1950: Society's Unmanageable
by Daisy Warwick
Chelsea skipped carelessly along the path past a vacant bench. A chunky, rusted double-gate crudely obscured her view of the nearby brook and its vibrantly coloured insect-life, who were busying themselves flying about the foliage. But it was as if the metal stripes in her vision were invisible.
She reached towards the oasis beyond the gates, where the white Marsh Bells and orange Jewel-Weed surrounded the water’s edge in delicate clumps.
But it was just beyond her grasp, just outside Scantlebury Asylum’s iron border.
Although she was intrigued by the outside, she didn’t feel angry about not being able to touch it, or sad. She didn’t really know why she lived at Scantlebury, but it didn’t matter; she didn’t remember living anywhere else.
She heard a deep-throated voice call her name.
She heard, but couldn’t quite drag her attention away from the rich colours she could see on the other side of the gate.
“Chelsea,” said the owner of the voice, turning Chelsea by the shoulder to face her.
“Abigail,” said Chelsea.
“Come on, we need to go and rescue Lizzy,” said Abigail.
“Lizzy? Why?” said Chelsea.
Abigail took Chelsea’s much daintier, cold hand in hers and pulled the daydreamer towards the towering, red-brick mental asylum.
“Come on, pet. Lizzy got into trouble this morning and now they’ve tied her down. We need to distract the nurse and unbuckle her,” explained Abigail.
“I like it better here,” said Chelsea, looking up into her much taller friend’s eyes.
“I know, but Lizzy needs us. We don’t want them to think of cutting bits out of her brain like they did with you,” said Abigail, dragging her through the door and towards the stairs.
“Did I have an operation?” asked Chelsea.
“Yes, about six months ago love. But, I’ll see that you’re alright while you’re in here. Don’t you worry,” said Abigail, patting Chelsea’s shoulder.
“Why did I have an operation?” asked Chelsea.
“Because the doctor ordered it. But he orders a lot of stuff. There’s nothing wrong with me or Lizzy, and there wasn’t anything wrong with you. We’re just unlucky souls,” whispered Abigail, pressing her finger to her lips.
“What is wrong with Lizzy?” asked Chelsea, suddenly awakening from her daze.
“She read a book. Well that’s the gist of it anyway,” whispered Abigail.
“I think I like books,” said Chelsea.
“Shhh! Don’t say that too loud. You’re not supposed to enjoy books. They don’t think women should have too many ideas or they say you’re too excited. Now, Chelsea, I need you to pretend to faint. Call the nurse and then just fall over when he gets near to you. Okay?”
“Lizzy,” nodded Chelsea, beginning to skip down the corridor between the sunbeams shining through the windows.
After a minute nothing had stirred in the corridor and Abigail began to wonder if maybe there weren’t any nurses watching over Lizzy after all. She waited whilst she listened to Chelsea’s delicate feet tapping the ground as she made her way back down the corridor.
“Chelsea!” whispered Abigail, loudly.
“Yes,” smiled Chelsea.
“What did you see?” asked Abigail.
“There’s nobody,” replied Chelsea.
“That’s good. I can just go and undo the buckles on Lizzy’s corset. But keep watch. Okay?”
“Yes, I’ll faint,” replied Chelsea.
“Good lass. I’ll only need two minutes,” said Abigail, hoping that the room where Lizzy had been taken was not locked.
She pushed the door tentatively and to her relief it opened.
Lizzy was unconscious, sweating and looking an unhealthy shade of grey.
Abigail ran to her and began pulling at the tight straps of the straight-jacket with urgency. Lizzy didn’t even stir. Abigail suspected that they must have given her some kind of nasty ‘treatment’.
“You’ll be alright pet,” she whispered, feeling Lizzy’s arms suddenly fall from the unnatural position they had been forced into.
Lizzy opened her eyes for a second and gazed vacantly into Abigail’s face. Then her pupils shrank to the size of pin-pricks and the lids of her eyes drooped.
“Albert, why are you interfering with Miss Riley’s treatment?” boomed the voice of Doctor Michael Oswald.
Suddenly, Chelsea ran through the doorway and fell to the floor with a sigh.
“Did you tell her to do that Albert?” asked the doctor.
Abigail dared not look at Chelsea, for fear that she was listening and that she would remember what the doctor had called her.
“Albert, step away from Miss Riley and Miss Swanswick. I might think about prescribing you some time out if you insist on undermining my treatments for these other poor patients,” said Dr Oswald.
“You’re the one who’s crazy”, said Abigail.
“Yes, Albert. I can see that,” replied Dr Oswald, shaking his head.
“What is going on in here?” asked Nurse Charles Bellamy, suddenly appearing behind Dr Oswald.
“Oh it’s just the Wayward Sisters again. Miss Swanswick has probably forgotten why she’s on the floor, so maybe you could escort her somewhere. I need to ensure that Mr Grey has a lie down,” said Dr Oswald.
“No,” said Abigail.
“I think a rest would do you good Albert,” said Dr Oswald.
“My name is Abigail!”
“Bellamy, please put in the notes that Mr Grey is having another episode of confusion,” said the doctor, whilst Abigail dived under Lizzy’s bed.
Chelsea sat back up as Nurse Bellamy tugged at her elbow.
“Abigail!” she shouted, as she was bundled out of the door.
Abigail smiled. She was positive Chelsea hadn’t remembered the name Albert.
Lizzy could hear their voices, but she couldn’t muster the strength to speak. She thought about Dr Oswald and what he’d called them. She wanted to smile as she thought of Abigail fighting Dr Oswald forever, but then felt sad when she knew Abigail wouldn’t win.
Lizzy hadn’t won either, and she quietly contemplated that she was destined to never win. She couldn’t undo having a child out of wedlock.
Daisy Warwick is a British writer who lives in England. Most of her published work to date can be found online at various short story, flash and micro-fiction writing sites. You can learn more about Daisy, her work and her writing journey at http://daisywarwick.com/
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'The Weyward Sisters'