Anthony Hitchin

An Appointment with the Psychiatrist
 

It is located at the back of the hospital. You have to drive past Accident and Emergency, the main car park, the staff car park, waste disposal and what looks like the back of a mortuary (often, there are gurneys scattered outside). After you have passed a thick bank of trees you are greeted by a security barrier. A disembodied voice crackles static. I remain silent, staring ahead. It is my Wife who speaks into the machine and tells it that I have an appointment. As she gently says my name my stomach ties knots of revulsion. We park. Cough and fidget awkwardly. It is called the Linden Centre, but there are no linden trees. Everybody knows locally what this place is: it is a Mental Hospital. A place for ‘nutters’, ‘mentallers’ and ‘psychos’. Or else malingerers who just can’t ‘cope.’ There is no sound here: it is like steeping out into a vacuum; a different void. Psychic weight hangs heavy, oppressive as grime. It crawls my skin. I ring my fingers feeling unclean. Eyes stare vacantly through windows. A few bodies lay sprawled on the little green outside smoking. It is the dead of winter. Near the automatic doors there are more residents. They are standing upright. Sometimes I see one particular woman who always seems to be holding a bag of piss. At that point we always wonder aloud why the in-patient and out-patients share the same entrance, or why they have to medicate the in-patients so strongly and leave them wandering unsupervised. We conclude that there is not enough money and staff. Every time. The doors slide open and a secretary smiles benevolently. Her tone is soft and mild. My Wife has to say my name again and whom I have an appointment with. I feel like saying ‘I’m not mad’, I am ‘sane and logical’, but realise this will only make me sound more insane and illogical. Instead, I smile amiably and quickly head up the stairs, my Wife trailing me like a shadow. There are pictures on the walls drawn by the mentally ill. They look like they were drawn by the mentally ill and do nothing to reverse stereotypes. One has chips of different, clashing coloured ceramics embedded in it. The entire piece obviously disparate and fractured. We sit on the sofa together in the waiting area. The cushions are thick and deep. Glancing at the clock I hear the feint clicking of hands; there are only minutes to go. Fish are swimming in the tank. Sucking and spitting stones absentmindedly. The sound of the clock grows louder as the minute hand advances. I sit straining my ears; waiting for his foot falls …

 

The Waters of Lourdes
 

I taste your longing … to please me, heal me, as I lay impossible. An obtuse enigma with one savant skill; a single saving grace. Thinking if you peal back the grimy layers you will find true meaning; reasons, knowledge, love … . You cherish all my ‘good’ moments and store them up … out of which you fashion another me. Like a potter with clay, an art student with paper maiche. Can I step into him? Will he take the weight? You see, I try to smile authentically but my facial muscles have become frozen in an anaesthetized rictus; people like to see the whites of teeth as much as they like cheery greetings and firm handshakes. As if expressions and words and social rituals mean anything … . Yet I feel you observing me, analysing all the pieces, trying to read me. Your caress encircles my shoulders placatingly as your tears begin to fall; pure as the waters of Lourdes. Yet all I feel is tumorous swelling …
 
if I could breathe my soul, I would suffocate.

Anthony Hitchin © 2009