‘Do you have someone to take care of you until you recover?’
Barbara slid her eyes slowly from the ceramic floor to look up towards the doctor. He was sitting in the same chair from yesterday morning, just beside her hospital gurney. His hands folded in his lap. His brown hair still perfectly combed backwards. He had been telling Barbara that she would be discharged from the hospital tomorrow afternoon. Earlier, she had to sign some forms and answer some questions; besides that, Barbara had been mostly hearing him talk, nodding or shaking her head when she had to, and staying in silence the rest of the time. Now that her turn to talk had begun, she didn’t know what to say.
Was it right to say the truth? Or was a lie more convenient?
She didn’t know. What to do then?
Barbara passed her fingertips gently over her blonde hair. It felt soft and lightly oiled. She needed a bath. Outside she could see dark clouds, a rainy sky, and tall buildings. A grey city. She turned her eyes towards the doctor, still unable to face him. Her pupils, in constant movement, would always focus on something else. His lips, his big hands, perhaps the white wall behind him. But never his eyes.
‘Yeah…’ she murmured. ‘I’ll be staying with a friend of mine…’
The doctor sighed. One of his big hands came to rest on his knee, his fingers quietly tapping the fabric of his pants.
‘The one who called the ambulance?’ he asked.
The question took Barbara by surprise. Eyes stuck on the floor, she had to swallow hard before answering.
‘No…’ she said slowly. ‘Another friend…’
The doctor made a short pause before saying anything else. He knew she was lying, she had no one to turn to now, she didn’t know what she would do once she was out of here. Barbara saw the doctor writing something down on his notebook. She supposed it was about her; yet she couldn’t imagine what it could be. She didn’t want to imagine it. Why? This wasn’t a test. Just a medical procedure, some silly questions. Why was she nervous then? She didn’t know either.
Suddenly, the doctor was standing up from his chair. And just when Barbara thought he had finally left the room, she lifted her head just to find his black sharp eyes looking down at her.
‘Barbara I want you to consider something,’ he said in a serious tone, searching for something in the back of his pockets. ‘Please, do not take offense. I’m sure it could help you.’
Then he was handing Barbara a small piece of paper. She frowned, taking it carefully from his hands. It was a telephone number. The name of a female doctor was written on the back. Barbara examined it for some seconds, just before lifting her glance once again. This time she looked the Doctor right in the eyes.
‘I told you before, Dr.,’ she said with a calm, soft smile. ‘This is just a huge misunderstanding. I really don’t need this.’
She tried to put the card in his hand once again. But he refused.
‘Please, keep it,’ he said. ‘Even if you don’t need it now, maybe someday you will.’
Barbara blinked. And just with that, the doctor was leaving the room. She stayed in silence for some minutes, re-examined the card on her hands, and put it on the table beside her bed. Slowly, Barbara let herself fall on the mattress and looked at the ceiling. There, she thought that everything was strange and that life always seemed to carry her to unexpected places. Gotham City. The bed of a far too righteous cop. A hospital gurney in which she lay completely helpless, completely unsure of what would come next.
Barbara woke up again at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. In the sky dark orange lights were covered by light clouds. She had slept a lot more than what she thought. She tried to move; but she hadn’t finished stretching her legs when an intense pain hit her in the back of her calf. Half asleep, she writhed on the mattress trying to place the aching. Soon, she found out that all of her limbs were in a similar state. When the nurses entered to change her bed sheets, they told her that this was a normal thing. Her body was still trying to recover from the doses of Narcan they had put her in. Some days would have to pass before she started to feel better.
That didn’t make her any happier.
Sitting in bed all day long would only make her think – which was the thing Barbara desired the least. And not being able to even go to the cafeteria on her own, there was little she could do to avoid thinking but to lie on her back and try falling asleep again. There at least she could find some weird kind of protection. She didn’t have to worry during those short spasms of consciousness between slumber and wakefulness; didn’t have to ramble making questions or looking for answers.
And yet, in that heavy, weary mantle of unconcerned dreaminess, once in a while something always managed to break that calmness.
Jim Gordon’s name. Or now and then Rene’s.
