‘We regret to inform you,’ the stupid Suit doesn’t even have the decency to say in person, ‘that an emergency situation arose overnight. Your previous window of opportunity has now closed. We will inform you should a replacement window present itself.’
Should. The dirtiest word in the English language.
You subsist on hope for a certain duration – you have to – knowing these periods of incarceration are finite. Knowing there are always mechanisms in place to protect you.
I thought I could ride it out, I honestly had that surety keeping me from tumbling headlong into an abyss of my own making.
Suck on the drugs. Glaze over the torture sessions. Try to sleep through the bulk of it.
Then quietly depart when the time is right.
Politicians used to say their wars would be over by Christmas of this year or that. I think it’s the eleventh of December, maybe even the twelfth. What’s happening to my Christmas?
This night I cry myself to sleep. No burden is lifted – I’m not tired, nor does the slumber relieve my anguish. But the unconscious passage of time is a change from the usual.
Manifestations plague my few fits of restfulness. There’s a sincerity about them that convinces me they’re not dreams wrought by whatever chemicals have left this dry bitterness inside me.
The incessant howls of were-things flood from every corner of this damnable expanse, their cries muffled only slightly by the curtains that are the walls of my existence.
Hideous, demoniac forms draw my curtain shield aside and expose themselves to me. Their gargoyle features writhe and slither, frighteningly animated in impossible contortions. Mucus gurgles in what anatomical anomalies pass for their throats.
The less hideously deformed among them compensate for their relative normalcy by cackling at frequencies designed to pound like diamond jackhammers against my skull.
I blink, but they still stalk me. I try this tactic over and again, feverishly determined to keep at it until they go or my eyelids do. I smash the skin over my eyes, compressing the lids with a ferocity that induces fractal hallucinations.
Time passes, but again I don’t know how much or how little. When I think it’s safe to let my senses control themselves, I do.
The curtain’s been left open. It must be preposterously late, the place is deserted. No scaries, nor even any staff. The new guy next to me looks dead, but at least he’s quieter than the previous tenant.
My morphine drip is on a wheeled stand. It advances with a gentle push. Accompanies me on my saunter through a place I’ve only known from the cornices up.
Navy and off-white linoleum squares alternate beneath my grubby feet. They’re cold as I pat softly across them, my grogginess barely carrying me.
Vast locked cupboards secrete goodness knows what instruments of inhumane cruelty. Those recessed fluorescent rods I recognise from my arrival buzz intermittently in their ceiling cavities. Only every fourth or fifth one is active, administering the bare minimum of illumination required to serve a holding pen at such an ungodly hour.
Nestled at the end of the corridor is a single toilet. I hover for minutes, knowing I haven’t been in days and may never have this chance again. Tears splash like pellets in the bowl; nothing else is forthcoming. I stay as long as my good graces will allow, but the weight of the realisation quickly proves too great and I abandon all hope.
It’s the deprivation of these little things that eats you up inside. Screw water-boarding, screw electrodes on the nipples – this is real torture.
The next thing I’m aware of is my trolley, and the dried tears on my pillow. I think it’s morning: all the fluorescents are on again, and the unmistakable milling of the Uniforms floats over the partition. I cry out for another jab of morphine. I need it just to think straight.
Instead, the Suits pay me another visit, but they let me barter my soul for something altogether more appealing than one more fix.
I’m allowed a sliver of sunlight in this new cell they’ve put me in. Incandescent globes cast a friendlier glow over my station than sneaked across corroding curtain rods in that pit of despair I’ve been liberated from.
Dan makes sure I know he’s around. The screws in the other wing were indifferent bastards to a man. Just the type you’d expect to find in a place like this. My new warder, on the other hand, is so atypically nice I wonder if it’s another ploy.
He sympathises when I tell him what I’ve been through. ‘There must be intense pressure on the system,’ he apologises for them.
I buy his smile. I buy into his sincerity, his gracious calm that diffuses any volatility. The fact that he, the first person to do so, offers his name.
Right now, I need that.
I’m a sucker. But I’m a sucker who’s worn to the nub.
‘Why did I strike it lucky?’ I all but ask him before catching myself, swallowing my words. Can’t let them know I know. Can’t let them put it in writing.
Dan offers me a mild sedative. ‘Says in your file you had a rough night of it.’
My file. Of all the four-letter words he could use. It stabs me when he breathes it.
I decline his offer. I can see what’s going on. No wonder they’ve pulled me up to this goddamned cell.
They broke me.
Whatever it was I experienced last night, it was nothing more real than a torture of the mind. But it wasn’t directly of their making. I tasted the worst side effect of their meddling: my brain’s way of translating their indiscretions into something new.
An unplanned translation. An unexpected side effect. They took it too far and they know it. They broke me, and now they want to make it right. ‘Get him out pronto,’ they undoubtedly conferred in the night. ‘Get him out and straight into rehab.’
Well no thanks. I’ve got to do this on my terms or nobody’s. Whatever hole of Hell they’ve dunked me in, I can’t let them wash me any more.
Even if Dan does mean well.
They give me the day to straighten my head out. I know it’s that long because it actually works. I convince myself I’m as much responsible for this success as anyone.
Promises are made. One big one. Tomorrow’s the day. I’ll finally be presented before their committee of deciders and somebody’s going to make some pretty definitive decisions.
Dan says it so concretely I can’t doubt him. ‘For real.’
Comes the night. Paranoia, my best friend in recent days, pays me a visit. It instructs my ears to listen closely to the fragments of conversation that echo from other parts of the wing. The Suits again, muttering about the usual bullshit.
Dan’s voice echoes alongside theirs and my heart sinks another fathom.
A timeframe is mentioned. ‘Another twenty-four hours.’ Another. On top of a sentence already served.
I hear my name. Again and again they speak it, and always in the company of that phrase. ‘Another twenty-four hours.’
I trusted him. When he told me I only had to wait until the morning, he’d given me the truth.
A truth. His, or mine?
Could I be hearing things? I might be broken for good. Damned to hallucinate precisely what I don’t want to hear – what I don’t want to think – for what time I have left on this earth.
Keep a lid on it. Don’t give them an excuse.
Survive another night. One last, long night. Ignore the voices, ignore their words. If I’m broken, be broken enough not to know it.
I meet the decision-makers the next day. New Suits: the old ones have the day off. Good. I don’t want them laying a finger on me.
They wheel me in, present me centre stage in this theatre of theirs.
Knock me out and mend my broken arm.
They wonder why I’ve been making a fuss. Fucking hospitals.