Holy ballbusters. Time for the stupidest, worst, most god-awful, miserable session of the day: Group Therapy with the irrepressible Dr. Ned. He sat smugly in the midst of the little circle, legs crossed, holding his notepad and twirling his pen. A platinum blonde ventriloquist dummy in a low-cut blue dress sat in the chair beside him.
"Today we're going to get to know each other better," the therapist smiled and went on to explain that each patient would introduce themselves, explain why they were at Wyndcliff and what they hoped to achieve. He pointed to the first victim.
"Hello, I'm Stanley," the fat man began hesitantly. "I'm 33 and have been here for two years. Almost two years. Actually it'll be 23 months next week on the 14th. I grew up over in Portland. My mother took me out of public school when I was nine because of all the bullies, so I went to a private prep instead, then Bates College and dental school. Now I'm a pediatric dentist...well, used to be, I was asked to leave my group practice because the patients made me cry, so I'm—I'm nothing now."
"How did you come to be here, Stanley?"
"I was diagnosed with depression, borderline personality disorder, mild obsessive-compulsive tendencies and some social anxiety disorders. Before coming here I lived with my mother and Aunt Erma and we have three cats…I didn't leave my house for over a year. Actually, it was 14 months."
"What are their names?" Moira interrupted. "Your kitties. What do you call them?"
"Felix, CeeCee and Mr. Jingles."
"What do you want to do here?" Ned prodded the patient.
"To obey the rules, be helpful to staff and a positive influence to fellow patients," Stan quoted from the handbook. "Is that enough?"
"More than enough, it's my turn. I'm Angela," the young woman spoke up. She was beautiful even with tangled hair and no makeup. "I'm 24, and been a guest in your lovely establishment for five months. Mother is a socialite and daddy is a Republican Senator. I won't say which state," she winked. "I was tossed out of Vassar for conduct unbecoming. So, I found my true calling and became a full-time high-end call girl and part-time junkie. One night I was strung out and freaked on this john who slapped me. I knocked him out, sliced off his dick and put it down the garbage disposal," she laughed. "What a mess!"
"Demon!" cried Roberta. "You're going to hell! The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God! Neither the sexually immoral, nor adulterers—"
"Shut up, it's not your turn, Jesus freak!" Angela snapped then smirked at the group. "Before I was so rudely interrupted—my diagnosis is sexually promiscuous sociopath and my goal is to cooperate with Dr. Ned and do everything I can for him. By the way, I'm also a pathological liar, so none of what I just said is true. Or maybe I'm lying now and it's all true."
The therapist nodded for the next person to begin.
"Now it is my turn," the little lady remarked with a scowl. "My name is Roberta. I'm 45 years old and was sent here by Our Lord to save your wretched souls."
"And also for burning down your house. Remember? Dr. Ned suggested.
"That was a purification ritual for my family."
"Three of them died."
"They didn't pass," she responded matter-of-factly. "My goal is to root out the devil and drive him from your diseased minds," she stated, shooting a look at Psycho.
"Me? Uh, my name is Willie and I'm an alcoholic. Oops, wrong group." The others chuckled.
"Your smart aleck remarks have no place here. Watch yourself," Ned snapped.
"Yessir. Lessee, I'm 26—" the doctor stifled a chuckle.
"Try again," he mocked the young man. "What year is this?"
Willie bit his lip in confusion. He tried to remember when he last recalled a year. He was born in 1956. 1976 was the Bicentennial. The crown jewels were on display. He got paroled in '81…
"'82—no." Ned pointed over his shoulder to a calendar on the wall. "S'it, 1984. Really?" The others snickered. "Dat's jus' crazy."
"If you sincerely want to get better, you will stop trying to make a joke out of everything and make an effort to let us help you."
