‘Can you tell me what day of the week it is, Mr Sedgwick?’ The young woman in the white coat asks me. Again.
‘Yes. You asked me yesterday, and yesterday I told you it was Tuesday. But you said it wasn’t. You said it was Monday and I said that that couldn’t be true because the day before you had asked me what day it was and I had told you it was Monday.’ I can actually feel my blood pressure rising. These professionals talk to the rest of us like we’ve a black hole where a brain should be.
‘It’s Wednesday.’ I say confidently.
Doctor Whatshername furrows her brow, an ember of concern ripples across her pointy face. ‘Ok, thank you for your time Mr Sedgwick.’ She stands up and gestures towards the door. ‘Nurse White will escort you back to your room. See you next week.’
The Nurse, whose identity alludes me, takes me by the arm and forces me out of the dingy office into a white corridor. The paint is chipping and flaking onto the squeaky vinyl floor. I clip the shiny surface with the heel of my rubber sandal on my forward step and glance over towards the Nurse. I can only see her eyes, but they give her away. She winces, so I do it again, and again, until we reach my room. She pushes off against my arm, guiding me towards the other side of the door. You’re not supposed to be here today. I think to myself as she gently closes my door. Her footsteps retreat from my room. ‘Thank Christ I don’t have to deal with you tomorrow. Stupid man.’ She mutters as she recedes.
I lie back on the thin mattress sat atop my wire frame bed and wait for Jones to start his spiel.
‘Let us look at the duty of blessing the Lord. Oh how we ought to bless the Lord, for the Lord is generous. The Lord is compassionate, the Lord is humble. The Lord has given us life and health and strength and courage and salvation.’
Right on time. It seems scripted, but it isn’t. He’s just ad-libbing it which, when you think about it, is pretty impressive really. It’s as though he has accumulated a huge bank of random sentences which he spews out in random order to create unique passages. Though that logic surely applies to everybody. I feel uneasy and try to move past it in my mind.
I turn my attentions towards the next milestone, and then I hear it. The front left wheel of the tea trolley jams as it’s pushed down the corridor. It clunks in rebellion as it’s forced to face forwards. The other three wheels glide effortlessly against the smooth floor, the rebel spoiling the image of perfection which the others strive for. She stops at six doors before she gets to mine. The same people give her the same answers and she pours them the same drinks. Not today. Today I will kink the system. Today will be distinct from yesterday.
She arrives at my door and slides the hatch open, her empty eyes flash level with mine and I shake my head slowly. She sighs and pushes the trolley away. I did it! My fists are clenched and I can feel a slight surge of adrenaline trickle through me. I look back towards the door and right there, on the speckled floor, sits a white polystyrene cup filled with milky tea. My head bows in defeat and I take a long sip. It’s barely warm and sickly sweet. I grimace and pour the rest in the toilet, noticing as I do so that I had failed to flush the last tea that had been poured in there. I flush the chain and wash away the disappointment of my last two drinks.
I fall back onto my bed and cover my face with my arms. I’ve got an hour or so of complete silence now before day’s next activity. A rubber sole squeals against the floor outside my room and I shoot up from my bed. This isn’t supposed to happen. Keys jingle in the lock and I ready myself for a fight. This isn’t supposed to happen.
‘This isn’t supposed to happen!’ I say, urgently.
The door creaks open and a woman slips through, silently closing the door behind her. She presses her back against the closed door and then turns round and slowly peers through the hatch which she slides open only a fraction.
‘This isn’t supposed to happen!’ I repeat, this time at her.
‘It’s ok. It’s ok.’ She whispers, gesturing with her hands for me to remain calm. ‘Keep your voice down. They can’t know I’m here. They can never know I’ve been here.’ She looks flustered. I decide not to attack, yet. I sit back on my bed with my elbows on my knees. ‘Do you mind telling me who you are?’ I say politely.
‘I’m a journalist with the Bidbury Express. I’ve been looking into this hospital for a while now and I’ve discovered that they are using you, and many of the other patients here, as test subjects for a radical new psychological treatment.’
‘Why are you here?’ I demand. My head starts to hurt. ‘This isn’t supposed to happen.’
‘I’m here to get you out.’ She says kindly, smiling warmly at me.
‘Out? I… I don’t think I want to get out.’
‘It’s ok. I know it’s scary, but we need to get you out. You’re not really sick, Mr Sedgwick. You’re just trapped.’
I can feel a migraine brewing behind my right eye.
‘Dr Myrna has held you here for 18 months, forcing you into an endless loop of repetition. They theorise that mental health patients will be more placid and manageable if they all repeat the same eventless day over and over. Nothing to excite them, nothing to depress them. Just endless stability. The hospital can run with less staff, patients don’t need to be as heavily medicated. Win, win. Or so they say. I don’t believe all that shit.’ She’s becoming agitated, angry even. ‘I think that what they are doing amounts to a huge breach of your human rights. You’re being kept captive within the confines of time itself, nobody has the right to take away your sense of the novel. It will slowly turn your mind to mush.’ She’s speaking quickly, urgently. ‘So what do you say, you wanna get out of here and live a new day?’
‘Erm, sure.’ I reply, uncertainly. ‘I guess I could leave here and go to… go to… erm… where would I go that isn’t the hospital?’ I ask genuinely. I continue to rack my brains for some reference point.
‘We can go anywhere!’ She whispers excitedly, interrupting my ongoing research. ‘But we need to go now.’
‘Ok!’ I say, a feeling of excitement threatening to sweep me away. ‘I’m in. Let’s blow this shithole!’
‘Yes, yes. I’ll get you out of here.’ She tells me. ‘I just need you to take these two pills to break this cycle and reintegrate your original personality.’ She drops two small, round, yellow pills into my palm and without thinking I throw them back and swallow.
I jump up to follow her out of the room but immediately fall backwards onto my bed. The door slams shut behind her and my eyes fuse themselves closed and I drift away from consciousness.
‘Can you tell me what day of the week it is, Mr Sedgwick?’
I open my eyes and squint at the light coming through the office window.
‘Yes.’ I tell her. You asked me yesterday, and yesterday I told you it was Tuesday. But you said it wasn’t. You said it was Monday and I said that that couldn’t be true because the day before you had asked me what day it was and I had told you it was Monday. It’s Wednesday.’