Nurse Victory

the building coming down at the docks
was a thing in the war or some other romance
now hooded men stole its copper

but my body once slept inside
(it was derelict then too
but sheltered many)
that’s the point of this, the
angels in my pockets
winged pennies nickels & dimes
singing the Holy Holy Hosannas
& Torch Songs—

one is locked in tiny rooms
it turned out
for hearing such joy &
watched through tiny panes of glass

that’s how we met

hello Nurse Victory, I breathed
seeing her peek at me through the glass
me in my corner near the drain
(everything in a Psychiatric Quiet Room is near the drain)

from there I saw her once hopeful &
later at her Station so angry for marriage
never quite chill enough
for all the trend-setting psychotics &
never nearly as wise

I might have saved her
if not for the side-effects

& so the building comes down with the ball
Nurse Victory
where are you now?








highway of love

the falling to your knees part
—it’s preceded by the slackening of the gut
the rush of memories emotions and the
rude invisible interrupting itself
like so selfish a Saturday night

I have been commanded
to rid the Earth of its lava core
things like that the silver spoken/whispered/shouted
words with each its ripple light
bending in the heat off this highway
with its seldom traffic and turquoise cafés
and Jesus on Sundays on the radio

I love you I alone I alone and no one else I alone and no one else  for fuck sake

okay?!?    He  says    for the love of God!

like someone undone by prayer


fire safety

it comforts this one
to walk among razor blades

to do it & be
gifted with voices
a club of them wearing colours
like a football game &

I’ve stopped asking, do you hear?
because the you(s) in the room,
the visible(s), never could—
would catch fire if they did

so I’m glad it’s only me
fire safety being
so close to my heart






a prison for doppelgängers

“You’re so like me,” she said quietly, repeating what she’d said each day for more than two years, like a morning prayer to a man’s image in the mirror, the north light from the nearby window settling softly on each of their opposite cheeks. “And that makes me very sad.”

He spoke too. They spoke in unison, his lips moving with hers, translating her words into a language of reversal—it only happened when they met in the mirror. “And yet you’re so different,” she whispered.

The framed oval mirror was cracked. It hung on a wall in a room of a tall derelict house, the last evidence that the structure had once been a home. The house’s backyard was now an untended wilderness of bees, spider webs and feral cats. It had been a good house once. She and her doppelgänger had come there by chance, wandering and seeking shelter. She touched the mirror with the fingers of her right hand, and the fingertips of his left met them.

“Everyone has one, you know”, someone had said one evening over wine, “a ghostly equal.” It had been an unexpected topic of conversation put forth by a friend at a table of friends, out of step with their harmless banter, but fitting in well with the dark and cold October night. An impossible idea, of course. As obscure and mildly fascinating as necromancy, and they had all laughed, though some very quietly.

Moments later, she was surprised to suddenly feel that she was neglecting some important thing and that she, in turn, was being neglected, as though expressing the idea of an equal had caused a chrysalis somewhere to fracture and reveal something she’d wrongfully ignored all of her life.

It had been a spell cast innocently in conversation, her ghostly equal summoned somehow without any comprehensible effort and waiting for her, as it turned out, on the sidewalk across the street when she left the warm rooms where the gathering had taken place.

A cab nowhere in sight, they walked away together. She took him in, and they had remained together ever since. A man as unkempt as she had become with the masculine equivalents of her features, appearing always at her side and in every mirror and every shop window, eventually driving her mad. And having done this, he’d sat with her in psychiatry ward quiet-rooms as she raved and cursed him. He comforted her in her newly acquired homelessness, and hunger. Stood next to her as she begged strangers for change. Guided her away from assault and other physical harms. And he now occupied the derelict house with her.

She looked away from the mirror. He crouched in a corner now, surrounded by blankets and empty tin cans.

“You’ve ruined me,” she told him. He looked at his hands, and didn’t reply. “I realised it months ago, naturally, but I can only say it now.” Birdsong and the sound of bees came in through a broken window over the yard. “The only thing that’s kept me from killing you has been fear of my own death, but that’s nearly gone.” This got his attention; they were startling words. She’d said similar things before, but not with such weary conviction. “Something you should have seen coming,” she said. She turned to look in the mirror again. He looked back. She smashed the glass with her fist. His face vanished, and her hand bled.

