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The Bitterness of Reverie
It’s not my fault, you see, for I cannot be convinced she was even real. The existence of those dreamt-up characters should lie solely in their subconscious lodgings. And yet, how vivid she was-- how real, when at last she came up to my door! Surely if you could see how truly and inexplicably they are disillusioned by her body lying stiff on my floor; it is a trick, and she blinds you with her seeming tangibility. As sure as I am man, she is fantasy. In reality, she is my character. In my head, visions of a woman, thirty or so years old, raced past, simply begging to be written. Her name was Imogen, and she whispered sweet stories into my skull. They were so numerous, so varied, that to keep them bound up my head was a disservice to the tales and a great torture to me. And so I wrote her:
There is no variety, not a single change anymore. Slowly, the life of Imogen Graham has become nothing but a pungent pile of monotony, heaped upon a cold stone floor. I sit, waiting, watching ceaselessly. They try to hide my own mind for me, and so I swallow my freedom each morning and night; half a dozen tiny capsules turn me to putty in their stringent and sterile hands. In my room, I have written on the walls: un semblant d’un chateau, a semblance of a castle. It is a great mystery to me that so few of the inmates understand how cruel it really is to keep us caged here, like animals or experiments, painting this place into some sort of fairytale. Soon, though, it will be over. A singed memory will be all that is left of my time in this prison they call a hospital. Two weeks, that’s all. Surely, I can make it.
The best part, I must say, is that they’ve begun to allow me to grow my hair again. Their myriad reasons for not allowing me to keep it long—fear of lice, or that I would hang myself with it—have been brushed aside for more pressing matters. Green eyes glitter behind a curtain of raven-feathers that pass as fringe, while the rest of the stick-straight mess frames me: I begin to look like myself. Chapped lips part over crooked teeth, almost smiling, but I catch myself and close them. This is a luxury I do not allow for, and so I seal back up, denying myself full freedom of speech even now. Especially now. I must still be careful, continue with marked locution until their guard dissipates completely. Then, and only then, will I sing over the various fallacies intoned these past years.
I wrote that nearly a month ago. A scribbled mess, these things spilled from my pen faster than my hand could move, hardly legible without close examination. This does not upset me. It is not meant to be read, merely written. I cannot explain the urge I felt to pen Imogen’s stories, only that it was so strong that I could not ignore it. She was the best character I had ever written—human enough to have faults, but not a caricature of some misguided archetype. Slowly, arduously, I fleshed out the details of her being and became privy to the inmost details of her backstory. I learned of her youth, the long stretches of time she spent alone, fearing the glare of her brother. I learned of their subsequent estrangement as he sent her to a mental asylum after the death of their father. I saw all these things as lucid moments of memory, nightmares threatening her reality. The walls of her white, sterile room revealed themselves to me, and I saw that they could not be tempted back to their silent purity.
She began to become real to me, in a way. A constant companion, I typed her life as if mine own depended upon it. I weaved her into my being seamlessly, and just as I had done so, she began to change. It was a truly frightening change—and this is why I knew our story had to end. As she neared the end of her sentence, Imogen was becoming restless. She wanted to come home, and for some reason I still cannot say, this made me nervous. I stopped writing about her. Where I had felt the pleasure of release each time I wrote Imogen’s life, in ignoring her tales I was submitted to a pressure so intense, so earsplittingly unbearable could not take it. Her story came spilling out again merely a week ago, this time with a biting heaviness:
My plans grow inside my head, steaming with promise. As I look out of the small window of the cafeteria --or, as they call it, the café-- I am consumed by anxious planning. As soon as I leave—only one week’s time now!—I must first go to my brother. Surely he does not continue residence at our childhood home; he abhorred its grandiose elegance and the luxury that pulled him from his stark ideals. He had similar sentiments toward me. That is precisely why he must be dealt with. As long as the world contains such vermin, its splendor is tainted by their pragmatic obstinacy. What is this world worth, I ask you, if it is not steeped in frivolity every once in a while? He always told me I take my tea with too much sugar, and yet I see no reason that this is dangerous. Bitterness, you know, sometimes requires a bit of sugar to tone it down.
