I heard the door leading into the hall open and shut. That was our cue. I cracked the door to my room and checked to see that big B and goon were both gone.
Helen did exactly as we had discussed. She left her room and wandered down the hall, with eyes on the ground. She entered the restroom and cracked the door to check the community room and front desk. I watched her heave a sigh of relief as she turned to me waving the all clear signal.
We ventured into the community room with trepidation. We had decided on our marching orders after lights out, then tossed and turned waiting to put our plans into action. When I saw goon’s face peering through the tiny window in the door, I knew action was moments away. It was all I could do to be still and wait for Na’ to finish night rounds.
When I looked back, my girls were already behind me. My heart filled with warmth I hadn’t known I was still capable of. We padded toward the community room and slipped into the restroom with Helen. I extended my index finger whispering,
“Commencing war games; Operation: Any Little Annoyance.”
We jammed our fingers together hard and tiptoed into the community room. I was surprised that all four of us could move in virtual silence.
For the first time, I’m glad for the butt-ugly hospital socks they gave us on arrival.
Danica took her post at the thick door sill, behind the entrance, to listen and watch for B and goon. Marie sneaked behind the desk to search for CD-ROM’s and unmarked disks.
Helen manned one of three computers armed with my list of web addresses. I ventured into a room behind the front desk that I’d noticed only a day ago. It was a back office.
I’ll be damned. This must be the inner-sanctum.
There were several desks and it appeared quite formal, as though staff and department heads must meet here in secrecy. Scanning the room, I discovered two busts. They were blue with gears emblazoned around their skulls. I memorized the office as best I could, with my heart pounding, stepped out, and shut the door quietly.
Helen and Marie had already found a blank disk and downloaded the sounds and pictures I requested. Helen handed the disk to me and I shoved it into one of my hospital socks as I caught Danica’s eye. She pointed back to our rooms motioning frantically. All of us moved swiftly and closed our door silently just as B and goon returned.
I pushed Helen, in her cartoon dog PJ’s, into my bed and against the wall. I leapt in behind her, arranging pillows and blankets to hide her. To prying eyes, it would look like I was alone with covers pulled up and one arm slung across the heap.
An hour later, goon’s ugly mug peered through the window and I watched her shadow pass by again as she returned to join big B in the front office. I waited several minutes, until I could hear the drone of Na and B talking over coffee. I let go a heavy sigh and realized I’d been all but holding my breath.
All of us merged silently into our circle, at the back of the room, away from the fluorescent light barely whispering through the door window. I waited for several minutes while our eyes adjusted and then raised my finger, laughing quietly,
My girls followed suit and we sat together in silence, holding hands for a moment, though we were anything but quiet. There in the darkness we bonded, squeezing each other’s hands and hugging each other wordlessly. Our minds buzzed with friendship, sisterhood, and shared elation; a feeling not one of us had experienced since our admittance here.
As unlikely as it seemed, we were each other’s family now. I leaned back against the wall, smiling contentedly at having gained so much more than just turning the tables on the staff.
Danica added to our ritual then, extending her finger into our circle. As we reached to touch her finger, she closed hers against her middle finger, forming a circle. We looped our fingers through Danica’s. This time, she did not ask. She softly stated what we all knew had just taken place,
It wasn’t a command, a question, or an order. It was a gentle admonition; a softly spoken fact; one we were all extremely happy for. This was our wealth. In this place that was destitute of happiness and devoid of family, we had both in droves.
Helen finally broke the silence, asking,
I grinned wickedly and pulled the disk from my ugly, teal hospital sock. I held it up and said,
“Any little annoyance.”
A slightly confused silence followed, so I relented and explained,
“I want them to experience what we did. When we came here, we were scared, confused, in need of explanation regarding what would follow, like our personal safety and how they protect it, how long the likely stay is, what the steps to ‘recovery’ are,” I said, making quotations in the air, “At least within the first two or three days here, those general courtesies should have been mandatory.”
“Exactly,” Helen hissed under her breath.
“All of us are here because we survived something unspeakable.” I continued, “At that point, information and kindness are no longer a luxury. They are necessities. Punishment is not the order of the day for patients being admitted.”
“What Helen said,” Marie whispered in a low, scathing tone.
