Resettlement Notes

Submitted into Contest #146 in response to: Set your story in an unlikely sanctuary.... view prompt

19 comments

Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

This story contains themes of mental health and reference to sexual abuse.


”Don’t forget your pills.”


Alan slurps his tea to cool it. Some dribbles down his chin, adding to the damp patch on his chest. His mouth contorts with involuntary lip-smacking and grimacing caused by years of heavy medication.


“Your pills,” repeats Agnes, nodding to the small paper cup on the table. She stands next to him, arms crossed over her stout body as she waits, sternly overseeing this regular ritual. Her eyes swim like fishes in the lenses of her glasses, cold and wet. Alan’s face twists again, this time with displeasure, but he tips the assortment of pills onto the creases of his palm. One for his head, one for the head pill side effects, and one for the acid gurgling in his throat. He washes them down with the dregs of his tea and sweeps the empty paper cup across the table in Agnes’s direction.


“Why don’t you tidy yourself up, Alan? You’ve got breakfast all down your front.”


Alan looks down and brushes away the spilt cereal clinging to his T-shirt. Flakes scatter across the heavy duty vinyl floor. Pushing back his chair so the legs screech, he takes agitated strides out of the communal kitchen.


The staff tell Alan he’s living his best life now, resettled from hospital into a new group home. He’s even got his own bedroom with a sink. There’s a smell of urine in his room, because at sixty years old he still wets the bed, but the automatic puffs of air freshener smell of flowers. His mattress has a plastic cover that crinkles when he turns over at night, and the staff help him change the sheets every day.


Alan’s past is washed out like the bed linen. Barely any memories are left of his mother who suffered from nerves, and he doesn’t like to think about his dirty, wicked father who touched him where he shouldn’t. He loved his older brother though- a ginger lad- hair as bright as copper pennies. Sometimes images flash by of riding high up on his brother’s shoulders, shrieks of laughter, king of the castle, Alan! Then inevitably, images follow of the dark blue policeman’s uniform after the accident- both brother and car mangled from driving too fast.


Standing on the doorstep for a smoke, fingertips stained marigold yellow and nails the colour of stewed tea, Alan rolls and re-rolls the wad of tobacco in the rustling paper until it’s just right to seal with a wet lick. Kelly arrives for the start of her shift, boots click-clacking on the driveway, her dark hair in soft and glossy waves on her shoulders. He gazes, delighted to see her, grins widely.


“Hello Kelly. I like your hair.”


“Hey Alan, I like yours, too. Are you going to move out of the way, though?”


Alan shuffles to the side, eyes brimming with adoration. “Want to go to the café today, Kelly?”


“Maybe later, pet, if there’s time.” Kelly walks through to the staffroom as handover will start soon. Alan catches a glimpse of the shelves of notes the staff write in before the door swings shut and he is left alone.


In the pocket of his elastic waisted trousers Alan feels the reassuring weight of his keys and purse. Patting them gently, he ambles down the street, the rhythm of his stride faltering with the rigid jolts his awkward body can’t help making.


He stops at the newsagents to buy a half ounce of tobacco, takes out his purse and pours the loose change onto the counter. With great care he looks at each coin, searching for the silver ones first, moving them with his index finger. The man behind the till makes an impatient tutting noise. Alan, aware of disapproval, rocks from foot to foot. His lips twist and purse, pulling his face into a sour expression, and he can’t get any words out. 


“Good lad, that’ll be enough.” The man rakes up all the coins, gold rings glinting on greedy hands, cash desk drawer closing with a ping.


Alan’s annoyed there are no coins left in his purse, he’s worried he’s been tricked, but he can’t count them properly by himself. Too simple, they’d told his family years ago. Too thick to go to school. Much better to be taken to a special place for boys like him. A hospital- but just like home, they said, just like family.


The hospital wards had pretty names like Bluebell and Primrose. His days were overseen by bony fingered nurses who pinched him when he made a mess, kind ones who let him sit at the nurses’ station, and sometimes ones who offered cigarettes for doing the things his father did. The boredom yawned endlessly between meals, between smokes, between the workshop sessions in which he sanded wood and swept floors, and he grew from boy to youth to grey haired man.


