~ the raven chronicles ~ 7

5 Apr

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)

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

November 17, 1932

I awoke this morning, after an unexpected, deep sleep; the events of yesterday had me fearful I might never sleep again.

After finishing a third brandy in my office, I finally left Sterns-Carson and got in my motorcar. I drove home in the darkness, possessed by strange feelings of lust and recklessness. After awhile, I had the sense of being followed, and off in the woods to the side of the road, I would occasionally glimpse a shape, running through the trees at the same speed as my automobile. Instead of being frightened, I found myself laughing like a madman and driving faster. Luckily, I encountered no police between the Sanitarium and my home; my home, yes, when I got home, things got a bit out of hand.

I opened the front door, and stepped into a dark house; the lights had all been turned out, save for the small lamp in the kitchen that burns through the night. The dinner table had been cleared, there was no food set out for me, and I was possessed by a hunger I have not known in years. An anger rose from deep in my gut, that I should be treated with such disregard, not only by my wife, but by our cook who is merely the hired help. I knew exactly where my erstwhile bride could be found and I intended to give her a piece of my mind.

I vaulted the stairs two at a time to the upper floor of our home, stormed up the hall to my wife’s bedroom and tore open the door. Seated at her dressing table, with her hair down, brushing her luxuriant tresses, she was startled and gave me a fearful look; but that look soon faded. What do you want, she said with contempt. She had already shed her robe and was dressed in nothing but a long diaphanous nightgown; at the sight of her, a sound swelled in my ears, the same sound I had heard in that damnable cell earlier, and I could not speak for the fear of no longer having a human voice; my mouth went dry and I just stared at my wife’s body, eyed her like a hungry wolf would stare at a spring lamb; the shape of her hips seated on the narrow bench; the rise and fall of her breasts, straining against the nightgown’s sheer bodice of white silk.

What is wrong with you? she said, leave my room, immediately. I stepped further into the room and slammed the door shut. Get out of here, she shouted. I strode over to the dressing table, seized the brush from her hand and flung it across the room. She looked up at me with terror on her face, and God help me, it gave me the greatest pleasure. Then, a red mist rose before my eyes, I roughly gathered her up and threw her on the bed, undid my trousers and took her in a blind, passionate fury. She fought me, but to no avail. It was if an animal had taken possession of me; an animal that seizes what it wants, when it wants, how it wants. I blacked out at some point, I must have, for the next thing I remember is shutting the bedroom door as I left the room, hearing my wife gently sobbing in the background.

Dawn brought a torrent of emotions and thoughts that caused me to believe that so much of yesterday, and especially the events after dark, had been a dream; until I dressed, went downstairs and found the breakfast table set for one. Maddie came out of the kitchen, and as she poured my coffee, I inquired after my wife. Mrs. Agnostica isn’t feeling well this morning, Maddie said, she prefers to remain in bed for awhile. I knew that “awhile” meant until after I was gone. I told Maddie that I didn’t care for any breakfast, that I would eat later at the hospital. She fixed me with a cold look and said, As you wish, Doctor. I gathered my coat and hat and left the house; left my own home feeling like a criminal. I didn’t know how I would ever face my wife again, but as soon as I was on the road to the sanitarium, that concern faded in the face of my anxiety about the situation at Sterns-Carson.

My mind roiled as I drove; with my authority challenged both professionally and domestically, I feared to be losing control of my life. I finally convinced myself of my dominion and vowed never to relinquish it. In assertion, I devised a preliminary calendar for Mrs. Sinclair’s treatment; ice baths would be first. The thought of watching that saturnine woman lowered into a granite tub full of frigid water gave me a moment of perverse delight; I wrenched my thoughts away from that dreadful vision and pondered my current mental state, so out of character for the man I fancy myself to be. I have never taken joy in the suffering of others, or treated any woman the way I treated my wife last night. I could only conclude that a lack of sleep and the extraordinary events at the hospital had warped my sensibilities; I vowed not to succumb to that dark side.

I gazed at the stone lions as I turned into the hospital drive, admired their steadfast vigilance, and resolved to picture them throughout my day, whenever I felt myself waver from civility, or experienced the bloom of dark intentions. I parked my car, took a deep breath, got out and closed the door, then walked to Sterns-Carson’s main entrance and climbed the wide steps. I opened one of the Sanitarium’s large double doors and the first thing that greeted me in the foyer was the sight of an orderly, asleep on a folding chair; a thermos and sack lunch lay at his feet. He came awake, saw me standing there, and jumped up like a soldier at attention.