I went on to finish my thought, “Following the unspeakable, we were strip-searched, had our belongings taken and locked up, We got zero input, zero niceties, zero comfort in any form, zero explanation of what to expect, zero information period; no offer of anything, from a cup of water to sitting down with a staff counselor, or anyone who could address our fears and worries. Not one person told us what to expect here!”
“That’s exactly right,” Marie spat acidly.
“For our terror and trouble, we got one humiliation and violation after another, and ‘follow me,’ only led to yet mortification. They took our belongings, our already limited control, and our dignity along with our shoelaces! The cherry on the crazy parfait was, ‘We earn our own keep around here. You’ll do well to remember that.’ I intend to feed them enormous helpings of crazy parfait and be as distant, aloof, and uncaring, as they were and have remained.”
Uneasy silence ensued while I let the memories consume me and when I resurfaced, I knew what I had to do.
“I’m sorry, ladies. I didn’t realize I was still that upset. I’m going to take a revote for who’s in and who’s out. No one will be shunned if they want out. We’re sisters now.”
I lifted my hand with trepidation and three fingers touched my own.
“Are you absolutely sure,” I asked.
Danica spoke first, “Yes, we’re sure. We all feel the same way.”
Helen and Marie shared their admittance stories then, which closely mimicked my own, and I responded,
“We finish what we started tonight at 4am break.”
All of us smiled jubilantly and gave the ‘all in’ signal. We wandered back to bed and waited for goon and B to go on break. When I heard the front door click shut behind them, we sprang into motion.
All of us went to the front desk except Danica. She manned the lookout post again. I pushed the disk into the floppy drive and extracted sounds of moaning, ecstasy, and screaming orgasms, to install in the start menu of sounds for the computer. I wasn’t really surprised to find that the office machines were fairly antiquated but this time it was exactly what I needed.
I asked Helen and Marie to go get the blue heads from the back office while I extracted a horse blanket to print out a sign. I told Marie how and where to place the busts. I could picture B and goon returning in blissful, enamored adoration, only to have a seat, spin around, and find themselves face to face with blue gear-heads.
“Ya think that’s how they see us?” I asked, laughing, “Heads with gears that need a wrench?”
Snickering to myself, I attached the sounds to various computer functions and turned the volume all the way up. Then I printed another paper with a drawing of a head with Band-Aids plastered on its’ brain. Helen taped it to the side of a blue head, while Danica scrambled onto the counter to quickly tape the horse blanket sign in place on cupboards. Lastly, I downloaded a picture resembling the chain link fence outside and used it for wallpaper. I put it on all the computers.
Working in tandem had spared us precious minutes and we finished before Danica could give the signal. Helen made it back to her own room after I told her to keep her ear to the door.
I lay awake waiting, until I heard big B exclaim,
I assumed she was face to face with blue gear-head and stifled my laughter.
Goon was by her side in a shot, saying,
“How? Who? What the hell is going on here?”
Obviously, she had seen Band Aid brain and the cupboard picture that read, “My imaginary friend thinks you have SERIOUS mental problems.”
Goon stomped toward the hall, rounding on us immediately. This time, she opened every door and hit the room lights on.
She came to our room looking under beds, lifting pillows, and tossing blankets this way and that, when I heard the computer moan and scream,
“Yes! Yes! Don’t stop! Do me, baby! Do me good!”
The three of us tried to appear mostly asleep, as though she had wakened us after resting many hours.
Again the computer wailed, “Ohhh, yeeeesss,” followed by a long scream.
Goon’s face was beat-red and if I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn smoke was chugging out of her ears. Feigning exhaustion, I let myself slump back on the bed and buried my face in a pillow. Goon was livid. She yelled,
“Which one of you Cretans did this? Fess up now and I might go easy on you!”
I swallowed peals of laughter and made sure I was stone-faced when I rose from the bed again. Just as she finished the sentence, the computer wailed,
“Oh, SO gooood! Oh! Don’t stop! Don’t stoooppp! Yeeessss!”
Goon glared at me and I knew I was going to lose my composure.
“You’re behind this, aren’t you, Emmaline? You’ve been trouble since day one!”
I held my stomach like I was going to hurl and ran for the bathroom. I stood there for some time, splashing cold water on my face and fighting back a good belly-laugh, knowing that many wars had been won tonight.
When I returned to the room, I retrieved my list and crossed off ‘Confusion.’
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