Tobacco pouch in pocket, Alan heads towards the railway line. He disturbs a flock of pigeons pecking crumbs from the pavement and they scatter upwards, a vortex of dirty confetti. It’s a celebration of sorts for this other life; a new start after the wards were closed and the drafty old buildings were sold off for conversion into luxury flats with prestigious Victorian facades. Your chance to live in the community, Alan, to make everyday choices, to have a home of your own.


The staff help him cook dinner, and they take him shopping to buy clothes- easy to pull on casual tops and soft roomy trousers that he can manage when his bladder is full. Four other men from the wards are sharing the new house, none of them friends, but he can go to his room when they try to do him over for money, you filthy bastard, you low-grade.


“He needs to stand up for himself,” he heard Agnes say about him once, when he was waiting outside the staffroom for spare change from his tin. “After all, families have pecking orders too.”


Alan arrives at the wooden hoarding that marks out the base of the railway footbridge. It’s a weathered barrier, a collage of bright spray-painted tags and the tattered ribbons of advertisement posters. He stops, furtively checks for anyone close by, and when he’s confident there’s no one about to notice, he pulls aside a warped panel swinging loose. Stepping through, he stands in a concealed section of wasteland, a small forgotten triangle of space along the edge of the railway track, secluded from view.


Fly-tipped waste nestles amongst the nettles and ox-eye daisies; builder’s bags of rubble, the corroded frame of a long lost bike, and a discarded mattress blotched with watermarks. Aggregate crunches under Alan’s feet as he makes his way over to the mattress where he sits down to roll another smoke. A fast train from Paddington roars past, a momentary blast of sound and air, after which peace descends again and the city recedes to a mere hum in the background.


Alan remembers similar spaces in the hospital grounds, the out of sight corners left unattended by nursing staff and porters, overgrown abandoned places for condemned equipment and broken furniture. Places, like this, where he could seek solitude amongst the rubbish. He lies back on the mattress, arms crossed behind his head, the contortions in his muscles momentarily appeased. This is freedom; here, not in the house with its residents’ rules or the streets where people stare.


When the wards closed they told him his dreams would come true. You’ll have a future to look forward to, out in the real world. Yet somehow the kindness of the real world is as obscure as it was behind the high hospital walls, and found only in rare places. Alan gazes into the blue sky, wonders about the future, thinks about his own room with a sink, and a cup of tea with Kelly, if there’s time.

May 16, 2022 07:15

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19 comments

Michał Przywara
21:02 May 18, 2022

Great story! It's a fascinating little trip, following along with Alan. It's not hard to sympathize with him, and like other readers pointed out, this is a sad story. Certainly his past is riddled with abuse, with being shuffled around like a burden more than a person. But I wonder… would Alan find his own story sad? Moments of it, sure. His wicked father, his beloved brother dying, the times he's been cheated and taken advantage of. But I suspect he'd say it's been mostly boring, with some high points, some low ones, and some disappointme...

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L. Maddison
22:33 May 18, 2022

An interesting interpretation Michal, thank you. You’ve suggested Alan has all the similar emotional challenges and coping mechanisms to anyone else and by doing so you’ve given him more dignity than any of the well intentioned professionals in his backstory did. But I don’t know. I think all the choices that were taken from him, and the stigma, does make him a victim. Regardless, I think his experiences make him remarkable. I love your suggestion that the tragedy is reflected from the eyes of others- me, as writer, for example. If readin...

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Zack Powell
03:27 May 23, 2022

Beautifully written, L., as always. It's amazing how you were able to pack so much human emotion and character depth into such a short piece. This is the type of writing that I strive to achieve. You can render a character so well in just a few words. The cashier with the "gold rings glinting on greedy hands" (tells me everything I need to know right there), or the nurses "who offered cigarettes for doing the things his father did." (Wow!) No sprawling backstories or names needed - just a quick detail or two to tell us that they're people, ...

