Today's Reading

I have the power to send you somewhere where there will be bars on your window instead of straps on your bed. That's what he's really saying. Play nice, open up to me, let me inside your mind, and you can climb up the ladder until one day, blue sky and blazing sun will be the only things hanging over your head.

What Dr. Petersen doesn't understand is that I'm not safe. Whether I'm here or in prison, not even if I'm free. It doesn't matter where I am. I'm not safe. A darkness infinitely more potent than his bureaucratic intimidation hovers. Makes this puppetry a ludicrous sideshow.

And he just wouldn't understand. So why the hell should I play his game?

He sees the thought shining clear as day from my eyes and grimaces. Momentarily defeated, he flicks through the sheaves of paper about me—reports, medical notes, facts and figures—and scans for something, anything, to fill the minutes. He's not quite as comfortable with silence as I am. Suddenly, his eyes light up. In response, mine narrow to slits. What has he found?

"I have a release form here," he says, waving a single piece of blue paper in the air for a brief moment. Before I can focus on it, he returns it to the pile. Release form? He has my interest now. There's no hiding it. Victory number two goes to him, and he is not above preening. "I have to sign to say that you are stable enough to be allowed out of this establishment temporarily for the surgery on your right hand to be performed..."

My hand. I look down at where it's folded in my lap, unconsciously shielded from view by my unblemished left. I can't see it, but I can still feel it: the puckered rivets, the rough unevenness of the scars. Slowly I shift position and lightly place a hand on each knee. Stare at the difference.

Left: pale, white skin, fingers long and thin, nails bare and unvarnished but as long as they'll let me keep them. They could be a weapon, after all. They have been, when I've had the chance.

Right: ravaged, red, misshapen, nails missing or twisted. More a claw than a hand. Ugly. Monstrous.

I feel my eyes tear up, and I'm helpless to stop it. My hand.

Petersen's still talking, but I can't hear him. "Heather? Heather, are you listening?"

No.

"For me to sign this, you need to show that you can communicate. That you're rational enough to be allowed out of this establishment for the procedure. You have to talk to me today. It's important." He lifts another document. This one is thick, its multiple pages straining the staple that holds it together. "We're going to go over your statement to the police. What you told them." He pauses as if he's waiting for me to say something, give him permission to go right ahead. "Your own words, Heather. Exactly as you said them. Let's start at the beginning."

The beginning?

I think about it as I cradle my hand. Close my eyes and imagine I'm not here, that I'm flying down the highway, surrounded by my friends. I can almost hear the song blaring from the radio.


TWO

Then

The music erupted out of the speakers, but the smashing drums and high-pitched screech of the lead singer were lost under the cacophony of our five voices, all trying to outcompete one another. The band took over again as the melody twisted and turned its way across the bridge. Then there was a collective intake of breath followed by laughter: none of us knew the words to the verse.

"I love that song!" Emma, flip-flopped feet propped up on the dash, turned around and grinned at Martin, Dougie, and me squashed into the back seat.

"Yeah? Who's it by?" Her boyfriend—Darren—took his eyes off the road to raise an amused eyebrow at her, lips twitching into a smirk.

There was a moment's pause, punctuated by a quiet snort of laughter from the boys on either side of me. I kept quiet. I didn't have any idea, either.

"I don't know," Emma huffed, put out. "It's ancient!"

"It's by Faces," Martin said quietly. "They were Rod Stewart's band before he became famous."

Ah. I'd heard of him.
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