December 18, 1933
Mrs. Johnson, Housekeeper
Mallie Lyn Peters, Attending Nurse
Eleanor Koepp, Tutor
Rose’s schedule is to be followed every day, consistently, for the next three months. Routine will help eradicate her previous experiences. In routine, she will find comfort and freedom. Miss Peters will attend to Rose when she is available; all other times Mrs. Johnson will see that she stays on schedule. Miss Koepp will maintain charge during her scheduled times. She is to keep to her own room at all other times. Excursions into town are allowed with written permission.
5:30AM Rise from bed and ablutions
6:00AM Breakfast of porridge, meat, various fruit
7:00AM Morning walk
7:30AM Tutor arrives and gives lessons in literature, basic mathematics, housekeeping, cooking, manners
11:00AM Lunch with tutor
12:00PM Afternoon walk
12:30PM Afternoon memory exercises. Use repetition of provided memories to replace those of her childhood. Begin with page 1, early childhood, and do not move forward until I deem necessary.
4:00PM Rest. Time may be filled with needlework, painting, gardening and other calming activities.
6:00PM I arrive back from the asylum and will join Rose for dinner. She is to wear one of her three finest dresses.
7:00PM Memory exercises with me begin promptly. Do not disturb us.
-Doctor Elliott Kinney-
Kinney’s new life glowed. It virtually glowed! He found such excitement in his work now that he had a home and purpose again. At the asylum, there was a softness about him, and his endless coughing and colds had subsided. He was less apt to prescribe hydrotherapy for misbehaving patients and more willing to give them a second chance. He began talking at the dinner table with his colleagues and the board on the nights he was required to stay. All other times he flew through his day and followed his checklist. He saw patients, he prescribed, he monitored, he read the most recent research. And at night, Bill Pepperidge drove him the short distance to his new home, a lovely home surrounded by woods and on a hill overlooking the bay. With every moment he drew closer to his home, his heart beat a little bit faster. And of his long days, he did not fully breathe until they pulled up to the house with the dining room illuminated from within. He had to stop himself from running up the stairs because he knew that she was waiting for him.
He liked her in the red dress best. A red dress for his dear Rose.
Before entering the dining room, he took a calming breath, gathered his wits, and turned the doorknob. There she was, waiting. Candles lit, their meal prepared for them, looking so beautiful with her waves of shadow dark hair. She turned to him and smiled and said the words he’d been practicing with her. The words that at first had sounded hollow and unfeeling, but with continued repetition took on new meaning. It was so simple, really! You could give anyone a new memory or meaning if you simply repeated it long enough…and tonight…tonight…she said the words for the first time. “Hello, husband. Welcome home.”
Kinney stopped and stared at her. A dark curl had fallen across her eye. She looked at him, her smile firmly in place. Firm. Cold. He reached for her, pressed his lips to hers. “Hello, Rose,” he said. “Very well done. Next time, kiss me back.”
Rose nodded. He patted her shoulder and then moved to sit across from her. They would eat dinner in silence as she did not have the skills yet to carry on the right conversation, a conversation he might have had with his first Rose. Through repetition, she would finally get it right, and then, and then…well. He smiled to himself and reached for the roasted pork. They would begin practicing the next phase tonight. First, he would teach her how to kiss him back, and then all the right things she should say.
He thinly sliced the pork and placed a piece on Rose’s plate. They ate in silence, save their silverware scraping on the china.
Mallie Lyn Peters watched from the kitchen door, cracked open slightly. A sliver of light fell across her eye, but from a distance she would be invisible. And Kinney paid her no mind any way. He was too focused on his dinner with Ama.
Mallie’s new life was a curious existence. She worked at the asylum during the day and things ran as normal as usual. She rarely saw George any more as with Ama gone there was no more need to meet each other in the tunnels. She missed him, but she did not miss the way George eyed Ama. That morning, though, she’d run to the kitchen where he was loading in wood and had given him a jar of preserves. “Why, thank you, Mallie…” he’d said, and then quickly added, “Miss Peters.”
“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Young. I made them myself I did. From spring rhubarb,” she’d returned, blushing to her toes. She replayed that conversation over and over.
Months ago she would’ve gone home to her mother and siblings after her work at the asylum was done. Now she had a room of her own in this expansive house with Doctor Kinney and Ama. Rose. She wasn’t sure what he wanted to call her (or why) and so mostly she avoided using her name at all.
In her work at the asylum, Mallie had been witness to, and an accomplice, in many of the therapies given. She’d strapped patients down while they were administered remedies. She’d seen seizures that rattled brains. Once, an inmate had bitten off her own tongue in an effort to remain silent. Horrible things. And the therapies never really seemed to help. Mallie believed, secretly, that many of the patients were beyond help. It wasn’t just the feeble-minded ones, the ones where their physical deformities were so apparent. There were others whose souls were fractured, and a few who possessed no soul at all. Mallie wasn’t sure if Ama could be healed, because she hadn’t yet figured out what was wrong with her. So Mallie watched secretly. She observed just as she did at the asylum.