Good morning, Doctor, he said. I asked him what the deuce he was doing on a chair in the foyer,with a thermos and sack lunch, having a picnic? No, sir, he said, Mr. Jenkins put me on sentry duty here last night, said I was to watch all comings and goings through this door and not let any patients out or let anyone in that had no business here. And, were you able to do that while asleep in that chair, I asked. He toed the linoleum and said that he’d just dozed off a moment ago; he also said that no strange comings and goings had occurred during the night. I relieved him of his duty and told him to go find Mr. Jenkins for further instructions; he gave me a sheepish look; I pulled open one of the inner doors and left the foyer.

Another surprise awaited me up the hall, seated on a chair next to my office door: Fr. Leavell. You didn’t get stopped by our stalwart sentry, I asked the priest. Didn’t want to wake him, he replied. I suppose you want to discuss Mrs. Sinclair again, I said. He came to his feet, in that laconic fashion of his; And then visit with her, he said. We entered my office; as I hung up my coat, the priest lifted the brandy decanter I had carelessly left on my desk last night, and asked if I minded if he poured himself a drink. I was a bit taken aback, but I told him to help himself; he poured a moderate snifter then took the chair across from my desk. I came around, sat in my chair and asked Fr. Leavell if he had broken the fast this morning. He gave me a wry look and said, I would not be drinking brandy on an empty stomach. I reached for the intercom handset and called the kitchen and requested toast and coffee for two.

Now, to business, I said, you’ve come about Mrs. Sinclair, what is on your mind. He then proceeded to tell me that he felt it would be efficacious for Mrs. Sinclair to have at her disposal the means by which to set down her thoughts and feelings. The woman can’t even speak, I said, why would you think she would be in possession of cogent thoughts and be able to express them in writing? The priest emptied his snifter, set it on the desk, and then laid a red-leather bound book alongside. She is remaining silent of her own volition, of that I am convinced, he said. You are a priest, not a doctor, I said, do you now presume to make diagnoses of the insane and feeble-minded? I know the human heart, he said, and Mrs. Sinclair is not insane; she nearly spoke to me when I entered her cell yesterday, then chose not to do so, of her own volition.

I leaned forward and rubbed my eyes, understanding it would be useless to argue with the priest; he knows Mrs. Sinclair’s true identity, if I fail to humor him, he could make it tough sledding for me. Alright, I said, I’ll give her the diary and pen and ink and whatever else it takes. I will give her the diary, he said. I let out a long sigh and said, As you will, however, I am beginning her therapy later today and I’m doubtful that she will be in a poetic mood once that gets underway. He stood, gathered the book up and said, I’ll be off then, and I’ll let myself out when I’m through with our visit. Just like yesterday, I muttered. Yes, he said, just like yesterday.

After the door had closed behind him, I decided that a man of the cloth or not, I didn’t much care for the self-righteous son-of-a-bitch. I retrieved my casebook and began outlining my agenda for Mrs. Sinclair. Ten minutes later, a knock came at the door. Who is it I said. Molly, from the kitchen, a timid-sounding voice replied from the other side, with your toast and coffee. Bring it in, girl, I answered, and be quick about it. Molly opened the door and brought the tray over to my desk and sat it down. Then she gave me a bashful look with her sloe-colored eyes and said, Will you be needing anything else, Doctor? That damnable red mist flared before me again, and I pictured having this homely creature alone in the pantry downstairs and finding out just what exactly lies beneath her starched white apron.

Doctor, she repeated softly, will there be anything else? I came to my senses and thanked her and told her that would be all. The door closed behind her and I nearly wept thinking that I would possess a nature as to even entertain thoughts of defiling a young woman such as Molly, yet knowing full well just what might have happened if I had discovered her alone in the pantry this morning. My hand trembled as I poured a cup of coffee from the silver pot; I brought it to my lips and scalded my tongue in my eagerness to gulp some down. I shunted all my concerns and devious thoughts into a small compartment of my mind and concentrated on the toast and coffee; I consumed it all within five minutes. The brandy decanter caught my eye, and I told myself that a small portion would be palliative; I refilled the same snifter Fr. Leavell had used and drank that down. Finally somewhat sated, I took a deep breath and collected my thoughts; convinced myself that my lustful desires were those of a middle-aged man, flaring like the last wind-blown embers of a dying fire, not the base urges of some wild animal that is unable to control itself. Then, I was overwhelmed by a desire to lay down, and sleep. I made my way over to the long leather couch situated before the front windows of my office, and collapsed into a deep slumber.

