A Danger to Herself and Others(3)

Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Light as a feather…

When I say the words out loud, they echo off the ugly brick walls like a beacon, bringing Dr. Lightfoot along with them. That’s not her real name. Her real name is Priya Charan (she introduced herself to me when we met, obviously), but I call her Lightfoot because she wears ballet slippers, and they tap tap tap across the linoleum floor with every step she takes. And I don’t mean stylish ballet flats, the kind you can get at J. Crew, the sort that Audrey Hepburn made famous and fashionable. I mean, this doctor literally wears ballet shoes. They’re not even nice ballet shoes, like the kind professional dancers wear. These are the sort of plain slippers parents give to little kids taking their first ballet class.

These slippers have no laces and no soles. They have no sharp or heavy parts. They can’t be used as weapons. Dr. Lightfoot wears them because they make her feel safe around girls like me.

Which, I have to tell you, is absurd. Not because I wouldn’t try anything (I can’t make any promises—who knows what being trapped in a room could drive a person to do?), but because Dr. Lightfoot always brings a clipboard with my file clipped to it and a pen with her, just like the man who asked my name when I arrived here. Maybe it’s the same clipboard. I asked to see my file the first time she came to see me, and she held it out in front of her so I could only see the first page.

Now those items—the clipboard, the pen, even the heavy file—could be useful, if you were interested in that sort of thing.

Which is why Dr. Lightfoot never comes to see me alone.

“Who’s that?” I asked on the first day. Or maybe it was the fifth day. Or the tenth. Like I said, I haven’t been keeping track. Anyway, it was the first time Dr. Lightfoot made an appearance, so I’m guessing it was at the beginning of all of this.

“That’s my colleague Stephen,” she answered, gesturing to the enormous man standing in the doorway with his arms crossed like a bouncer at the hottest club back home in the city. When Dr. Lightfoot is here, the door stays open, but Stephen is so big that he blocks any light that might come in from the hallway, along with any chance of seeing my fellow inmates (patients? prisoners?) who might be walking in the hallway. Or any chance of them seeing me.

“What’s he doing here?”

“Observing,” Dr. Lightfoot answered. “He’s a student.”

I sighed. It’s not like I thought they’d have the best doctors in the world at a place like this, but I’m surprised they put someone as incompetent as Lightfoot in charge of my case. It’s bad enough that she keeps me locked in this room all day, which definitely wouldn’t be good for my sanity if I were actually mentally ill. But even I know that doctors like her are supposed to gain their patients’ trust. Which is pretty hard to do when her answer to one of the first questions I ever asked was a bald-faced lie.

It was true that Stephen was observing, but it was a lie that he was here to learn something. He was here to keep an eye on me. He was here so Dr. Lightfoot wouldn’t have to be alone with me.

Because I’ve been labeled a danger to herself and others. Another phrase that floats through my head. Though not in Agnes’s voice. Agnes wouldn’t have said that because no one ever said that about me before they brought me here. And by the time they brought me here, Agnes had a tube stuck down her throat, so she couldn’t have said anything anyway.

I don’t hear this particular phrase in anyone’s voice because I never heard it at all. I saw it written on the first page of my file when Lightfoot held it out to me.

My name was typed at the top of the page: Hannah Gold.

Beneath that was my date of birth, my address in New York, my medical history (strep throat at eleven, tonsillitis at thirteen).

And beneath that were two bullet points:

? Hold for observation.

? Patient may pose a danger to herself and others.

“So that’s why I’m stuck in this room?” I asked. “Because you think I’m dangerous?”

“You’re in this room for your own safety.” I was already sick of Lightfoot’s dull, monotonous voice.

“And the safety of others,” I added. Lightfoot didn’t respond.

Patient may pose a danger to herself and others.

I always hated when people said maybe, maybe not in answer to a question. What an absurdly redundant, completely unnecessary expression. Maybe is maybe not. There’s no reason to say both. Saying I may pose a danger to myself and others is also saying that I may not.

I sigh and pace the room in perpendicular lines. Just because I’m stuck in here is no reason to forgo exercise. I will not get fat. My muscles will not atrophy down to nothing. These people will not keep me still and pump me full of food like they do to the girls with eating disorders down the hall. Or anyway, the girls I imagine are down the hall. I haven’t actually seen any other patients yet, but sometimes I hear doors opening and closing, hear muffled female voices rising and falling as they approach then pass the door. More than once, I’ve heard one girl or another yelling, though the walls are too thick for me to make out exactly what they’re yelling about. Maybe they don’t want to take their medication. Or maybe they’re complaining about the locks on the doors. (I assume all the doors have locks like mine.) Or maybe they’re protesting being here at all. They didn’t come here calmly and quietly like I did. Of course, the other patients are here because there’s actually something wrong with them. I’m only here because of a misunderstanding, so there’s no need for me to panic.

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