Art: Take Me With You by Austin R Beck-Doss
Story by Riley Ann
The walls were talking again. I tugged my chair closer to the table and tried to think of a song, any song, to drown their muffled chatter. Edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greet me. I could almost smell the shampoo of Briana’s hair, feel her braids slip between my fingers.
“Here we are, Alice.” Jackie clattered the tray in front of me. “And how are we today?”
I considered telling her about the walls, but she just smiles back at me before sliding the next tray off the cart and sliding it in front of Lloyd. “Wake up, Lloyd. Time for lunch!” She pushed the cart to the next table and chirped smalltalk at them.
The whispers crescendoed behind me, still indistinguishable but more fervent. Small and white, edelweiss… My mashed potatoes were lukewarm and the fish was tasteless and cold. No longer a murmuring, or even buzzing. They were hissing at each other. Each bite of fish slid down my throat in cold grease as the whispers rang in my ears like a screaming swarm of cicadas, cutting through the air. Piercing. Deafening. I looked at Lloyd, drooped over his plate concentrating on the green beans rolling off his fork. Other tables, the same. Hunched backs, some chattering, all oblivious. The screaming burned my eardrums. I dropped my fork and covered my ears, but the sirens reverberated so loudly, I felt my skull cracking between the force of my hands.
I shoved my chair away from the table and tripped past tables of people slurping and chewing like cows in a stanion, and I ran out the cafeteria, down the hall, past the welcome station, and I didn’t stop until the aviary. I collapsed on the cool leather sofa, my chest heaving and head aching, and stared at the white ceiling as my ears adjusted to the pregnant silences between the birds’ pipings. Small and white, clean and bright, you look happy to meet me. I could smell the talcum powder and rose lotion on her skin, her laughter tinkling like bells, the curl of her feathery eyelashes. I reach out to touch her, to feel my fingers comb through her hair.
Briana disappears and I’m back on the couch, birds laughing. Hattie sat on the couch, facing me. “Alice, are you feeling ok?” She took me in with her deep brown eyes.
“Fine, I feel fine.” I clasped my fingers in my lap.
She didn’t respond at first. “I saw you running past the welcome station. Jackie said you didn’t eat hardly anything off your plate. Would you like some yogurt? Or maybe an apple?”
I laugh. “I don’t need an apple.”
She kept studying me. “Well it looks like maybe you could use a rest. Why don’t we go to your room and lie down for a bit.” She stood and held her palm to me.
I looked at the birds. They’re sneering at me, laughing sounds of derision. I placed my palm in Hattie’s, so smooth and soft, and she braced me as I stood.
When we got to my room she walked to the window. “Looks like rain. Do you want the curtains open or closed?”
“Open.” I sat on my bed.
“Alright. If you’re up by three you can head to the chapel. We’ve got a musician coming today.” She turned, studied me for a moment, saw me searching the wall. “Alright then. We’ll see you soon.”
I waited for the clasp of the door before moving. And they started again. Faint at first, but I was ready. Laughter. Ridicule. Mockery.
“Shut up,” I spat.
Then more of them, louder.
“Shut up shut up shut up!” I lunged at them scraping my nails against the drywall trying to rip them out forever, but as pieces of hard white chalk ripped under my nails and left blood trails on the wall, but they only got more hysterical. They surround me, swallow me in their whirling sounds like waves pushing me to the bottom of the ocean and I can’t breathe but the smell of roses and talcum powder chokes me and I’m drowning in her long brown hair and her laughter shimmers over me and there’s so much blood everywhere, blood in her hair, the blood that stains forever on the white bedsheet flapping on the clothesline, but the house is empty, emptier than it’s ever been and she’s gone forever and my ribs crack under the weight of this loneliness. Take me with you. Take me with you. Please, take me with you.