A pounding woke me; I sat up on the couch, pushed the hair away from my face, and retrieved my watch from my vest; I had been asleep less than 15 minutes; it felt like I’d been unconscious for 15 hours. Just a moment, I said. I stood and straightened my vest and coat, walked over to the door and opened it; Nurse Wallace stood outside.

Doctor Agnostica, she said, it’s good news, I’ve found our Ezekiel. Where was the boy, I asked. I have no idea where he had been, she said, but I discovered him this morning, curled up on the floor beneath his bed, fast asleep. Out of all the odd occurrences the past several days, this one struck me as particularly strange; Under his bed, I said. Yes, Mrs. Wallace replied, he seems in fine shape, no worse for the wear, but his feet were bare and filthy beyond belief and he had bits of leaves and such tangled in his hair. You’ve cleaned him up already, I asked. She looked at me like I was daft, and said, Of course I’ve cleaned him up already, that’s the first thing I did. Alright, I said, I want to look at him, and I’ll see to that directly. I will bring him to Room 2, she said, and wait for you. She turned to go and I called after her; Have you looked in on Mrs. Scott this morning? She turned around. Yes, I have, she said, and she seems to be a bit more in the present, if that makes sense to you. The priest is here to see her again, I said. She gave me a quizzical look and said, the priest? Yes, I replied, Fr. Leavell, from Sacred Heart Church, in Raven. All the color drained from Mrs. Wallace’s face; I thought she was going to swoon right there in the hallway. Mrs. Wallace, I said, are you quite alright. She swallowed hard and said, Yes, Doctor, I’m fine, I’ll just go and get Zeke, and wait for you. Then, she turned abruptly and walked off up the hallway.

Everything in my life seemed to me at that moment as some kind of strange stew; a jumble that I could hardly grasp, let alone hope to sort out. I closed the office door, walked to my desk and poured another brandy; the telephone rang. Dr. Agnostica, the voice said, this is Joshua Cannon; the last person I wished to speak with; Just wanted to check in, he continued, see if Mrs. Sinclair is resting comfortably. If I’d had him at hand at that moment, I believe I would have throttled him. I told him everything was fine, and that I had decided to begin therapy on Mrs. Sinclair; today, as a matter of fact. He responded, Therapy? I said, Of course, this is a hospital for the insane, not a prison, and I am a doctor, not a warden, I took an oath to heal, not entomb those who need help. I meant no offense, Doctor, he said, what do you have in mind for Mrs. Sinclair. Shock therapy, I said, she must be pulled out of her catatonia, before we can make any real progress. Very well, then, Mr. Cannon replied, I’ll let Mr. Drummond know and wish you best of luck in your endeavors; he hung up the phone, and I wondered briefly if I had erred in my judgment on Mrs. Sinclair. Then I quickly resolved not to be cowed by the likes of Mr. Cannon, or Mr. Drummond, for that matter. I finished the brandy, brushed my hair and smoothed my mustache; then I set off up the hallway to Room 2.

Inside Room 2, Zeke sat on the examination table, playing with a cup and ball. With smooth and repetitive movements, he  repeatedly launched the ball upwards, and caught it, every single time. Well, I said to Nurse Wallace, his reflexes seem to be in fine shape. Oh, he’d play with that toy for hours, if I’d let him, she said, and never once would he miss a lick. Then she stroked the boy’s hair and gave him a gentle kiss on top of his head. The staff had all grown to something beyond fond of this boy; I never quite understood the attraction. I proceeded to check Zeke’s lower extremities, then his ears and his teeth. I retrieved a stethoscope from the cabinet and listened to his heart. I then pulled his gown up off his back to check his lungs, and was flabbergasted; I’d given the boy several examinations and at none of those times did I see what I saw now; his back was covered with soft, dense hair that trailed from his shoulder blades down to his tailbone. Mrs. Wallace, I said, what is this? Mrs. Wallace looked, and said, I’ve noticed it over the past several weeks, it was but a bit of down, until he disappeared yesterday; he came back and now it’s…this; perhaps he’s entering puberty. Puberty, I said, he looks more like a lycanthrope. She gave me another of her admonishing, quizzical looks.

