“Shit,” she mumbled as she opened the door of their rugged, one-bedroom apartment. She rustled through her bag, reaching for the air horn she carried to wake her mother up from her high and drunken state. She blew it right beside her ear, “Wake the fuck up,” she said, irritation bounced around in her windpipe so vigorously it needed to be released.
“Jesus Christ Madalyn,” her mother yelled, swatting her hands in the air, “I worked a long night at the Strip, can’t you give me a break?”
Madalyn ignored the plea of her mother, rolling her eyes in annoyance as if she didn’t hear the same bullshit every day. As she reached down to untie her shoes, there was a knock at the front door. Madalyn opened it to see a man, nearly seven feet tall and dressed in black. “I’m looking for Madalyn Meadow, daughter of Eldridge Meadow.” Madalyn looked at him perplexed, “That’s me.” He handed her an envelope, big enough to cover the entirety of her torso, “It was an accident ma'am. I’m sorry for your loss.” He nodded his head and turned toward the exit. Madalyn ripped the envelope open, eager to know its contents.
Letter of Probate
Probate is hereby granted to Madalyn Mae Meadow of 55 Jacob Street Hamilton, Ontario L8R 3X9, Canada as an Executor/ Trustee in the Last Will of MR. ELDRIDGE MEADOW dated 27th day of April, 2011 deceased of plot 828 Esther Avenue, Orillia, Ontario and who has accepted to act and hereby given power by this letter of Probate to carry out, execute and exercise all powers, acts, functions and duties contained in the said will of MR. ELDRIDGE MEADOW deceased who died in Orillia on the 14th day of February 2011 particularly as it concerns the following:
(i)Half of plot 828 Esther Avenue, Orillia, Ontario.
This letter is issued in accordance with the provisions of Administration of Estates Law of Ontario.
Tears filled Madalyn’s eyes, she looked at her mother in disbelief. “You selfish bitch. You told me he died when I was six,” she yelled, throwing clothes into her backpack in urgency.
“Where do you think you’re going?” her mother said, making her way over to Madalyn slowly in an effort not to trip over all the empty bottles that lay beneath her.
“Don’t come near me Lacey. I don’t ever want to see you again,” Madalyn responded, using her mothers’ real name in hopes it’d minimize the pain associated with the loss of the living. She snagged the car keys off the counter and left, slamming the door behind her.
It was nightfall by the time Madalyn arrived at the estate that she now knew was half hers. She could tell that there was someone, or rather multiple someone’s residing there. Nearly all the lights were on, illuminating the darkness of the countryside. She turned the car off and made her way to the entrance, ringing the bell which seemed to go on forever. A woman opened the door — short and stubby, with puffed shoulder-length hair that suited her widened eyes, “Hello,” she said, looking up at Madalyn with a smile that even death couldn’t infringe upon, “You must be the girl we is waitin’ for.” Madalyn stepped inside, bewildered that anyone lived in something so spacious; it smelt of freshly baked cookies, and the air felt crisp entering her nostrils, free of all the cigarette residue that she was used to inhaling.
“Oh darling, you’ve made it!” a voice, softly spoken, echoed from the kitchen. Just seconds later, a woman, carrying a tray piled high with goodies, approached Madalyn. “Please sit sweetheart,” she pointed toward the dining room, “We were just about to have our evening cup of tea.” Madalyn sat, confused but oddly comfortable. “I’m Rose,” the woman spoke while pouring five cups of Earl Grey, “I was married to your father … oh yes he was such a lovely man and you sure do look just like him.” Rose’s presence emitted such a loving motherly energy, one that Madalyn certainly wasn’t used to. As Rose was speaking, Madalyn couldn’t help but notice a room across the hall that was locked, but just as she was about to inquire, three individuals entered the room—all of them surrounded Madalyn, so joy-filled to meet her as if they’d waited their entire lives to do so. “Alright my angels, let’s take a step back, we don’t want to overwhelm her now do we?” Rose said pleasantly, “They’ve just been dying to meet you. Eldridge spoke of you all the time.”
“Who are they?” Madalyn mumbled, looking toward Rose, “I mean, I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just … um … curious,” she said, taken aback at the level of sincerity she felt by asking a simple question. She’d been shut off from her emotions ever since Lacey became an addict, perhaps it was a way of coping, or, rather, surviving.
“This is Alice,” she pointed, “you met her when she let you in. That’s Johnny and that’s Elizabeth,” they all smiled at Madalyn, “They came to live with us from the Huronia Regional Centre about eight years ago. I used to work there but I,” she paused, “retired.” Rose looked down, clearing her throat, “real horrible things happened there. Eldridge and I just wanted to give them a good life, you know?”
Madalyn nodded her head, “I’m sorry,” she said, beginning to get overwhelmed by the amount of empathy she felt.
“If it’s okay with you Madalyn sweetheart, could they give you a hug before they go to their rooms?” Rose asked, her voice quavering to the rhythm of her sorrow.
“Um, yeah … of course,” Madalyn responded.
Later that evening, Rose and Madalyn sat together in the living room. The cups of tea warmed their hands, and the fire warmed their hearts in preparation for the conversation that was about to follow.
“So, what are their stories?” Madalyn asked, breaking the silence that sat between them.