"But, I…" Willie hadn't intended to be funny. "Uh, okay." The patient searched his brain, trying to piece together remnants of his fuzzy past. "I'm no' f'om 'round here. G'ew up in Brook'yn, bu' no' fer long. I dumped school af'er nine grade an' became a hustler, only no' classy like Angela." The young woman licked her lips in his direction. "My part'er an' me, we t'aveled all over; been t' ev'ry big city an' sailed 'round da worl'. Dere were pirates an' gian' killer spiders in Af'ica, an' gangsters in Pan'ma, an' in Hong Kong we…we…"
"Swam with mermaids? If you're finished wasting our time, maybe you could try to stick to the real world, and tell the truth for a change."
"Sorry, I...okay." Willie was becoming confused and frustrated. "I was in p'ison fo' while, down sout'."
"That I can believe," Dr. Ned smirked. "How did you end up at Wyndcliff?"
"I wen' bat-shit crazy. I-I'm no' 'llowed talk 'bout it."
"It's important that you talk about it; everything you say here is confidential."
"Well…okay." Willie took a breath. "I go' 'tacked by vampire an' hadda do ev'yt'ing he said. He killed Jason an' made me bury 'im in da basemen'. Later on, I was a vampire too, bu' no' an'more, don' worry. Hadda give all dat up t' ge' married. Dat udder vampire married a witch doc'or and now dey makin' a monster outta spare parts t' d'ink da b'ood. I tol' 'em it was a bad idea bu' dey don' listen t' me."
The doctor was right, Willie concluded, it was helpful to say those things aloud. He was remembering things he hadn't thought about for quite a while. One of them was that he was bound never to reveal his master's secret, but this was therapy, which was kind of sacred, like Confession. Besides, he didn't name names.
Dr. Ned looked increasingly irritated as the others stared in awe. "No one is interested in your little fantasies."
"I am; go on!" exclaimed Bug Eyes.
"You're agitating the other patients. This is your last warning," the therapist snapped. "You have no idea why you're here, do you?"
"I know I ha' bad d'eams all da time. Maggie tol' me t' go see da doctor…S'it, she was…she had a baby." He hugged his knees and suddenly didn't feel like talking anymore.
"I remember Ms. Evans; she was also a patient of mine. Lovely young lady. It's hard to imagine her married to you." Willie looked up and noticed Dr. Ned standing behind Angela, rubbing her shoulders in an affectionate way. Did he do that to Maggie? Did that arrogant prick touch his girl while she was doped up? Anger built up inside him as he slowly stood with gritted teeth and the two men glared at each other. "Sit down or you'll be sorry!" Willie reluctantly returned to his seat and watched his left leg bounce.
"Now allow me to enlighten you," the therapist resumed with a deliberate tone. "Those stories you just told us are psychotic delusions." He referred to his notes. "Now, listen carefully, Willie Loomis: you are a paranoid schizophrenic. You hear voices and talk to invisible Irishmen and little girls. You held your pregnant wife captive while strung out on stolen prescription drugs and then attempted suicide by slicing up both arms."
"I did?" Actually, that did sound kind of crazy. "Sorry."
"Look at yourself, covered with scars."
"Yeah, let's see!" Bug Eyes interrupted, and Willie obliged. "Wow, it's like designs."
"I was goo' with detail work. Woodcarvin', 'tuff like dat."
"Hey, I got track lines…" Angela started to pull up her sleeve.
"Jesus rebuked the demon, it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly!" Roberta chimed in.
"He talks too much; when is it my turn?" Moira, the old lady, started to cry. "I want to hold the dummy!"
"Which one?" Willie laughed.
"Quiet down, all of you!" Ned railed, his face red. He turned on Willie. "I'm sick of your attention-seeking behavior .You are a constant disruption in this group!"
"An' you're an ass'ole, Willie looked away, quietly pouting. "Why'd ya tell ev'yone all dose bad t'ings 'bout me?"
"Because this is group therapy, you idiot! Go sit on the steps!"
"You sit on da s'eps, you're da one yellin', no' me." Ned reached for his walkie. "Alrigh', alrigh', I'm goin'." He patted Stanley's shoulder on the way out. "Catch up wid ya later. I'm gettin' processed."
