The music was the best part. The music as they danced together down the deserted London street, cobblestones underfoot and a gentle rain falling overhead. Martha looked so beautiful, swinging seductively around old-fashioned light posts and smiling back at Genevieve with sultry eyes. Gen watched her progress along the street, thinking of how they’d just spent the most glorious afternoon in Hyde Park, feeding squirrels and watching the cyclists go by. It had been a lovely change from the tension that had been between them for the last week or so. The world still had not completely accepted the gay community, and sometimes they saw the meaner side of the ‘Against’ team.
That all seemed to be behind them now though, as they danced in the rain and laughingly jumped in puddles together. Martha pulled Gen in and kissed her lightly on the mouth. Gen smiled against her lips and closed her eyes. Then Martha was gone, dancing along the street again, and the music was playing, and it was so beautiful Gen felt tears come to her eyes. As she watched, Martha began to twirl between light posts again, and... And was Martha fading? No, of course not. It was impossible. Gen squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, fully expecting to see Martha solid and smiling in front of her. But now not only was Martha fading, the cobblestones and light posts seemed to be fading with her. And the music… The music was fading as well, getting quieter with every step Martha took. Gen tried to call out after her, but the sound froze in her throat and she could do nothing but watch and listen as everything around her faded to white.
White walls, white floors, white bed covers. Genevieve blinked and looked around her. She was lying in a hospital grade bed, covered in a white blanket. The room around her was small, matchbox sized, and the only feature was a door set into the wall opposite. It was a thick, metal security door, with a small window at about head height. Gen thought it looked like the kind of window that wouldn’t smash no matter what you tried to throw through it.
Gen went to sit up, then realised she was restrained under the covers. She could feel bindings around her ankles and wrists. She struggled against them for a moment, fear growing in her mind. The fear doubled when she heard the click of the door opening. Where was she? Who was coming? The urge to scream was low in her throat as the door swung in to the room and three men entered.
“Genevieve, I’m Dr Cushling. Do you know where you are?” The man in the white coat addressed her in a gentle, calming voice.
Gen stared at him, and the scream was about to escape her mouth when the memories came flooding into her mind. The increasing paranoia at her job, the day she snapped and went across her boss’s desk, the engraved letter opener her husband had given her when she’d started the job four months earlier protruding from his neck, and the day the court had ruled her criminally insane and sent her to the institution. That had been a week before she’d calmly shoved the blue pencil into the left eye of the orderly in charge of the art room. The orderly had made it, though his left eye had not. How long ago was that? She couldn’t remember, but she thought that was about the time they’d moved her into this room, into isolation. Her memory between then and now was hazy, but she assured herself that no more than a few days could have gone by.
“Genevieve? Do you know what day it is?” the doctor pressed.
“How’s the guard? How’s old One-Eye Joe?” Gen couldn’t keep the smile off her face. “Tell him he should come see me, tell him I want to apologise for popping his eye like a kid pops a balloon once the party’s over.”
Dr Cushling looked hard at her. “Genevieve,” he said, “that orderly no longer works here.”
“Couldn’t hack it huh? Got scared after being stuck like a pig by little old me?” A cackle arose from Gen’s throat, and some small part of her mind whispered that this wasn’t her, she wasn’t this cruel or hard.
“No, he passed on.” The doctor was still watching her closely. The orderlies behind him stepped closer, as though preparing for a reaction that hadn’t yet come.
“Passed on? That wasn’t my fault though! The pencil didn’t kill him.” Gen started to feel the fear again, and more memories tried to press into her brain.
“No, it wasn’t your fault, Genevieve. He passed on from old age.” Dr Cushling placed one hand in his left pocket and gripped the syringe he had hidden there. The orderlies seemed to brace themselves.
“Old… Old age? But he wasn’t old! Why, he could’ve only been in his late forties when I stuck him.” Memories jostled with each other, trying to break into her mind and force her to face the truth that she was so avidly denying.
“No, he wasn’t old when you injured him, Genevieve. But that injury was thirty years ago.”
“Thirty… no. No, you’re wrong. You’re playing a joke on me.” Genevieve began to struggle against her restraints.
“No, I’m not. You’ve been a patient with us for coming on thirty one years now. I’m the fourth doctor who has been assigned to your case.” Dr Cushling withdrew the syringe from his pocket and held it ready at his side, while the orderlies drew closer again, waiting for the inevitable snap when the truth came crashing home.
