The naked bulb was shining on the ceiling and its fluorescent light blinded her when she opened her eyes. An excruciating pain hit her on both sides of her head, as she felt her temporal lobes being squeezed by an invisible clamp; it felt like she would soon witness the explosion of her own skull. “Not again;” Alice remembered that Gina and Lucy, the health care workers, restrained her in the day room a few hours ago. She lifted her upper body from the bed, she stabilised on her elbows and looked outside the window. With a crumpled smile on her face, she watched on as the snow fell from the grey sky and covered every visible object in the garden of the C ward. The white tablecloth created by the thick snow reflected the silver distant crescent which irreverently took the place of the pale sun. An ominous game of hide-and-seek between the two celestial bodies was unfolding before her eyes. Alice’s hair stood on end, as she could feel that this day was different and it was not over.
Alice could not remember why the two health care workers put her on the floor earlier, forcing her to touch the filthy rubber flooring with her sweaty cheek. She only remembered the smell of the sanitizer on their hands and a voice. It was the hoarse voice of a woman who often visited Alice, but her facial characteristics were distorted as if she had been watching her behind a water-stained glass reluctant to reveal herself. Dr. Bloom said that this woman was a “hallucination.” “No! She can’t be,” Alice insisted while she was hitting her fists on her knees. “She’s my sister, we are twins. She told me that we were separated at birth.” Dr. Bloom looked at the white clock on the wall informing Alice that “the session needs to be concluded,” and Lucy entered the therapy room looking at Alice with her invasive, judgmental gaze. “You heard Dr. Bloom Alice, session’s over. It’s time for your meds.”
The queue was stretching out from the barred window of the Meds station to Dr Bloom’s office door. That’s what Dr. Bloom did; she prescribed drugs and therapies to the patients and used the health care workers as tools to enforce her demands. The patients waited for their daily dose of colourful pills when Alice noticed that all of them, including herself, looked like zombies who were subdued and longed for the essential dose of chemicals. The patients existed in a state of an approaching suspended death, which was a daily reminder through the vicious circle of repetition. “Good afternoon Alice, how’re you doing today?” Nurse Margaret said while she handed her the white paper cup. “My head hurts”, Alice said and gulped down the four pills. Nurse Margaret gave her an empty look and welcomed the next patient in the queue.
Another drowsy day seemed to come to an end in this cursed place in which Alice was locked up two years ago. They said she suffered with paranoid schizophrenia and that she became a danger to herself and others. She forgot to eat, to wash herself, and to take her meds. Alice was detained under Section 3 and the hospital reminded her of Dante’s Inferno she once read, with all the voices and the shrieks, the narrow cubicles they called bedrooms, and the shadowy tortured souls she had to live with. Was schizophrenia associated with that woman? “My twin sister?” How could she be a hallucination if she was there with her since childhood? Alice sat on the armchair next to the porch door of the day room and longed for her lost sister who came and left like the feather of a goose drifting in the wind, perpetually postponing her arrival. She had memories of decorating the Christmas tree with her sister at their family home, but she could not remember her face. She could only remember the tree; it was a tall pine tree with thick, dark green needles for leaves. It stood proud in the middle of the living room decorated with shiny Christmas ornaments.
After dinner the patients returned to their tiny rooms, their spaces of freedom and dignity, despite the fact that the health care workers were authorised to observe them through the glass window on the door of each bedroom. Alice glimpsed at the piercing gaze of Corey, the health care worker, who looked through the window of her door with his button-like eyes, searching for Alice’s whereabouts. That gaze was a soul-piercer to which Alice never consented but she was obliged to endure it, so others could ensure her safety. She noticed Corey scribbling down on his pad some comments about her, perhaps something like “patient relaxed on her bed.” The night meds were so powerful and the sedative effect surged upon her immediately; Alice fell asleep within minutes.
A soft tapping on the wooden door made her twitch; she thought Corey was back to invade her grounds again, but observation time was long gone and he was probably dozing off in the nurses’ station. She slipped back to the playground of unconsciousness, but the tapping on the door a few seconds later was louder. She oscillated between the dream realm and the real world, but she finally opened her eyes and lifted her head. She faced the black creature; black as the depth of the abyss, the raven was knocking on her door with its shiny beak, an image reminiscent of a poem she once read but she could not name now. Alice jumped off the bed; “the sign! She’s here!” Her naked feet ran on the prickly carpet and her irregular breath was interrupted by a loud disembodied laughter which made her feel that her lungs were coming up to her throat. She recognised this laughter as hers, but she was aware that its origin was outside of her body. She ran down the stairs to the day room and the patients’ drawings on the wall of the long corridor joined her in her frenzied escapade. One of them was the lion’s head with eyes red like ruby stones, and several other drawings of unidimensional long-limbed caricatures were also running with her as she approached the toilet door in the day room, in which her sister commanded her to go.