Sometimes it was her mother’s and on very few occasions her father’s. Sometimes it was an image long forgotten, or a memory from last week. It could be the view on the balcony of her apartment, or the one of her office at the Art Gallery; it could be an almost finished letter in the desk of her bedroom, a half empty glass of wine or perhaps the glowing, shiny lights of an ambulance in the middle of the night. They never came entangled with any precise thought nor sensation. They were limited to remaining with her briefly (just a few seconds) before fading away in a magma of drowsiness.
They didn’t mean anything. At least Barbara didn’t think so. Nonetheless, she found them odd, almost intriguing at the moment of waking up and remembering what her dreams had been about. And maybe, for the same reasons, she didn’t like to look back at any of them.
‘You really should try to eat something.’
A nurse told Barbara, making her look up in mild surprise. She had thought there was no one else in the room. The woman was short and red haired, little freckles covered the white skin of her cheeks and nose. She was vaguely pointing at the food tray she had left on the table. Barbara had barely looked at it.
‘It’ll make you feel better,’ the nurse assured.
Barbara took a glance at the plate. Baked chicken with vegetables. Set aside, juice and a piece of breed. She hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Her stomach felt flat and hollow, yet no appetite arose in her. Right now eating seemed like a long, tiresome task. And she didn’t know if she could go through it all.
‘I’ll eat later,’ she assured.
The nurse’s smile faltered lightly before she nodded with her head. She left the room soon after and Barbara went back to laydown in the bed.
Barbara moved her upper lip in dislike, changing the channel on the TV once again. News. Movies. TV shows. Nothing distracted her from her thoughts. After being asleep all day long, somnolence had completely faded away from her, and a subtle, languorous sensation of having overslept was the only thing that had stayed behind. By now, the night had already fallen upon the city. What was left of the afternoon sunshine had slowly died in the horizon. Yet inside the hospital walls, where there wasn’t chaos, a strange stillness reigned; time seemed to go on differently. The cold, the pale colors, the white light of the lamps in the ceiling. It made it all seem like it was never day or night, just a space in time, blank and void.
Feeling dull, Barbara turned off the old TV set. Only then it had occurred to her how empty this room looked. The patient she had shared the room with this morning wasn’t in his bed anymore; maybe he had been discharged. In the hallway, she heard no sound of nurses or doctors approaching the room. Her only company, for now, was silence.
This is a sad place, she thought.
Maybe before, when staying alone with herself wasn’t such a wretched labor, she would have thanked this brief solitude. She would have stayed at home, quietly pacing around her apartment, watching the city through her window. Maybe she would have lit a cigarette – occasionally, something stronger. Then she would have sat on her couch and relaxed for a couple of hours. It would have been nice to have that right now. Yet that was a distant past, and in the current circumstances, just the thought of loneliness was hateful for Barbara.
After a short moment of consideration, she made an effort to put her feet on the floor. The muscles of her hip complained in pain; her calves still felt very tense. And even so, her body hurt far less than in the morning. When Barbara finally managed to stand up, she felt it as a little victory. The floor beneath her was cold and probably unwashed, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. She came out of her room soundlessly, wrapped in a blanket, and half expecting for a nurse to come over and tell her to go back to bed. This, however, never happened.
As she walked thought the hallways, she realized that it must have been very late at night. She could barely see any doctor in the hallways. As Barbara passed beside the hospital rooms one after the other, the whole place seemed empty and silent. She saw the bathroom doors and more ahead, a stairway that seemed to go up towards the rooftop. She thought about climbing it up to go outside, breathe some fresh air. But her knees and hips were hurting already just by the efforts of a brief walk. Just going up the stairs seemed like a way too painful task.
A light nausea had started to swim on her belly, yet she resisted to the idea of going back on her steps towards her room. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again. So she saw no point in trying.
Barbara adjusted the blanket around her shoulders and kept on her walk. She only stopped when she found herself in front of a large closed window that faced to the outside. Gotham City was quite awake despite the late hours. The lights in the night looked bright and colorful. The sounds of the street were easily heard even from up there; cars, people talking, barking dogs, loud music.
