This is a chapter from the middle of “Death Has a Name”, a novel I’m writing. It gives a brief glance into the childhood of Brodie Wade, the main character.
As a child, Brodie watched out the window from his room on the second floor of the Garrett Center for the Mentally Distressed. The air outside was cold as December quickly approached. A recent ice storm had left the city in turmoil, and was only now beginning to fade away. Ice still bowed the branches of the nearby trees. To thirteen-year-old Brodie, they looked like huge ice boulders stacked against each other in the distance.
He knew that this wasn’t a place for children. Yet here he was. The courts had taken him away at the age of ten from his mother, claiming that she was unfit and a danger to his mental and physical health. They’d said a good deal else about his mother, but he didn’t understand the rest of it.
All he knew was that they thought she hurt him. But aside from their big talk, what did they know? They didn’t see how she comforted him after the Truth visited. They didn’t hear how she sang to him to calm him down. They didn’t feel her hands rub the scratches on his body, and rock him to sleep. They didn’t see her tears and hear the quiver in her voice as she asked over and over ‘Who did this?’ Then she would sigh and start to rock him in her arms and just sing.
Now, three years later, he was still here. Still trying everything he could think of to get out of this forsaken place.
Brodie tugged at his double-layer socks that kept his toes warm on the tile floors. The staff at the institution didn’t let any of the residents, old or young, go outside for fear they would hurt themselves on the ice and snow. Brodie stared at the white snow-covered back yard. It remained pristine and unmarred by shoe prints, snowmen, snowball fights, or snow angels.
For the past four days, he’d been allowed to sleep, read, and watch TV. None of which he wanted to do. Brodie was getting ‘cabin fever’, as his mom called it. He hoped that they wouldn’t give him more medication for that.
On a day like this, all he wanted to do was build a snowman, or something normal with his mom. He remembered how his mother would take him outside any chance she got when it snowed. He would run out into the white yard while she cheered him on, “Make it big,” she would shout. Flopping himself down he would spread his legs and arms, feeling the cold snow working behind his cap and between his collar, then down his shirt. But he didn’t care. That was the price to be paid for making a perfect snow angel.
Brodie stared at the closest ice-laden tree. He was sure it felt the way he did right now — alone and trapped in a frozen cocoon that it could not break free of.
“How are we doing today, Brodie?” Dr. Flannigan asked. Brodie hadn’t heard him enter, but his presence didn’t cause alarm. The doctor often just stood and watched him. Sometimes Brodie felt like a rat in a lab. This doctor wasn’t a medical doctor with a white lab coat and a stethoscope draped around his neck. He was a psychiatrist. He was a short man with red hair and a receding hairline. He seemed stuck in a rut of wearing green and brown sweaters.
“Don’t you ever knock?” Brodie asked without taking his eyes off of his companion tree.
“Would that make the answers any easier?”
“No. Is this your official ’rounds’ visit for the day?”
“Yes. Come here.” The doctor patted the end of Brodie’s bed. “At least face me. It will make this go easier and faster for both of us.”
Brodie slid down to the end of his bed where he slouched and stared at his sock-feet sticking out of his flannel pajamas.
“Good. So, how have you been feeling today?”
“I’m okay.” Brodie looked up to see him scribbling in his yellow legal pad.
“Are you sleeping at night? Do you feel sluggish from the medication?”
Brodie just shrugged.
“How about visions? Have you had any visions or awake-dreams today?”
Dr. Flannigan wrote more on his yellow notepad, then put it down. “Okay. Enough doctor-patient. I want to just talk with you as a friend. Okay?”
Brodie nodded, but he pressed his lips tighter. They’d tried this tactic in the past. One even got him to tell about his visions last June, but they used it to say that his mother had tortured him, and this was his past manifesting itself in his subconscious… or some crap like that. For that betrayal, he’d earned another round of medications and therapy to extract from his subconscious mind the details of her supposed torture. He didn’t even want to think of what they accused his mother of. They didn’t see that it was they who tortured him, not his mother.
There was no way he would ever betray his mother like that again.
“Can you answer a quick question for me?”
“What would you think about a trip home? Be honest with me.”
Brodie’s heart nearly stopped. He fought to keep a straight face until he could see if the doctor was being serious with him. He wanted to scream Yes! YES! But what would the doctor write then? How would they interpret it? He wanted to see his mother more than life itself, but he had to keep his emotions in check, as always. He stared at the yellow notepad and tried to gain control of nis now-racing heart. White wisps slowly lifted from its pages, as if the doctor had placed it on a smoldering coal, and it was about to burst into flame.
Brodie clamped his eyes shut and turned his head toward the doctor.
“Brodie? Are you okay?”
No! Not now. Not when he’s thinking about letting me go home. I have to be strong. I have to just be normal enough to go home. Just be normal.
Brodie opened his eyes wide and tried to put on his best possible smile. He stared at the doctor, who now had a big black spider crawling over his head. The spider had two claws, like crab’s claws, pulling at the doctor’s hair, but the doctor seemed oblivious to it. The Truth was taunting him again, trying to tell him something.
Brodie had learned to mask his expressions and push through the fear. “Yes. I would like that very much. I miss my mom.”
“Good. It’s coming up on Thanksgiving, and we thought it would be good for you to spend some time with your family. But we wanted your input on it as well. I’m glad to know that you like the idea.” The doctor picked up his notepad, where the crab-creature scurried down his arm and vanished back into the mist rising from it. When the spider had gone, the mist stopped.
Brodie released the breath that he was holding. Once again, the Truth had come and gone.
“How is your medication? Does it still make you feel disconnected? Dizzy?”
