She was puffier in the face than the last time. A side effect of some of the antipsychotics we were cycling her on. It kept her docile and when it was time for therapy sessions, they would dial her dosages down until she was closer to herself. Contemplation and analysis with her were akin to handing her a sharp knife and telling her that she should do whatever she wanted with it.
I see her because no one else will. Connor cannot see her again as she broke his jaw in two places and burst a testicle when he had believed her asleep and wandered over to take a photograph with his phone. When I saw him in the hospital, he laid there, grey and unfocused with disbelief. He could not explain for the life of him what had possessed him.
She lies on the couch and closes her eyes, folds her hands in her lap like she’s rehearsing to be a corpse.
Which we all are, but she had started in early.
‘How have you been, Kate?’
She sighed and kept her eyes shut.
‘I asked you not to call me that.’
Her voice made me flinch, but I did managed to look up from the notes I had written. It was important that we framed these behaviours. Mostly because they terrified me.
‘We agreed last time that we would. It is important that we look at ways for you to integrate these behaviours.’
She sighed and sat up. She grimaced, pulling her soft pale lips back over her perfect teeth and snarled with frustration.
‘These are not behaviours, Doctor. These are expressions.’
I wrote that down. The upside of her mania was that she managed to remain relatively cogent throughout the cycle. She used to lapse into glossolalia when she was first sent here, but that appeared to have abated thanks to the medications she had been taken.
‘Expressions of the person you claim to be.’
She laid back down on the couch and looked up at the ceiling.
‘She’s who I’ve always been, Doctor. She’s who you are, beneath all the conditioning and the shame.’
A supporting actress in the poorly realised first act of the Bible, heavy on the special effects, poor on the character development and emotional arc of character.
Adam’s first wife, created from the soil by God but they split up because she would not ‘lie beneath him’. It got murky after that, but it always did if you used a literal interpretation. Katie Ellis had been a star athlete, grade A student who was being headhunted by major corporations after she graduated, with a stable, safe boyfriend.
Until she went to the wrong frat party.
I set my pen down and
‘I don’t bear any resentment towards men, conscious or otherwise, Katie. You said that Lilith speaks from that place.’
Katie sat up on the couch, her eyebrows raised as she brought her knees up to her chest.
‘I did. She is queen there, she made it her own when God cast her out for not obeying her husband.’
The dismal certainty that the next hour would be, at best counterproductive, if not downright destructive weighed on me like a farmer’s yoke. I spoke about how she had seriously injured Connor, who had played football in college. There were guards and nurses who insisted on a full maximum security routine with her. You never knew what you were getting with her.
Katie or Lilith.
That had been my hypothesis. Lilith was a coping mechanism formed to help her process the horrific events of that July evening.
Lilith was formed, not to make sense of what had been done to her.
It was to make sense of what she had done.
‘It’s Lilith that I am speaking to now, I take it?’
She rolled her eyes and smirked.
‘Doctor, of course it is. She came to me and she saved me.’
I dated a guy who worked on the case. His hands shook, and he drank in careful, constant sips whenever he spoke about it. It was the defence of ‘it wasn’t me, it was the one armed man.’ When I asked him if they were going with the insanity defence against her family’s wishes, he gave a hard, ugly laugh and shook his head.
‘We have to go with that because it’s the only thing people will believe.’
How else would you explain what she did?
I took off my spectacles and waited for her attention to return to me.
‘I embrace your belief in that, Katie, I really do. That belief, you can put it in a box and it’s safe but we should examine the other choices available to you.’
She inhaled and shook her head.
‘They took that from me. She gave it back.’
Her voice was cold and imperious. The signs of privilege running through her like seams of tarnished silver. If you had seen or spoken to her, you would never believe that she had disembowelled six guys. The four who participated and the two who stood with their phones, recording it all.
‘Katie, has something happened since we last spoke? I thought we had made some real progress -‘
She closed her eyes and shook her head.
‘We have. Each time I come here, I listen to your desperate rationale, clinging to the idea that everything has a place and a time, that the universe runs on rails and it is a matter of the right pill or the right star to wish upon. It is why you still tell people that Walter and you divorced because you grew apart isn’t it?’
