Ophelia smiled at the young man who was sitting by himself in the day lounge. She’d come to the hospital to provide moral support for her best friend who was visiting her sister, recently diagnosed with post-natal depression. The friend had been torn between making the visit and concerns about going to a psychiatric hospital, and had jumped at Ophelia’s offer to accompany her.
Ophelia had wanted to give the sisters some privacy and wandered across to look out of the large panoramic windows facing the lawn. There she found a young man. She decided to risk speaking to him.
“The garden looks nice,” she said, cursing herself for the banality of the statement. At least it was better than commenting on the weather.
“If you like that sort of thing,” he replied.
“Do you prefer building to gardens?”
“It doesn’t matter what I prefer. I’m stuck here.”
“Oh!” Stupid of her trying to start a conversation with someone with psychiatric problems.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here?”
“My uncle killed my father, and he’s had me committed for saying so.”
“You’re just like the others, simply because he says I’m mad you believe him rather than me.”
“No, um, I …” To Ophelia’s relief she saw her friend standing up, ready to leave.
Ophelia stood up too.
“Come and see me again,” the young man asked.
“Okay!” She’d spoken without really thinking about it, but knew she would.
A few days later Ophelia’s friend mentioned she was going to visit her sister again.
“I’ll come with you.”
“You don’t have to. I know what to expect now.”
“Really, I’d like to.”
Ophelia had been disappointed at first when she didn’t see the young man, but then she spotted him, curled up in a chair at the other end of the panoramic windows from where she’d first met him.
She went over to him and said, “Hi!”
He nodded at her.
“I’m Ophelia,” she said, sitting down next to him. He remained silent, so she added, “What’s your name?”
“Cool.” She wondered what to say to him – ‘how’s your day been’ didn’t seem appropriate.
Fortunately Hamlet spoke. “My mother came to see me yesterday.”
“No it isn’t. She told me she and my uncle just wanted the best for me. But she’s lying. She married my uncle when he killed my father. How can she think my uncle is a patch on my father? My father was amazing – strong, powerful, brilliant.”
“You dad must have been great.”
“Not Dad,” Hamlet snapped. “Father. My father was awesome. You would have been so impressed by him if you’d met him.”
“I’m sure I would,” Ophelia said rather nervously. The force of Hamlet’s words had taken her by surprise. Hamlet nodded at her agreement. “And yet my mother betrays him every day.”
Hamlet was growing agitated and, feeling alarmed, Ophelia started to stand.
“Stay a little longer,” Hamlet pleaded.
She sat back down and was relieved to see this seemed to calm him. Not knowing what to say she remained silent, but he appeared happy at this. After about ten minutes Ophelia saw her friend stand up, so she did so too.
“I have to go now,” she said.
“Come again?” Hamlet asked.
Ophelia went back on the Saturday, not even using her friend as an excuse. She had a feeling the friend had said her sister had come home anyway, but Ophelia had taken no notice. It hadn’t seemed important.
When she arrived, Ophelia saw there were already two people with Hamlet, but he looked up almost at once and beckoned her over.
“You can go,” Hamlet said to his friends. “This is my real friend.”
Ophelia felt pride at being able to offer Hamlet something his other friends couldn’t give him. The two young men left muttering, but Ophelia didn’t care.
Ophelia and Hamlet talked for about an hour before Ophelia reluctantly left, saying she needed to catch her bus. Hamlet didn’t ask her to come again, but his smile told her all she wanted to know.
From then on Ophelia visited Hamlet every day. She would go straight from college, rushing home afterwards in time for dinner. If her father noticed the change in her routine he didn’t comment on it specifically. He had always asked her about her college studies as they ate, and she continued to answer in the same way she had answered him since she began the course.
The Thursday of the following week she arrived home to find her brother, Laertes, back from university.
“What are you doing here?” Ophelia muttered.
“I came home for a few days. Dad didn’t sound too well when I spoke to him earlier this week, so I thought I’d see how he was. I’m surprised you didn’t call me about him.”
“He’s been having chest pains for the last few days. I’ve persuaded him to go to the doctor tomorrow.”
“Oh!” Ophelia felt momentarily flummoxed, but then shrugged. Her father hadn’t mentioned anything to her.
Ophelia steadfastly ignored her brother for the rest of the evening, making a point of having college work to do in her room.
The next day, as soon as college finished, Ophelia went to the hospital. As she left afterwards she was startled to find Laertes waiting for her.
“Why are you here?” she growled.
“I came to meet you,” Laertes replied.
“You’ve been following me.”
“I was worried about you. Dad said you were behaving strangely. I thought at first you might be taking drugs. Now I’m not sure what’s going on.”
“Well, since you’re here you might as well give me a lift. I’ll tell you what I’m doing in the car.”
Once they had left the hospital car park, Ophelia continued, “If you must know, I’ve been visiting a sweet boy named Hamlet.”
“Seriously,” Laertes shouted. He manoeuvred his way round a roundabout before continuing, “Ophelia, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”
“He’s lonely, and no-one believes him. His uncle murdered his father.”
“His father died from cancer.”
“And as soon as he was dead, his uncle married his mother.”
“That was nine months later.”
“His uncle has had him confined to a psychiatric hospital.”
“Because Hamlet tried to kill him. And yes, there were witnesses to the attempt. It was in the local paper at the time.”
“I don’t believe you!” Ophelia took a deep breath. “Come with me tomorrow, and I’ll show you you’re wrong.”
Saturday afternoon Ophelia took Laertes to the hospital. She marched ahead of him into the day room. As usual, Hamlet was sitting by the window and Ophelia saw another young man sitting with him. This didn’t deter her and she walked over to stand in front of Hamlet, expecting him to dismiss the other man as he had done before.
Instead Hamlet looked up. “What do you want? You’re like all women: frail and two-faced. You’ll only betray me.”
Ophelia looked round; ready to berate Laertes for causing Hamlet’s outburst. But Laertes had remained on the far side of the room.
Ophelia turned back, “But Hamlet, please …”
“Go and find some sickly kittens to take care of,” Hamlet shouted. “You and they can mewl together.”
Ophelia’s face burned as she ran out of the day room, Laertes following her. The sound of more running feet made them stop. Ophelia hoped it would be Hamlet, come to call her back. She felt Laertes tense beside her, clenching his fists, and she readied herself to spring in front of her brother to stop him from punching Hamlet.
However, Laertes relaxed and she realised it was not Hamlet who had followed them, but his friend.
“Hi,” the young man said. “I’m sorry about that.”
“So am I,” Laertes snapped.
“Who are you?” Ophelia asked.
“My name’s Horatio. I am, or rather was, Hamlet’s boyfriend before all this began. Now I come to see him in the hope one day I’ll find the old Hamlet again. I’m at uni the other side of the country, so can’t get here as often as I’d like. Not that it makes much difference when I do.”
“I don’t believe you,” Ophelia screamed at him. “You’re lying. You’re all lying.”
She continued screaming. In the back of her head she could hear people running towards her, and her brother’s voice saying anxiously, “She’s my sister. She’s not a patient.”
Then she blacked out.