(Missed the last chapter? Read 43: Molesting Vines)
“WELL, THIS IS just peachy.”
I blink in the light, unsure where I am. I was running through the woods along the edge of a river, water rushing over stones, air fragrant with water and pine. Now my whole body aches. Did I fall?
My eyes adjust and I recognize the face hovering over me. Lush, false eyelashes framing dead eyes. I groan and try to cover my face. “Leave me alone. Tired.”
“We never should have let you out of those restraints,” Wanda fumes. “I told him it was too soon. Come on, get up.”
Wanda yanks me up to a sitting position. The room is a disaster: sheets off the bed, medicine cart tipped over, blood smeared everywhere, coppery and sour, mixed with the ammonia smell of piss. I look down at my white gown, blotched red and yellow, and my legs streaked with blood, fresh and dried.
“Did you cut yourself again?” Wanda says, bored.
I feel a familiar cramping in my abdomen. “My period.”
Wanda shakes her head. “You urinated on the floor.”
“I’m sorry.” I feel ashamed, then remember my incarceration. “You locked me in!”
Wanda points at the chamber pot sitting next to the bed. “Couldn’t find a pot to piss in?”
“I needed help last night, and nobody was here!” I hear self-pity in my voice, and try to sound more authoritative. “Please take me to the bathroom so I can get cleaned up.”
Wanda crosses her arms. “Did you do this because I wouldn’t remove your painting?”
Does she really think I would destroy my room, and spend the night sleeping on the floor covered in piss and blood, because I was having some kind of tantrum?
I struggle to stand but my legs are too weak. “Help me get up, please!”
Ignoring me, Wanda rights the medicine cabinet, pulls latex gloves over her perfectly manicured nails and gathers the soiled sheets. She carries the bundle out the room and returns a moment later with a pile of clean linens. On top is a pair of old-fashioned cotton underwear and a sanitary pad. She tosses them to me, and shakes out a sheet with a snap. “You’re lucky Dr. Rolfe is coming, otherwise I’d just leave you like this, since you seem to enjoy filth.” She glances at the painting again and bends to make the bed.
“I hate that fucking painting!” I yell, and pull on the giant underwear with as much dignity as I can muster. Am I the kind of woman who wears underwear like this, or the kind who poses with her genitalia flying in the wind? Somehow, neither feels right.
“Where did these underwear come from?”
“Can I have my own underwear for after the bath?”
“You can wear those. I do enough laundry as it is.”
“They’re going to be dirty. Besides, these are too big.”
“Last night the floor was good enough to piss on, but now my lady needs clean, tailor-made drawers every hour. Is that it?”
I feel a wave of self-righteous anger. “I may have lost my memory, and I may even be crazy, but I know for a fact you are not supposed to talk to me like that.”
Wanda stops tucking the sheets. “Someone’s getting her soiled panties in a twist.” She pulls out her keys and moves toward the medicine cabinet.
“No tranquilizers! I don’t need them now. I needed them last night and nobody was here to help me. When Dr. Rolfe comes, I’m going to tell him that, too.”
Wanda smiles at me, unpleasantly. “You go right ahead, Miss Thing.” She puts her keys back in her pocket. “Face the truth stone cold sober. I’m all for it. The tranquilizers were his idea. All he thinks about is you, and you haven’t even asked about him.”
I sit up straighter. “Asked about who?”
Wanda shakes her head and walks out of the room. A moment later, I hear water running. I hug my knees to my chest, shivering. There’s a him, thinking about me? Maybe I’m not alone, after all.
I close my eyes, trying to see if this new information triggers any memories. A hank of dark hair hangs over his left eye. Crooked grin. Black jeans. Black button-down shirt. Untucked. Red high-top sneakers. Playing guitar on a stage. My eyes fly open. Maybe this man, my man, is touring. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t come to see me.
“Wanda!” I call. The water stops running, but she doesn’t appear.
I crawl over to the bed and use it to pull myself up. I’m getting in the tub now, with or without Wanda’s help. No way that gorgeous creature is going to walk in here and see me like this—piss-covered and wearing granny pants. Oh, hell no.
I shuffle slowly to the bureau. It takes all my strength just to open the drawers and rifle through the clothes. I manage to find underwear and bra that looked like they’ll fit. But the rest of the clothes—they can’t be mine. Sweaters and shirts in floral patterns. Shades of white, ivory and pink. Linens and synthetics. None of it feels like me, whoever that is.
