In the morning Kinney awoke to the emptiness of the bed and his room, and the awareness that to accomplish his goal, he would need to take steps. First steps began with the ritual of shaving. Cold water, lathering the soap in the cup, dragging the straight blade down the sharp curve of his jaw. Just a touch of blood. Never mind. There was always a scratch or two when preparing to greet the world. And then the dressing: under garments, starched shirt, dark dress pants, shoes polished to a dark mirror. He smoothed pomade in his hair until every hair lay perfectly in place. And then he began his morning routine, or what had become his morning routine. He did not go to the dining hall for coffee and food to be spooned upon a platter for him. He went quietly down into the tunnels. He too could have a secret hiding spot. Kinney, you see, was a quick learner.
As a doctor Kinney had realized early on that before taking any precipitous steps with a patient, he must observe quietly first. Only after hours of observation, could he (as one would cut out a cancerous growth) know exactly how to remove the cause of his suffering. For Kinney suffered now. Every moment when Rose was not with him (for he thought of Ama entirely as his Rose now) he suffered gravely. He was losing weight, the sharp blades of his bones becoming yet more pronounced. He coughed more and at times had such trouble breathing he feared he’d pass out. When Rose was with him all signs of his illness abated. He was well. And so he must figure out a way to remove Rose from the darkness of the tunnels and take her into the light of his own life.
From the shadows he observed. This morning Rose was tended to by the albino, Beeler. The four inmates seemed to exhibit vastly different psychoses and on their own could barely tend to themselves, let alone take care of a child. Collectively, he noted, it was a different story entirely. They seemed to help each other. To communicate with one another. Where one patient had a weakness, another had strengths. The albino did not talk. It was either a self-imposed silence or perhaps his albinism was only one tendril of deeper malformations. Perhaps he did not have a tongue with which to speak. Beeler’s strength was tending to Rose, protecting her while she slept. He watched over her, fiercely at times Kinney noted. If there were no other noises in the tunnel room where she slept Beeler drew pictures for her.
Her room consisted of a stained mattress and an odd collection of broken toys and dolls on slanted shelves. Alone, the room would be dismal, but Beeler with his drawings had somehow transformed the small room into a childish paradise. While Beeler was without color himself, he drew and painted pictures with colors so vibrant they practically vibrated. The walls were covered with a deep blue waterfall and a woods so lush it seemed to hum. Butterflies of inexplicable colors flew and hid in flowers. Woodland creatures peered from branches and fields. And the ceiling was covered not with the brightness of a sun, but the cool simple beauty of sister moons.
Once, Kinney had stifled a cough and Beeler had immediately turned in place and seemed to stare straight at him. Kinney dared not breathe, especially when a growl of inhuman nature issued from the throat of the albino. Hours passed, seemingly, until Beeler returned to his sketching. Kinney had no doubt that if the inmate had caught him observing, he might have torn out Kinney’s own tongue, rendering him without speech too.
Kinney had observed the others with her too. Kostic was her guardian and storyteller. Kostic suffered from what was newly termed paranoid schizophrenia. He had moments of extreme lucidity, even an otherworldly calm, and moments of extreme violence…yet somehow he used this diseased part of his mind to spin incredible stories.
Kinney thought of him as a ruthless spider spinning nightmares and demons, saints and hellfire. Rose listened raptly, apparently transported as Kostic spoke. Through this way Kinney suspected Rose had learned language and a sense of wrong from right. There was always a hero in his stories; it’s just that many of the heroes were from the darkest parts of the underworld.
Rose’s sense of sensuality and gender seemed to come from (for lack of a better word) her two mothers. Liliana was a hysteric who suffered from bouts of epilepsy. She was considered feeble-minded, yet she had a way about her, a gentleness of spirit that was inviting. Her long curly hair fell to her back and surrounded her face in shadow, yet a calmness flowed from her. She seemed to feel deep empathy for the others. When Rose was troubled, she ran to Liliana and was soothed. And when the others were fighting or suffering an episode, Liliana stepped in and softly talked them down, or placed herself fearlessly between Rose and the other inmate who was about to strike.
And then there was Lynnie Grant, a lifetime ward of the asylum. Now in her seventies she was as withered as a dead tulip stalk. The years had bent her back into a sharp hook so that when she walked, she faced her own stomach. She could not straighten up entirely, but would twist her head up to see you. She was notoriously promiscuous, even at this age, with language so base and dirty there were times they locked her in a private ward to keep her from infecting the other inmates. If witches existed, surely Lynnie Grant was one of them. Kinney could not discern her role in Rose’s life and did not care to ponder how Rose could be such a knowledgeable lover. Surely it was not from instruction but Rose’s unending passion for Kinney specifically.
And so it went on. And so Kinney watched and waited and listened. Listened to how the inmates related not to Rose but to each other. And every morning when he crawled out of the tunnels, he wrote copious notes so that he would not forget. He would use the information to cut out another cancerous growth, and it would allow him to finally possess Rose.
This morning, she slept. Kinney smiled to himself. He would not have to wait much longer. He had almost everything he needed. He would begin the cleaving soon.