From the terrace of Barbara’s old apartment she could see from above the entire city. In nights like this one, she would look at it carefully, detailing every house, every apartment, every dark cloud. She missed it. To be able to see everything from a distance. To not be involved with all of the chaos around her. But this city was made of chaos, she had realized. And there was no way she could disengage herself from it.
Barbara closed her eyes.
Suddenly she felt dizzy and unstable. She had the horrid sensation of having something watery and disgusting on her stomach. An intruder navigating her insides. Barbara had to reach the wall with one of her hands to not fall. She bit her lips, trying to breathe steadily. In front of her the white paint seemed darker than it should, all stained with dust and dirt.
A first spasm hit Barbara’s stomach, making all of her body shake. Desperate, she moved her legs to make her way towards the bathrooms. It took a minute for her to remember where she had seen them. When she did, she wasted no time in rushing inside, closing the door behind herself. Then, picking up her hair with both of her hands, she leaned against the sink and puked.
Barbara hadn’t looked herself in the glass of a mirror for days.
She had avoided it up until now, fearing what would be there. She had seen her reflection in the glass of windows, in the grey of metal doors, or even in the dark screen of a TV set turned off. And having already seen clues of it in the thinness of her limbs, or in the paleness of her skin, Barbara had beforehand an idea of what she would find looking back at her. And she knew that she wouldn’t like it.
Yet when she saw it, it still hit her hard.
That night, raising her head, body still shaking with spasms, ears still blocked by the pressure, Barbara found a face in the mirror. A pale thin face with clear eyes. Disheveled hair, obviously dyed judging by its brown roots, and with small frizzed curls everywhere around. She even looked older, with her eyes smaller because of the dark circles below them.
Barbara felt her throat dry.
This was her. This was her face, her hair, her blue eyes. And yet no matter how much she tried, she could barely recognize her own features in the mirror.
This isn’t me, she thought. This isn’t my face. This isn’t my hair.
But it was. Yes, it was. How could she deny it?
Barbara backed off from the sink, feeling a knot start to grow in her chest. She remembered the Doctor’s words from that morning, his voice asking her what she would do after this; if she had someone to take care of her. She remembered him handing her the damn telephone number. She felt angry. She was not crazy. She had always hated people calling her that. She was not crazy. Barbara lifted her eyes once again towards the mirror. This wasn’t her, at least not her as she used to be.
Once she was a good, ordinary woman.
A beautiful woman.
With a job.
But that wasn’t her anymore. Something had changed in her inner chemistry; something bad and irreversible. Barbara saw her features slowly changing in the mirror; her eyes cracking, her cheeks turning red, her mouth curving in a hideous grin. Barbara cried, feeling the cold drops run down her cheeks and neck. She buried her face in her hands, not wanting to see herself ever again. All her insides were burning. She felt small, embracing herself against the bathroom wall. She could hear someone knocking at the door behind her, but she didn’t care. She cried louder and then louder, until her throat hurt and she thought that she must have woken up the entire hospital.
Barbara felt her body hitting the ceramic floor. At the door, voices were starting to call her. But she kept on ignoring them. All she wanted was to scream, to hit something, to break the mirror in a million pieces. She hadn’t cried like this since she was a little girl.
Maybe she was crazy, she thought.
Because only a crazy person would get herself into a situation like this one.
She did not hear the bathroom lock being broken, nor the nurses rushing inside. But she did feel the unknown hands taking her by her arms and legs, trying to lift her up. Then she got scared. She fought back. She felt herself been carried across the hallways. Around her people told her to calm down, but she couldn’t. Her heart was beating so fast she could hear it in her ears.
The nurses brought her back to her room with the help of some doctors. They put her in her bed once again; she could feel them grabbing for her ankles and wrists, tying her up with something. She sobbed, vainly trying to kick them, just to be grabbed once again, this time stronger. Then it was that same pinch again, this time on Barbara’s left arm. She exhaled, her pupils moved fast from one side to the other. Slowly, everything got smoother. No one was touching her anymore. All burning had disappeared. Doped, Barbara let her head rest in the pillow and fall asleep once again.