Socio [Short Piece]

You know that it’s wrong.

Trouble is, you don’t understand why this is the case. It’s not that you don’t know right from wrong. You do. They taught you all that, and you parroted it back to them like the obedient child you were. Are. You’re not so far from being a child, really, when you think about it. The thrill is still there, and you feel the same now as you did when you did it for the first time, when you were only five years old.

They said you were cured when they let you out. As far as you’re concerned, there was nothing to cure, but you played along. You’re still playing along now. But you give yourself moments, moments of delicious abandon, of freedom, of allowing yourself to be who you were meant to be. It’s the only way you can act like all the others. If you didn’t give yourself the respite from the constant hustle and bustle of normality, you don’t think you’d be alive right now.

So it’s wrong to do as you do. So what? People do “wrong” every day, don’t they? Even the most stand-up citizens sometimes fudge their tax-returns or ignore the phone when their old mother calls. The world is full of hypocrites, and you’re just one more.

The only thing that sometimes worries you is what will happen if you’re caught. You’re careful, of course. You’re probably the best. Usually, they look like suicides or accidents. And you don’t have a pattern, a ritual. At least, not one that they can discern. You never leave traces of your private ceremonies, and none of the ones you leave to be found seem to have anything in common, on the surface. You’re safe, so far. But what if they catch you one day?

Will you be able to fake remorse? Insanity? Will you be able to be free again? You don’t know, and that is the only fear this great wide world holds for you.

Prisonville

Whoosh

A car drives by, so close to me that I feel the wind it makes buffet me as it blows past. I pull my jacket tighter around me and keep walking. The road’s deserted now that the headlights of the car are gone and its noise is fading away. I miss it a little. I’d tracked that solitary car’s progress from three streets away when it started up in its driveway. There isn’t a whole lot of town here, and you learn pretty quickly to tell where the cars are coming from. I don’t know why, but sound has always traveled particularly far in this place; maybe it’s all the clean mountain air.

Nobody moves here for any reason except the stupid air. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my parents, or my friends’ parents, gush about how clean the dratted air up here is. I’ve heard my husband’s family go on about it, and my friends and my coworkers as well. Everyone loves the air, the air, the air. The clean, mountain air.

Me? I hate this air. I find it oppressive. I feel like it’s closing in on me. Once every couple of months I get a panic attack, and Dr. Greene has to come and inject something in my arm until I calm down. My husband doesn’t get it, but maybe that’s because I’ve never explained it to him. Why should I? He’d laugh, tell me I’m crazy, ruffle my hair in that way I hate and then forget all about me again.

I pass my house again. I’ve been around the block five times already and I don’t feel any warmer than I did when I started. It’s past midnight, and I can’t sleep. As usual. My husband’s still out at the bowling alley with his buddies – well, that’s what he tells me, anyway. I think he’s elsewhere, but I haven’t ever bothered to check. I honestly don’t care about him enough. It’s not like I’ve ever had a relationship with him. We were married two years ago. I’ve known him all my life, of course, just like I know everyone else in this town. If you think your town is small, try to go house by house throughout all of it and see if you know everyone’s names. Can you do that? I can.

I read a book once – or maybe it was a movie, I’m not sure – whatever it was, I remember this place called Stepford, where all the women were exactly the same, programmed to be perfect. That’s what my town is like – everyone’s exactly the same: perfectly nice, perfectly decent, perfectly fair, perfectly dull. Both the women and the men. The only ones who are different are the kids, and they all grow out of it. I don’t know why I’m different, but I just know that I am.

I think I’m the only one in living memory who ever tried to leave this place. But I couldn’t.

Five-Year Old Heart

Martha was hiding in her closet. It was past midnight, and she’d woken up to the sound of Doug smashing his beer bottle in the kitchen. She was only five years old, but she already knew that Doug drank too much beer, that it made him nasty, and that every few nights he felt the need to throw his last bottle down hard and hear it crash. The mornings after he did that, Martha’s mother would clean the shards up quickly, quietly, telling Martha to stay in the tiny hall so she wouldn’t get glass shards in her feet.

Martha knew why her mother cleaned up in the morning. It was because one time, when she hadn’t, Doug woke up and saw the glass all over the kitchen floor. That just put him into a new rage. Martha had hidden in the closet then, too. She’d heard her mother whimper, but just barely, because she herself had been crying so hard.

Tonight, though, she was hiding in the closet for a new reason. Her mother was safely in bed, and Doug never did anything to her at night. He used to come home and fall asleep on the couch, sometimes leaving puke on the floor next to him. But lately, Doug had been coming into Martha’s room. She was so scared of him that even though she tried to sound like she was still asleep, her breathing quickened involuntarily, and Doug would then laugh quietly and move closer.

He’d been coming into her room for a few months, but Martha never told her mother what he did. She didn’t really understand it herself, only that it made Doug happy that she was hurting and frightened. She was only five years old, but she knew that if she fought him, he’d turn dangerous. She’d tried fighting, but he’d smacked her. So she knew to stop. To preserve herself.

This was the first night that she’d awoken before Doug got home. She couldn’t tell time yet, but she knew it was late because her mother was asleep and all the lights were off. So she hid in the closet, waiting for Doug to get back. She thought that maybe, if he didn’t find her in bed, he’d just go away.

She wanted him to go away so badly.

She wanted to tell her mother, but she was scared to. She knew instinctively that there was something wrong about what Doug was doing, and felt it was her fault.

She wanted, with all of her five-year old heart and body, for something very bad to happen to Doug. And that want, that intense need for him to be hurt, frightened her almost as much as Doug himself did.

The Psychiatrist

The psychiatrist worked in her parents’ old apartment. All the old furniture was still present; the heavy wooden cabinets filled with silver platters and goblets that hadn’t been polished in decades; the low couches, uncomfortably padded with thin cushioning, that had been considered luxurious some fifty years ago; the big television that seemed to stick out like a sore thumb in the room. The psychiatrist could almost feel the ghosts of her parents walking around the apartment, grunting as they sat down heavily or groaning as they made their slow way into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Small wonder, then, that she was a bit mad herself.

She didn’t enjoy her work. She despised each and every one of the men, women and children that walked through the door, hating them for their assumption that they were important or that they mattered at all to her. She hadn’t cared for naught but the revenue in years. She’d been embittered, somewhere along the way, and as the years went by she could hardly hold up the pretense of caring. For instance, she now let herself answer her cellphone during sessions. She now let herself get up and make a cup of tea, leaving her patients at the dining room table, where she conducted her sessions, while they drew what she’d instructed them to. She now had to remind herself to occasionally spit out an insincere sympathetic word.

She was frightening to look at. It was just another aspect of her madness, the way she’d dyed her hair a strange shade of orange and had allowed it to grow into a sort of untamed nest atop her head; the way her clothes were several sizes too big, reminding her patients of witch’s robes as they swirled around, swallowing the light in their velvet black folds; the way her eyes were now always unfocused, not managing to stay fixed on the patients’ faces.

She was surrounded by ghosts, and her patients could feel them as well as she did. They didn’t know why they got goosebumps, but they did. They didn’t know why they felt compelled to try to meet the psychiatrist’s wandering gaze, but they did. They didn’t know why they felt compelled to run, leave, jump out the window – but they did. Most never came back.