She is in the field, surrounded by buttercups, clover, Queen Anne’s lace as ragged as the house curtains in her nightmares. Wearing black pants and T-shirt—too loose on her, now—and black Chinese-style slippers: standard issue. Made for shuffling, the slippers would be too large if her feet weren’t swollen—from something they put in the water, maybe. She is in the field, with no money, no ID, only a silver gum wrapper rummaged from her pocket. She licks its white underside for the faint taste of mint and sugar, while she cowers in this empty lot ringed by steel buildings and a rushing river of traffic. If she used the heel of brown glass lying in the weeds—a broken bottle—she might be able to dig up some coins for the bus.
She is in the field, like when she was a kid up in St. Regis dreaming of being an archeologist, and unearthing with Nana’s soup spoon a wheat penny, a buffalo-head nickel, a Nehi bottle cap, a hexagon of bathroom tile. But this is an urban wasteland, marked by a bus stop on the corner. She tries to focus on the familiar blue sign, the color of peace and healing. Soon, a mechanical elephant will lumber through the cars to save her—but she has no money. If she managed to smile at the bus driver—a normal smile—he might let her ride free to the airport. She could call Daniel from there, he could accept the charges, he could fly to meet her, he could take her someplace safe…Daniel, my brother, do you still feel the pain?...She is in the field, but the bus isn’t the right number for the airport; the airport is as far away as St. Regis, as far away as the moon. If she is unable to hide, to blend into the camouflage of dirty worthless weeds, the orderlies will find her and take her back to where they will hurt her.
She is in the field, and the only glass is that winking bottle, and although she knows another way to use it—curving her left wrist inward and slicing vertically at blue-green veins with the hub gripped in her right hand—she doesn’t have the strength, and she might not bleed to death before they find her, and then they will hurt her more. Break glass in case of emergency…She is in the field, and if she were a Boy Scout—or if she had been a good Girl Scout who earned more than four badges—she could make a fire by forcing the sun’s merciless rays through the thick lenses of her eyeglasses. In her mind, she escapes through smoke and flames, walking free past bulky firemen and snaking hoses…An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge…There are dozens of bridges across the Allegheny and Monongahela, and would a crazy person remember those names—Allegheny, Monongahela?
She is in the field, alone: in bad company, as Ambrose Bierce wrote in The Devil’s Dictionary before he disappeared into the Sonoran Desert. Although Joseph once said she was good company—despite all his other women, he said that. Before his eyes became gray marbles—moggies—whenever he looked at her, before he gave her an infection that never went away—although a curly-haired doctor wrote her a prescription—and then shot her a look of contempt, as if saying, You stupid bitch, this is a venereal infection, don’t you know your husband has other women? She is in the field, and this is the way everyone looks at her now, doctors and nurses and orderlies and Joseph and her friends, you stupid bitch, although they don’t say bitch, even Joseph doesn’t say it no matter how much he may complain to his girlfriends, and when other people are around his eyes are fake-kind, and he cries a little. But when he’s alone with her in the terrible room, his eyes are moggies, and if she reaches for him, he pushes her hands away.
She is in the field, and when her best friend comes into the terrible room—Anne, the only friend she trusts, as a stray dog trusts a human being—Joseph gives Anne his fake-kind look, and Anne is fooled. Even Anne, who sits with her, and strokes her hair, and says with real tears in her eyes, Sweetie, I’m so sorry, I wish that I could help you. She is in the field, and Anne can’t help her, wouldn’t believe her about Joseph and his girlfriends even if she used an old-fashioned doctors’ word, intercourse—a word that used to make her smile, as if there were only one kind. That word makes her long to travel back in time, when the word—the world—had happier meanings.
