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We Set the Golden Rod on Fire.
It started with a key. All good stories start with a key, and what’s a dream except a good story?
It ended with her scream. Good stories don’t end with screams, I suppose it means it isn’t over yet.
We ran through the empty halls before the sun rose. We lay on the roof over the porch as the sun rose and were back in bed as soon as it was over. There was no scream, I guess that means it’s over.
I can’t believe it’s over.
We were standing in a field of tall yellow flowers and they were burning.
I woke with a start, jumped from my bed and made it five feet down the hall before remembering. He’s dead. He can’t listen to your dreams anymore, He’s dead.
They say I keep forgetting because I’m sad and I don’t want to remember, but I don’t think I’m sad, I think I just forget.
I trudge back to my room and went back to sleep.
It started with a key….
“I have always lived in this place, always known these walls, these doors, these stairs and roofs and always known the secrets...The other people here don’t like me ‘cause I wear long skirts and don’t brush my hair, they think I’m crazy because I don’t get cold and I don’t get hot and they don’t like me because I don’t care that I’m here, and they think I’m weird because I don’t know who I am, they think I’m crazy because I don’t care.
He liked me, but that's over, because He’s dead.”
“The death of your best friend-” she started.
“People die all the time, and this is a hospital,” I cut her off.
“This isn’t a hospital it's a school, Kate,” said the lady with the long nose.
“That’s not my name,” I said, “and last week you said it was a home.”
The lady was tall and pale. She wore blue every day and she was so tight. Tight hair, tight lips, tight voice, tight skirt, tight squint. She never spoke to me like I was human. She never looked at me like a friend. She looked at me tightly, like an experiment. Like I was kept in a labeled jar, soaking in a transparent life soup. She had a lid on me tightly, letting me stew till the next week when she could come and pull me out again, sit me in her chair and decide if I had crazied up or down.
“Kate, you’ve been here as long as anyone,” I could feel the condescension creep back into her voice.
“I have always lived in this place, always known these walls, these doors, these stairs and roofs and always known the secrets.”
“Yes, You’ve said that already.” She was getting annoyed with me. Last time we talked for almost five minutes before I heard that flavor of her voice.
“But you didn’t listen.” I pulled hard on two long pieces of my hair.
“I always listen Kate,” she said changing her tone.
“You hear me but that’s different from listening.”
The woman with the long nose sighed again. She thinks I’m crazy too.
“How about we’re done for the day?” she asked gathering up all her papers. I didn’t want to go (I liked the lady with the long nose even if she never listened) but I knew it wasn’t a question so I ran off.
“Goodbye,” she called. Goodbyes are stupid. I thought. She sent me away, not that I care but- oof. I smashed into a boy, a big boy, he must be the replacement. Because He’s dead. I scooted around the boy and ran down the hall to our roof, my roof. Because He’s dead. Maybe I am sad. Because He’s dead.
I was watching them from an archway. Not in an archway mind you. On. He and I used to always climb the arches and watch them go by. With their perfect hair and shiny smiles and playful chatter, completely oblivious to the fact that they had problems. He knew He had problems and that's why we liked each other. I’m not crazy but if you don't have problems you don’t get to be here…. Why am I here? I don’t remember, I’m not crazy.
I knocked on His door that night and the other boy opened it. The big one, the one from before.
“You’re not Him,” I told the other boy.
The boy shrugged and stared at me.
“This isn’t His room any more,” I told the other boy
The other boy shook his head.
“Because He’s dead right?” I asked the other boy.
“They say I keep forgetting because I’m sad and I don’t want to remember, but I don’t think I’m sad...I think I just forget.”
He blinked and nodded. I stood there in my torn white nightgown and he stood there in a ratty blue bathrobe.
“Do you talk?” I asked.
“Not when there’s nothing to say.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and stood standing there, wiggling my toes on the cracked and frosty stone.
“Are you cold?” He asked after a few minutes. We don’t have glass in the windows in the hallways. I probably should be cold.
“I’m cold,” he said.
“Do you want to come inside?” he asked.
He scratched his ear.
“I’m cold,” he said
“So you said,” I said
He scratched his other ear. “Can I go inside?”
He waited. I think he wanted me to leave first or say goodnight or goodbye or whatever people say when they’re leaving. I don’t like goodbyes.
“If you really cared you wouldn’t be leaving,” I blurted out.
He had already closed the door.
I had a key to His room, I didn’t need a key to the other boy’s room so I gave it back.
“People say you’re crazy,” the boy said bluntly as I handed it to him.
“I’m not crazy,” I said. I studied his face trying to see if he was anything like Him.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes,” I said and turned around as if to leave. “People don’t say you’re rude,” I said, turning back to him, “but they should, cause you are.”
“I’m sorry,” said the boy. “I didn’t think you’d care.”
“I don’t care. I don’t care about anything.”
“Then why are you mad?”
“I’m not mad. Do you want to watch the sunrise with me?” I don't think I meant to ask him that, but I do think I’m glad that I did.
We ran through the empty halls before the sun rose. We lay on the roof over the porch as the sun rose and were back in bed as soon as it was over.
It wasn’t the same with the other boy, seeing the other boy there and not Him there made me sad. I don’t want to be sad. I want to forget.
“What’s your name?” the boy asked suddenly stopping the slow methodical scratching of his left forearm.
