V | Some Pills

There’s no fixed dinner time,


Tammie tells me
as we head

Through the empty sitting area,

I notice
that the ceiling here

is much lower

than the latticed glass panels
that almost touch the clouds.

The nurses
smile from behind me

and I decide
to tell her about it later.

The song
‘Moonlight Sonata’

seeps through the walls of the asylum

and fills the air
with tangible tension.


The only way

to tell time around here is medication time.

at 7pm (and 7am),


Tammie explains,


When this song plays,
we have to gather in the main hall.


In the main hall,

the one with the locked door
(that leads to the maze of doors
that leads out of the mansion),

seven other patients
have already claimed their favourite armchairs.

Their eyes follow Tammie
and me
and the nurses

as I sit in the only one left.


There’ll be a nurse watching us—


The nurse is
a male

in a white uniform,
a baton on his belt,

eyes staring blankly ahead—

standing guard
by the locked doors.


—and another one will lead us
one by one to take our medicine.


There is a beep
and the locked doors part

(like the Red Sea)

and another male nurse steps in,
calling Krishna’s name.

She stands—
her eyes meeting mine briefly—

and follows him.


The door clicks
behind them

and the second movement of Moonlight Sonata
drifts through the quiet hall.

‘Where do they take us?’
I ask Tammie.

She smiles apologetically
like it’s her fault we have to do this.


The lower room.


‘It’s not your fault,’ I tell her.

She shrugs.

I look up at the nurses
standing beside my armchair.

‘Will you follow me
‘to take my medicine too?’

The pretty one gives a single shake of her head.
The plain one smiles.

I think they prefer the sound
of Moonlight Sonata

to my voice.


I notice Urei

in the nearby armchair
watching me.

I shake my legs,
thumping my heels

to the rhythm,

disrupting the silence,
disrupting the anxiety

caused by watching
each patient follow the nurse obediently

towards their own


Do they know?
What it is
they’re being forced to swallow?





The male nurse’s voice
is husky.

His irises are blue.
He’s angmoh.

I stand,
like the patients before me,

and go through the door I entered
not so long ago.

It clicks behind me,
and I’m enveloped in darkness

beside an unknown man

for ten seconds.

He leads me
through the dimly-lit corridor
with no doors on the walls

to the windowless room
with the hard linoleum floor.

the room was empty,
as dim as the corridor.


fluorescent lights are blasting

blinding white light.

A table is set up in the middle,
two nurses wearing shower caps on one side,
empty plastic chair on the other.

The male nurse
that led me here
gestures to the chair.

I check it for maggots

then sit.

A paper plate is set in front of me
with a variety of pills
in different shapes and sizes.

I only recognise

three of them.

The nurses in the shower caps
are also wearing mouth masks

so I can’t tell if they are
a he or she.

The nurse on the left
tells me to swallow

all the pills

and open my mouth
for the nurse on the right
to check.

I stare at them.

Their chests don’t rise and fall
like real human beings.

With one hand,
I take the paper cup with water

and raise it up to my lips.

I finish the water
and set it down.

‘Take your medicine, Fiona,’
the nurse on the left says.

‘I don’t recognise these pills,’
I tell him/her.

The nurse on the right blinks.

‘It’s your medicine.
‘We followed the doctor’s prescription.’

We begin a staring contest.

Moonlight Sonata isn’t being played
in this room,
so I can hear

myself breathing.

I end up blinking first.
They’re probably experts at this game.




I tap the empty cup
on the plastic table.

‘I don’t have anymore water.’

Quiet footsteps
from the opposite end
of the room.

The woman in the white trench coat
who brought me here.

She puts a full paper cup
into my hand.

Our eyes meet.


Eat your medicine quickly
so everyone else can go to bed.


I don’t move.

She tilts my empty hand
and pours the pills into my palm.


The hospital you came from said
you were well-behaved and ate all your medicine.

Do you want us to send you back?


There’s definitely

than there used to be.


If I hold the pills long enough,
will they melt away?


We won’t let the other patients

use the bathroom
or sleep

if you don’t eat your medicine.


I think about Tammie,
her apologetic smile
and the foul stench of vomit

that clings to her

like a demon.

I’ll figure out
what the new pills are

another day.




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