“Grace has been wearing sunglasses,” said one of the nurses, “on a cloudy day.”
“And she spends all her time in her room,” said another.
It was all written in Grace’s notes.
Inappropriate actions it read.
Increasingly bizarre behaviour.
Everything was documented. Grace’s life spilled from the nib of a fountain pen, each step, each word, recorded and dated and open to interpretation.
“The other day,” said a doctor, “she sat on the edge of her bed and laughed out loud at nothing in particular.”
“At nothing in particular?” said a nurse.
The doctor nodded gravely and everyone turned to their notes.
“She refuses to take her medication.” The pharmacist flicked through his formulary to find the latest antidote to laughing at nothing in particular. “She claims she doesn’t need it.”
Everyone sighed into manila folders. Non-compliance they wrote, a distinct lack of insight.
I looked through the window and into the garden. “I’ll talk to her,” I said.
I stood by the bench and watched.
She sat on the grass, a box of chalks spread out at her feet, drawing on the paving slabs that marked the edge of her world. Her clothes were a kaleidoscope of colour and her hair was dyed to the deepest crimson. She was lost in the image she had created, sweeping chalk across the concrete and chewing at her nails, like a rodent.
When she saw me, she walked over to where I stood.
“I try to keep busy in here,” she said, “or I’d go crazy.”
We both smiled and she lit a cigarette.
I searched her face for the mark that separates personality from illness; the fracture line where her mind had fallen into disquiet, and pulled her towards a life interrupted.
But there was nothing.
So instead, I looked over at the drawing.
“Did you want to be an artist when you were little?” I said.
She sat on the bench and closed her eyes. “When I was very little, I wanted to be a doctor. Maybe even a psychiatrist. I think I would’ve been rather good at it.”
“I think you would too,” I said, “very good at it.”
Grace took another drag on her cigarette. “Ah,” she said, “that’s because it takes one lost soul to rescue another.” She tapped the bench with her hand, “why don’t you sit down and talk for a while?”
“Staff aren’t allowed to sit here, I’d get into trouble.”
She laughed and tucked red hair behind her ears. “Just take off your stethoscope,” she said, “I hate to break it to you, but people will just think you’re one of us.”
I smiled and looked at the drawing.
“And you lot think we’re the mad ones,” she said.
I smiled as I moved through the beige corridors, past an army of forgotten patients, each searching for a way back to their own lives. There were those who had walked many miles from the path, yet it seemed to me that some had only stumbled through a mistaken door. I smiled as I walked past steel cabinets, filled with the mistaken doors of others, and I was still smiling as I returned to the office, where doctors write with fountain pens and decide on the definition of appropriate.
They looked up as I walked in.
“What are you smiling at?” said one of them.
“Nothing in particular,” I said.
And I remembered to stop smiling.
And to put the stethoscope back around my neck.