“My name is the thing that people call me,” I said staring at the dried out fountain he was standing in.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know.” I was draped across two branches of a gnarled cherry tree that must be hundreds of years old. It’s branches covered most of the garden we were in, and stretched over the wall into the next. I lay there a lot thinking about who might have climbed it before me. I imagine if I had owned any books I would have read up there too. I like to read. I think.
The boy began picking the petals off of a slightly withered flower. He looked like a little girl playing the old game. As if he were saying...
He loves me
He loves me not
He loves me
He loves me not
“My name is Patrick,” he said throwing the stem of the flower in the patchy grass. I rolled over, staring through the lattice of leafless branches at the sky. It was so pale it looked like stiff blue curtains. Curtains left in the sun too long, clouded and washed out.
“You know, in case you were wondering.” The boy said
“I wasn’t, but ok.”
He picked up another flower….
He loves me
He loves me not
He loves me
He loves me no-
“So how old are you?” the boy, Patrick, asked.
“Same as everyone. Older than I used to be, younger than I will be, Stop asking questions,” I said, watching a long legged spider crawl across my foot. When I looked down again the boy was gone.
The days started passing more slowly. I spent many days with Patrick in almost complete silence. Reliving my past inside my head, using my memories as a way to see Him again, but remembering was never my strong suit and as the cold I never felt turned slowly to the heat I never felt, I began to forget.
It started with the small things, with numbers. How many curls he had on his head, how many sunrises we watched together, how many dreams we exchanged. As the heat turned back to cold, I couldn’t remember all of our jokes, our names, our secrets. I forgot exactly what shade His hair was and whether his eyes were blue-green or green-blue, and soon the perfect memories I could recreate with sounds and smells and pictures muddled together into a long stream of depressed fun. I was starting to forget and part of me went with those memories of Him.
I climbed up the steep slope of the turret, hands and feet like a cat. Our buildings are stone and brown and full of secrets.
I have always lived in this place, always known these walls, these doors, these stairs and roofs and always known the secrets.
From up here, the top of the top you can see everything, all the colonnaded gardens, all the walkways, plants, wings and buildings of our dilapidated ‘home’.
“Oy, how long have you been here?” shouted the boy, Patrick, who was walking precariously along the ridgepole behind me.
“I have always lived in this place,” I shouted back. “Always known these walls, these doors, these stairs and roofs and always known the sec-”
“You’ve said that a million times, I meant here, this roof, this afternoon.” His voice was faint though he was only six feet away, I hadn’t realized he’d been following me. He does that a lot, I wonder what his problem is.
“Stop asking me questions, I can’t remember stupid things like that.”
I reached the very top of the turret and swung myself around holding onto what might have once, a very long time ago, been a flagpole. Of course there was no flag on it now. Having a flag would obviously require some sort of colour.
The boy, Patrick climbed slowly up next to me and gripped the pole with both hands, his eyes on my, and very carefully not on the ground. I giggled, wind whipping, hair whipping, skirt whipping.
“You- you look very comfortable,” said the boy, Patrick.
“We used to come up here all the time,” I shouted over the wind. Maybe there was no wind, maybe I made that up. I like wind. I think.
“Me and Him, We.”
“The one who died?”
“....Yes. I- I don't know how.”
“Suppose that's normal, this being a hospital, and, everything.”
“This isn’t a hospital it’s a school, a home, an institution a… a care center,” I said in my best lady-with-the-long-nose voice.
“An academy,” said the boy, Patrick with a laugh, ” an establishment, a seminary, a system, an association, a foundation…”
He continued. I think it’s because of the wind but I’m crying now. Sliding down into a seated position I bury my head in my arms and he trails off.
“An asylum?” I whispered. “I’m not, crazy, I’m not, not crazy.”
“You sure about that?” he asks. Again.
There was Patrick, seated on a wall. I ran toward him tripping over the uneven ground and broken cobblestones. He must have heard me sobbing because he turned and jumped down from the wall. I flung myself at him, knocking him over. I don’t think we’d ever touched before.
“Kate!” He said alarmed grabbing my shoulders and pulling me into a hug.
“Patrick,” I sobbed. “Patrick I have to get out of here, I have to get out…”
“Sush, calm down.” I think I was scaring him but I didn’t care.
“I’m going crazy Patrick, I’m going crazy, I need to get out.” I stared up at him through my tangle of hair as he blinked, and blinked and blinked.
“What’s the matter. I thought-” I could feel my insides tearing apart and couldn’t look at him.
“This place is killing me Patrick, I have to get out….” And he didn’t say anything, and I just cried, and he still didn’t say anything and I still just cried.
“I need to get out,” I said softly. And he held my head very gently, and looked me in the face.
“I can’t remember His name,” I sobbed grabbing his wrists. “He was all I had and now He’s gone and I can’t remember, I can’t remember His name.”
I could feel my legs giving out and I could feel him guiding me slowly down, but I can’t remember hitting the ground, and I can’t remember leaving him all I remember is the storm.
I threw open the shutters on my window, exposing my room to the power of the stinging rain. Kneeling on my bed I could taste it whipping through the room and gathering in puddles on the floor. I could hear it collecting in my hair and see it running down my back. It soaked through my clothes and into my mattress and all across the mountains outside and I felt it reach the ocean.
I don’t know when I was joined by Patrick, or what time it was when we left. I can’t remember if it was still raining, I can’t remember if we ran or walked, but I know that the force required to turn our heads and the energy to look back was far more than we were willing to exert.
We awoke in a field of tall yellow flowers and Patrick lit a match.
We set the Golden Rod on fire.
And we laughed.