Everyone makes this building out to be a castle, but it is a sham. Bitter as the rest of the world, it is not softened by the pills like the doctors so earnestly promised. They called me crazy here, said they could cure me. How wrong! Had they not oppressed me, maybe all of this would be different. What medication is there that will stop the omnipresent eye of my brother? None, but the death of him. And so I sit here, waiting, watching…
I must continue with my plans. The day I am let out, I will find him. Last I knew, he was in a small flat, second floor, in city miles away from here. It was my last home, a cage where I was seen as a sort of experiment. This apartment will be where I begin my search. No matter where he has moved, I will find my brother. When I do, how sorry he will be! All the sleepless nights I spent waiting for the end of his judgement, the fear I perpetuated in vain: all of this shall be avenged! My brother will not survive his punishment. Singing was never allowed in our Spartan childhood home, but I will sing uninhibited over his lifeless body. When he sinks deep into the ocean, I will smile.
Frightened, I left my home, thinking that a stroll would help relieve me from this abusive character of mine. I trampled down my stairs, cursing as the sixth stair of the ten creaked loudly under my hurried foot. It was not long before my thoughts returned to Imogen, though. If she were not so human, I could have dealt with it. I wondered, is this what all great writers feel? Do their characters invade their minds until it is almost a second personality? It did not help that I drew so heavily on my own past in her creation: my father’s death coincides neatly with hers, and I drew upon my own late sister as both her namesake and doppelganger. Therefore, my worries seemed justified. And yet I cannot be made to believe that Imogen was real. She cannot be.
And yet, the stone cold thing lying on my parlor floor begs to differ, according to the police. They tell me that the blood matted in her hair tells a different sort of story. Her name, they say, is—was—Imogen Graham, and she was released from the Mt. Castle Mental Hospital—nicknamed le château folle by those who work there—just yesterday. The rest of the story, they have mistakenly pieced together using some scrawings of hers and my very fictional story. I see no need for me to reprint any more of my work though; my own words shall suffice to tell you how Imogen appeared and her downfall.
You see, when she was released, I saw it. As I have already stated, this woman has become a sort of burden to me, and so it will come as no surprise to you that I did not wish to see this. But in any case, I saw. I saw as she boarded a bus to her brother’s apartment, walking past sights familiar to me. She was in my neighborhood. I saw her walk up his stairs, and when the fourth from the bottom creaked, the sound was not merely in my head. I stopped writing and felt my hands grip instinctively around the pan I had cooked my breakfast in, but her story rolled on in my brain unthwarted by my attempts to ignore it. As the top of the stairs greeted Imogen, she swallowed hard and turned left. She walked up to the door of her brother’s apartment, fingers wrapped around a palm-sized blade, and knocked. He opened the door, and that is where I lose track.
Everything meshes together, for I was at that moment greeted by my long-dead sister. A reverie, a dream, I tell you! I must have blacked out from all the pressure induced by visions of my character. Perhaps I even had a stroke. My sister has been dead a decade, and so the woman I saw could only have been a fantasy. I began to yell at her, begging her to get out of my head. The pan found its way to her skull, flattened it, and her knife clattered to the ground only a second before she joined it with a thump. Imogen’s story was finally drowned out by my own heavily thumping heart, I ran to my notebook, ripped it up, and threw the pages down over the character on my floor.
Shortly after, authorities arrived and began to try to turn this impossible situation into some sort of logical sequence of events. I have told my story in full here, though, and I intend to stick to it. They call me mad, but they are the mad ones! Now, if they would only leave me alone! It is nearly time for tea, you see, and the water has begun to boil. I simply wish to let it steep till it turns black and feel the liquid burn bitterly down my aching throat.