The weeping song
She kept up a dizzying pace through the old building, but I could hardly object to the brevity of the tour since it appeared to be just a series of long hallways looking all alike.
“This is the day room”
She opened a door that looked no different from any of the rooms we’d seen before. Despite that it had no viewing window and opened onto a large rectangular room with almost greenhouse windows on the walls and in portions of the ceiling.
“This is something like a solarium, they used to think the sunshine had medicinal effects, we use it as a common area, they have art supplies and games they can play.” She said directed me to deshevelled pile of soiled board game boxes and art supplies collected in a half closed closet. The room itself was empty but for a series of rounded tables made of a cheap chipboard wood with a few simple plastic chairs dotted around them and a few beanbag chairs. The carpet was a dull cream colour and the ceiling tiles were deeply sodden asbestos tiling with neon lights running in parralles across the ceiling.
I looked around the room as it stood empty, littered as it was with papers and crude paintings on the walls. The paintings depicting oddly shaped buildings. Or so it seemed, although obscurest in nature, following no known Euclidian geometry and copying no style I had ever seen before. Despite that they were quite skilfully reproduced as if from memory.
“Oh you noticed that”
She said spying my eye caught by the odd painting.
“We have a number of artists budding or otherwise that come here.”
“Are you a fan of the arts Mr Tilinghast.”
“Henry, please, to my friends.”
She seemed to scoff and then smile.
“I’ve eyes like anyone else” I said attempting something close to aloofness.
“The director seems to think artists are more susceptible to madness than ordinary men”
“Oh, why’s that?”
“It’s nothing he would publish for peer review, but he seems to think your mind has to be half gone already to be an artist in this economy.” She smiled and I stifled a laugh which cooled to a morbidity as I studied the sad truth in that statement.
I sighed in agreement and continued to study the room. It was bright which was odd due to the weather being as grey and dim as it was. The room seemed to glow with an eerie effulgence, it had to be something to do with the placing of the room and the windows harnessing the light.
“Please take your time to look at some of their work, the room is closed for today.”
I took her up on her offer and started to perouse some of the paintings, most of which were marked with the same signature. The scribbling did seem familiar but I couldn’t make out the name. The paintings seemed to correlate with the others, odd cyclopean structures, strangely shaped humanoid creatures. It seemed almost like the interpretation of a childs drawing done by a skilled hand.
“Closed?” I said idly not taking my eyes off an etching of a bust done in charcoal. The bust was some strange abstract creature that seemed to have the head of octopus and the body of some kind of reptile with wings with large clawed feet sitting prone on a pedestal.
“We had an incident the other day with one of our patients.”
“An incident” I aped thoughtlessly losing myself in the strange chimera like creature in the etching. Noticing then that were some very similar drawings done like but in what seemed like a childs hand, and still more in differing styles until it seemed to be something of a contest to draw the eldritch squatting thing.
I turned to her and saw she was motioning with her eyes at a patch on the floor. My eyes following her to see a portion of the cream carpet that had been removed in a large square with a box cutter a slight shadow of a brown stain on the exposed wooden boards below it.
“We’re having someone come in on Friday to replace it”.
“I’ll take you to see the director now if you’d like, he should be in his office.”
She led me down another hallway indistinguishable from the others we’d just traversed to a door with golden sign with the name Avery Fournier – Director Pink Bird Sanitarium embossed on it.
The door itself was a firm red oak with the top panelled cut out to make way for an ornate opaque glass screen. And as the light was shining I could seemingly make out two figures and could catch something of a conversation going on inside.
“He must be busy, should we come back later?” I asked.
“No he’s expecting you, he might just be recording something, if we enter quietly it shouldn’t be a problem”. She smiled and motioned towards the door holding her clipboard tightly to her chest and pushing her glasses up on her nose as if touching up a careful costume.
I clasped the door handle getting a slight jolt of something but not removing my hand. A sudden striking feeling of unease came over as if I was about to open a door to a party of people dancing over my own grave.
Opening the door as gingerly and as politely and inobtrusively as possible I entered with my head bowed like a monk seeking safe passage through some savage mongol land. But to my surprise I was greeted by a most affable and rotund looking old gentlemen sat smiling warmly above a great and bushy mustache.
The man instantly put me at ease with his effortlessly pleasant manner and way of speaking.
“Henry, is that you, take a seat old boy, you must have had quite a journey.” He addressed me queerly as if he were some old friend or an uncle rarely visited but gladly accepting of any such chance encounter.
Finding myself caught off guard by his amiable appearance at knowing me, I had but silent stammering in answer.
“You must be exhausted, where did you say you were coming from? Boston was it?”
“N-new Hampshire actually.” I said tracing my hands feverishly along the back of one of the high wingbacked chairs in front of the man’s small but neat desk.
Fournier’s office was little more than broom closet in size, a very humble room for a seemingly very humble and benign figure. But despite the size, the furnishing were old and eloguent, the smell of treated leather and hardwood was thick in such a tight space and nevertheless it gave way to an informal comfiness that was quite unbefitting an office of such stature.
“Would you like a toffee?” He asked standing to pass me a large glass bowl of individually wrapped toffees.
“Erm no- no thank you” I said smiling.
“Hmm” He smiled and sighed before putting the bowl down and unwrapping one for himself and fiendishly popping it into his mouth grazing his bushy white moustache. He smiled again and said “I must admit I’m quite partial to them” He narrowed his eyes and then at once as if he forgot something said “Oh of course, I’m forgetting myself, would you like one Zane?” He said lifting the bowl in the direction of the wingback chair to my right.
I turned my head queerly in the direction of the offer and was reticent to process the thing I saw only now fully understanding the unameable feelings it conjured up in me.
