“What is SpongeBob anyway?” Rag ‘n’ Bone asked.
I lifted my face from the sudoku puzzle I had been puzzling over for the last five minutes and making as much progress as Donald Trump might and turned to the boy that had asked the question.
In one hand Rag ‘n’ Bone held a cheese and mac sandwich to his mouth and loose strands of pasta that folded out from the corners of the bread that wriggled between the boy’s fingers as though he had made a meal of maggots and slugs. I watched as he brought the odd-looking sandwich to his lips that were glistening with spit and were wide and flabby and reminded me of two fat slugs that were perched upon the edges of the boy’s face. His skin that was glistening against the air and globules of sweat that were beading against his brow with the effort of sitting there as he brought the sandwich to his mouth and began to gorge upon it. His head tilted back and his adam’s apple bouncing up and down as he swallowed, and his neck all distended and buckled and swollen somehow as though a tennis ball had lodged itself within his oesophagus somehow. And I had to look away because the sight of his swollen neck was making me want to yack up.
“It’s a cartoon you fat moron!” Eminem exclaimed from his corner of the room and the boy looking just like his famous namesake in a white boiler suit and tattoos and bleached blonde hair that was spiky and cut short. A red splodge of blood that stained the front of his boiler suit, but the boy didn’t seem to notice, which was odd I thought. Eminem kicked out a leg so that the clasp that was fixed against his ankle rattled in anger.
I shook my head from the corner of the little room where I had remained sitting quietly. The anger that was beginning to boil up from the centre of my tummy.
“Don’t call him a moron!” I snapped and Eminem turned to me and glowered and looked all mean and angry and I couldn’t help myself from giggling at the sight of the big bully thinking he could scare me.
Before Eminem could respond, it was the turn of Bieber to chip in.
“He’s a sponge like the one that I use in the bath…..” Bieber announced from his side of the room and spinning his ankle around and around so that the steel manacle that he wore there made a sharp chime. The boy’s face animated as he spoke and a wild look to his eyes that I didn’t much like the look of. “… and I suck on the edges sometimes when I’m thirsty so that the warm water runs down my throat and I like it cause it tastes all warm and soapy and I reckon I could burp bubbles if I wanted to cause there’s so much soap in the bath and spongey is bobbing away in there and I like him I like old SpongeBob because he feels nice and warm and spongy.” Bieber exclaimed excitedly as he turned to me, his eyes that were missing and two black hollows where his eyes should be and the edges that were ringed with ruined flesh.
I turned away from Bieber and noticed a frown had settled upon Rag ‘n’ Bone ’s brow and the folds of skin that creased against the boys head that reminded me of old Rocky for a moment. How the stupid old mutt had licked at my hand the day the folks in white gowns had taken me away from home and brought me to this place. The silver handcuffs that had been hanging loosely against the guard’s belts and Sister Dixon talking to my mum and explaining that I was not very well and would need to go to hospital for a while so that they could do some tests on me and all that. Eddie smirking to the sides of my mum. And Rocky sat beside me and licking my hand and whining and his tongue that was warm and sticky against my hand.
For a moment I was sure that I was going to curl up into a ball and throw my sudoku book to one side in a mini huff. Pull my knees to my chest and cry until no tears were left behind my eyes. But I couldn’t be bothered. So instead I just kind of sat there in the corner of the room and studied each of the loonies in turn and kind of glowered, but not in a cool Sandra Bullock way.
“What you talking about man?” Rag ‘n’ Bone asked, turning to where Bieber remained on his couch and Rag ‘n’ Bone frowning so that rolls of loose skin folded above his eyebrows. I turned to Bieber who was now kind of twisting and turning and kicking his leg out now and then and twitching his body into weird shapes. The boy’s gaze that was fixed upon the flickering TV and SpongeBob that danced from one side of the screen to the other. And the metal clasp that was fastened about Bieber’s ankle began to jingle and jangle a little and the sound like wedding bells I thought, or maybe the toll that the church bells would play at his funeral. The white boiler suit that he wore looking ten sizes too large on his slight frame. Bieber’s lips opening and closing and that swollen fat tongue in there that wriggled around, and the words all jumbled up. And I realised there’d be no getting any sense from the boy now.