There were a number of ways at Wyndcliff to deal with patients who broke rules or got out of hand. They were requested to sit in a corner or on the steps, away from the others, to process their thoughts until they calmed down. In more severe cases, if presented with a potentially dangerous situation, a containment crew of aides was called in, and the patient was restrained face-down on the floor until the violence subsided. If that proved insufficient, the attendant would call for a medical intervention and the client got booty-juiced with a fast-acting sedative injection. They were then escorted to ITA (Isolation Therapy Area), another name for the padded room, to recover.
Roberta, a tiny woman with seemingly enormous strength, was frequently subject to these treatments because of her insistence on performing exorcisms of other patients by beating the demons out of them.
Sitting on the steps was boring, and now Willie wouldn't get to hear the rest of the stories. He didn't care about Moira. She's depressed. Yeah, we get it. And she preferred to let the ventriloquist dummy talk for her. But Bug Eyes, he probably had enticing tales to tell. Oh well, the upside was Willie didn't have to listen to Head Shrink Ned any longer. Leroi, the big black attendant, wandered by and sat next to the young man.
"Got booted from session again, huh?" The aide gave him a sympathetic smile.
"Hey, man, I'm processin'."
"Still more fun than Dr. Ned's class, am I right?"
The two shared a laugh and Willie playfully punched his arm.
"Oh, s'it, sorry, not 'spossed to do dat."
"Little man, you can't hurt me," Leroi slapped his back, sending his companion toppling off the second lowest step. "I used to be a linebacker, till my knee gave out." He handed Willie a hard candy from his pocket.
"T'anks," the patient said, gratefully unwrapping the sweet. "My mout' always dry."
"From all those meds. I always carry around a bunch if you need one."
"Don' tell S'anley; he'll clean you out."
Leroi laughed again, a rich bass that echoed in the stairwell, and went back to work.
The minutes ticked by. Willie peered through the rungs of the banister and sucked on his butterscotch. He wondered what Maggie was doing at that moment. He concentrated on remembering the details of her face. Maybe she was at the diner, serving up coffee and pie with her big friendly smile. She was always nice to customers, even people like Willie. He used to get breakfast there when he stopped by to pick up a newspaper for Barnabas.
There were some disturbing, even frightening gaps in his memory, so it was possible he did fabricate some of those stories, but certain facts were indisputable: Once upon a time he and Maggie were happy. They made love on a mattress in an empty apartment with a cheap radio and a noisy radiator. Willie had done something terrible to fuck it up and, whatever it was, he was sorry. He still loved her, and always would until the day he died, and then his ghost would love her. Maybe if she only knew how sorry he was, everything could be the way it was before. Get help, she said, and he did; that's why he was here.
Down the hall Willie observed a line of loonies. Feeling sufficiently processed, the young man skipped off and snuck in the queue with other patients who wished to make personal telephone calls. After dialing several incorrect combinations of digits, he reached the Evans' residence, praying that his wife would answer and not the grumpy old man.
It was Maggie. Willie smiled at the sound of her voice, but before he could speak, an operator interrupted.
"A psychiatric patient from Wyndcliff Sanitarium is attempting to contact you. Do you wish to accept the call?"
"No, thank you—"
"Maggie, p'ease! Don' han' up!" He bit his hand to keep from crying. "T-t-talk t' me…p'ease."
"Alright," she sighed. The operator remained on the line to monitor the call. "Willie, I told you never to contact me."
"I jus' wan'ed t' tell ya, I'm so s-s-sorry…" His voice was starting to crack. "P'ease d-don' ha'e me."
"You need to calm down. I don't hate you."
"Ya 'til mad a' me?"
"What's the matter with your voice?"
"I forgo' how t' talk, but it's geddin' bedder." He deliberately slowed his speech to pronounce the words more accurately. "I'm much b-bedder now; I'm no' c'azy no more. Dey gonna le' me come home soon." His wife did not respond. "M-Maggie? I was t'inkin', maybe ya could visit sometime, huh? An' b'ing my c'othes?"
"I returned all your things to Mr. Collins at the Old House. You should ask Dr. Hoffman to bring what you need."