She breathed the words, prison. Solitary confinement.

He remained in the corner.






in the alley behind the drop-in

beats being burned at the stake
Tina says of her ECT
and though it’s true that in our age
mad women are not witches
she has nonetheless
been rendered ash

and fuck! I spit

but I need something she says
(her dealer has an office in a hospital)
everything’s so somethingless and
I can still hear black

so, I cover her ears with my hands
—conjurations and orbits—I hear them too
and a voice saying it won’t be pretty
she’ll out last you all
she’ll out last you all
she’ll out last you all





the photo booth

I wouldn’t recommended it, trying to thumb a ride on the road just out front of the locked gates of a mental hospital. It was cold and white, and there hadn’t been a car by in more than an hour. The two or three that had already passed by, had accelerated as they did. That it was Christmas morning didn’t help, I was sure.

The idea of me, an ex-patient, hitching a ride on a country road out front of the asylum from which I’d just been released, made me smile. But I had my shoes and a donated coat, and my pictures of her and I, and I knew that with these few things, I could wait until spring for a ride, if I had to.

By now she was just a dot on the rise in the road a mile away. We’d never been separated by such a distance before. Maybe I was finally on my own.

It was hard to believe, standing there, under the circumstances, that it had only been days before that Veronica told me that the walls of my room would bleed if I cut them with a razor. She said that the old hospital was dying anyway, and that the room I occupied was its last pulsing organ. Its acre of wooded land was its deathbed, and that I would be its final near-death experience.

So, on a night in late December, I took two hits of my smuggled-in acid and looked out of my second floor window, past the bars, believing that I saw gravity collapse stars into endless heroic outlines. Then I cut and waited to wash in the blood of the ancient hospital. But the walls didn’t bleed, so I had taped my razorblade back onto the underside of my night table drawer, and listened for the rest of the night to Perseus tap on the glass.

Veronica had been wrong. She was unreliable sometimes, too flamboyant, a thespian at heart. She took advantage of my boredom. I was her fond audience, and the dark spilling in through the window was her limelight. She was strong, too. Antipsychotics feared her. They stepped round her, respectfully, and obliterated everything else. And during morning rounds, she would cling to the florescent ceiling like a spider, and look down on me as the horn-rim, herring bone psychiatrist conducted his interrogation.

“Housekeeping says you’re destroying hospital property,” he’d said, the morning after the acid night. He said this tracing the cut lines on the walls with his fingertips. I was still tripping. It was the morning of Christmas Eve.

“So, evict me,” I said.

“Your next stop will be Isolation, Molly.” He paused for effect, still closely examining the wall. He was a thespian, too. “You don’t want to go there again.”

“Release me, then. Give me my shoes.”

“No.” He came and sat near my bed. “You’re still too vulnerable.”

“And the others schizos you cut loose, they aren’t? I’ll get along just fine on the outside, with a few pills.”

“And suicide…?”

“I hardly ever think of it anymore,” I said, “except at moments like these when I’m faced with your mania for it.”

“Are you having ideas? Are there voices encouraging you?”

“No. The voices are gone.” It was a lie, but fuck him. “You killed them all. It was a fucking slaughter. Now I’m stepping over bodies.”

He regarded me sternly for a moment, silent in saying the unsaid things of psychiatry.

Then I said, “It’s a trinket for you, isn’t it? Suicide, I mean. It’s a little paste jewel in your pocket. You finger it all day, worry over it, in with your coins and your keys. You even take it out occasionally, and gloat over it. Take an inventory, as you hold it, of all your patients devoured by the word.”

“Do you still believe in what happened in the photo booth?” he said. It was a quick unexpected thrust. Touché. He even allowed a trace of triumph to escape into the air, through his eyes. “You’ve only told us pieces of that story, but it seems very important to you. Central, even, to your being here.”

“You’ve made up your mind about it,” I said. “It doesn’t matter what I have to say.”

“You still associate the photos with Veronica, don’t you?”

“Leave her out of it.”

“Is she still lurking, a voice that I haven’t yet slaughtered?”

