident. He didn’t care that he was in a wheelchair. I felt like I needed to know how to do that. Be that.”
Dr. Elgin closes her eyes. It looks like she’s fallen asleep, except her eyes are roving back and forth behind her lids in a rapid eye awakeness.
“What happened the day before?” she says.
“The day before I spoke to Judah?”
“I don’t know. It was a long time ago.”
“You do know. Think.”
“I don’t. It was a long time ago,” I repeat. It’s the first time since our therapy sessions started that I would rather not be in the room with her. I feel as if she’s creeping in on me. She’s finished playing nice guy. A heat creeps around the back of my neck like an invisible hand. Even my eyelids feel hot. I pull at the scrubs, which are sticking to my skin.
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