"She don' come; nobo'y comes." Tears started down his cheeks. "I's lon'y here; I wis' I coul' see ya—jus' fer a minute. Y-ya know I w-wouldn' hurt ya."
"I…can't. No—" Her voice starting to crack as well. "Are they taking good care of you?"
"Oday, I guess. Dey say I'm psycho and t'ied to stab one a' da docs, but I don' 'member dat. I dink he made dat up 'cause he don' like me." There was a long silence on the other end. "Maggie? You 'till dere?"
"I have to go now. Goodbye, Willie."
The young man wanted to say he loved her, but Maggie had already hung up. When he attempted to call again the following week, the operator told him that number had requested to be blocked.
Nevertheless, Willie lived in hope that his wife, upon reflection, would reconsider her feelings, so he frequently patronized the facility's barbershop, where he could get a shave, nails trimmed or, every once in a great while, a haircut.
"Make me all pretty," he would always say, "'case m' wife come visi' t'day."
Willie's name was called over the loudspeaker. He trudged over to the nurse's station.
"I didn' do it."
"Nothing's wrong," Nurse Jessie smiled, handing him a pass. "You have a visitor. Go on into the reception area."
Willie ripped off his slippers to keep from tripping and bolted into the front room, hardly able to catch his breath. He thrust his chit at Nurse Karen, the monitor, and quickly scanned the room, searching for Maggie. The reception area only housed other patients, chatting and hugging their relatives—and a dark-haired young man in a trench coat, smiling in the patient's direction.
Holy Casablankets, Humphrey Bogart just waved to him. Crap, he was delusional after all.
"William Loomis?" The mysterious man approached, holding out his hand to shake. "How do you do, I'm Tony Peterson."
Mr. Peterson opened his briefcase after sitting with Willie on upholstered chairs near an end table.
"I'm an attorney hired to represent your wife, Mary Margaret Evans." The patient was confused as Tony continued in a professional, if slightly rushed, voice. "Because you have been declared mentally incompetent, Ms. Evans is allowed by law to file divorce proceedings without your consent after a period of two years." The stranger looked uneasy at being the bearer of such news.
Willie bit his lower lip. She still hated him, he knew it, even after he said he was sorry and begged her like a goddam dog to forgive him.
"We're still short of that time frame, but my client is seeking to file now—if you would be willing to sign the papers. She's hoping for an amicable separation."
Willie clutched his bedroom slippers and said nothing, his brow furrowed. He looked up, appraising the novice practitioner. Handsome fellow. Maybe the guy wanted Maggie to be single so he could date her.
"It would be the right thing to do, Mr. Loomis. Maggie wants to get on with her life."
Because what would make a woman more fucking miserable than being married to you, Mr. Loonis?
"Sure, wha' da hell," Willie grabbed the paper and pen. "We all go' bedder things to do, right?" He scribbled his signature and handed back the documents. "Hey, Bogie, can I have one a' dem smokes?"
"Sure thing." Tony smiled as he held out the pack from which Willie plucked a cigarette and stuck it behind his ear. "It was a pleasure to meet you."
"Here's lookin' at you, kid." He winked at the lawyer while replacing his slippers. "I think Nurse Karen's lookin' a' ya too."
"Room monitor, da hot one b'hind dat big window. Don' f'get to check out wid her b'fore ya leave."
"I didn't know. Is that procedure?"
But the patient just grinned and was on his way, playfully pinching Nurse Karen's cheek as he passed. She would distract that legal eagle from hitting on his wife. His ex-wife. The one with who got on with her life.
Willie left the reception area and headed for the common room where he saw Moira sitting with her friend at the checkers table. He approached the couple.
"Dear, can I borrow yer chair for a momen'? Jus' s'and up."
He helped the woman to her feet, collapsed the metal folding chair and carried it nonchalantly to the window. Lifting it high in the air, Willie proceeded to slam the thing repeatedly into the thick metal mesh which barred the window. The thunderous clanging resounded through the room as other patients held their hands to ears, or screamed, or did nothing. Bug Eyes, of course, cheerleaded any form of anarchy. Willie was disarmed, put down and had a medical intervention followed by some alone time.