The photographs. Oh how the doctors had smirked when I tried to explain them. Veronica and I, the two us jammed into a midway photo booth and posing for the camera. Photographic evidence of her existence. Two friends at a summer fair. Her smiling, me looking tired and a little hopeless. Four small precious snaps in a strip. I’d kept them safe for so long, fiercely preserving them from the deep hole that inevitably swallows all of the meaningful property of the insane and destitute. But the psychiatrist said that I was imagining Veronica, that only I appeared in the pictures.

Now they were in a file, under lock and key.

“She’s real,” I said, ashamed of the confusion I hoped didn’t show. “You can’t drug-away what’s real.”

“You’ve certainly tried over the years,” he said.

“Yeah well, have a drink on me tonight, doc, and celebrate your reserve and resistance to all that’s mind expanding.”

“Tell me what the photo booth experience means to you right now,” he said. “What happened?”

“It would be impossible to describe to someone whose entire philosophy is based on doubt.”

“Then pretend I’m someone else.”

Veronica floated down now, from the ceiling like a leaf from a tree, and sat next to me.

“I don’t believe in the photos, anymore,” I said.

“You’re lying.”

I felt Veronica stroke my hair. “It’s okay,” she said. “Tell him again. He’s just a failed bully. Tell him ten thousand times, if you must. Destroy him with honesty.”

Outside, crows had noisily descended onto the hospital courtyard. I walked to the window to watch, glossy stones black on the snow. I’d take Veronica’s advice, if only to move another dull morning along.

“It was late August,” I said. The crows fought over something dead. “A Saturday. A crummy little town full of dented pickup trucks and dilapidated tractors. Everything a bit rundown and faded. I’d been hitching. It was where my last ride had dropped me.”

“How old were you?”

“Eighteen,” I said. “There was a fair in town, the kind that comes to a small town late in summer. It was rundown and faded too, but not as much as the town. Especially at night when it lit up.”

“And you were very sad,” said Veronica, putting her hand on my knee.

“Sad.” The word was too small. “I was very sad.”

“You’d raised a little money….”

“I’d begged on the street, and had gotten enough for admission into the fair, and a little besides. Seemed the whole town was there that night. I ate a hotdog, and watched the midway from a corner. Loud out of date music over the PA. Devout born-again farmers playing crown and anchor, and trying to toss dimes into milk jugs. There were rides, too. Nothing too big. Just what could be brought in on the carny trucks. It smelled good, in a greasy smoky sort of way, like childhood.”

“It was already getting dark,” Veronica said.

“It was dark when we went into the photo booth,” I said. “I still had a few coins in my pocket. Veronica asked me to sit on her lap, so we’d both fit, and then she said, ‘Smile’.”

“But you didn’t smile,” said the psychiatrist. He jotted notes.

“No, I didn’t smile. The camera must have been broken. The flash popped four times, without me pushing a button, before I could compose myself.”

“And those are the pictures we have?”

“Give them back.”


“But they’re mine.”

“They only reinforce this delusion of yours,” said the psychiatrist. “I think you’re ready now to hear me say that.”

I wanted to be with the crows, to be unrecognisable in their strange order.

“Then the booth spit out the pics through a slot,” Veronica said, “and we stood in your corner on the midway looking at them, for a long time. You wept, a little.”

“Veronica and I looked at them for a long time, until the fair shut down for the night.”

“And the pictures were so beautiful, that you wanted to die,” said Veronica.

“I wanted to die long before we took the pictures.”

“What was that?” the psychiatrist said.

“All of the others,” I said. “The ones who’d followed me, everywhere since I was a kid. The voices and the faces that I couldn’t shake no matter how far I hitchhiked and doubled back. They wanted me dead. They harassed me until I bought the junk, enough to kill three people. I hid it in my backpack with the syringe and the spoon. Then they plagued me even more, to take it. Why aren’t you taking the goddamn heroin? End the pain, the pain. They wouldn’t let me sleep. I hadn’t slept for weeks, before we got to that shitty little town.

“Tell me more.” The psychiatrist was leaning forward, greedily. “Tell me how they wore you down, how they whispered and tormented, how they surrounded you and made it impossible to escape.”

“They didn’t,” I said. “Not like that.”

“Tell me, every detail.”

“Tell him that I wouldn’t let you take the heroin,” Veronica said. “That you’re too dear to me. That’s all there was to it. I fought the others off. I protected you. That’s what this fool refuses to understand.”

“Veronica saved me.”

“Nonsense!” The psychiatrist began to rapidly tap his pen on his knee.

