XXXIX | Something To Do

In the storage room

all the paints
and brushes
and canvases

are kept,

is already painting.

Humming to herself.

she’ll speak,

pointing her paintbrush at the canvas,

stabbing it
with Malay curses.

She feels
my eyes on her

and turns to look.


Her paintbrush lowers—
she hands it
to a non-existent servant.

It drops

and turns the floor red.

‘Traitor!’ yells

the self-proclaimed
of the asylum.

I stand

as still as possible
in the doorway,

hoping she’ll vanish

like a dream.
(She doesn’t.)

She stands on the stool

she was sitting on.

‘Get out,’
she commands.

Our eyes meet

but she’s not looking at me,
her eyes

see something beyond.

I don’t think

she knows
who I am—my name—where she is, what she’s doing.

So I walk into the room,
(ignoring her)

to get an empty canvas
from the back.

She’s opened

every bottle of paint
and placed them
(in no particular order) around her stool.

I almost kick some over

on my way

to the back
of the storage room.

She’s screaming now,
waving her arms in the air,

asking me
to look at her.

The canvas

is heavier
than I thought it would be,

so I rest it

on an easel

and prepare
to drag it outside.

I won’t be able

to do anything

if I stay here
with this crazy woman.


grips the top
of the easel

so I can’t push it out.

I use more strength.

She’s stronger
than she looks.

Her mouth,
curved in a snarl,



I push as hard as I can
until I feel
my muscles ache

and Fatima
is using two hands

to stop

from ‘taking her things’.

Then I let go

and watch her fall

from her throne
towards me

into the open bottles of paint

that spill


the splintering canvas
and breaking easel.

I back away

from the mess
and topple

a bottle of paintbrushes.

come to look

at what’s going on.

How long
has he been standing in the doorway?

Gavin’s eyes are wide

but not surprised.

I’ve been here
much longer than

than you’ve been alive,

I can almost hear him say.

This is nothing.

He turns





No one else

to look.

I’m alone
with Fatima

who’s getting soaked to the skin in paint,


I shake her shoulder,
ask if she’s okay,

if she needs help getting up.

No response.

Red paint pools
between my toes

as I lift her hair from her face

to check
if she’s passed out.

Her eyes
meet mine

like a hiding ghost waiting to pounce

and a paint-coated hand
reaches out to scratch me.

I stab at it
with the paintbrush
I find in my hand,

blood-curling screams

drowning out

every other sound.

They continue—
the inhuman screams,
my fight with the hand—

even after
I’ve lost

feeling in my throat.

An alarm begins to blare
through the stone walls of the asylum.

A nurse
steps into

the storage room

to drag me to safety.

I’m lifted up,
feet brushing over


She turns over
and I see

wooden shards
sticking out of her neck,

red paint

pouring out endlessly
from that opening.

I’m pushed backwards,

my arms
feel like they’ve been

from their sockets.

More nurses
to where Fatima is.

There’s one in front of me

I vaguely
make out,

telling me stuff—

her mouth moving
in slow-motion,

backing me into a room full of books

I also vaguely

Sticky rubber-gloved hands

around my wrists.

The alarm

continues blaring

stopping to breathe.

The nurses

continue multiplying

like maggots
in a dead body

until the storage room

is full to the brim
with them.

I’m enveloped
in a white hug.

It’s okay. It’s okay.

Someone says
over and over.


You don’t need to remember




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