16. A Bird in His Throat

It had been two weeks since he had seen her—and five days since her call. He'd wanted to visit—he'd told her he would visit—but when he had called, the doctor assigned to her case told him that it wasn't a good idea.

"The new guests," she had said, "need time to adapt to their new surroundings. We find that reminders of the outside world only impede this process. We'd ask you not to visit or to call for at least four weeks. It's in her best interest."

"But she's only going to be there for four weeks," Drew objected.

"Thirty days," the doctor corrected him, irrelevantly, "is the standard observation period. That, we've found, is the minimum stay advisable if we're to have any hope of diagnosing and beginning a course of medication. Whether or not she will be eligible for discharge at the end of that period will of course depend on the recommendations of her doctors."

"Meaning you."

"Myself among others, yes."

He had been too stunned by this information to say anything more. She might not be released after a month? That was not what they had been told. They had been told one month. Six months if she had to be admitted involuntarily, but only one if she went of her own free will. That had been the agreement.

But she had not exactly gone of her own free will. She had been drugged. He had drugged her.

That day, he had driven home, so Miranda could pack some things, though she still refused to go. Sheila paced impatiently, then threw up her hands and attacked the stacks of dirty dishes. They had ordered a pizza and eaten in silence. Sheila fell asleep on the couch, and Drew had been about to carry her to bed, before remembering where and when he was. The drugs must have been affecting him. He woke her and offered her the spare room—Miranda's room. Sheila denied that she had been sleeping, then fell asleep again. Drew and Miranda sat whispering over her.

"Do you feel anything?" she asked, looking around the room, suspicious of reality.

"I don't know," he admitted.

They giggled like two teenagers getting stoned for the first time, waiting for something to happen, not sure whether they would be more disappointed or relieved to admit that it hadn't worked.

"Still think I'm crazy?" she asked.

"I don't know. Still crazy?"

Silence fell. But it was a comfortable silence, without urgency. Across the room his PDR rang and he realized dully that he had not finished his stories that afternoon, had gone off without telling anyone he was leaving or why. It did not seem to matter much.

"So why did you two split up, anyway?" asked Miranda.

"I don't know," he said. He didn't know, couldn't remember. He was having a hard time marshaling his thoughts. He laughed. Maybe he had no thoughts to marshal.

The next day he had woken to a timeless afternoon and an empty apartment. A note from Sheila: "We took a cab." Nothing more than that, not even a signature—the terseness a criticism.

So it had worked. The magic pill had done the trick.

He was too muddle-headed himself that day to draw any parallels, to ask himself if the pill had done to her what it was doing to him. He felt a quivering tightness in his jaw; he was grinding his teeth. The tightness in his jaw was connected, as though by a rope of nerves, to a tightness in his groin. He felt the twitching tension of the onset of a yawn tickling the back of his mouth, but he could not yawn. His eyes watered, his fingers felt thick and clumsy, and his blood soupy. He called work, told Glynda he was ill, and went back to bed, where he loitered just outside sleep for hours. Red, orange, and black pixels arranged and rearranged themselves on his retina like self-organizing colonies of bacteria. He kept hearing voices, just below the threshold of audibility, as if his dreams were happening without him. He felt a bird in his throat, a little parasite that lived by combusting the noxious exhalations of his unhealthy heart; and when other people spoke to him, he saw the same flames burning in their throats, casting flickering shadows across the cave-walls of their mouths; and he tried to tell them that they were not well, but no one would listen, they didn't believe him, they told him to mind his own business.

Had that little pink pill given him a taste of what it was like to be insane, or only a taste of what it was like to be on antipsychotics?

He tried to imagine the effect of such a drug on someone genuinely mad. Did the pharmaceutical madness somehow cancel out the physiological madness—the way amphetamines calmed a hyperactive child? Or did the induced madness merely overpower the resident madness? Perhaps the only way to subdue a madperson was to make them mad in a way you understood and could control.

He wondered, if Sheila had woken him that morning from his queer dreams, and told him that it was time to catch a cab to the mental hospital, whether he would have objected, either.