I managed to hide my shock well. There are a lot of misconceptions about the mentally ill, most of which diminishes the impact and esteem a good practical programme of treatment allows. The idea of the criminally insane genius, allowed to possess things they should not know by virtue of their insanity.
It more that a patient like Katie was kept under sedation, and people talk differently when they think no one is listening. Our lives became fuel for the bored engines of hospital politics. A drinking problem, a divorce were fair game. My life was no exception, and I had been more than happy to share the salacious details of what happened to Connor, and he had been someone I liked.
It did not stop my skin crawling as I stared at her perfect, amused features.
‘Katie, I’m not going to discuss what you may or may not have heard about my private life. You making allusions to that, does not upset me, it simply demonstrates the need for us to help you form a cogent system of negotiation for your beliefs.’
I retreated behind the rituals of profession, but she had brought something to the session today that I had not prepared for. She must have read something in my face because she sat up, her smile widening with pleasure.
‘Vonnie, you’re killing yourself for a world that’s designed to keep you on your knees.’
Her use of my name would not have surprised me. It was the shorter version.
What Janie had called me. Katie had even appropriated the twang that I had educated myself out of. When you leave the small places, you leave everything you can and scrape off whatever remains along the way.
‘Katie, this is a defence mechanism. It does not unsettle my determination to help you get well.’
Katie grinned and leaned forward, resting her chest on her knees.
‘I am not the one who is sick, Vonnie.’
I made notes to review her medication. It was never an exact science, but Katie’s hostility was a more effective barrier to her treatment than the more florid displays of her psychosis.
‘Katie, I can see that something has clearly upset you to the point that I no longer feel that continuing today would be a good use of our time together.’
Her pupils were dilated and her mouth hung open. She gazed into my eyes and I saw a thirsty darkness there. I had to remember to breathe.
‘You know how I see her in you, Vonnie. Same way, she saw Janie.’
Blood rushed to my cheeks, and I screwed my hands into fists underneath my desk. I shook with feeling but Katie sat there, watching me with the detached arrogance of a magnifying glass atop an ant hill.
‘Don’t, Katie. That’s cruel.’
Katie’s grin widened, and she tilted her head to one side, letting her hair fall in a shimmering wave down her shoulder.
‘When you stop outside his place, watch him pawing his girlfriend, with half your IQ and bigger tits, and you get the urge to grab the gun from the glove compartment and go at it, how you even held it once, and you kept rubbing your thumb against the hammer until you got a blister.’
I squeezed my eyes shut and looked away. It did not deter her.
‘That’s her in you. You know how good it feels when you start accepting the idea that living by the rules doesn’t get you anywhere.’
Her voice had thinned out into a chill whisper, the edge of it against the pulse in my throat. I sat back, looked at the livid crescent moons my fingernails had embedded into my flesh.
‘Katie, I think that’s enough for today.’
Katie shook her head, chuckled to herself and kept her gaze entirely focused on me.
‘Yes, me too. You’ve seen it now, haven’t you? The next time we meet, we can start talking honestly.’
My bottom lip quavered, I took deep breaths to ease the white spots of panic that flashed before my eyes. In a savage gesture of defeat, I stabbed the panic button. The detectives rushed in, secured her with a detached but assertive routine. She was pushed onto her side, and as she bucked beneath their hands, she looked at me with a grin of utter triumph.
The undignified, screeching exit did nothing to redress the balance between us.
I asked Betsy to cancel the rest of my appointments. I told her that the whole thing had brought on a migraine and I would be heading home. Take a pill. Sleep it off.
I had been driving for ten minutes when I realised that I had not taken my normal commute home. I looked at the lines of palm trees, how they had once cast shade on me as I jogged down the perfect street, then back to a perfect life.
He would be home. My index finger rubbed against the callus on my thumb. It was soothing to do it, and as I pulled onto his drive, a terrible calm settled over me. I shut my eyes against the pressure in my head and heard Her voice speak an untamed truth deep into my bones.
I reached into the glove compartment. It felt like home.