I know one thing, though. I’m not about to don a shirt decorated with roses. Eventually, I choose a pink chenille sweater, the palest shade I can find, and a pair of gray leggings.
Clutching the clothes with one hand and steadying myself on the wall with the other, I make my way into the hall. Wanda’s nowhere to be seen, but luckily the bathroom’s next door. It has a black and white penny tile floor, and a shelf full of lotions, hair-care products and makeup—a relief after the austerity of the bedroom.
I lock the bathroom door and shuck my soiled clothes. Arms and legs shaking with the effort, I climb into the large, claw-footed tub. Even though I can’t remember a thing, I feel damn sure I’ve never been more glad of hot water and soap.
I MANAGE TO bathe, dry off and dress myself without incident. By the time I finished, I’m feeling stronger, and ravenously hungry. When I return to my room, I avoid looking at the pornographic painting above the bed.
Wanda has left chicken noodle soup and half a toasted cheese sandwich. I settle on the bed and gobble it down. I can’t imagine lobster and champagne tasting any better. The floor has been mopped, too. All traces of last night’s trauma removed.
Clean and pleasantly full, I feel optimistic that, whatever’s going on with me, I can learn to control it. I blame the painting for triggering my hallucinations, and I don’t plan on a repeat. I want that sadistic freak show gone. One night of phallic serpent vines and roses with haunted faces is enough.
When Wanda returns, I thank her for cleaning the room, and making food for me. “I’m really sorry about the mess. I swear I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Hm.” Wanda grunts, but appears somewhat mollified. “You want me to blow dry your hair so you don’t look like a drowned cat when the doctor gets here?”
“I’d love that.”
When Wanda returns with the blow dryer. I tell her, “I really feel like I’ve turned a corner.”
I sit for a moment under the warm air, enjoying the feel of it on my skin, and the gentle motion of the brush through my hair.
“I remember who he is,” I say loudly, so she could hear me over the blow drier. “He’s in a band, right? Young, with dark hair, kind of longish in the front?”
The blow drier cuts off. Wanda moves around to look me in the face, eyes narrowed. “No. That’s the one got you into this mess.”
“He gave you the drugs that almost ended—” Wanda clamps her plump lips together and turns the blow dryer back on.
“Ended what?” I ask.
Wanda vigorously blows my hair, sending it flying in all directions, blowing heat on my ear until it starts to burn. I jerk away. “I think it’s dry enough now.”
Wanda yanks the plug from the wall. “Dr. Rolfe will be here soon.”
I nod, trying to smooth down my now tangled and frizzy hair. “Can I borrow the brush?”
Wanda stares at the brush, trying to decide if I could use it as a weapon, then hands it over.
As I pull the brush through my hair, Wanda sits in the corner of the room, dons a pair of reading glasses and starts knitting. It all seems so incongruous. An aging bombshell nurse/warden, wearing church-lady glasses and blandly knitting.
“What time’s the doctor getting here?”
“You’ve asked me that half a dozen times.”
Wanda glares over the top of her reading glasses. “You have.”
“I don’t remember asking that,” I insist.
Wanda sighs. “Why am I not surprised?”
“It would help if I had my phone, a TV, a computer, something to orient me to the world. I feel like I’m in a vacuum here.”
Wanda pulls a long-suffering face. I’m sure she’s about to tell me I’d have to wait and ask the doctor, but I’m spared by a raspy honking noise coming from downstairs. A blurred aural memory swirls through my mind. That sound, like a … donkey braying. I can visualize the brass mechanical buzzer on wooden double doors.
Thrilled that I remembered something—anything—I get up and head toward the door. Wanda snaps at me to stay put and shoots from the room.
I turn around. The painting assaults me again. I stand on the bed and wrestle with the giant frame, but it seems to be bolted in place. Finally, I take the top sheet off the bed and drape it over the damn thing. What had possessed me to pose for such a portrait? Drugs? Money? Mental illness?
After securing the sheet over the monstrosity—a reverse unveiling—I smooth the duvet over the bed and prop up pillows behind my back. Body rigid, I listen to the doctor’s hollow footsteps thudding up the stairs.