Kinney moved to sit next to Ama. “Rose,” he said. When Ama did not look up at him, he said her name again, but this time there was an edge to his voice. “Rose!”
She looked at him. Mallie could not see her expression, but she felt anger pouring off the girl. “I want to tell you a story about how we met.”
“We met at my home,” she said. “I came to you one night and I took you.”
“No. You did not. That’s a dream, Rose. A dream. We met on the shores of Lake Michigan, in Grand Haven. We were both vacationing with our families at the same resort. You stood in the water, your dress lifted to your knees. And do you remember what happened next?”
She did not answer.
“There was a great undertow and when the waves crashed in, you lost your footing and…”
“I fell?” Ama asked softly.
Kinney nodded, apparently pleased. “You fell. I was walking by at that moment and I ran into the water to rescue you.”
“You rescued me. I fell in the water.”
“It was cold. Freezing. I carried you out of the water and you were…”
Kinney nodded again. “Shivering. And you said…”
“It’s like the lake wanted me to swallow me whole.”
“And I said, you must take more care. And you looked at me, Rose, you looked at me and said…”
“If I had taken care, I wouldn’t be in your arms right now. I rather like being in your arms right now.” Ama looked directly at Kinney now and smiled, a smile that lit her face and seemed to illuminate her beauty. “I’m Rose,” she said to the doctor.
Kinney nodded and Mallie wondered if his expression were, indeed, one of pleasure. “And I am Elliott Kinney,” he said and then shook Rose’s hand. Mallie would think of her as Rose now. She could see that was what the doctor wanted. He wanted everyone to believe she was someone else.
Mallie drew away from the kitchen door, let it close silently. She’d seen them rehearse this scene over and over. What was the point? Could Ama actually believe that this was her memory? She seemed to. But why? What kind of healing could false thoughts do for a person?
She did not want to think about it. She did not want to question what was going on in this house or about to go on in this house. She wanted her pay and to help her family and she wanted, most of all, she wanted Charlie Young to herself.
Ama was empty. Empty. In her room at night in the doctor’s house she could close her eyes and be in the comforting shadows of her childhood home. She missed the pictures papa Tim had drawn for her. She wanted papa Robert to come to her and practice swordplay. She wanted mama Liliana and Lynnie to sing her to sleep. This time though, when she called for them, they did not come. No one came, save the doctor. And so she stopped calling.
She missed the sound of water dripping in the tunnels. Missed running her hands across the surface of the brick. Missed running as fast as she could through the curving underground passage. She knew it so well she could run with her eyes closed with no fear of tripping. And when the asylum slept, she explored. She played.
She was, contrary to what Kinney suspected, not at all a blank slate. She knew of the world and she knew where her family slept at night. She knew that they had trouble in The Outside World and had come to the Asylum because they could not live anywhere else. She knew not to mention potatoes to papa Robert. She knew to never approach mama Liliana from behind. She knew that her family was different and she did not care. She did not yearn for anything other than what she had. What needs did she have? She had a loving home and adventures. And as she grew older, Liliana and mama Lynnie explained to her the peculiar hunger that grew within her and how she could quiet it down with using a man.
Kinney was not her first lover. She’d taken them before, in the darkest of nights, sometimes only once, sometimes repeatedly. They thought of her as a ghost or a hallucination. She liked it that way. With Kinney, though, she had felt something different. Hey looked at her differently than the others. There was a hint of fierceness in his wanting of her. If only Ama had figured it out earlier the way she had with the other inmates of the asylum.
Growing up within its walls, at night she had explored the belly of the hospital…and over time, she had grown to know the inmates. She could sneak into their wards at night. She told stories. She danced. She sang. And they loved her. She never feared for her safety because her family watched out for her. And before approaching an inmate, Ama studied them. She watched them. She could feel how they were broken and as one would avoid touching a wound when trying to heal it, Ama avoided those broken parts of their spirits. You could read a person’s emotions from the words their body spoke. How the body tensed or relaxed, how a face contracted or pinched, how eyes flashed at you with humor or menace. Ama had a talent to calm and connect. To heal. After their treatments, Ama would go to them, touch their foreheads, and they looked up at her and found comfort.
Her one mistake was that she had not taken enough time to observe Kinney. She had wanted that peculiar closeness with him, to take pleasure from him, and she had taken him wildly. But she should have noted that flash in his eyes.
Like everyone else at the asylum, Kinney was broken. And he was the first person that Ama had met where she could not figure out which wounds to avoid in order to heal him.
And so, in her new room and new life, she waited. She closed her eyes. She sang softly to herself and dreamed of running in the tunnels. For now, she would give Kinney everything he wanted. She would control the language of her body. But when she finally figured out the cracks in his spirit, when she knew the answer to what ailed him, then, and only then would she take action.
She was happy here for a time, but had no doubt that she would return to her family. She served a greater purpose at the asylum. She was their secret. Their dark angel. And she loved them with all her might.