“He’s fishing for something,” said Veronica.

“She told me to dump the junk down a storm drain, and I did. The others shrieked at me not to do it, but Veronica told me that death always comes on its own to the patient heart. She protected me because she loves me, and I love her.”

“That’s impossible,” the psychiatrist hissed. “No one can love a hallucination. Now don’t you see why it’s our goal to cure you of all your false perceptions? You can’t live a normal life loving something for which there is no actual stimulus.”

“Yes you can,” Veronica said.

“Yes I can.”

“I’m increasing your medication,” said the psychiatrist. “And introducing some others.” He wrote furious notes.

“I won’t take it.”

“Then you’ll be punished.”

“Punished?” said Veronica.

“Punished?” I said. “Did you just say I’d be punished?”

“No. Yes, but I meant placed in isolation, for your own protection.”

“Veronica can walk through walls, doctor. You’re throwing pills at a fortress, and they’re just bouncing off.”

“This is noncompliance.” He spit the word out like a curse. His most dreaded enemy.

On Christmas morning, as the other patients lined up for their medication and Christmas stockings of mean charity, I was escorted, with my backpack, out of the building, through the courtyard and left outside of the gates in the falling snow.

A sour nurse had given me back my strip of photographs, and had me sign my Release. Veronica and I stood together on the road for a moment, and looked at ourselves caught in that long ago August moment; her smiling, and me looking tired and a little hopeless.

Then she stroked my cheek. “Merry Christmas,” I heard her say, as she slipped away.

my cheating psychosis — a hurtin’ poem

lie to me, I have said to the voices
tell me I’m the only one
not that the silent nights come
only when you’ve slipped away
to waltz with other minds

tell me that I’m yours, alone
that in this broken down alleyway
when all night you have surrounded me
and synapsis and neurons
are planets in the sky
and we have clutched and made love
until only the sidewalks of dawn remain
tell me that there is no one else
that each of you speaks
only to me


The psychiatrist peered through the lower half of his bifocals, as he turned the pages in the folder. A woman sat across from him, in restraints, adorned in cascading spiralling blue interlaced tattoos, visible from the top of her shaven head, covering her face, and extending down to where they disappeared beneath the neckline of her t-shirt.

The psychiatrist was reading her casefile as though it were a grocery store tabloid. His eyebrows raised when he discovered juicy slivers of glib clinical gossip, something the neurologist had added, or a nurse. Then frowning and making a too-too-too sound with his tongue, whenever he encountered less titillating synoptic gibberish.

“You haven’t slept for a very long time,” he said, a fingernail on his left hand having temporarily caught his attention. Then he turned the pages back to a place near the front, and said, “Ah, here we are: No sleep since admission, three days ago. Patient claims not to have slept since 2001.

“No sleep for three days…; we’ll have to work on that. But you say you haven’t slept since 2001? That’s very interesting.”

“Is it?”

“Do you want to say more about that?”


The psychiatrist shifted impatiently in his chair.

“Are you hearing things?” he said. “Voices?”

“I hear your voice,” she said. The psychiatrist shifted in his chair again.

“Auditory hallucinations are a common effect of sleep disorders. And in your paperwork,” he turned more pages, “there are reports of observed symptoms of psychosis, perhaps even severe.”

It was the usual line of interrogation. Next, she thought to herself, he’ll ask me if I see things that aren’t there. He’ll without the apostrophe is hell. Then hell will ask me if I smell shit when there is no shit to smell.

“Can you see things that others don’t?” he said.

“Of course.”

“How do you know others can’t see what you see?”

“Because they’re blinded by their mediocrity.”

“Can you give me an example of what you see, that others can’t?”


It was true, she hadn’t slept in fourteen years, not since 2001, a result of a gravitational collapse, when her life reached a terrifying mass and density. Memories had become dreams and dreams memories, the molecules of each bonding into such close proximity that they were inseparable, perhaps irreversibly.

The cloudiness of childhood had returned, along with a ghost that had sat on her bed and stroked her cheek, saying it loved her. It had become a spider, crawling over her, then a leering thing looking down at her in her childhood bed, in the glow of nightstand lamplight. The doctors had attributed this to childhood sexual abuse. But maybe, she thought, it was just how a ghost loved a child, with grimly curious hands, a taut mouth and wide frenzied eyes. Suddenly, the only thing more frightening than sleep was the thought of awakening.