“Thirty one years? Thirty one years?!” Gen was yelling now, and the memories were crashing into her mind over and over: the art room, isolation, being allowed back into the dayroom, the day she tried to strangle a fellow patient, back to isolation. In and out, in and out, varying levels of violence each time she was allowed back to the dayroom. And in the midst of these memories, images of her beautiful Martha dancing down the streets of London in the rain. Did that mean Martha was a hallucination? Was this the reality and that the dream? Or was this some horrible nightmare? Gen finally began to scream and struggle against her restraints.
The orderlies immediately moved to hold her still on the white sheets while Dr Cushling stepped towards the bed. He raised the syringe to check for air bubbles, then smiled down at Gen.
“It’ll be ok, Genevieve. In a moment it’ll all be ok. We’ll try again next time.” With that, he slid the needle into a vein in her right forearm and pressed the plunger.
Gen struggled, her head whipped side to side, her wild eyes flashed and the screams still issued from her throat. The orderlies held her tightly until she began to weaken.
“Sleep now, Genevieve. Sleep now, and we’ll try again tomorrow.” Dr Cushling left the room. The orderlies continued to hold Gen down, though her struggles had decreased to feeble movements of her arms and legs.
Gen stared up at the orderlies as she felt the strength run out of her body. They smiled kindly down at her, and as she finally stilled, they left her alone in her room. A tear slid down Gen’s face and she bit her lip, the only movement she could make. Thirty one years in this place and she’d apparently lost her mind somewhere along the way. It couldn’t be true. She couldn’t live like this. A sob escaped her.
In the midst of her thoughts, Gen heard faint music coming from somewhere far away. She recognised that music. Her sobs quietened, and a small smile came to her lips. Martha was coming back. Martha was coming back and this place would go away and things would be alright again. The room around her began to fade to white, and the music slowly grew louder. Martha was coming back, London was coming back, and reality was fading. She blinked, and Martha stood in front of her again, feet on wet cobblestones, hand held out. Gen took that small, soft hand in hers. They danced. And the music was beautiful.
Standing outside the door, Dr Cushling watched through the small window as Genevieve struggled and eventually quietened. The orderlies came out past him, nodding as they went. The doctor continued to watch Gen, noted how her eyes seemed to slowly glaze over as they moved slowly around the room, saw the small smile come to her lips.
“She’s already back there, isn’t she?” asked a voice from his side.
Dr Cushling turned to face the woman standing next to him and smiled a sad smile.
“It’s becoming easier and easier for her to leave reality behind. She’s spending less time here in the real world, only struggling up into the light maybe once a week now.” Dr Cushling watched as Gen’s smile grew, and her lips began to move.
“My idiot brother never cared about what happened to her from the moment she crossed that desk. But I always did. Gen was like a sister to me. We were always very close.” The woman stared hard at the floor, tears forming in her eyes. The doctor turned to her.
“Martha, I’m afraid Genevieve is no longer able to be allowed around fellow patients. She isn’t present enough to be able to communicate with them, and her rare moments of clarity always end in severe acts of violence. The madness and paranoia have almost completely taken over her mind. I think this fantasy world she’s created for herself is the only place she’s safe from that madness. You can see it in her eyes when she speaks. Part of her is shocked at what she’s saying. The woman in there is not the woman your brother married, or even the woman who murdered her boss. That woman is gone, almost completely. We’re still trying, but I’m beginning to lose hope that we’ll be able to bring her back. As such, I’m not sure it’s wise for you to continue to visit her. It must be a painful experience.” Dr Cushling watched Martha’s eyes as he spoke, saw the pain and anger there, and also the determination to ignore his suggestion. She would be back next week. And the week after.
“I’m all she has now. I won’t abandon her.” Martha wiped the tears from her cheeks and looked Dr Cushling square in the eye. “She may not remember who she is, or who I am, but I’ll remember for the both of us. I’ll remember.” Martha broke down again, and turned away to leave. Dr Cushling almost called out to her as she walked away, but closed his mouth at the last minute. He had been going to tell her the truth about Gen’s hallucinations, and about where they seemed to take her. And most importantly, who they seemed to take her to. But he couldn’t. The woman was barely holding on as it was. Maybe it was easier to let her believe that Gen spent most of her time in a fantasy land surrounded by made-up friends. He didn’t know if there was any basis to Gen’s hallucinations, or if they were purely a work of fiction. But on the chance that there had once been something between the two women – or worse, that it had been one-sided – the doctor felt that the kind thing to do was to leave Martha in the dark.
As Martha turned at the end of the hallway and pushed open the door to the reception area, Dr Cushling turned back to look through the window again. Gen’s eyes were fixed now on the ceiling, and her lips were forming the same words over and over again. Dr Cushling was pretty sure he knew what those words were. She’d been saying them for almost 30 years.
“Martha, I love you…. Martha, please don’t leave me…”