The strange room where we hung out. SpongeBob flickering from one side of the TV screen to the next.
“He’s funny.” Ariana giggled, kicking her feet out from side to side where she lay close to the TV and laying on her belly. Her hands that were lifted so that her chin rested upon her knuckles. “Watch out Patrick,” Ariana exclaimed, giggling a little more and her attention that was fixed upon the flickering multicoloured images on the screen. A look of fear that was suddenly etched against Ariana’s sweet features as she spied Squidward racing up behind Patrick with a water gun and ready to fire. But the stupid squid getting tied up by the water hose somehow so that the blast of water spouted into his own squid face and blasting him up from his tentacles. And how did these guys squirt water under the sea anyway, and lay in baths and swim in swimming pools? And the whole thing was garbage I realised. And the sooner Scooby Doo came on the better.
“How’d the session go with Cruella?” A voice asked to the side of me so that I turned from the TV and the garbage cartoon and studied the pretty girl who was seated upon a rocking chair close by. The chair that was creaking as the girl leaned forwards and backwards so that the wooden legs made a sharp screeching noise against the timber floorboards. The chime of the metal clasp upon the girls left ankle. The girl still studying me. Her beautiful face and perfect blonde hair and eyes that were blue and her lips that were bubble-gum pink. And I had been so close to naming her Lucy that first day I had seen her all those months before. But I didn’t want to curse the pretty girl with that awful name, and so instead I called her Taylor instead.
“Cruella?” I asked. “Oh, Sister Dixon you mean? Same.” I replied, lifting my eyebrows a little and pulling that sideways emoji smile to see if it might convey the right emotion this time, but reckoned it still looked as lame as it had before. I studied my wrists and the metal clasps that were pinching against the skin and the steel chain that ran between the clasps. I kicked out my heel so that the chains that were fastened down there made a rattling sound like a machine gun. And why the hell was I the only one in here that had to where these dumb chains anyway, I wondered? I lifted my face and studied the other loonies that were dotted about the room and the radio tags that were shackled to their ankles but nothing more.
Taylor shrugged her shoulders and kicked out her left leg so that the steel manacle that she wore down there made a sharp screeching call. A wince of pain that I spied upon Taylor’s sweet features as the metal clasp bit down against the skin.
“She still fishing for answers?” Taylor asked, her eyes that appeared to have darkened a little as she studied me so that for a moment, I was sure that she didn’t have eyes at all but two round lumps of coal where her eyes ought to be. And her gaze that settled for a moment upon the steel shackles that I wore about my wrists and my ankles and the sense that she feared me like all the other loonies in here did.
“Yeah.” I replied, recalling the session I had suffered earlier with Sister Dixon and trying my damnedest to recall exactly what we had been speaking about for so long. But the conversation escaping me somehow. Only snippets of words were recalled. And the strangest notion that the nun had hypnotised me somehow. Or placed a curse upon me. Because how the hell could I have forgotten what we had been talking about just ten minutes before?
Taylor brought her lips together and made a sharp hissing sound that reminded me of the sound of sizzling fat upon a fire. I noticed how the girl had leaned forwards a little in the rocking chair and had lowered her right hand towards the electronic tag that was fastened firm against her ankle. The tips of her fingers that were brought towards the skin where the clasp had pinched so that the flesh was swollen and angry looking. The girl’s fingernails that were scratching against the skin again and again. And I reckoned if she continued with that nonsense for too long then she’d be drawing blood and who knew where that might lead. And all the while Taylors eyes that were wide and studying me as though I were a Tiger in the room.
“You need to be careful with Sister Dixon.” Taylor said. Warned. “Be careful what you tell her.” She said.
