He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
Do you not see how mighty is the goddess Aphrodite? She sows and gives that love from which all we upon this earth are born.
Dr Philips is looking at me. Dr Philips spelt with one L not two. I know he is looking at me even though I can’t see his eyes. I have my head down and am studying the curly stitched pattern upon his tan shoes, so shiny and clean it looks as though he walked straight out of a shoe shop.
Perhaps there is a shoe shop attached to the hospital so that doctors don’t need to walk in puddles and dog shit before they enter the hospital. A pair of new shoes every time. Straight from the shoe shop into the corridors of power with their clean dry soles and perfect tread.
He prods the silence with his pen, though I do not see this either. But this is what he always does when I am quiet.
He is wearing pale grey socks with a diamond shape running up from the ankle bone, and impeccably pressed trousers. Always so. I wonder if he irons them himself or if his wife does them. Does he have a wife?
“What about the voices?” he asks.
“Voices,” I repeat. And raise my head to gaze at the quorum of greying hair coaxed across the top of his head, one or two participants in dissent.
He’s eager. Glad I’ve spoken. Relieved. Not many people can endure silence. But I can. There is comfort in silence. And in looking at people’s shoes.
There is a ring upon the index finger of his left hand. So he must have. A wife, I mean. The pen traces an arc finishing with a fouette.
“How have your voices been?”
Meaningful, with a gentle smile. Encouraging.
I will make his day if I reply. After I have gone he will tell himself that it was a good meeting, that it went well. If I say nothing before I leave he will say to himself, “that was difficult”. I suppose I must give him some fruits. After all, he’s a kind man.
And I am just about to speak when Charis butts in.
“Don’t destroy this luscious silence, Affy!”
I tell her to shut up. Silently, of course. And, for once, Patsy agrees.
I raise my head. Furtively. Dr Philips-one-L-not-two is glancing at his watch, trying to be discrete as he does so. It wouldn’t do for patients to feel that they were being timed. He thinks I don’t know about such things, but I know more than he realises.
“The voices have been good,” I announce, hoping this will satisfy. And it does.
“Good,” he echoes. “In that case, we’ll keep you on the same level of medication – if you’re agreeable.”
I nod and smile. With eye contact. Eye contact is important for letting them think there’s been an Improvement.
I make my way from Dr Philip’s room back down the corridor to the asylum of the ward. Asylum. A place of refuge and safety, it says in the dictionary. Charis and Patsy think that’s hilarious, as we are surrounded by Mad People who shout and cry and lash out, which is what Mother says I do when I’m at my worst. But Mad People can also be like zombies, or talk at you ninety to the dozen, make no sense whatsoever. Or talk with the purest insight. They might steal your money, clothes and cigarettes. And if you complain to the nurses, they say they’re Unwell which somehow lets them off the hook from immoral behaviour, although Betsy Clark was moved away for stabbing that lad with a fork. But mostly Mad People just sit and say nothing. Which, to begin with, is also scary.
So, not a refuge at all, but terrifying. But it’s the place they seem to put me when they don’t know what else to do with me. And obediently I return there because I am allowed to go by myself, I am a Trusted Patient. I do not need a nurse to accompany me, because I am almost Better.
Two days later Dr Philips-one-L-not-two visits me on the ward.
“I think you’re ready for the out, don’t you?” he says.
This is not a time for playing the Silence Game.
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Dr. Philips.”
I smile sweetly and am forced to smother a giggle as Patsy bursts into hoots of delight. But Charis is cautious.
“But what are you going to do?” she asks. The “do” is pendulous, a globule of time ready to drip onto me, beneath whose sticky weight I would struggle to survive.
“Will you go back to your mother’s?” asks Dr Philips-one-L-not-two.
“Where else?” I shrug. Charis groans.
Charis and Patsy have never liked Mother. Not since I was twelve, when they first arrived. When Daddy died. Hostile as volcanoes spitting out molten lava.
We are in the sitting room, and Mother is pouring tea. She is talking but I scarcely hear her voice. She is talking to cover the silence that Daddy has left behind him, an uncomfortable, fusty, clock-ticking silence that was never here before. And suddenly someone says,
“She’s a bitch.”
I look around to see who it is, and as I do so, a second voice adds in almost a whisper, “A witch, a witch…”
“You’re not listening, are you, darling?” Mother says.
She’s right. I’m not listening to her. I can hear two people speaking to me.
“Who’s there?” I ask.
“Who’s where?” asks my mother, swivelling around to survey the silence draped over light-fittings, bookshelves, red leather Chesterfield, drinks cabinet, Constable prints. “Really, Affy, it’s wrong to ask questions for the sake of questions.”
“But there are people inside my head and I want to know who it is,” I say.
“Don’t be absurd. Drink your tea, and don’t let me hear any more of your silly questions.”