“And how do you know that you’re mad?”
An involuntary flinch shuddered through my body, my brain replaying his words over again as I attempted to appear impassive.
Grimacing, I remained silent and tight-lipped in my – in the hospital bed, refusing to look at the man sitting in the chair alongside me. This room was far from home, and definitely not a personal space, and yet still I felt as if this were an intrusion.
“Alice, how do you know that you’re mad?” A beat. And then, critically, “you don’t seem mad to me, my dear. You may merely be…look, we’re here to help you…” The last sentence hung doubtfully in the air, and I had the delightful realization that he felt just as out of control as I did. The breathless man subtly checked his watch and sighed, “we want to help you, but you must cooperate –”
I clenched my fists, the knuckles snow-white on either side of the bed rails. The doctor cleared his throat awkwardly, checking his watch again before quickly standing and straightening his white lab coat, just as the door swung open.
The man in the black suit stepped in, face drawn in that ever-present grimace, shoulders rigid and proud. My eyes widened, and I cursed at being unprepared for seeing him here. Of course he’d come eventually, I told myself. It’s his job.
Stepping over to the table by the door, his eyes scanned the papers with numbers and graphs and jumbles of words I had glimpsed before but couldn’t comprehend, though they were most certainly about myself. Making sure to avoid looking towards the metal bed in the corner of the room, he barked,
“Any progress, Doctor White?” The doctor glanced worriedly towards me, biting his lip. Loosening my grip on the bed rails, I settled my hands delicately on my lap. I smiled complacently at him before turning sweetly to the other man, the words dripping from my lips thick with honey,
“Better and better every day, father.” And then, turning to the doctor, “Doctor White takes such good care of me.” It came out harsher than I had intended, and Doctor White cringed slightly.
There was an anomalous silence, the only sounds coming from the odd beeps and hums of the whirring hospital machines. Nervously glancing between the two of us, Doctor White wrung his clammy hands and repeatedly licked his lips, unsure of whether or not to speak.
Yet the other man only smiled, his gaze still stubbornly fixed on the doctor.
“Ah … not much has changed –” Doctor White finally said, the words swiftly pulling themselves through his thick throat. He coughed into his fist. “Rather, she’s doing … well, Detective, considering –” But the man interjected,
“Very good, Doctor White. I want her out as soon as she’s capable.” Finally, a glance and tense smile in my direction – the harsh glint flashing across his eyes so quick anyone else would have missed it – “and not a moment sooner.”
He made to leave, stacking the papers from the table and stuffing them into his briefcase, but Doctor White hurriedly placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Detective,” he whispered. “I believe, if you don’t mind my saying so, that it is about time you started questioning your –” He coughed. “That you start questioning Alice yourself.” He took a step backwards at the glare he received, stumbling over his next words. “Because I can only do so much, Detective Hart. And … well, the situation demands –”
“Alright,” the man gritted. “Leave.” Not needing to be told twice, Doctor White scampered from the room.
Keeping his eyes on his precious papers, the man sat stiffly in the chair at my side, his legs turned outward, towards the doorway. Slowly, he drew out a pen and notebook. Ever that grimace.
“… Shall we begin, Ms. Alice?”
My hands returned to the bed rails. ª