The sound of SpongeBob singing a playful ditty in the background and the giggling of Ariana where she remained laying upon the multi coloured rug by the TV. The girl’s legs that were kicking out playfully behind her and the rattle of the metal clasp that was fastened about her own ankle. The white overalls that she wore that were creasing against the electronic clasp and the illuminous orange sneakers that she wore upon her feet. Her overalls that were black with soot and the cloth that was burned away in places to reveal her skin beneath that was blistered and covered in sores. And why the hell did we all have to wear the same lame uniform in here that made us look like a bunch of umpalumpa’s?
“I didn’t tell her anything.” I said, shaking my head to confirm and rattling my chains and looking all serious I reckoned. Which was garbage of course because I couldn’t remember a god damned thing I had been spouting on about with old Daisey Dixon. But was sure that at one point I was close to sinking my claws in to her and ripping the woman limb from limb and scarpering away from this place once and for all. And be done with this bunch of loonies I was banged up in here with. But I didn’t mention that to Taylor or the rest of the umpalumpa’s and their SpongeBob nonsense.
And so, I kept my secrets to myself for now.
“That’s good.” Taylor said, turning to the rest of the Loonies that were lounging about and their manacles that were clasped like the teeth of a crocodile against their ankles.
And I reckoned if anyone outside were to ever find out how we were treated in here, just kids and all, then all hell would break loose and #childloonyscandal would be trending for days on twitter. And instead of old SpongeBob dancing away on the TV screen, we’d be watching images of Sister Dixon and the rest of the guards being led away in handcuffs and flashing blue lights in the background. A pretty anchor woman with a microphone and red lipstick speaking earnestly into camera as she explained that the authorities had promised a full investigation in to how such cruelty could have persisted for so long within the wards of Deadwood Psychiatric Hospital.
“You all need to be careful what you say to Sister Dixon.” Taylor continued, and the rest of the Loonies who had momentarily paused their madness turned to Taylor and were studying her with wide eyed conviction. As though Taylor she was the leader of this raggle taggle bunch. “She’s not to be trusted.” Taylor said and the others nodding their heads earnestly and listening to their leader. And the whole lot of them a bunch of loony-tunes I figured. Because of course Sister Dixon wasn’t to be trusted I reckoned and was more of a looney than the rest of us combined.
“She’s a crazy bitch!” Zayne called out from his side of the room and falling from the bean bag where he had been perched and quietly listening. And I nearly burst out laughing at Zayne’s abrupt exclamation. And a look upon the boy’s face as though he were suddenly ashamed of his outburst. And so, he stuck his tongue out towards us, and his tongue that was blue and bloated like a fat slug. Zayne rocking to and fro and shaking his head from left to right and bringing his hands together in prayer as he mouthed words in a foreign language that I couldn’t begin to understand. And there was nothing to be ashamed of Zayne I thought, because that was just about the best way of summing up Sister Dixon I reckoned. And funny to boot.
I was just about to tell Zayne not to worry and that it’s good to explode with words and anger now and then, but I didn’t get the chance, because a sudden metallic screech rattled through the dusty old room and the sense that a demon had swept down towards us. The fear that rushed in towards our little loony group. A screeching of rusted hinges as a metal door swung open and Sister Dixon who was revealed. The nun standing there beneath the doorway all prim and proper and wearing her blue uniform and gown and hair all pinned back and shining like rusted copper.
The ruffle of coarse cloth as the children suddenly scampered towards the corners of the common room. The shackles that bit down against their ankles as they hid beneath the shadows where the light of the flickering TV shone weak.
Sister Dixon standing beneath the threshold of the door and a burly male nurse standing to either side of her. A heavy baton that was lifted menacingly against the palm of each of the guard’s hands. And sister Dixons face that was turned towards me. Her eyes that studied mine. The cruel smile that was creased against her lips and the sense that a knife had been sliced against the skin.
“Mandy.” Sister Dixon said. Exclaimed. And the children that remained shaking beneath the shadows and out of sight behind me. Sister Dixon studying me as though she reckoned, she had figured me out, but she hadn’t of course, she didn’t have a god damned clue who she might be dealing with in me.
“Your Mum and Dad’s here.” She said.