She is in the field, unable to force one normal smile. She can’t remember the last time she could. It must have been before Dr. Janus told Joseph that she was having a complete breakdown, and fake-kind Joseph promised to help her. But when Dr. Janus phoned to tell Joseph about a place where she could go for a rest—a real rest—Joseph just said Yes…Yesss…Yesssss. After he hung up, Joseph looked at her with his moggie eyes and pronounced—each word shattering on the polished oak floor of their living room—Dr. Janus is a nice woman, but that isn’t the place for you. Numbly, she swept the floor clean, and then sat on the sofa after Joseph went to bed, writing a suicide note on one of his yellow legal pads. But when she went to retrieve it the next morning after Joseph left for work—to mail it to Daniel, or to bury it—the note was gone.
She is in the field, as alone as she ever has been, more alone than when she stood in St. Regis with Daniel, staring at the icy patch in front of her grandparents’ double gravestone, Nana’s death date chiseled beside Grandpap’s at last. Sweet Nana, who always protected her. It was January, the North Country earth frozen too hard to dig. As difficult as it was to think of Nana underground, it was more difficult to imagine her cold body waiting on a slab until spring thaw, as if she had been divided from her soul.
She is in the field, eloped, as they call escape from the psychiatric ward. It was almost too easy. The door of the locked ward clicked shut behind her and a bored blonde nurse, and voila! she was in the regular part of the hospital. A long corridor stretched before her like a wedding aisle. The nurse didn’t turn to her or touch her, expecting her to follow. They were on their way to an assessment—by who or what the nurse didn’t bother to tell her. She is in the field, and when the corridor widened suddenly—beautifully—into a lobby with a revolving glass door, she bolted to the right, through the sharp slice of daylight that led to the outside. She glanced back to see the nurse standing in the lobby with arms crossed, making no move to follow.
She is in the field, in no one’s company, and no longer anyone’s bride. As the blonde nurse was pressing the magic combination that separated psych world from normal world, she turned her head to the left and saw Joseph, sitting in the consulting room, eerily visible through the bulletproof glass window in the room’s upper wall. Wearing a pinstriped suit and sky blue tie—identical to his wedding clothes—his weight and prematurely white hair giving him an air of authority. Joseph was nodding at the psychiatrist, fake-kind and terribly convincing…I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV…When she looked at Joseph, protected by that unbreakable window, she was horrified, thinking: He can make them do anything—lock me up forever—get them to kill me in here.
She is in the field, three blocks from the hospital, with three choices: wait here for the orderlies to find her, go back to the hospital on her own, or throw herself under the treacherous bus. She doesn’t have the nerve for bloody suicide—think of the poor bus driver, the stunned passengers, and the angry line of cars, honking and honking until they clear the mess away. If she was as smart as she was supposed to be (once upon a time, even Joseph called her smart) she would have hoarded her pills and swallowed them with a glass of milk—sweet Nana’s milk and cookies—instead of letting Joseph find her with an unopened bottle, hands trembling, shaking the orange cylinder like a gourd filled with dead seeds. She is in the field, longing for Daniel—even for her sister, Teresa, a vet who loves animals more than people. Teresa, she says in her head, now I am one of your strays, but you can coax me to come out, I promise I won’t bite.
She is in the field, and there is no way out—only the way back—down the busy street, and through the revolving door that lured her with its fragment of salvation. Now that door will suck every ray of light inside—like sobs stifled in the night—sealing her eyes in the cruel field of her fate.
(Photo Credit: Vaschelle André)
[Image description: Angele Ellis is a pale-skinned woman with shoulder-length reddish brown hair and dark brown eyes. She poses in front of a statue of the Buddha, along a garden wall covered with green ivy. She wears dangling pearl earrings and a red velvet V-neck pullover.]
Angele Ellis's fiction, poetry, and reviews have appeared in over fifty publications and ten anthologies. She is author of Arab on Radar (Six Gallery Press), whose poems won her a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Spared (A Main Street Rag Editors' Choice Chapbook), and a forthcoming hybrid book of flash fiction and poetry whose focus is her adopted city of Pittsburgh.