I haven’t forgotten these characters. But I’m also trying to finish another draft of my next novel, work on a few commissioned art pieces, grade student papers, work on our house, spend time with my family, go to speed skate practice, and sleep.
I’ve cheated though. I’ve skipped ahead. When I finish my novel, I’m going to come back to this, map it out, and fill in all the gaps. My goal is to have something pieced together in a readable form by the time next year’s Story-a-Day comes around. We’ll see how that goes. At least, I don’t have to go to chemo anymore! Yay!
As always, thanks for reading.
Hannah and the old woman waited for Meredith to return. They sat together in the cramped space of the closet in the dark. Maybe not being able to see the old woman made Hannah bold.
“Do you have any children?” she asked. Hannah had come to the Asylum, after all, to find out about her grandmother. Possibly even meet her. Earlier the idea would have horrified her, but she was getting used to the old woman. Calling her a friend seemed unlikely, but she did feel a bond that was hard to explain.
“Nosy girl, you are,” the old woman replied. “Why would you care?”
Hannah could hear the frown in her voice. “There has to be some reason why we came across each other and have been sticking with each other,” she said. “There has to be some reason you’re still with me.”
The old woman didn’t reply. Hannah knew the old woman was there only because of the sound of her breathing and that there really was no where to move.
“Do you believe in horoscopes and fortune telling too?” the old woman asked.
“You appear to ascribe happenstance to supernatural or mystical sources.”
In the dark of the closet of the Asylum, muffled sounds beyond the door, the supernatural felt immensely close. “Don’t you believe in the supernatural?”
“I believe in what I can do and what I can not do. The rest I leave to others.”
“But you could’ve taken off without me. But here we are together.”
“You’re welcome to leave any time,” the old woman said.
“I couldn’t just leave.” Hannah wrapped her arms around her knees and gripped her hands more tightly. “We’re a team.”
The old woman laughed and then coughed. “I’d love to hear the doctors discuss my suitability for a team. Have you never been taught how teams work, child?”
Hannah was glad the old woman couldn’t see her reddening face. “We have worked together.” It wasn’t that she believed in fate or serendipity, but she didn’t not believe in them either.
“We’ve managed not to die,” the old woman replied.
“Do you think dying is likely?”
“Dying is certain. It’s the timing that’s unknown.”
Hannah pushed images of the dead security guard and the dead patient away. Thinking about who they were wasn’t going to help her. “I don’t see what has to be certain about it.”
“Maybe you won’t die here. But you will die some day. You can’t deny that.”
“Well…no, but that’s kind of morbid to think about.” Hannah thought she saw a glint of the old woman’s eyes in the darkness. In her normal life she liked talking about death and dying, but now that it felt as if these things were close at hand, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say.
“Meredith will be back soon. And everything it going to be fine.”
“Right. If she doesn’t give us away.”
“She’s on our side now.”
“Doesn’t she have to be?”
Silence again hung between them. “They won’t let her walk away from this either. As a traitor, she should be the most frightened.”
Hannah wasn’t sure about her feelings for Meredith, but she’d placed her trust in the nurse and perhaps the nurse had put trust in her as well.
But she didn’t want to think about Meredith now. There wasn’t anything she could do for her. Meredith would either succeed, or they were all in deep trouble.
Right now in the dark and waiting, she hoped that maybe the darkness would encourage the old woman to talk. “What happened to you here?” Hannah asked.
“This is a closet. Not a confessional.”
This time Hannah didn’t reply. She resisted the urge to fill the silence. Her dad once told her you had to give people time to answer rather than rush in to hear your own voice.
The old woman breathed in deeply. Hannah imagined she could feel her exhale.
“Maybe I was young once,” the old woman said. “Do you believe that? Youth is a fairy tale, don’t you know? Can’t you tell?”
Hannah sucked in her bottom lip to keep herself from talking. She didn’t move. Anything might quiet the old woman, and a moment like this would likely not happen again.
“Once upon a time there was a girl they called Zeenia. Her parents adored her, of course. Adored her more than good sense allowed, and so no one prepared this child for the real world because why bother when everyone thinks you’re a princess? A princess must never sully herself with the real world. Never mind that she will grow old one day. No one ever thinks of this. Do you?”
“What?” Hannah asked, surprised the old woman seemed to expect a real answer. “I guess I never thought about it.” Cinderella old? Sleeping Beauty? Snow White with gray in her hair and crow’s feet at her eyes?
“They think about it here,” the old woman said. “Here in the Asylum they think about it. They think about everything and plan accordingly.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Nobody wants an aging princess with a mind she knows how to use.”
“Were you a princess?” Hannah hoped her voice sounded as if she believed what she was hearing. Where did princesses still exist? “Are you from another country?”
“I’m from another plane of existence.”
Hannah stayed silent. Her questions weren’t getting her anywhere. Maybe the old woman needed to be locked up in the Asylum. Maybe all the patients were truly sick and she had this all wrong.
The old woman snorted. “I wore beautiful dresses once upon a time, my dear, but I tired of their weight. I complained to my husband, my prince, and he showed me that jewels and brocade are so heavy when wet that they’ll drag you down to the bottom of the sea.”
Hannah tried to make sense of what the old woman said. Sitting in the dark for so long was affecting her senses. She lost track of time and wondered if she were dreaming.
“But I was saved, if that’s what this life is called. Saved.”
The door startled them both. The room beyond the pantry was a paler darkness and they could just make out Meredith’s shape. “Hurry,” she said. “Your lives depend on it.”