General Fiction posted January 8, 2024

This work has reached the exceptional level
Leaving together

I Found Her

by John Ciarmello

As jokingly stated to enquiring visitors by various staff working at Medline Psychiatric Hospital were the half-truths that their building was erected one hundred and twenty-five years ago on the outskirts of nonexistence and not too far down the road from oblivion. They’d joke that its towering Victorian conicals and spires were built solely to tear holes in the passing rain clouds by day and poke annoyingly at the resting gods by night. Needless to say, the job's perks were not on the outside looking in, or were they?
Birdie watched as Mr. Fa folded his sheets back and dangled his legs over the edge of his bed as he’d done every morning for the past year. Then, ritualistically, he’d peer into the palm of his hand and close it into a fist. 
“You don’t have anything in your hand that will hurt me, do you, Mr. Fa? ”Birdie’s question was protocol for staff members but was unnecessary as she had repeatedly heard the same answer.
“What do you see in my hand, Birdie?” he’d say.
Birdie then replied with wilted shoulders and a resignation in her voice. “Nothing, Mr. Fa. Your fist is closed.”
“And so it shall remain until the day my dead hand is opened,” they’d say synchronously. Then Birdie would frown, lay Mr. Fa's folded clothes at the bottom of the bed, and the rehearsed banter continued.
“You’re a curious man, Mr. Fa,” she’d say.
He’d look at his closed fist. “Not as curious as you, my dear Birdie.”
Birdie attempted to go off script with Mr. Fa over his year stay but with little success. However, there was something in his eyes this morning: a glimmer, a shifting glance she’d never seen before. She sat beside him to take advantage of the rare moment. “What is it? How does one hold his fist closed for this long? What are you holding on to, Mr. Fa?”
He glanced sheepishly at her and scooched closer to the headboard. His torso twisted in her direction. “What are you doing here, Birdie? Who’s taking care of my daughter?”
Birdie moved to the open window and peered outside. “Where is she, Mr. Fa? I can’t take care of her if I don’t know where she is.” 
Birdie returned to the bed and sat beside him again, closing her palms around his tight fist. “Try to think, Mr. Fa! The only way you’ll begin healing is if you remember. Tell me, we’ll find her together.”
“Shh, I found her. She’s sleeping.”
“Sleeping! Sleeping where? Can you see her?”
“She’s in the woods. She’s sleeping in the woods.”
“That’s right. Can you wake her, Mr Fa!”
“Her hand…”
“Go on, Mr. Fa. What about her hand?”
He grabbed a pillow and hugged it to his torso. “It’s sticking out of the ground, Birdie!” He hugged the pillow tighter and rocked on the edge of his bed. “She’s cold, she’s so cold.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fa. What are you going to do about that, about her being cold?”
“I, I’m digging. I’m digging with my nails. I’m trying to get to her. The ground is so hard, Birdie, so hard.”
“Have you reached her? Are you still digging, Mr. Fa?”
“I’m digging with both hands. But someone’s yelling, Birdie! They’re yelling in my ears.”
“What are they saying? Tell me, Mr. Fa!”
“It's me. I’m yelling. But no one is coming. Maybe they can’t hear me?”
“It’s okay, Mr. Fa. It’s going to be okay.”
“Why can’t they hear me, Birdie? Why?”
“Yell louder, Mr. Fa.”
“I hear something else, Mr. Fa! Look around you. Tell me what you see.”
“I can’t, Birdie. I can’t take my eyes off her. She needs me. I’m shaking her, Birdie! Why doesn’t she wake up?”
“You have to look away, Mr. Fa. You have to tell me who else is in the woods?”
 “Men, I see men coming through the woods now. Are they here to help us, Birdie?”
“Yes, Mr. Fa. Are they with you yet?”
“Not yet, but I have Jing in my arms, Birdie. Please hand me a blanket.” He cradled the pillow and wrapped it in the warm blanket. Birdie moved closer to him. 
He took her hand and placed it on the pillow. “Is she breathing, Birdie?”
“I’m afraid she’s not, Mr. Fa. I’m so sorry.”
“The men, they're here. They’re taking Jing out of my arms, Birdie. They’re trying to lead me away.”
“Go with them, Mr. Fa.”
“I can’t! I can’t leave her! Jing, wake up, my beautiful baby daughter. Wake up!” He hugged the blanket-wrapped pillow and curled onto the bed beside it.”
“It’ll be okay. You can let go of her now, Mr. Fa.” She removed the blanket and pillow from his grasp and placed it at the foot of the bed. His fist still clenched, protruding over the edge of the mattress.“I’m not feeling well, Birdie.”
“Rest now, Mr. Fa, Rest.”
“What is it, Mr. Fa?”
"Jing. She gave me something in the woods, Birdie. Something she said I should hold until my dying day. I have to share it with you. It’s time.”
“What is it? What are you holding on to?” 
“I have her soul, Birdie. Jing gave me her soul. She’s going to wait for me, Birdie. We’re going to leave together.”
Disappointment rang loudly in Birdie’s mind, and she thought how far they’d come in just a few hours and how it all seemed lost in mere seconds. She raised the blanket to his chin and placed his closed fist on his chest. “That’s beautiful, Mr. Fa.”
“Please stay, Birdie. I’m not feeling well. Please.”
“What’s bothering you, Mr. Fa? You’re not due for any meds yet, but I’ll see if we can get them pushed up for you.”
“No, I’m just so tired, Birdie. I want you to stay until I fall asleep.”
“Then close your eyes. Sweet dreams, Mr. Fa.”
He nodded weakly, and she watched as his fluttering eyes glanced at his fist before they closed. 
Seconds later, his arm fell limp to his side, and Birdie watched as his fingers slowly opened. His palm glowed for a millisecond before she felt a calming sensation pass through her body. It was gone only seconds before another sensation came. A sensation she could only interpret as a second soul. It lingered within her, and she felt its warmth and gratitude. Birdie raised her head to pray and watched as a divided mist conjoined and disappeared into the room's bright lights.




This story represents a snippet of time and place. A spliced piece of film taken from a larger piece of reality.

Artwork by Rana Faure / copyright reserved
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