Voices and laughter outside in the street. He tiptoed to the bedroom door and watched Denise's sleeping form for signs of disturbance. But she slept soundly. In his wakefulness, her stillness seemed strange. How odd, the way animals go into hibernation every night. And how dangerous, with predators prowling past one's den.
He went out on the balcony. The rain had stopped. The rain had stopped but the streets were empty. He was the only one awake, the only one alive, the only one who knew. The dripping, tinkling silence occupied all of space, as if comprised of countless tiny micro-silences extending infinitely. The drooping telephone wires glistened beneath the streetlights, the drops of water strung upon them glowing like orange candies. Above the buildings, in the distance, through the mist, he could make out the smeared lights on Green Rock Mountain, and the sight made him want to cry. He inhaled; the air was clean, and it washed clean his lungs, scouring his unused corners of all the grit that weighed him down. He went back inside.
He could not get the words "broken the yolk" out of his head. They kept coming back, furtively, sneaking into his awareness. Like an earworm. Why did songs get stuck in your head? Why had he so little control over his thoughts? Why did some words leap at him, as if printed in italics? Why all the significance?
Back inside with the balcony door shut, he could hear the voices again. They must be nearby; they must have seen him step out, must have been watching from across the street. Now, while good people slept, they resumed their loud snickering and gabbing.
He searched for a cigar, then remembered that he'd thrown his away. He rummaged in the dark for Denise's cigarettes and a lighter.
He held the smoke in his lungs and listened. Was there one, or were there two of them? One voice was definitely audible, though the words were not distinguishable. Then there were pauses, silent or almost silent. Then laughter, and the first voice could be heard replying. Maybe he was talking on the phone. Maybe he was crazy.
Just because two people shared the same mad ideas did not mean they shared the same madness. You could not transmit madness from one person to another. Madness wasn't contagious.
Well, that was Trilling's opinion—Mike's opinion, rather. And what did Mike know? He wasn't a doctor. He wasn't a psychiatrist. He was a writer of science fiction. He made things up for a living. He was a professional paranoiac.
Good thing madness wasn't contagious, or Mike's book would be outlawed as a dangerous risk factor, a potential trigger!
But no: Mike's book, which claimed madness wasn't contagious, would act more like a prophylactic.
Slowly, his thoughts growing like plants, he allowed himself to consider the worst. Perhaps Dr. Suzanne Thomas did not spend enough time with Miranda to make a proper diagnosis. Perhaps Dr. James Thomas, from professional solidarity, supported the diagnosis, without ever having met the patient. Perhaps the police were wrong and Miranda had not been sleeping in public. Perhaps the pink pill had only stupefied her and made her docile. Perhaps she had been wrongly committed to a mental hospital, against her will, thanks to the ineptitude of officials and the ignorance of her parents. Alright. Assume all that is true. She will be out again after a month—two weeks now. They will recognize that she is sane, and they will have to let her go. They are professionals. It is their job to discriminate between the insane and the merely rebellious, the confused, the fucked-out. They are doctors. They know. They must know.
But that was not the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario was that she would not be released at the end of the month. The real worst-case scenario was that she really was mad.
Mad in both senses: both angry and crazy. How else could he explain the call?
"You've got to get me out of here. I can't stay here, I don't belong here, they're taking me apart. They're taking apart my insides. Drew, you've got to come and get me out of here."
He could not remember what he had said.
"Dad, is that you? That is you, I think. Christ, my voice is all hoarse and crackly. But I think you know who this is. And is this who I think it is is what I'm wondering. You can tell me now, I can wait a few seconds."
She was talking so quickly, she sounded as though she were talking to herself.
"I can't tell your voice. I guess you're on sill. It would be nice if you could switch over because otherwise I can't tell that it's you. You can be anybody. If you do switch over, that's great, but if you can't, I can't stop talking, I've got to make it look believable. If you sound cheerful they leave you alone. The two commandments around this place: smile, and clean up your plate. Just like in the real world, except that talking to yourself is par for the course. Yes it is, Carla, now just mind your own business, remember? But not too cheerful, that's being manic. Whatever you do, just don't get aggressive, or that's good for three hydrops easy. I'm going to assume you're still there and that you're still you."
I can't switch over to voice right now, Miranda. I'm in a meeting.
That had been a lie. Why had he lied? He'd been afraid of the greater intimacy of voice, perhaps.
But it is me. You called me, remember.
"That's what I thought but really you never know. I wasn't sure if I remembered it, for one thing, and then, I guess I remembered it. But I'm going to tell you something and I'm going to tell it to you cheerfully. It's important so you've got to listen hard, listen with all your fingers and all your toes. I bet you don't remember saying that. I've got to keep going, otherwise they catch up to you. I've got to make it sound like I'm just talking to myself. They're so fucking hungry to confirm their theories, they keep asking and asking and asking, are you hearing voices, you're not hearing voices are you? Well now I'm a good little schizoid, I'm hearing voices, I'm hearing your voice, Dad! I borrowed, let's say borrowed, a pee aitch oh en ee from one of the visitors here, he won't miss it for a few more minutes I don't think. But that's why the mushrooms soak up all the dinosaur juice, that's why the mountains that are outlined in the swelling of the oxygen are beautiful, it's because I've got to sound crazy girl talking to herself or they'll know something's up. I'm guessing you're still listening but every once in awhile it'd maybe be helpful if you'd make some sort of noise. That's your cue, hey."
I'm here. I'm still here. I'm listening.
"You've got to get me out of here, Drew, with your grease pliers. I don't belong here, I shouldn't be here. Everyone here is and this is going to come to you as a surprise I'm sure but everyone here is out of their fucking gorgon. I can't function here is what I'm trying to express. The drugs—well, I won't say it out loud, I've got to be extry extry careful, but don't worry about them. I can't do anything about the hydrops, all the new people get them as far as I can tell, but they're taking me apart, Drew. They take apart my insides and I can't handle it. I won't even say what it's like, cheerful, cheerful, aquamarine timetable. You've got to get me out of here. You're talking like a lunatic. That's what the voices say to me. Go howl at the moon. But am I or am I not correct in my assumption that as a reporter you would be interested to know that they're taking all that stuff out of me?"
He listened. Tiny micro-beads of silence rolling over each other like pebbles on a beach after the wave recedes.
Denise's sleepy, vexed voice came again: "Is that you, Doopy?"
He crept to the bedroom door. "Did you hear them?"
A pale arm lay across her eyes. "Are you watching TV in there?"
"Don't be silly." He listened. "There. That's what you heard." Laughter, echoing from the alley across the street. "Isn't it?"
"IthoughtIheard," she muttered through a yawn, "you talking to the TV ..."
Incredible. He who had taken such care to tiptoe like a prowler, he was to be blamed for disturbing her sleep?
He threw open the window and cried, "Shut the fuck up!"
The voices were not heard again that night.