The strip lighting above head was flickering. There were stains on the dull tiled floor; there were stains on the walls. Several long plastic tables were lined up together in a row, occupying the center of the room. Patients sat on one side of the table while visitors sat across from them.
Edward fiddled with his paper bracelet. It had his name, his hospitalization date, and a barcode. He entertained fantasies of breaking legs off of chairs. Not doing anything with them, just breaking them off. He was bored.
He had visitors who swam in and out of his attention. It wasn’t that he couldn’t see them, it was just that he didn’t really care. He preferred to focus on the things in his head. Ironically, that’s why he was there in the first place. He lived entirely too much inside his own head.
His visitors asked him how he was. He lied. They asked if he liked having access to a soda machine. He murmured yes. He entertained a fantasy of yelling at Dale, who smelled like piss and lemon cakes. Dale had a wife, who always brought him a bag filled with home baked cookies.
Edward’s visitors brought him travel sized shampoo and pharmacy cookies. They brought him nail clippers too, but the officer had taken them. He had a goddamned hair drier in his room, right next to the sink and in reach of the shower, but they took his nail clippers.
He always gave his cookies to Linette. She slept on the streets and checked herself in when she could, for the food and a room. He often reminded himself that there were worse places than this. Still, there were days he would have preferred worse places than this, as long as they were outside.
His visitors left. Edward was in a room with a doctor, and the doctor was mentioning the number of beds. Somewhere in the mess of words Edward heard “moving to” and “state facility”.
Well, fuck. Edward listened while the doctor explained that it would be best for him, that it was really the only option at this stage in his treatment. With supreme eloquence, he informed Edward that he couldn’t afford to stay in the shitty, underfunded hole he’d been stuck in.
Edward waited in Ward C, where the screaming and biting ones went. Edward had behaved and made it to Ward B, but now he couldn’t foot the bill. There you go, out the door, without so much as a thank you for not stabbing anyone with a broken toothbrush. Edward decided to work on a puzzle while he waited.
A woman threw herself on the floor. She screamed and kicked while people in scrubs and lab coats clustered in their office, safe in their fish bowl. They watched the woman as she kicked and screamed and clawed at chairs. They glared at her. Edward saw hatred in some eyes, but the worst thing he saw was apathy. “Oh god, not this shit again,” he read in their faces.
A male nurse, or whatever he was, headed for the woman. One shot of Haldol in her rear and she calmed right the hell down, and they herded the woman out of the room. Edward saw an officer approach him, tight blue uniform, scrubs walking behind him. Edward couldn’t help it. He started to cry. He wanted to go home.
He didn’t want the itchy threadbare blanket and bleached white sheets, like whale bones turned to cloth, against his skin. He didn’t want a woman in a sweater in mid-August to tell him that he was an addict, that he did this and this wrong, he didn’t want a doctor to come and sit down with him because the last three times he had visitors they hadn’t really been there, he didn’t want sedatives and anti-psychotics that crushed him down and drowned his synapses in a dull ocean of lethargy, he didn’t want to be stared at by people who hated that they even had to look at him. He wanted to slip into the crack in the wall of the hallway outside his room and be small and tucked away.
The officer smiled, lips pulling taught against Crest whitened teeth. Edward wanted to say goodbye to Linette. Edward wanted a clear mind, control over his life, a doctor who got his meds right, a system that didn’t prioritize doping him up with whatever made him manageable enough to stick in a cell and forget about until they needed his room for someone with a family.
Edward was allowed to carry a plastic bag with personal belongings out of the hospital. He followed the officer through the buzzing doors, past the halls of temporary cots for waiting patients.
“Have fun,” he told a couple waiting patients. “It’s a blast.”
Somewhere along the way, he lost his copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles. No one ever told him that Linette had been released several days prior, that he’d forgotten. No one ever knew that Linette was sleeping outside a department store when Edward was released. That she was tossing and turning on cement when he saw the ambulance lights start to flash. No one ever thought of her, or of tracking her down to let her know, to inform her that Eddie had seen an opportunity.
He decided he wasn’t going to a state facility. Flashing lights and bland faces and meaningless smiles, swirling around in his head. If he wasn’t already heading for another hospital, he’d insist that it all was driving him mad. He was surprised how easy it was, just to run. The officer hadn’t expected the shuffling zombie beside him to do anything like that. Edward left the psych ward for the ICU, and life just… went on.
Duke’s wife stopped visiting. Duke was moved to the state facility shortly after. A waiting patient took Duke’s room. Life went on. No one ever tried to tell Linette.