Kinney’s bed lay in the front porch of Building 50, surrounded by rows and rows of other patients in white beds, their pillows dotted with red. “Do not watch him, dear. It does not do your spirit good,” Mama Lilliana said to Ama.
They stood in the shadows, where they were both so at home. Lilliana wore nothing but a thin nightgown, the outline of her voluptuous body just visible beneath the gossamer threads. She looked as if she belonged in the asylum, as if she were a part of the place. Madness had seeped into the lines of her face, the spin of her long hair. But it had not etched itself with pain, but with acceptance. With an embrace. Sometimes a house or a church or an institution could reach its tendrils into the very fabric of a person and bind to them. This had happened to Lily. She was a part of the hospital now and she did not fight this. No. There was no need to fight that which you loved.
Ama, on the other hand, had changed. There was a time when she belonged in the shadows. When her very existence was a mad secret whispered through the tunnels that crisscrossed underground. Now, though, she stood clothed in her buttoned white dress, stretched taut over the new curve of her growing belly. The nurse’s hat was pinned securely to her thick hair…and she looked at Kinney with the detachment that authority breeds. Ama was no longer an inmate in her house, but an authority.
“He’s gone, you know. There’s no hope for him. The sickness has him,” Ama said. “But then, the sickness has always had him, hasn’t it.”
Lilliana’s response was a pat on the back.
“I can get you out of here,” Ama continued. “I have money now. I know people. I can set us up a house. For all of us. For you and Papa Beeler and…” She paused, knowing that her other parents, Papa Kostic and Mamma Grant, were gone now to that place of white from which they could never come back. Lilliana did not answer this time. In fact, she had already disappeared into the shadows, so quickly and silently that Ama wondered if she had ever been there at all.
The hospital shivered with the coughing of the dying.
Kinney tossed in his bed. Writhed. He was like a snake trapped in cloth and tried to free himself by endlessly turning, thus snaring him even more securely. His cough became a great crescendo. He clawed at his throat. He fought against his own body.
Ama could have gone to him and said, “This, this is what it feels like to be trapped. This is what you have done to so many of the ones that I have loved.” Or perhaps, “Look! Look around you doctor! You are just like us, now!” Or maybe even, “You are not my husband and I am not your wife and you are not well. You are not sound.”
He needed no curses from her though. Justice was being delivered by an invisible hand. Ama saw the hand reach into his mouth, swirl into his mind and take what was there, steal his breath and his heart…and it was this that he choked on. Ama knew that for Kinney there would be no tunnel of white light to pass through. His end would come with the coldness of not a soul caring.
It only took a minute or so and it was over. Kinney gave up fighting. His body contracted and then released.
The ward fell silent for a moment as if relieved from his passing. Ama stared at him. He did not move. The child in her belly reached forward. Ama felt her child’s caress inside her and it was as if it were saying goodbye.
Ama turned and walked down the hall.
Her footsteps faded into the darkness.