The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Moon is Very Bright Tonight

A Tale

You can hear them at night, in the corridors, prowling. Particularly these nights. At first they were quiet, stealthy. Now they no longer feel the need, or perhaps it is just that I listen harder, though I try not to listen at all. I need to sleep more. Everyone says so.

I would like to sleep more, but that is difficult here. There is a lot of noise at night. There are howls, screams. That happened again last night. Someone made trouble. He mangled himself, they say. The stains are there still, out in the corridor. They are faint, but definitely visible. Someone was definitely mangled. It is the season for it, they say. There is a lot of it about.

Some people sleep through the nights, but they could sleep through anything. They sleep through the daytime too, although their eyes are open. If it were possible, I also would sleep through the daytime, so as to be more alert by night, but this is not possible. One should sleep by night, wake by day. The reverse is not approved of, and is discouraged. The days here are noisier than the nights.

Most of my sleeping is done between dawn and waking-up time. This means a couple of hours a night in summer, and rather less in winter. At the moment it is winter. I have never been here in winter before, and I am very tired. I am difficult to get out of bed in the mornings. The staff complain about this, and the doctor questions me about it on the infrequent occasions when we see each other.
"You look tired," he will say.
"I feel fine," I will reply. The doctor is large and overbearingly healthful. His hands are broad, with long hairy fingers.
"Perfectly fine," I will say. "I just get restless in a strange bed."
I have to be careful what I say. Sometimes they threaten me with sleeping pills, though the threat is not made as a threat.
"Wouldn't you like to try, just for one night?" they say. "See what a difference it will make."

I keep on refusing, as casually as I can. If I were adamant about it they would start to suspect that my need for the pills was greater than they had supposed.

Already I have to taste my food very carefully, just in case. I do not think they have noticed this yet. My appetite has never been large, certainly not for the food they serve here. The portions are either too big or too small, and usually undercooked. The potatoes crunch and the meat bleeds. Nobody complains. The doctor eats with gusto, as if to show us all a good example.

I do not know how many people here are like me, aware but silent. Nobody talks very much, and nobody says anything at all about what happens in the night. It is possible that I am the only one who hears anything. It is equally possible that everyone hears everything, or that I hear less than most. You cannot communicate here. I am not writing this to communicate.

This writing is a secret. Secrets here are not approved of, and are discouraged. "It is important that you tell us everything, so we can help you," they say.

The staff here keep on changing. It is impossible to keep track. They are supposed to wear badges so we know their names, but few of them adhere to this rule. I do not believe it matters very much. You can always tell who the staff are when it is most necessary.

The occasions when recognition is important are medication time and whenever violence breaks out. These occasions often coincide. Many people here do not like taking medication, but most of them are too drugged to think of effective ways to avoid it. They either swallow it without objection, or else they object violently and are forced to swallow it. I have never been violent, so I am trusted to take mine. Nobody bothers to check under my tongue.

I am not proud that I can get away with this. Often it frightens me, because I think they can afford to let me do almost whatever I like. After all, I do not know how many of them there are, and if I did know I could never do anything about it.

Someone is making trouble again tonight. Out in the corridor there are yells, howls. The soothing voices of the staff are drowned in echoing scuffles and howls. Soon the voices fade, blending. I am sitting here looking out of the window. The moon is very bright tonight, and full.


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