To fill the sleepless nights, she’d begun playing solitaire and drawing a mural on her walls and ceiling, in colourful pastels, as everything around her rejuvenated in the dark. During the day, she watched the cars on the highway from the window of her room in the boardinghouse, as everything decayed.

She had also begun to keep a journal on her computer, refusing to backspace as she typed. Backspacing was murder. It killed innocent letters, punctuation and numbers that existed only because she’d made typing errors.

At first she did this out of compassion, but then she realised that the protected letters were a code. In the beginning, the code was indecipherable, but then she became its Rosetta Stone. And only by decrypting the decree she had inscribed upon her body, from the top of her head to her toes, could she understand the code that described when and how to take action. She’d etched the decree into her flesh using razorblades and blue pigment. The ghost had tried to stop her, as though the code might reveal something horrible. It had.

“Sometimes it’s helpful to talk about the things you see and hear,” the psychiatrist said.

“You wouldn’t get it.”

As the sleepless years went by, she began to see the mural as an extension of the code, and used the Rosetta to interpret it. In the mural, the ghost had a body and a human face. And an accomplice. They walked confidently through their lives. They had family and security, and were loved and had respect.

“We’re also concerned about your cognitive impairment,” the psychiatrist said — “your decline. Your untreated psychosis is causing a loss of short term memory and other faculties, and it’s going to get worse without therapy. Soon, without medication, you won’t be able to recognise the passage of time, from one moment to the next.”

“Can you assure me that the moment that’s just passed is worth recognising?”

He paused a pause that filled the room, even the filthy corners and the spaces between the bars on the windows. Was he pondering her question, or just planning to retreat?

“Look,” he said. “This isn’t prison, but it is confinement. We want to help, but you can appreciate our need for security and structure. You’ve been found not guilty of a serious crime by reason of insanity. Refusing therapy is not an option here. I’ve asked them to be gentle with you, but that won’t last.”

“I can escape,” she said.

“No one ever has.”

“I can. Now that the work is done, I can finally sleep. That’s how I’ll escape. The dreams and memories have separated. I don’t fear sleep anymore, not since I found the ghosts, the faces in the mural. Fourteen years is a very long time to be awake, so I may never wake up again once I finally lay down.”

It was just the natural order of things. A year was how long it took for a tree to sprout and drop its leaves. It took twenty-five years for Saturn to orbit the Sun. And fourteen sleepless years was what it took to understand and find the ghosts.

She had first encountered them in a foster home a very long time ago, as the trees dropped their leaves and Saturn orbited. She was six years old, a foster child. It was the house of mister and missus ghost. She was a cast-off, and they had taken her in. But they had wanted something from her in return, something she didn’t have to give, something they intended to suck out of her.

They’d called her the girl, refusing to use her name. And they insisted that she call them father and mother, but she had refused, even after the beatings.

She knew these ghosts weren’t her parents, and her obstinacy had earned her a place in the cellar, in the cool dusky light of it, with things that creeped. She’d be left there for a week at a time. Then taken out and asked if she would concede, and call them father and mother. But she would not and, each time, she was returned to the hole beneath the house.

There she ate from shelves, hard to open jars of home-canned peaches and pears, and looked out of a small square window in the wall onto the winter lawn, covered in frost and then in snow.

Before the lady from the foster agency would come round, the girl was brought up, bathed and fed. Then missus ghost took her up to the room that was supposed to be hers, with the warm clean bed and the plush toys and picture books, and missus ghost would lock her in.

But before she did, missus ghost would say, “You tell that agency lady that you love us, dearly. And you tell her that you love your room, and all of the toys, and that we feed you good. You understand?” Then she twisted the little girl’s ear until it felt on fire, and shook her hard by her shoulders.

The girl only stared back in silence, though. And behind her blank stare, disorganised childish thoughts were forming into designs and an awareness of the importance of time. She knew no words for it, but sensed she had time for redress, and an endurance they lacked.

For a few days before the agency lady would arrive, the girl was allowed to sleep in her room to smooth over her gaunt fatigue. And that was when mister ghost came. Late in the night, turning on the lamp. When she awoke from her deep sleep, she saw him and his wide eyes, licking his lips, rubbing his hands together, perhaps to warm them, but they were always cold whenever they touched her.