Gary, Alice’s insomniac neighbour, started shouting and the nurses’ nap was interrupted by the unexpected night bustle. Two nurses along with Corey jumped up as they saw Alice running outside the nurses’ station. One of the nurses, the older and more experienced one, hastily grabbed a sedative-filled syringe and ran after Alice with the protruded needle. The loud bang of the closing toilet door behind Alice brought her back from her ecstatic state. The soundwaves from the nurses’ approaching steps penetrated her ears, and her breast was vibrating and burning like an active volcano ready to spit out the hot lava. She glimpsed at herself in the mirror opposite the door, a mirror that seemed to be out of place just above the toilet. The mirror seemed to float in space and time with her derailed reflection trapped in it. That’s when she heard the lock of the door turning and her smile faded on her quivering lips as she expected the nurses and Corey to storm in and restrain her to the floor.
With her fists protecting her fiery face and her whole body on fight mode, Alice’s eyes focused on the lock and within seconds she realised that the lock was turned on the right side; the door was mysteriously locked from the inside leaving the outraged nurses and the strong-built Corey outside, shouting and banging for her to let them in. She instinctively turned her head back to the mirror, as if she knew that the invisible, uncanny presence in the room would only make itself visible in the world of reflections. Her eyes remained still and their blackness took over the whole space in the tiny water closet while she watched the mirror. Her arched eyebrows pushed her wrinkled forehead, and created the perfect frames for her swollen eyes. Her mouth was wide open with an inaudible shriek ready to fling from her larynx, but it remained trapped as her whole face was melting, seeking a hiding den to unsee what her eyes had just witnessed.
Her reflection in the mirror was looking back at her with the same horrified look, but the arms of Alice in the mirror were detached from her torso. Her shoulders were smoothly detached with no pain, and Alice could see their reflection floating in space next to her but she refused to turn her head and verify the horrid situation which was taking place in the world of reflections. Both Alices began to differentiate and the mirror did not reflect the self Alice recognised as her. The entity in the mirror was a different Alice, a different entity; sinister and ghastly. Alice turned violently to the door with an obvious disgust and fear towards her unrecognisable reflection. She tried to unlock the wooden door but she had no arms; they were floating next to each of her sides. The world of reflections and her own reality were now merged into each other, and she was immersed in this playground of unconsciousness that becomes accessible only through dreams. She always knew that when danger approaches in the dream realm the brain protects us and danger retrieves to the ancient caves of the unconscious unable to harm us. Alice’s brain, however, abandoned her in this dangerous realm and the discordant movement of her whole armless body trying to cover her exposed vulnerable neck while crashing down the door made her realise that she was trapped. Her heart rate increased to the level that she could now feel her rapid pulse from the tip of her thick eyebrow to her small toe nail.
Suddenly, Alice felt her cold fingers touching her throat from behind. Her carotids were now hardly squeezed by her own detached hands. She frantically turned her head to the mirror in a desperate attempt to overpower the vicious hands and free herself. The reflection of her armless body with the floating hands squeezing her neck left her retching, and with a complete aversion she violently turned her face to the door. Panic overtook her and she kicked the locked door continuously until her feet were sore. A surge of hopelessness besieged her as she vainly fought with her armless body to release herself, but still, she was aware that every breath was precious as she struggled for the next dosage of oxygen that would fill her lungs and preserve her for the next crucial seconds. Her mind was shouting words which could not reach her mouth; “Where are the nurses? Where is Corey? Please, I need you.”
Alice’s eyes turned upwards with the tiny blue veins quivering on the whiteness of her eyes; her eyelids flickered like trapped birds struggling to release themselves and prepare to fly away from their deadly entrapment. Her nostrils opened up and resembled two long driveway tunnels dug through a rocky mountain, and her mouth remained wide open, resembling a dark cave decorated with stalagmites. The inaudible shriek was still there; it was frozen in time and it did not make it out of Alice’s throat. She could faintly hear the nurses outside the door knocking hard and shouting, but all happened in slow motion; their voices sounded low and distant, travelling from a realm in which Alice could not be found anymore. Darkness and absence of sound prevailed; pure silence.
Dr. Willmore woke up and was getting ready for a long day in the hospital. It was Christmas day but she didn’t mind for spending it with the patients, as her family was miles away. She poured the hot filter coffee in her favourite ocean-blue mug and went over her notes. She had to be well informed and prepared for her cases. Next week was important for her as she would appear, for the first time in her brief career as a psychiatrist, in front of the parole board. Her mission was to offer her own professional opinion about the release of a patient back to the community. The time was 10:45 a.m. Dr. Willmore would attend her last therapy session for today, because at 11:45 a.m. she had to be at a meeting with the multidisciplinary team for the “Cordelia Bloom” case. The sudden high-pitched sound of the alarm from the nurses’ station penetrated the walls of the therapy room and Dr. Willmore ran outside. Two nurses and Corey, the health care worker, were shouting and were trying to open the toilet door in the day room which seemed to be locked with a patient trapped inside; then it hit her. Alice Willmore, Dr. Alice Willmore was behind that same door last night; “was it a dream?” The hair on her whole body stood on end and she instinctively hugged her shoulders, in an attempt to prevent her arms detaching from her torso. Flashbacks of her ghastly reflection in the mirror and the lack of oxygen in her enlarged lungs left her shivering. The Christmas Carol songs sung by the patients echoed in her ears on repeat. Dr. Willmore unexpectedly found herself on the other side of the blurred border of reality. This Christmas day was different when Alice Willmore woke up; she woke up to realise that the perception of a unified psyche was shuttered and remained fragmented in thousands of luminous pieces of broken glass, which reflected her disintegrated self for eternity.