Rose took a deep breath in. “I’m not sure of their lives before they arrived at Huronia, all I know is of what they’ve been through, and I can say that the life they lived there, well, I wouldn’t wish upon my greatest enemy.” She paused, looking out the window into the dark of the night, “Elizabeth, she’s thirty-eight, as of yesterday actually. Such a sweet woman she is. Johnny’s thirty-six, but boy oh boy does he have an old soul. Both have autism … so many people see right through them, but me, well I can’t help but notice them … real gifted people they are. And Alice, oh she’s the youngest, thirty-four. My sweet Alice … she’s got down syndrome, and I swear to you she has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known in my sixty-two years walking this earth.”
“What happened at Huronia?” Madalyn questioned, feeling a weight plant itself in her abdomen, perhaps to hold her in place in case she’d squirm from the discomforting reality she knew she was about to hear.
“Never in my nursing career did I think I’d ever see anything like it,” Rose responded, gripping the tea in her hands for a sense of security, “Thousands of people … they referred to them as idiots or psychotic, forced to live in an environment worse than our worst prisons. Our government said it was to provide “moral treatment” in hopes to “cure” them of their ill...ness,” tears streamed down Rose’s face, “But it was nothing more than treating special and gifted people as if they’re animals. The things that happened there, behind closed doors, I can’t even bring myself to repeat. And your father … your father, oh what a courageous man. Now he’s gone,” she cried profusely.
Madalyn shifted over to Rose and gave her a hug, “I can’t express how sorry I am.”
“Oh sweetheart, I’m just so glad you’re here.”
Madalyn spent the next couple of months getting to know Alice, Johnny and Elizabeth. She grew to know them almost as well as she’d known herself. They cracked her open without even trying and she couldn’t help but feel an overwhelm of love. Each day, Madalyn stepped further away from the bitter, hostile person she was, and she stepped into someone she hardly recognized yet undoubtedly admired. Madalyn thought it’d be a nice gesture to prepare the estate for summer as a surprise for Rose, for all the good she’d done. She planned to do it with the help of Alice, Johnny and Elizabeth on a day Rose would be out running errands. And so, when the day came, they were planting an array of flowers ranging from tulips to lilies, to roses. They danced together, singing aloud to the soundtrack of the Beatles when Johnny, having a knack for lock-picking, mumbled the words, “I got it open.” Madalyn inquired and realized he was speaking of Eldridge’s office, the locked door she’d wanted open but was waiting for the right time to ask to do so. Madalyn put down her shovel and ran inside.
She rummaged through the office in hopes to find answers to all the questions she had; questions that’d stuck in her mind like paint on an easel; questions she wanted to ask Rose but was too afraid to strain their relationship by asking. She opened the drawer just beneath the desktop, and in it was a notebook. As she peered through it, she noticed it was Eldridge’s journal. The contents it held were heavier than the physicality of itself; it followed his time employed as a psychiatrist at Huronia, all the horrifying work he had to commit in order to protect himself and his loved ones. He’d planned on exposing them, and his last entry ended with “goodbye”. Madalyn dropped to the floor. She felt her heartbeat rise into her throat and sweat dripped from her hairline. She hadn’t made sense of it all … not yet. She rose to her feet again, holding onto the desk for stability as her legs trembled. She opened the bottom drawer which looked to be a filing cabinet. She pulled out the only three files that were there—medical files from Huronia, with the photos of Alice, Johnny and Elizabeth, except they’d all had different names. Madalyn couldn’t only feel her heartbeat, she tasted it, and her sweat poured down her body, puddling on the floor beneath her. At that moment, she heard the front door open, “Madalyn, darling, are you in here?” Madalyn tried to speak, but no words came out. Instead, she sat, soaked in her own emotions. “Oh my god, Madalyn,” Rose said, walking into the office with horror on her face, “Please let me explain.”
Madalyn stood up tall, suddenly a boldness had come over her, “Explain what, Rose? That my whole life has been a lie? No wonder my mom winded up the way she did!” she yelled, “And how do you expect to get away with this for Christ’s sake! If they got him, they’ll get you too!”
“Madalyn, sweetheart,” Rose paused for a moment, “Your father was known as a bad man, and surely your mother was just trying to protect you, but when I met him, I could see the sorrow in his eyes. It didn’t take me long to figure out he wanted to expose what they were doing to those poor, innocent people. We managed to save three of them, our sweet Alice, Johnny and Elizabeth, and there’s no part of me that regrets making that decision. They were just a number there—they weren’t gonna missed. I quit my job to care for them, and your father, well he kept working to put together a case to rebel, but they got him before he could. He told me it was gonna happen … that brave man, he turned himself in because they told him if he did, they’d let us live; all five of us. Your father knew you’d end up here.”
Alice, Johnny and Elizabeth walked in; dirt covered their faces but failed to hide the pureness of their smiles. Madalyn let go of a deep breath, meditating on the silence for a minute or two. “Come on,” she said to them, waving at Rose as an invitation to join, “Let’s go get you cleaned up.”
They headed toward the mudroom when Johnny looked back at the lock laying open outside the office door, “No more closed doors, okay?”
Madalyn turned toward him and smiled, “No more closed doors.”