Page 12

 A.G. Howard

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I suppress the urge to throw up. He doesn’t get it. She wasn’t trying to strangle herself; the wind controlled her braid. But what sane person would ever believe that?
Just before Alison’s eyes flutter closed, she mumbles something with a drunken stammer: “The daisies . . . are hiding treasure. Buried treasure.”
Then she’s oblivious—a drooling zombie.
And I’m left alone to face the storm.
It takes so long to get Alison settled at the asylum, Dad has to drive me straight to work. We pull up to the curb at the only vintage clothing shop in Pleasance. It’s nestled in a popular strip mall along the commerce side of downtown, a bistro on one side of the shop, a jewelry store on the other. Tom’s Sporting Goods is across the way.
“Remember. I’ll be at work. Just one quick call, and I’ll take you home.” Dad’s frown forms wrinkles at the edges of his mouth.
I’m numb, still wondering if I imagined it all. I stare past the pink brick storefront and black wrought-iron fence. My gaze focuses and unfocuses on the curvy black letters over the door: butterfly
I hold the moth air freshener at my nose. The scent reminds me of spring, outdoor hikes, and happy families. But winter is all I feel inside, and my family is more screwed up than we’ve ever been. I want to tell Dad everything, but in his eyes, admitting Alison’s delusions are real would be proof of my splintering sanity.
“You don’t have to do this,” he says, taking my other hand. Even through my gloves his touch feels like ice.
“It’s only two hours,” I answer, hoarse from all my screaming in the courtyard. “Jen can’t get anyone to cover her shift on short notice, and Persephone’s out of town.”
Friday is our boss Persephone’s scavenger day, when she commutes to nearby towns to haunt estate and garage sales in search of merchandise. Contrary to what Dad thinks, I’m not being a martyr. From three o’clock to five is the dead zone at work; hardly any customers show up until after rush hour. I plan to use that time to search the store computer for the moth website.
“I should go.” I squeeze Dad’s hand.
He nods.
I open his glove box to put the air freshener inside, and an avalanche of papers hits my feet. A pamphlet on top catches my eye. The background is peaceful pink with a generic white font printed across the front: ECT—Why Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Right for You or Your Loved One.
I pick it up. “What is this?”
Dad bends across the seat to put away the other papers. “We’ll talk about it later.”
“Dad, please.”
He stiffens and glances out his window. “They had to give her another dose of sedatives while you were in the lounge.”
The words punch me. I was too chicken to follow when they wheeled Alison to the padded cell. I cowered on a couch in the lounge, pulling out my ruined dreadlocks like a robot while I watched some stupid reality show on TV.
Reality . . . I don’t even know what that is anymore.
“Did you hear me, Allie? Two doses in less than an hour. All these years, they’ve been drugging her into oblivion.” He squeezes the steering wheel. “Yet she’s getting worse. She was screaming about rabbit holes and moths . . . and people losing their heads. The drugs aren’t working. So the doctors have offered this option.”
My tongue absorbs my saliva like a sponge.
“If you’ll look at the first paragraph”—he points at some numbers on the pamphlet—“the practice has been making a comeback since—”
“They used eels, you know,” I interrupt a little too loudly. “In the old days. Wrapped them around the patient’s head. An electric turban.”
The words are senseless—mirroring how I feel inside. All I can think of are my pets at home. I learned early on that I couldn’t have the traditional cat or dog. It’s not that animals talk to me; only insects and plants are on my frequency. But every time Jenara’s tabby caught a roach and gnawed it to death, I got nauseated listening to the bug’s screams. So I settled for eels. They’re elegant and mystical and use a shock organ to stun their prey. It’s a quiet and dignified death, similar to the bugs dying by asphyxiation in my traps. Still, I won’t touch their water without a pair of rubber gloves. I can’t imagine what they could do to someone’s brain.
“Allie, this isn’t the same as what they did seventy years ago. It’s done with electrodes while the patient is anesthetized. Muscle relaxants keep them oblivious to any pain.”
“Brain damage is still a side effect.”
“No.” He reads the upside-down text aloud. “Almost all ECT patients will experience confusion, inability to concentrate, and short-term memory loss, but the benefits outweigh the temporary discomforts.” He meets my gaze, his left eye twitching. “Short-term memory loss is a discomfort. Not brain damage.”
“It’s a form of brain damage.” I haven’t been the daughter of a mental patient for the past eleven years and not picked up on the definitions and levels of psychological anomalies.
“Well, maybe that would be a blessing, considering your mom’s most recent memories consist of nothing but the asylum and an endless procession of drugs and psych evaluations.” The deep lines around his mouth look like they might crack all the way through to his skull. What I wouldn’t give to see his Elvis smirk right about now.
My throat constricts. “Who are you to decide this for her?” His lips tighten to that stern expression reserved for when I’ve overstepped my boundaries. “I’m a man who loves his wife and daughter. A man who’s tired down to his bones.” The mix of defensiveness and resignation in his brown eyes makes me want to curl up and cry. “She tried to kill herself right in front of you. Even if it is a physical impossibility for her to choke herself, it doesn’t matter. The meds aren’t working. We have to take the next step.”
“And if this doesn’t work . . . what then? A lobotomy with a can opener?” I throw the pamphlet across the seat. It hits his thigh. “Allie!” His voice sharpens.
I see right through him. He’s desperate to get Alison back, but not for me. All these years he’s been pining for her, the woman he used to take to drive-in movies . . . who waded with him through puddles in the gutters after it rained . . . who drank lemonade on the porch swing and shared dreams for a happy future.