~ the raven chronicles ~ 2

30 Jan

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

Dr. Sylvester Agnostica, MD.
Sterns-Carson Sanitarium
Green Pines, Ohio

November 15, 1932

There are developments in the case of Mrs. Sinclair.

Today, I received a visit from a priest named Fr. Leavell. He is assigned to the Church of the Sacred Heart, which is located in the small town of Raven. Though his parish is not too distant, I knew that it did not include Sterns-Carson; the hospital has a designated Catholic chaplain, Fr. Wodzinski of St. Casimir in Cleveland. When I mentioned this, Fr. Leavell affirmed, without hesitation, that that was true enough. As a matter of fact, he continued, his church lay outside the Cleveland Diocese and therefore, Sterns-Carson lay outside his province altogether. Then he said that he was not visiting on behalf of any diocese or parish, but had come of his own accord, to see Mrs. Sinclair.

I was taken aback, that a priest was the first to show up looking for her, not the press, or Mr. Sinclair, as Mr. Cannon had warned. The surprised look on my face must have belied my response that Sterns-Carson had no patient by that name.

Undeterred, Fr. Leavell then asked me if I knew the cause of Mrs. Sinclair’s current condition. I attempted to maintain a stoic expression while I wondered how in the world this country priest could have found out that she was here. I had taken all precautions, even the staff who come in daily contact with Mrs. Sinclair, don’t know her real name. I had locked her admittance papers in my safe, made duplicates and substituted the surname of Scott. All her charts and reports bore the same name, Mrs. Bartholomew Scott.

After a few moments, something like a smile came across Fr. Leavell’s face. I believe your wife has some relatives in Raven, he said, I sometimes play pinochle, with Uncle Luigi. I sighed in exasperation, mixed with a feeling of relief, that the charade had ended at least in this small amount. I know you’ve attempted to keep her stay here a secret, the priest continued, and I have no desire to change that to any further degree. My concern is with the safety of her immortal soul.

I told him that Mrs. Sinclair’s immortal soul was outside of my province; my concern was her mental health.

Then he seemed to look right through me and spouted some esoteric nonsense; “The valley spirit dies not, aye the same; the female mystery thus do we name.”

I made no reply to that. What could I say; Priest, you speak gibberish? As I pondered the possibility that the man across my desk might not actually be who and what he said he was, his conversation returned to lucidity.

He told me that he knew the circumstances of the trauma that had effected Mrs. Sinclair so profoundly, and the reasons behind her father’s decision to have her locked away. I told him that he knew more than I did; knew more than I suspected I wanted to know. Would it not help your treatment of her, if you knew all the particulars of her case, he asked. I told him flatly that, no, it would not.

Without mentioning my fear that inserting myself in the affairs of a man like Jacob Drummond would put my position at Sterns-Carson, and perhaps my full career, in jeopardy, I then told Fr. Leavell that it would be best if he left immediately and spoke to no one of what he knew. I told him I would deal with Uncle Luigi.

Then the priest’s manner changed, from a casual nature, to one that resembled Mr. Cannon’s: direct and exclamatory. Fr. Leavell informed me that he came to Sterns-Carson to see Mrs. Sinclair out of a personal, moral imperative, and that I should not be so concerned with the wrath of Jacob Drummond as to neglect my ethics as a physician and my spiritual obligations as a Catholic.

I was nonplussed on both counts, unable to recall the last time my integrity had been challenged. I had spoken to no one of my growing disillusionment with the teachings of the Church of Rome and kept up the pretense of belief for my wife’s sake, but I realized that regardless of my feelings toward the hypocrites in the Vatican, this man in black, sitting across from me in my office, had spoken to some larger truth: I had acted against my hippocratic oath by locking Mrs. Sinclair away from the world, not on a medical diagnosis, but out of coercion by the rich and powerful. I had managed to keep these demons at bay, until this moment. I silently weighed my choices: confound the subterfuge and diminish my integrity further, or relent to the priest’s request in hope of gaining back some of what I had lost.

Out of the silence, Fr. Leavell finally said, I would like to see Mrs. Sinclair, now. I looked at him for a long moment, then merely nodded and rose. I’ll take you to her, I said.

As we walked the maze of hallways to the back of the sanitarium where the isolate ward is located. Fr. Leavell asked an occasional question about the various dormitories as we traveled through them. Upon passing through the main dayroom, we picked up a follower. I took no notice, because the patients allowed in the main dayroom are free to move about to a great degree, but after being trailed through the adjacent wing, I paused and turned around. Our shadow stopped, turned his face to the wall and leaned against it on his forehead. We have company, I said to the priest, and then walked back to confront the wayward patient.