“Yes.” Brodie hated the medication. But if he went home, he would tell his mother to stop giving it to him. She would understand. She always understood. She would have understood the vision he’d just had. At least, she wouldn’t think he was crazy because of it.
“Okay. I’ll talk to Doctor Winslow to see if we can adjust that for you again.”
“Can’t you just take the pills away?” Brodie blurted. “I’m okay, now. Aren’t I?”
Dr. Flannigan shook his head, but continued to write in his notepad. “No. I’m sorry, Brodie. You’ll have to keep on them for a bit more. We want to make sure that your visions stay away. They make you do things that … We need you to get well, then we’ll work on getting you off the medications, okay?”
Brodie’d heard that line before. He pressed his lips together again, and wedged his hands under his thighs. More lies.
“Okay. Well, I’ll note that they are still bothering you. What about the voices. How long has it been since you heard the voices?”
“I don’t know. A few months.” Brodie lied. To be convincing, he shrugged and looked out the window at the trees again. But the Truth had spoken to him just last night, telling him more jumbles of words. They echoed in his ears still, but he kept a somber expression.
“It’s been so long, I forget.”
“The last time it spoke, what did it say?”
Brodie shrugged and pressed his lips together again. How could he make sense of it? Rashel. Car sixty. Overlane. Express. Lincoln.
“You don’t remember?”
“No. Not really.”
“Okay. That’s good, Brodie.” The doctor wrote more on the note pad. Afterward, he looked into Brodie’s eyes and smiled. “See, not so bad today, was it?”
“No. Not so bad.”
Dr. Flannigan opened the door to Brodie’s room again and started to leave. Brodie saw the note that the spider-crab must have written across the back of the doctor’s green sweater. It glowed like a neon sign, “Rashel. Tonight. Tell him!”
“When can I pack my bag?” Brodie blurted, trying to focus on the positive. He wanted to ignore the message and just pretend that the Truth wasn’t happening to him again. Maybe if he ignored the Truth, it would give up, go away and let him live in peace with his family.
“As soon as you want, I guess. I’ll call and see if your mom can pick you up tomorrow morning, if that’s okay with you. The next day is Thanksgiving Day, so you’ll be at home for the holiday.”
Before the doctor finished speaking, Brodie sprung off the bed and was head-first into the tiny closet to pull out his things for the trip. He only owned three changes of clothes and a pair of shoes, so it didn’t take him long to stuff his duffel bag with everything in the closet.
“Hold on, Brodie. You can’t pack everything. You’ll only be allowed one night this trip.”
“But…” Brodie stopped mid-action and looked up, “… why?”
“Small steps, Brodie. Both you and your mother have to take things in small steps, remember? We talked about this.”
Brodie remembered. He hated it. Anger flashed through his jaws making them tighten, but he tried to just smile and nod, as if the words comforted him instead of making him want to kill the one man that stood between him and a normal life with his mother again. All this man had to do was declare him as sane and let him go home. But no. He had to keep drilling about the Truth. He had to press in on him about the one thing in his life that Brodie couldn’t control or do anything about. And because of that, Brodie knew that he would be stuck in this room until he died.
The Truth wasn’t a disease but was something that haunted him from outside his mind, not inside. He didn’t want the Truth. He wanted his life back. But they didn’t believe him. No one did. No one ever did.
“Look, I know you love your mother, but we have to be careful. You–“
“You don’t know shit!” Brodie shouted and threw a shoe just past the doctor’s hands. It bounced with a solid thud off the door and out into the hallway. Immediately, he wished he could will the words back out of the air and pull the shoe back in time. He’d let his anger slip. His face grew warm and he turned away so the doctor wouldn’t see him trying to hold back his tears.
The doctor smiled that familiar apathetic smile. “No. I suppose I don’t, really. Do you want to talk about it?”
“No.” Brodie yanked a shirt from his bag and stuffed it, still unfolded, back into the single drawer in his closet.
“Okay. You know where my office is, if you change your mind.” The doctor stepped out quietly. He gently placed the shoe back on Brodie’s bed, then closed the door as he left.
Once alone again, Brodie thought of all of the smart-ass comebacks he could have used. He could have said that he would make a horrible parent. Or he could have just shouted ‘Rashel’ and watch the doctor reel.
“Rashel” was probably his lover. Brodie didn’t know what the name meant, but he was sure that the Truth wanted to flaunt the doctor’s sins in front of the world. Through these messages, Brodie had a habit of knowing things he had no responsibility knowing. And each time he mentioned them adults were afraid of him.
He knew their secrets. Or at least, they thought he did.
The one thing he did know was that he wasn’t moving home anytime soon.
He stood up to scream at the top of his lungs in sheer frustration, but bit his lip. He clenched his fists and collapsed back onto his bed, buried his face in his pillow to muffle the noise and began to scream with all that was within him. Screaming faded to sobs, and sobs to mournful crying.
* * * * *
That night, Dr. Flannigan was driving home. His daughter, Rashel, sat next to him in the passenger seat. She was the brown-haired love of his life after her mother passed from cancer just two years before. He had just picked her up from day care and turned onto the Memorial Expressway, when a gray Lincoln crossed over into his lane. The driver was drunk. They hit head-on at sixty-miles an hour each. The Lincoln went up the front of Dr. Flannigan’s red Honda, crushing the passenger side of the car.
Dr. Flannigan was hospitalized for six months due to the extent of his injuries. His skull was fractured and his spine was crushed as the car flipped and landed upside down in the ditch. He was confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life and was later admitted to the same institution that had once been his occupation. His body healed enough to sustain him, but his mind never recovered from the trauma. He would sit and mumble four words over and over every day. “My lovely little girl.”
Rashel died on impact.