By Claudia Ricci
Note to readers: A couple of weeks ago, I met with my colleague and friend Nancy J. Dunlop, a poet and essayist, to write for a couple of hours at her house. We used a random prompt from a book that she had; the prompt included the words: "my head is absolutely fuzzy with the dust of ancient kings." When I started writing, I had no idea what I was thinking or where the story was going. But this is the short story that poured out. I'm not trying too hard to analyze it.
She wrote the first email and it was only one sentence long and I swear I read it and I reread it and I read it a third time and that third time I swear I heard her saying it, I could practically feel her warm breath giving me goosebumps on my neck and I swear I heard her whispering it to me directly in my ear.
“Oh Dara, my head is absolutely fuzzy with the dust of ancient kings.” Huh? I was puzzled. She’d promised to write and now she had, but Christ, it wasn’t as though I had a clue, this made no sense.
I sat there, massaging the bridge of my nose with thumb and forefinger, aware of the rain that was steadily plink plink plinking on the tin roof.
What was she saying? Was this code for the hospital was really dirty? Or was she simply saying that they had her so well sedated that she couldn’t think straight. I waited a decent amount of time, ten minutes, and then I waited one more, and then I wrote back.
“Mona, so glad to hear from you. Have been dying to know how the place feels. Also, how you are getting along. Let me know how it’s going if you can. Do you get much time for email? Do they censor you? On this end, I have been trying to put words to a song. Not going so well at all. Feels like I’m stacking bricks. It would be going better if I had a melody or a chorus or even a glimmer of inspiration.”
The next email from her two days later was quite lengthy but even more confusing. “They told me they would throw a rope if I tumbled overboard, and not to worry, because I was wearing a helmet, but I wasn’t having any of that white water shit. I pretended I would go, I even went so far as to sit in the raft. I let them tie the lifejacket around me very snug, but just as they pushed off, I stood up and took one giant leap out of the fucking boat.
Naturally I fell on both knees and cut both my fucking shins on these sharp rocks in the stream. My boat leader let out a wild scream, MONAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, and when she finally reached me she had this scolding tone even as she came to my aid. Oh Dara, the kind of kings in charge here are clearly not those to whom I dare entrust my safety. Do I have to be here? For how long? Whose idea was this anyway?”
“By the way, after they bandaged my knees they had the audacity to say that if I wanted to, I was still free to "do" the river with a team that was assembling on the shore. I just laughed. I told them that I had decided to paint for the afternoon and I added, please, I want to have nothing more to do with water of the river variety, not ever again, and no boats anymore either.”
I decided to print out the email. Who knew what to believe? Before she left, Mona told me she was enrolled in a six week program at Biggs Meyers and they would be doing psychotherapy at least four or five hours a day.
So what the hell was this business about white water rafting? Was she really trying to get me to believe she was rafting the fucking Housatonic River?
I stepped outside and stared at the hummingbirds dive-bombing the feeders. I really needed to speak to her. I considered calling the desk number that she’d left me and pretend I was calling with some kind of minor family emergency.
Instead, I went to the dictionary and opened it at random and set my finger on a word. I just hate it when the word makes me this anxious, as if somehow the fucking dictionary knows exactly which word I will pick. As if the fucking dictionary can feel or tell what idea I am most afraid to discover about myself.
So if you must know the word I chose was one I do not love at all:
So if you must know the word I chose was one I do not love at all:
Deteriorate. Hate it. Hate hate hate hate the idea behind and in front of it.
Deteriorate is from the Latin deteriorare, “to degenerate.” Lately, I have been unraveling. I know it and so do a few of my friends, which is why it was advised to do a stint here.
Perhaps I should not be admitting all of this so brazenly, right here right on this asinine piece of paper, as others may peek over my shoulder, and read what I am writing. Why do they allow the goddamn aides to peek over your shoulder and read what you are writing? What goes on at these places? Don’t people in these places deserve privacy?
Please, Mr. Aide, do not peek over my shoulder or I will report you and Dr K, the king of kings, will not appreciate this random invasion of a patient’s privacy. I’ve got my rights, I know that much, and I know that he will hold you responsible. And by the way, don’t you dare touch me or come near me.
Straight away, I threw aside the dictionary and went to the desk to ask Barbara for the key to the phone room. I wanted to dial Dara, I had a right to, she is after all my closest best friend, she is more of a sister than my own sister, you could say that she is closer to me than my other half. It has been seven days since I left and it’s about time that I would at least be allowed to spill my guts about this place, especially the crappy way they don’t clean. The dust is overhwelming, I swear it’s making my head fuzzy and kicking up my allergies.
But I don’t understand, I told Barbara at the desk. Her hair is truly more carrot colored than carrots, and I don’t even like carrots. There were all these springy curls popping out on all sides of her head as if she was electrified.
“But I was told I could have phone privileges after one week. I know they told me that. I swear.” I could feel my hands shaking, and rings of sweat sprouting under and around each arm pit. “It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. There are rules and rules should be followed.” I leaned over the desk and stared right into Barbara’s sky blue eyes. “Especially in places like THIS!”
Barbara tuned me out. “Sorry Mona, you’ll have to speak to Dr K, all I know sweetie is what it says here in your chart, phone privs not to start until May 30th, which is more than a week from now.”
How humiliating. I moped by the desk until another white-shirted aide asked me if I wasn’t ready for medication. I turned to face him. “I am already a zombie,” I said calmly. “I will forego the afternoon pill.”
I sat listening to the rain pummeling the windows with soft fingers. I thought about what I would write Dara tonight, during my half hour of email time. But that wasn’t until eight p.m. Five more hours of doing nothing.
I dropped into a rocking chair and there was a raggy grey afghan on one arm and I took off my socks and shoes and wrapped the afghan around my bare feet. “I am bored,” I said to no one in particular.
There was a woman wearing red glasses, she was sitting across the room from me on a sofa with a magazine in her lap. Was she reading said magazine?
“Don’t complain to me, honey. Do somethin if you’re bored.” Had she really said those words or were they words in my own head?
In any case, I pretended I didn’t hear her. “I really am so terribly and awfully bored. I am so scared of being bored. Being bored means you might have no more life ahead of you. Being bored means you are one tiny step away from dying.” I felt the tears gathering behind both eyes. I started to speak louder hoping someone would come to my assistance. “Do you hear what I am saying? One of my worst, absolutely worst fears is to be bored. I am terrified of it. I love being busy. Can you see that in me?”
Anyway, if anybody cares, I came to this place to cure my boredom and so what happens? I am even more bored here than I was back home.”
Nobody answered me. Nobody said nothing. Not the white-shirted aide who tried to feed me an afternoon pill. Not the carrot-haired aide behind the desk.
I sat there staring into the ploufe of the rain and decided to take a chance with another word. Decided to pick the word right above deteriorate:
Detergent: noun. A cleansing substance…having cleansing power.
I like that word. Clean. Cleansing. Taking power by eliminating dirt. By creating order. I decided to volunteer to dust. After all, I am bored. And this crazy place is in serious need of cleaning. I went up to the desk and asked Barbara if she had any dust rags and Endust because when I clean, I absolutely must have it.
END dust, that is.
END dust, that is.