Letter addressed to Board of Directors, 1912:
There have been rumors circulating the facility that an inmate gave birth to a child in the tunnels. This is a fallacy. Yes, a young woman was found in an exhausted state and she had signs of a physical attack, but she shows no signs of having been pregnant at any time. The woman has been transferred to another location and is recovering. Her family has been informed. The breech in the tunnels has been fixed. Dear fellows, rumors circulate, you must know that. Especially in an asylum for the deranged.
-Signed, P. Callahan
Letter addressed to Doctor Grooms, Superintendent, 1912:
I am writing because I cannot live with this secret. You know as well as I do that the woman in question had a child. Where has that child gone? If the child has been taken, it is kidnapping. If the child…if the child is dead then perhaps it is murder. How am I to cover this up? You cannot ask it of me! I no longer wish to be a part of this establishment. I cannot continue in this subterfuge and so I am taking another position. Please allow me a two weeks pay stipend, in return of which, I promise not to speak of this. I have written to the board as you requested, but that is the last of it. I wash my hands of this affair, sir. I beg you never to speak of it to me again.
-Signed, P. Callahan
On the walls of the tunnels in green crayon:
A m A
Northern Michigan Insane Asylum, 1932
The ice storms of November slipped into the soft snowfall of an early winter. And in the cool fresh air, Kinney was renewed. He slept deeply. He woke quickly. His movements took on a vigor that he had lacked for so many years. When he polished his shoes, the brush snapped across the surface. When he shaved, his blade was quick and did not shake. He walked briskly as if his feet could at any moment propel him into the air. He saw his patients and monitored, tended. He ate lush meals with the board of trustees and his fellow doctors. He found a new way to laugh, deep from his belly. His eyes sparked. And every day he used his energy to propel him into the next moment, the next second, because every second that clicked by was another second closer to seeing his Rose.
Of course, he knew that the woman that came to him at night and slipped into his bed was not his wife. He had buried his wife, seen her eyes sewn shut. But this woman, when she whispered his name, when she kissed him, when he trailed his hands along the curves of her breasts to the flat of her stomach, this woman in the darkness and the quiet might as well have been his wife. She was his wife in every way but one. She was his wife in the shadows; in the daylight he was still a widower.
She would tell him nothing. She knew nothing. “Where were you born?” he asked her one night after making love. Their bodies were warm against the clawing cold of the night air.
“Here,” she whispered and then kissed his chest.
“Here? You mean here, here at the asylum. But how?” He tried to pull away, but she kissed him again, the side of his neck, his ear.
“Yes, here. Here. Everywhere.” She kissed him again and he lost all sense of himself.
He could not let go of not-knowing. “What do you know of her, Mallie?” he asked while following Mallie to visit the women’s ward.
“I can’t speak of it, sir,” she said. And she would not.
So Kinney took it upon himself to discover the origin of this woman, a woman of his dreams, surely, who came to him at night and loved him fiercely and then disappeared with the morning. He searched records and files. He dug through other patients’ paperwork. And then he began to talk to the patients themselves, probing tenderly with questions to find the truth. What do you know? He’d ask. And sometimes he’d say just her name, just Ama, and see if there was a flicker in their eyes. A flicker that said they knew.
He gathered truth like berries. He held them close to him and in time he discovered the truth. Ama had been born in the tunnels of the asylum. Her mother was an inmate. She had no parents, no wards, except for the people who visited her and tended to her. There were four patients she looked to as her family, although over the years there had been many others. Two mothers, two fathers, all of them, all four of them inmates of the asylum. And yet Ama was nearly perfect in every way. She seemed not to exhibit any psychosis at all. How could a child born in an asylum and raised, it seemed, by a collective of lunatics, have survived at all let alone flourished into such a woman?
Kinney could not understand. He wanted to. He wanted to crawl into the tender pieces of her mind to discover the magic of it. How was it possible? It wasn’t! But, of course, it was.
Ama was perfect in nearly every way, except she seemed to have no concept of time or place, of memory. She lived fully in the here and now.
It was this, along with her striking resemblance to Rose, that gave him the idea. If he could give her some memories, implant them if you will, if he could change the inflection of words, make her say certain phrases, if he could get her to say to him how much she loved him, the way that Rose had said so many times before she slipped away from him…wouldn’t that be a way of bringing Rose back? Ama was a blank slate, a personality that had not been shaped or formed. She was a child trapped in the body of a woman he loved.
“I can free her,” he thought. “I have the power and the knowledge to do it.” In the past, he’d attempted to free lunatics of their diseased spirits by cutting out portions of the brain. To transform Ama would require no surgery, though. Just a steady hand in manipulation, an understanding of the brain and memory. He could do it.
“Ama,” he said and pulled her on top of him. Her smooth skin warmed him. Like this, their bodies pressed tight, there was no space between them. Not even air could separate them. “I want to call you something else. A name. A pet name. A name I will whisper to you and you will know is yours.”
“Yes,” she whispered. Her body moved against him.
“I will call you Rose,” he said, and this time he kissed her. Drank of her. Breathed her in. “Rose,” he said again. It was as if her silence accepted him, pulled him in. Then he was lost to all thought…at least until the morning dawned.