“I’ve already prescribed a combination of medications,” the psychiatrist said. “I must insist that you take them. They’ll help you to sleep, and have other beneficial effects. But I’ll repeat that you must take them. The nurses and orderlies here follow strict policies of persuasion.”

Mister and missus ghost were surprisingly easy to identify by their mural faces, revealed by the Rosetta, and differentiated from the long strings of approach code in her journal. There were also her compressed memories of location and name.

She’d travelled by train, walked and hitchhiked to the house with the cellar. Then she hunkered down and watched them move through solid objects and conjure abundance. They were old ghosts now.

“I have come for you,” she whispered, on the outside of nighttime windows.

The psychiatrist released her onto the ward. The ghosts there were slouched, long fingered things. The hospital staff cast spells, fear and disunity, the patients shrinking. She took a corner in a threadbare easy chair, and wakefully dreamed of dreaming.

Her vengeance came on a night when the moon was a thin bit of scrap in the sky. She’d costumed herself in darkness, and was a mist that passed through recesses and knots in wood. And when she materialised, she stood above the ghosts in the house as they slept. It was strange that ghosts slept.

Her weapon was a knife that had found her years before, lying in an alley where she often walked before dawn. When it came into her hand, she immediately knew its history, knew why it had been thrown there, shimmering, calling out. There was murder in its blade. It was an experienced killer.

She yawned in her easy chair now, a thing she hadn’t done in fourteen years. The chair was so comfortable, and she was suddenly so drowsy. She closed her eyes, and glimpsed the possibility of dreams.

Soon, the staff would come with their medications, doctors and strong-armed goons. They’d smile and talk to her like she was a child, but would be ready for a struggle, unaware of her Rosetta Stone strength, of the hardness and wisdom, how the blue markings upon her skin would decipher their veiled anxieties, estrangements and hatreds. The staff might even try to strap her down, and inject her with potions. But she would be too powerful.

She’d sat on the edge of the bed, next to mister ghost, and stroked his cheek. He smiled and shifted, half-heartedly clearing his throat, but not waking. Then her hand went lower, as his always had, but she didn’t go nearly as far. It rested upon his chest, and he sighed deeply, his eyes moving rapidly under their lids. Then she ran the blunt edge of the knife along his throat.

When his eyes opened, he saw a woman in the feeble moonlight, behind a curtain of densely configured blue tattoos cascading down her face. He gawked with the once crazed eyes she remembered so well. The ones that had exposed his thirsts and obscene accelerated fascinations. She turned the knife round, so he felt the sharpened edge.

“Those are the eyes,” she said, with quiet satisfaction. “They’re what I’ve come for.”

“Please,” he said, so awake now, not recognising her. “Anything….” He swallowed hard, involuntarily, and it caused a trickle of blood.

“I never said please,” she said. “I never could. You never would have allowed it. You’d have hurt me more. I was powerless. It was rape, and I was so young.”

Missus ghost rolled over now, and her arm fell across her husband’s belly. She was almost snoring.

“You don’t know who I am, do you.”

“No,” he said. She was unrecogniseable behind the Rosetta Decree.

She said her name and he tensed further, but had no words. Then she removed the knife from his throat, and went for his once leering eyes.

His screams were soon accompanied by those of missus ghost, and were enough to fill the neighbourhood. Dogs barked, and a few nearby houselights came on, shining brightly. A man in his robe appeared on his porch across the street, with a cellphone in his hand. She remained sitting on the bed until the police cautiously surrounded her, then she dropped mister ghost’s eyes onto the floor.

Now she sat silently in the chair, surrounded by the team that had come to administer drugs.

“How come she won’t wake up?” said a doctor.

“Weak pulse,” a nurse said, “almost none at all. Get a BP cuff.”

“Forget the cuff. Get the crash cart, room 3.”

“I can’t find a pulse at all now.”

“Let’s get her up. Call for a gurney.”

She was finally dreaming, and her dream had the mass and density of one that had waited too long to be dreamt. And as her heart gently failed, she was a child once more, but free of interference in the tall grass of a blue sky field surrounded by the buzz of summer insects. There was a tall wooden house nearby, that was a true refuge and that she could call her own. A bright red car motored by on the quiet highway, and someone waved out of the window.