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L. Maddison
15:04 May 23, 2022

Hey Zack, Heartfelt thanks for your feedback, I’m delighted you enjoyed reading it and thanks for highlighting what stands out to you. Your writing is amazing so right back at you.

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Riel Rosehill
13:52 May 17, 2022

This was so interesting to read, and so deeply sad, especially the abuse in the past and this one line, wrapping up a lifetime: "The boredom yawned endlessly between meals, between cigarettes, between the workshop sessions in which he sanded wood and swept floors, and he grew from boy to youth to grey haired man." - he just didn't get to live a life there at all. I loved the memories of his brother, when we got a glimpse of Alan being so alive and happy (for a tragically short time), which in contrast to the rest of his story kind of makes t...

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L. Maddison
15:54 May 17, 2022

Thanks Riel, glad you found it interesting- it’s a heavy read and I wasn’t sure about posting it but I’m trying to develop a habit of regularly responding to prompts and actually finishing something! And it’s borrowed from the true stories of many people like Alan who were moved into the community when institutions were sold off. Something more cheerful next week perhaps 🤔

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00:23 May 17, 2022

I can't believe you've already written a story, L. while I still oscillate between 3 prompts. That Agnes nurse, now. She is so nasty, I hate her with a passion. Fabulous description of her: "Her eyes swim like fishes in the lenses of her glasses, cold and wet." The way she talks to and treats Alan is infuriating. She reminds me of that nurse Ratched from "One flew over the cuckoo's nest." I hate it when old people are abused by bored, mean nurses/doctors/caregivers... family members even. "Alan's past is washed out like the bedlinen....

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L. Maddison
12:47 May 17, 2022

Hello Gabriel, Thanks so much for your thorough review, I truly appreciate it. This one’s not going to be a favourite, but it was important for me to write it. I think Agnes probably means well, she’s an unhappy character herself, might even deserve her own story! So affirming to hear the words and phrases that had impact on you 😊

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A. S.
20:32 May 26, 2022

Great work! A quick, engaging read. You really fleshed out your characters, and it's easy for the reader to sort of feel like they are Alan. Lovely!

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18:57 May 24, 2022

This is so beautiful. You capture the essence of Alan's life effortlessly. :)

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L. Maddison
07:03 May 25, 2022

Many thanks Shuvayon!

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Deidra Lovegren
13:31 May 22, 2022

What a rich, nuanced panorama of a tragic figure… Master class here of sensory imagery. Just artful.

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L. Maddison
16:42 May 22, 2022

Many thanks Deidra. I’m in awe of your stories so thrilled that you like this.

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Chris Morris
07:32 May 22, 2022

My goodness, I used to work a lot with groups of vulnerable people, many of whom took up residency in care centres. Your story put me right back to trying to really understand what it's like to be in their shoes. A beautifully written and I think important story that will make people think. I found myself really liking and sympathising with Alan. Well done, great stuff.

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L. Maddison
09:29 May 22, 2022

Thank you Chris! I used to work in a supported housing project with very institutionalised residents and their individual stories were fascinating. I’m glad you enjoyed reading this.

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Kelsey H
08:38 May 18, 2022

Such a sad story but so well written! I love how you write Alan's pov and combine his simple way of seeing the world with really beautiful descriptions of things, such as "Alan’s past is washed out like the bedlinen". His life is so tragic in not only what he had to deal with in his family situation, but how limited it's been, the way he describes the boredom he lived with for so many years. I love how you show the little bits of happiness he manages to find too though, like chatting with Kelly, and going to sit down by the tracks to have a ...

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L. Maddison
06:25 May 19, 2022

Hi Kelsey, Many thanks for your reflections, you make some good observations.

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Drew Andrews
20:50 May 17, 2022

Well done dear. It had a fantastic image painted. To comment on your comment to another .... I think you should go darker. As always I hope to complete my response to this prompt.

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L. Maddison
08:23 May 18, 2022

Thank you, and good luck with completing your response to the prompt!

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