It was a man to be sure, but of such horrifying alien aspect that it seemed almost like a parody of a human, bound tightly as he was in a straight jacket. I couldn’t fully grasp it’s fine edge as my eye either by the nature of the creature or my fear of directly staring at it could not fully process what I was looking at. He was indeed corporeal but seemed ghastly or ghostly in his character and the bonds he was confined by did not lessen my instantaneous feelings of dread viewing such an apparition in such close proximity.
“Oh forgive me” Avery said as he noticed my pallor at seeing the strange hunched ashen figure sat only inches away from me. “I forgot to mention I was with a patient.”
Avery set down the toffee bowl and sat back down perching a set of small reading glasses at the edge of his nose lifting a file up to read it. “May I introduce you to Zane Ericcson.”
I knew the name almost straight away and I remember reading something about an incident with him in the paper only maybe a month ago, a speedy trial and now here he rested.
“You’re familiar with his work?”
“Erm, not particularly, I know of him” I shuddered for a moment realising I was talking about the man as if he wasn’t in the room but grazing an eye across his face made it seem to me that he for all intents and purposes was not in fact in the room but somewhere far further afield. His eyes darting about tracing unseen moving objects and landscapes as if noting every crag of grass.
Avery smiled and said “It’s quite all right, he’s highly restrained both physically and chemically” He winked. “He’s harmless, for the most part”
“For the most part?”
Avery scoffed and readjusted himself and said “Well we recently had some ‘unpleasantness’ in the day room, that’s why I had Jorge bring him here.” He said motioning with his eyes behind the large chair.
How I had come to miss the large dark skinned man I’d hasten to guess, he was almost as tall as the door, and I imagine he’d have to stoop to pass through it. He was darkly tanned but took on more of an indio facial shape rather than that of a mestizo as his name suggested. The large man said nothing and continued to hold up the ceiling silently with his arms fastened across his chest looking out the window.
I straightened in my chair feeling hot as if sweat was accumulating at my back turning back to Avery who had so put me at ease on entering, ignoring the two oddities now threatening that ease.
“Those – paintings, in the day room, those were his?” I stole a quick glance at Ericcson, he was a shaggy looking figure, thin and pale and vacant. His arms strapped tightly together and his thin angular face muzzled. Nevertheless his eyes- his eyes were wide and rounded as if staring directly into nothing, his breathing steady and measured as if pumped by an iron lung. His body seemingly a housing for some vile spirit that didn’t rest in the same place for too long.
“Yes, he’s very talented isn’t he?” Avery smiled and cast a glance over my head before continuing to speak. “I trust you read in the paper of the misfortune that brought him here”.
“Erm, no I can’t say I have, not being from around these parts.”
“That’s odd, a case this high profile, you’d think it would make the national news not stay confined in this solitary place” He leant forward slightly and stroked his mustache “Well I must tell you I gain no great pleasure in recounting the horrifying tale, the official history and even less so the events Ericcson has relayed to me at length through our discussion in this very room”.
I couldn’t say which disgusted me more so, the fact that the thing next to me neither seemed living nor talkative or that it did indeed live and did indeed talk at length about such horrors I was about to be relayed.
Avery tutted to get my attention “Henry, surely you can’t be squeamish, a man of your learned and well traveled nature. A young man should be filled with vigour and grim curiosity especially if you’re to enter this field.”
“No, I just-“
He smiled and nodded. “Forgive me, I get carried away sometimes, I’ll try to be as sparing as possible as I recount the happenings, we can start with the official story as you might see it cleansed of it’s gory detail leaving in enough to tantalize the reader in a daily paper”.
He cleared his throat and narrowed his eyes through his reading glasses as he began recounting the official story seperating it from the one told to him by Ericcson in his head. An undoubtedly more colourful interpretation to be expected. Rooting himself in the reality and slinking out from the no doubt profound storytelling of a mad man.
“The way the papers have it- it was just a spat that got out of hand – a domestic violence situation, you understand.” He paused looking up at the ceiling trying to rebuild the scene in his mind. “He was facing some sort of crisis with his work, not meeting deadlines, paintings not selling as well, this sort of thing” He said wafting these trivial thing aside with his hand as he pursed his lips and looked over my head for more benale details from the papers. “You can imagine how much stress that could put on a family especially with such young children.” He leant forward and knotted his shoulders speaking quickly. “The papers have it that it was a rash thing, a crime of passion they would call it, but as far as the scene is to tell there was very little of what I would describe as earthly passion.”
He reclined in his seat and dug around in a dark wooden case on his desk, furtively drawing a long black cigarette out of it and striking a match pausing to look up at me. “Do you mind?”
My mind was reeling at this point, having been left at this uncomfortable junction of the story. “Oh of course, it’s your office, you can do as you like.”
“Oh how silly of me, do you smoke, would you like one?”
“No- no thank you”.
He lit the cigarette and took a few measured tugs from it and said “I have a friend who works in the coroners office you see.” He paused and scratched his nose with the hand holding the cigarette. “He seems to think there was some manner of care gone into it, the cuts weren’t surgical, but moreover of a ritualistic nature. Needless to say they weren’t the hackings of anger or of a madman, but of a steady determined hand. So as to his current state, I can only assume Ericcson was not mad when he commited the murder of his wife. He was at least sane enough to stand trial and it was his singularly strange testimony that found him on my doorstep.
Needless to say he was found guilty and convicted by a jury of his peers due to the remarkably succinct testimony of his own son who survives him on foster care as of this moment.”
“Is that why he’s erm?” I said jesticulating at the restraints.
“Oh no as I said, we had an incident in the day room which is why its close for repairs – didn’t Jane tell you about it?”
“No- she didn’t.”
Avery sighed and turned his head to look at Zane as if he were a weathered head master looking at an errant school boy. “Well Zane, would you like to tell the young man why you’re restrained?”