The blue markings were gone. They’d fallen to the floor in a clatter. She was no longer her own Rosetta Stone. There was no need.


You will see it, if you care to look, the sign over the broken wrought iron gate to his mind and marrow, that reads, Madness will Set You Free. He didn’t put it there. It just appeared one day, and it’s never gone away. Sometimes he looks up at it, as the crows fly by, listening to the whispered song of his dear choir, the voices holding their glorious, prolonged note that he has heard forever, and he wonders if the sign is true.

“Mr Virtue…?”

The bright white 2×2 metre isolation room had a telephone booth florescent ceiling light, and a yellow tile floor with a drain in the centre. In contrast, he wore a blue hospital gown, smeared with his own blood, and nothing else. They’d probably already burned his clothes, stinking like creation, of shit and sweat, as if he were his own primal season. But they hadn’t yet attended to his cut lip, or the scabbed over blows to his head. Earlier, as they restrained him, as they held him down with a mattress, someone had shone a penlight into each of his eyes, and had said, calmly, everydayishly, no contusion.

No contusion? The cops had tried and failed.

“Mr Virtue?”

It was a tall, obese male nurse, with another standing behind him. Either one would be difficult to move; escape was impossible. The nurse was calling him by his alias, the one he had thought up when he arrived cuffed, in a cop hammerlock — Mr Virtue.

“We need to draw some blood and take your blood pressure, Mr Virtue,” the fat nurse said.

“No more sedation,” Virtue replied, sitting up. “No more goons holding me down.”

“Just try to trust us, and maybe there won’t be any need.”

Trust was a greasy sloping floor he’d skidded down before.

“Fuck you,” he said, spitting up a brown metallic tasting substance, which might have been blood or half-digested Pentecostal soup.

The BP cuff went round his bicep, and was unpleasantly inflated.

“You had no ID when you arrived,” the nurse said. “Where do you live?”

Virtue only shook his head.

“Do you take street drugs?”

“No, but I need a drink. I need a fucking cigarette.”

“Do you have allergies?”

“People,” he said, fists clenching and banging his thighs. “People give me spots, man. I swell up and itch. Sometimes I can’t breathe when they’re around. I go anaphylactic. Especially cops and nurses. Just give me a pill for people.”

“Is there anyone we can contact?”

“No,” he said. “Everyone’s here.” And he knew as the words dissolved into the florescent air, that he’d said the wrong thing.

He looked around the room, and all were present. The bus driver who told him to get off of the bus, even when he wasn’t on the bus; Natasha, who said she loved him, and who had laid her soul upon his cutting board, but who remained untouchable; Raymond, with whom he enjoyed shouting obscenities in public library; Chico, with his bleeding eyes peeking out from between the elastic bands wound tightly round his face, who Virtue had loud quarrels with, who brought his rubber band face so close to his own that Virtue swung his fists wildly at what no one else could see. And the choir, whose members were harder to observe, fading in and out. Infants who never aged and the foul smelling spirits with their backward faces. They never stopped singing their endless note — Ahhhhhhhh — in E-flat major — for forty-five years, never stopping once to take  a breath.

“They’re all here, baby,” he said to no one. “I don’t know how they all fit, but they’re here.”

Shut the fuck up — Chico said — You always tell them too much.

“Kiss my ass,” Virtue yelled, and swung his fists.

The nurses stepped back.

“Have you ever been on medication, Mr Virtue?”

It was a new voice. He stopped swinging and focussed on the door, listening very carefully.

It was a woman’s voice this time. She was a tall one, too. He knew before he even saw her. The tall ones’ voices were as lofty as ceiling beams. He had to look up to see their spoken words melt like lemon drops. She walked into the isolation room, the nurses exiting, but standing nearby.

“Are you in charge round here?” Virtue said.

“My name is Dr Elizabeth Chang,” she said. “I’m a psychiatrist.”

“You say that like it’s Christmas,” Virtue said, running his tongue over his cut lip, “like I’m gonna get presents.”

“What about it?” she said. “Have you ever been on medication? For the voices, the hallucinations, I mean.”

“Hallucinations?” he said, looking round him.

Shit! Fuck! Motherfucker! Shit! Shit! Fuck! — Raymond screamed.