Zeke had been discovered this past spring during the hospital’s May Day picnic, skulking at the edge of the woods that border the sanitarium grounds. Mr. Jenkins, the Sterns-Carson groundskeeper, managed to coax the wary boy out of a tree he had scaled like a monkey when a group of us approached him, and we took him inside. He was filthy, dressed in ragged clothing and without shoes. We guessed the boy’s age to be of 10 or so years. The limited socialization and communication skills he possessed clouded the issue of his mental capacity, so he remained under our care during the search for his family and the circumstances that led him to his feral state. When the authorities notified me that they were unable to find any information regarding the child, his fate was left in my hands. I couldn’t, in good conscience, place him in the County Orphanage; I don’t believe he would have survived. So, he has stayed at Sterns-Carson, doted on by the staff. Mr. Jenkins, named him Ezekiel.

I pointedly asked the taciturn boy why he was following us. With his head still against the wall, he directed his gaze at Fr. Leavell, who now stood at my side, then pointed at the priest. Wondering if I’d stumbled upon a link to the boy, I asked him if he knew Fr. Leavell. Expecting nothing more than Zeke’s usual yea-or-nay nod of communication, the boy surprised me and spoke. But he mumbled something so softly that I couldn’t make out what he said. I pressed him and he turned his face back to the wall.

I related Zeke’s story to Fr. Leavell; he did not know the child, or have any clue as to the meaning of the boy’s cryptic reaction to his presence. I hailed a passing orderly, asked him to escort Zeke back to the dayroom and find a nurse to tend to him until I returned.

Fr. Leavell and I continued on to the isolate wing in silence, my mind busy with this new conundrum regarding the wild boy. We reached the iron door of Mrs. Sinclair’s cell and a wave of fresh remorse came over me; I had locked this woman in a solitary room for no other reason than by orders of the powers that be.

The priest looked from the closed iron door to my conscience-stricken expression and asked if Mrs. Sinclair was inside. I answered that, yes, she was, and before I could embark on an explanation, he said that this cell might be the safest place for her. Another unexpected turn; as if the world around me was in collusion to keep me guessing about the true nature of things.

I will see her now, he said, alone. Once again, I acquiesced to the wishes of another when my own prerogative should have prevailed; I opened the cell door, stood aside to allow Fr. Leavell entrance, and gently closed the door behind him. I posted an orderly in the hall nearby and instructed him to assist the priest in anything that he needed. I then headed off to the dayroom, to further probe the mind of young Ezekiel.

I found the boy with Nurse Wallace, sitting and staring out the large windows of the dayroom at the woods bordering the hospital’s back yard. I attempted to resume our “conversation” begun in the hallway, but the scamp wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence; he seemed to be lost in some deep reverie, perhaps about his life in the wild. Nurse Wallace told me that the boy had been withdrawn since the orderly had brought him to her in the dayroom. I then remembered that she lived in Raven, and asked if she knew Fr. Leavell. She paused before speaking, then tersely said that yes, she did know him. I considered probing further, but decided it would be unseemly to involve one of the staff in this whole melodrama, and kept my own counsel.

I returned to my office, shut the door, and stood for a moment wallowing in my feelings of irrelevance regarding Mrs. Sinclair. Then I retrieved the bottle of cognac and a snifter from the silver tray in my book cabinet. I keep the stock for visitors and have never touched the spirit myself while in the hospital. That ended today. I poured a generous amount and upended the snifter. Then I sat at my desk and lost myself in the notes and diagnoses of various patients.

Nearly two hours had passed before I checked my watch. I wondered after the priest; what could he possibly have to say, for so long, to a woman who refuses to speak? I made my way to the isolate wing, encountered the orderly I had stationed at Mrs. Sinclair’s door and asked about Fr. Leavell. The orderly told me that the priest had departed quite some time ago, not long after I had left him with Mrs. Sinclair, as a matter of fact. In a state of near-anger, I went to her cell and opened it. She stood with her back to the door, staring up and out of the high windows on the rear wall. I called her name, once and then again; she did not acknowledge me or stir from her stance. I returned to my office.

After finishing this entry, I shall go home for the day, and hope that tomorrow is not just another heap of riddles.

©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald all rights reserved

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