I checked the boy’s lungs and smoothed his gown back down over his hirsute back. I then faced him and raised his chin to look into his eyes; he stopped playing with the cup and ball and looked back at me in a way he’d never done before. A very faint, knowing smile came over his lips as he stared into my eyes; and somewhere deep in my subconscious, I heard his voice, speaking to me of the  terrible, wonderful things yet to come in my life. I broke away from his gaze, turned and rubbed my eyes.

Are you alright, Doctor, I heard Mrs. Wallace say to me from somewhere far away. I opened my eyes and found myself sitting on a chair, my head against the wall. Zeke had resumed his game of cup and ball, oblivious to everything else around him. Yes, I’m fine, I replied, just tired is all, it’s been a trying week for me. Well, if you’re finished, she said, I’ll take our Zeke to the dayroom. Yes, take him, by all means, I said; and let me know if the condition on his back worsens. Yes, Doctor, she said. And with that, Zeke hopped off the table, took Mrs. Wallace’s hand, and they left the room.

I stared at the closed door, for how long, I know not. A feeling of isolation pervaded my entire being, and after a time, my mind was possessed by an image of illogic; I was siting in a room that was no longer part of Sterns-Carson, no longer part of any structure, but a box, a box with six sides, set down in the middle of some wild landscape where savage creatures roamed free and if I was to open that door and step outside it would only be a matter of time before I was torn to ribbons by razor-sharp claws and devoured by the fangs of rapacious beasts. I broke out in a sweat, and then chilblains seized my hands and feet; my ears burned. I closed my eyes and prayed, imagined myself as a boy, praying at the communion rail in that small church of my home village in Sicily, Canneto di Caronia. It had been years since the pride born of intellect had turned my face away from the divine, but now I prayed as fervently as a monk.

After a time, my anxiety subsided, my breathing slowed, and I stopped perspiring. I stared at the door once again, believing – no – knowing, that the imagined danger beyond, had passed. Still, it was with trepidation that I arose from my chair, walked to the door and grasped the knob. I closed my eyes once more, said a brief prayer, and opened the door.

I stepped into the hallway and was overcome with feelings of relief, and foolishness. Two of the hospital nurses walked by, nodded their greetings, then chatted quietly as they continued up the hall. One of them turned and stole a glimpse at me, then she spoke low to her companion and they both giggled. I realized then that my recent behavior had not gone unnoticed by the staff.

I made my way back to my office, hoping the whole way that I would encounter no one else; I succeeded in that endeavor. Once inside my office, I slipped off my suit coat and hung it up and went to my small, private lavatory. I rolled up my shirtsleeves and doused my face, wrists and neck with cool water. Feeling somewhat restored, I returned to my office proper and donned my coat. The weight of it seemed to bring a surge of ennui that covered me from head to toe. Though I knew that today I had scheduled therapy for Mrs. Sinclair, I honestly did not have the strength within me to even venture out of my office. So, I laid down on the couch, once again.

When I awoke, long shadows lay across my office walls. I sat up and looked outside the windows; twilight was in full bloom. I pulled my watch from my vest and checked the time; my watch had stopped at 9:20; just about the time I would have been in Room 2, with Mrs. Wallace and Ezekiel; I laughed at the prospect of time standing still; but that is exactly what happened. I glanced at the clock on the wall; 6:12. I stood up, gathered my top coat and hat from the tree and put them on. I looked at the brandy decanter still sitting on my desk, and nearly succumbed to the temptation. I stiffened in resistance, took a seat at my desk and wrote this entry, with that amber demon staring me in the face; he shall not be my master.

I leave for home now, to face like a man whatever awaits me there, resolved to return here tomorrow with renewed purpose and determination; so help me, God.

©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald all rights reserved

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One Response to “~ the raven chronicles ~ 7”

  1. judi April 6, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    It gets better with each visit. The manner of speech does seem to be from a different time.

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