State Hospital ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
He slept for a long time and when he awoke he didn’t know where he was. He was in a bed with a blanket and sheet folded over his chest, wearing pajamas that belonged to somebody else. When he tried to raise himself, he saw that his wrists were tied to the bed frame with short, leather-like strips that allowed him to move only about six inches in any one direction. He didn’t like being tied down—he saw himself dying in a fire—and called out for somebody to come and help him but no one came.
The room was small and besides the bed there wasn’t much in it; only a metal cabinet near the bed. The walls were covered with green tiles, each one about four inches square. He began counting the green tiles that he could see from the bed; he had counted to thirty-seven when the door opened and a man in a white doctor’s coat entered the little room. He carried a clipboard and wore a striped tie peeking out of the white coat.
“Hello. How are you?” the man in the white coat said. “I’m Dr. Meacham. And what is your name?”
“I bet you already know my name,” the man in the bed said. “I bet you have it written on that clipboard.”
“Maybe I want to hear you say it.”
“All right, I’ll say it. My name is Christopher Spiller.”
“That’s what it says right here on my clipboard.”
“Now I have something I want to hear you say.”
“What is it?”
“Why are my wrists tied to the bed?”
“It’s for your own protection.”
“How do you mean?”
“You’re just waking up from treatment. We secure the wrists of patients who receive a particular kind of treatment.”
“What kind of treatment?”
“Treatment that will eventually make you better.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“If there isn’t, we’ll find out.”
“How long will it take to find out there’s nothing wrong with me?”
“That all depends, doesn’t it?”
“Depends on what?”
“Lots of things.”
“The words come out of your mouth, but they don’t really mean anything, do they?”
“Tell me your age. How old are you?”
“I bet you already know that, don’t you?”
“Just answer the question, please.”
“Twenty-three. How old are you?”
“So, you’ve passed through your thirties and now you’re working on your forties. I’ll bet you have a wife, don’t you?”
“It doesn’t matter if I do or not.”
“No, I think it’s interesting.”
“Well, then, the answer is no, I don’t have a wife. I had a wife and we got divorced. No more questions about me, please.”
“Whatever you say. You’re the boss, especially since I’m tied up and can’t move.”
“Do you know where you are?”
“I’m in a bed.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“I’m in a bed in a hospital on planet Earth.”
“How long have you been in the hospital?”
“I think I’ve been here about two years if I remember correctly.”
“My notes say you’re been here two months.”
“Yeah, a long time.”
“How do you feel?”
“A hundred years old.”
“You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
“I’ll feel better when I’m no longer tied to the bed.”
“A nurse will come along soon and take you back to your room.”
“And untie me?”
“Yes, and untie you.”
“Speaking of my room, I don’t like my roommate. I think he might be insane. Can’t I have a room to myself?”
“We don’t have any single rooms. All our rooms are for two.”
“How cozy. At home I always had a room to myself.”
“We all have to make certain adjustments.”
“Do you want to hear the story of how I came to be here?”
“I think we might save that for…”
“I lived with my parents. There are certain advantages to living with your parents, of course, but it also means you don’t have as much privacy as you’d like.”
“It’s usually a good idea, after a certain age, to live apart from your parents,” Dr. Meacham said.
“Especially my parents.”
“Why especially your parents?”
“They’re Christian fundamentalists. They belong to a fundamentalist religious sect. I’ve had a secret that I’ve kept hidden from them since eighth grade. They should have known my secret, but they never picked up on it, because, well, that’s just the way they are. They aren’t even aware of themselves, so how could they be aware of me?”
“Okay, so they found out your secret?”
“Well, my secret is to their way of thinking the worst thing there is. They believe there is no greater sin.”
“Well, my parents were gone for the weekend. They weren’t supposed to be back until Sunday night. I invited a friend over to spend the night with me Saturday night. His name was Raphael. He and I had been seeing each other for a while and things were going well between us. So, the two of—me and Raphael, Raphael and I—were in my bedroom with the door closed. Now, you have to understand, my bedroom—especially with the door closed—is supposed to be private. Don’t you think a closed door would suggest privacy?”
“Yes, I see what you mean.”
“Well, my parents returned unexpectedly on Saturday night, twenty-four hours before they were expected. They could have called to let me know they were coming home early, but that would have spoiled the fun, now, wouldn’t it?”
“You think they did it on purpose?”
“Of course they did! So, Raphael and I were alone in my room. There was no reason to believe we were not alone in the house and, then, the door to my room burst open—pow!—and both of my parents—both of them!—were standing at the foot of the bed looking at us.”
“What did they do?”
“My mother clapped her hands over her mouth and started screaming and speaking in tongues. She said she saw Satan standing over me and that I was going to burn in hell through all eternity. My father just looked at me and vomited on the floor. That’s the effect I always had on him.”
“What did Raphael do?”
“He ran! Can you blame him? Who wouldn’t run?”
“He was embarrassed, of course.”
“Well, they didn’t know what to do with a son as terrible as me. My mother wanted to call the police and have me thrown in jail, but you see, it’s not a crime for two men to be in the same bed at the same time, so she had to come up with a different plan. The next day my father enlisted the aid of his doctor and his lawyer, both Christian fundamentalists like himself, and the four of them—my mother, my father, the doctor and the lawyer—came up with the plan to draw up the papers to have me committed. The idea was not only to cure me and cleanse me, but also to punish me.”
“I see,” Dr. Meacham said.
“So the question is, when are you going to find out there’s nothing wrong with me and let me go home?”
“Back with your parents?”
“No, not there. When I say ‘home,’ I mean some place far away where I can be by myself.”
“Another state? California?”
“Whatever it takes.”
“Well,” Dr. Meacham began slowly, looking down at the clipboard he held, “many questions must be answered before we can think about releasing you. We can’t put a time limit on it. Will it be weeks? Months? We just don’t know. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
“You sound like the Christian fundamentalists.”
“It won’t help you for you to look upon me as your enemy. I want to help you.”
“Really help me?”
“Unlock the door and look the other way as I slip out into the night.”
“Do you think I would be able to do that with a clear conscience?”
“Nobody has to know about it.”
“And what do I tell people when they ask where you are?”
“I don’t care what you tell them because I’ll be gone.”
“Look,” Dr. Meacham said, squinting at his clipboard, “we have an aggressive schedule of treatment scheduled for you for the next six weeks or so. At the end of that time, we’ll re-evaluate your situation.”
“I won’t be here that long.”
Dr. Meacham left and in a little while Nurse Nellie Watson of the continuously trembling head and chin wattles came into the room.
“What can I do for you?” she asked.
He held up his wrists and she unfastened the leather straps.
“I could give you a big kiss for that alone,” he said.
He could have walked down the hallway to his room, but she insisted on pushing him in the wheelchair.
“I’ll give you fifty dollars if you unlock the door for me and look the other way as I disappear like a little puff of smoke.”
“Where would you get fifty dollars?”
“I think I could go as high as seventy-five.”
“Don’t make me have to tie you up,” she said.
His roommate, Victor Hugo, was lying sprawled on his bed, snoring like a buzzsaw. His hospital gown and his bedsheet were down around his ankles.
“See what I have to put with?” he said to Nurse Nellie.
“Things are tough all over,” she said.
She helped him out of the wheelchair and into the bed. She tucked him in like an embittered nanny and turned off the light and left, her crepe souls squeaking on the tile floor.
When he was sure Nurse Nellie wasn’t coming back, he slipped off the bed and crawled underneath. Under his bed was the only place he felt really safe. He would wait under the bed in the dark until somebody else came in: that special someone who might be persuaded to unlock the door and look away as he slipped away into the night.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp