Teddy looked down at the top page in the file Cawley had provided--- just thumbnail sketches from Cawley’s own memory, not the actual patient files. This guy was listed first and his name was Ken Gage and he was in here because he’d attacked a stranger in the aisle of a corner grocery store, beat the victim on the head with a can of peas, all the time say ing, in a very subdued voice, “Stop reading my mail.” “So, Ken,” Chuck said, “how you doing?”
“I got a cold. I got a cold in my feet.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
”It hurts to walk, yeah.” Ken scratched around the edges of a scab
on his arm, delicately at first, as if tracing a moat for it.
“Were you in group therapy the night before last?”
“I got a cold in my feet and it hurts to walk.”
“You want some socks?” Teddy tried. He noticed the two orderlies looking over at them, snickering.
“Yeah, I want some socks, I want some socks, I want some soks.”
Whispering it, head down and bobbing a bit.
“Well, we’ll get you some in a minute. We just need to know if you we re—“ “It’s just so cold. In my feet? It’s cold and it hurts to walk.” Teddy looked over at Chuck. Chuck smiled at the orderlies as the sound of their giggles floated to the table.
“Ken,” Chuck said. “Ken, can you look at me?”
Ken kept his head down, bobbing a bit more. His fingernail ore open the scab and a small line of blood seeped into the hairs of his arm.
“I can’t walk. Not like this, not like this. It’s so cold, cold, cold.”
“Ken, come on, look at me.”
Ken brought his fists down on the table.
Both orderlies stood and Ken said, “It shouldn’t hurt. It shouldn’t.
But they want it to. They fill the air with cold. They fill my kneecaps.”
The orderlies crossed to their table, looked over Ken at Chuck. The white one said, “You guys about done, or you want to hear more about his feet?”
“My feet are cold.”
The black orderly raised an eyebrow. “It’s okay, Kenny. We’ll take you to Hydro, warm you right up.”
The white one said, “I been here five years. Topic don’t change.”
“Ever?” Teddy said.
“It hurts to walk.”
“Ever,” the orderly said.
“Hurts to walk ‘cause they put cold in my feet...”
THE NEXT ONE, Peter Breene, was twenty-six, blond, and pudgy. A knuckle-cracker and a nail-biter.
“What are you here for, Peter?”
Peter looked across the table at Teddy and Chuck with eyes that seemed permanently damp. “I’m scared all the time.”
Peter propped his left ankle up on his right knee, gripped the ankle, and leaned forward. ‘”It sounds stupid, but I’m afraid of watches. The ticking. It gets in your head. Rats terrify me.” “Me too,” Chuck said.
“Yeah?” Peter brightened.
“Hell, yeah. Squeaky bastards. I get the piss-shivers just looking at one.”
“Don’t go out past the wall at night, then,” Peter said. “They’re everywhere.”
“Good to know. Thanks.”
“Pencils,” Peter said. “The lead, you know? The scratch-scratch on the paper. I’m afraid of you.”
“No,” Peter said, pointing his chin at Teddy. “Him.”
“Why?” Teddy asked.
He shrugged. “You’re big. Mean-looking crew cut. You can handle yourself. Your knuckles are scarred. My father was like that. He didn’t have the scars. His hands were smooth. But he was mean-looking. My brothers too. They used to beat me up.”
“I’m not going to beat you up,” Teddy said.
“But you could. Don’t you see? You have that power. And I don’t.
And that makes me vulnerable. Being vulnerable makes me scared.”
“And when you get scared?”
Peter gripped his ankle and rocked back and forth, his bangs falling
down his forehead. “She was nice. I didn’t mean anything. But she
scared me with her big breasts, the way her can moved in that white
dress, coming to our house every day. She’d look at me like... You
know the smile you give a child? She’d give me that smile. And she was my age. Oh, okay, maybe a few years older, but still, in her twenties.
And she had so much sexual knowledge. It was apparent in her eyes. She liked to be naked. She’d sucked cock. And then she asks me if she can have a glass of water. She’s alone in the kitchen with me, as if that’s no big deal?”
Teddy tilted the file so Chuck could see Cawley’s notes:
Patient assaulted his father’s nurse with a broken glass. Victim critically injured, permanently scarred. Patient in denial over his responsibility for the act.
“It’s only because she scared me,” Peter said. “She wanted me to pull out my thing so she could laugh at it. Tell me how I’d never be with a woman, never have children of my own, never be a man? Because, otherwise, I mean you know this, you can see it in my face—
I wouldn.’t hurt a fly. It’s not in me. But when I’m scared? Oh, the mind.”
“What about it?” Chuck’s voice was soothing.
“You ever think about it?”
“The mind,” he said. “Mine, yours, anyone’s. It’s an engine essentially. That’s what it is. A very delicate, intricate motor. And it’s got all these pieces, all these gears and bolts and hinges. And we don’t even know what half of them do. But if just one gear slips, just one... Have you thought about that?”
“You should. It’s just like a car. No different. One gear slips, one bolt cracks, and the whole system goes haywire. Can you live knowing that?” He tapped his temple. “That it’s all trapped in here and you can’t get to it and you don’t really control it. But it controls you, doesn’t it? And if it decides one day that it doesn’t feel like coming to work?” He leaned foiward, and they could see tendons straining in his neck. “Well, then you’re pretty much good and fucked, aren’t you?” “Interesting perspective,” Chuck said.