Virtue covered his ears with his too tight fists.

“Mr Virtue…?” Chang said.

“Yeah,” he hollered, banging his ears, gasping, clenching his entire body. Then, quieter, rocking a bit, he said, “Sure, they gave me pills once. Little white and blue things. They crawled around in my mouth like bugs, like beetles with switchblade feet and napalm in their bellies. Like drones looking for a Pakistani wedding party. I spit ‘em out, and the goons put us all in a room just like this.”

“Us? Who is us?”

“Me and the gang,” he said, looking round him. “We played cribbage for three days.” He saw Natasha smile. Maybe she remembered. “They slid my food under the door. I never won a single game. Chico cheats.”

You’re a fucking whiner — Chico said.

“How long ago was that?”

“Several centuries.”

“Well medications have improved since then.” Dr Chang said. “Would you like to try something now? Something that would calm you, take the voices away?”

He frowned at the idea. Was it sloppy disdain in her voice?

Get off the bus — said the bus driver.

“I paid my fare,” Virtue said.

Get off my goddam bus!

“Mr Virtue…?” said Chang.

The choir sang louder.

“Who else have I got?” he said. “If they go away…?”

You’re a pussy — said Chico, bringing his bleeding eyes close, closing them hard so that the blood dripped off of his chin. Virtue could see the outline of a smile beneath the elastic bands around his mouth.

“The police want to take you to the Forensic Unit,” Chang said. “They’ll force you to take medication there, and you’ll be placed in with some very dangerous people. If you consent to treatment here, you’ll be certified, and I can keep you in relative comfort, get you cleaned up, let you stay on the P5 ward.”

“Psyche ward,” Virtue said, repulsed.

“Yes,” said Chang.

“It’s a petting zoo.”

“Will you let a doctor look at your cuts and bruises?”

“You want to kill them with pills,” Virtue said. “Would you take a pill to kill your friends, your family?”

Don’t let her put me in the morgue — cried Natasha.

“They’re obviously causing you distress, Mr Virtue,” Chang said.

“And your family doesn’t cause you distress,” Virtue said. “Occasionally?”

“Yes,” Chang smiled, “of course. But I can take time away from them, when I want to.”

“Ha! No you can’t,” Virtue pounded the floor. “You can’t take time away from them, at all. They’re always in your head, aren’t they? The anxieties they cause, and their smothering conditional love? Don’t lie to me. All of what they’ve said to you, done to you. The passive aggressive acquiescence. The religion. Their platitudes and bizarre poisonous illogic. False memories. The counterfeit Christmases. The viral dysfunction. Their dissatisfaction and mock appreciation. Their doubts, your doubts. Fear for their safety. Your fear of death, of abandonment, of watching them age and perish before your very eyes. The madness children will bring with them out of the womb. How the wealth of generations is redistributed. All of that’s pulsing through you, right now.”

“No, Mr Virtue,” Chang said. She’d hesitated — barely perceptive uncertainty. He’d hit a chord.

Go for it — Chico yelled.

“Oh, I can hear it like a siren,” Virtue said, smiling for the first time since his arrival. “Like someone scratching at the door to a cell she’s wanted to escape from since the moment she first felt the hands grab her round the throat and squeeze. You feel those hands squeezing right now, don’t you! You see their mute faces and their unblinking eyes. Don’t tell me you can take time away from that, and I won’t tell you that it’s easy for me.”

Virtue struggled now, to get to his feet. He’d aimed a communication beam right into the psychiatrist’s brain, and poured on the power. He would draw her in. He would introduce her to Chico. Chico would thank him. Chico was lonely.

A nurse stepped in to hold him down.

“Word salad,” Chang said to the nurse. “Olanzapine, 20 mg intramuscular injection. I’ll draw up the order.”

“Twenty milligrams?” said the nurse. “Are you sure?”

“I’ll be at the desk,” she said, “writing it up. Restraints if necessary. Prepare him, and I’ll arrange for transport to Forensics.” She walked away.

“Sorry, dude,” the nurse said to Virtue. “Things are about to get nasty for you.”

Your body’s a fire, Virtue — Chico said — Let ’em send you into hell.

Virtue looked up and saw the crows fly by. He saw the sign over the broken wrought iron gate, and said, “I’ll burn the whole fucking place down.”