If you behaved yourself, going outside for a walk was often a possibility.
But he’s been reprimanded numerous times for sharing what they called his dark perspectives (which got him in here)—with the otherwise more cheerful patients who are allowed to stroll the grounds. He had harshed their mellow, one doctor called it — and thus his outside time has been limited.
He’s lost count as to how long it had been‚ but it felt like a year since he’s been locked down.
Just as in any lockup situation, it helps if you have access to money to bribe the attendants at the gates. And just last week his uncle had deposited some money into his account.
So there he was—the trees, the paths, the birds, the benches—with only a handful of other chosen occupants drifting around on this balmy day.
He inhaled deeply of the fresh air. He sat on a bench.
He looked through the newspaper they left on the little table. It was from last year, but things were pretty much the same beyond the fence—merely different flavors of turmoil was how he saw it.
He took off his shoes and socks and walked through the warm moist grass. He ate the cookie he’d been given for a snack, sharing crumbs with the birds—who fought with each other, plucking feathers, for a bigger share.
The sun made its way across the sky and eventually it was time to return indoors. He felt delighted, refreshed by his journey outside. He was going to sleep well tonight.
And so he did.
But the next day he woke up with a sadness whose source he could not immediately identify. The magic of the previous day had faded. His brief escape seemed like some emperor’s new clothes. Yes, there were those magical inhales of fresh air, the conversations with the trees, the blue sky—but he could also now sense that while he was out there that the everpresent pressure of captivity had merely faded into the background. Even as the birds had gathered around his feet and he pretended otherwise, he was still aware in his core of that constant border—the electrified fence where the grass ended.
Head in hands, he sat in a chair in the common room, wondering if he would ever be healthy and blessed enough to be included among those beyond the gates.
He overheard the attendents talking about some hoodlums that had breached the perimeter last night, stole some gardening tools from the shed and set it afire. Chaos had leaked into the sanctuary. The fence was being rewired. The directive had come: for now going outside must remain limited for all.
The television is on.
One talking head after another pops up on the screen and goes through a list of Troubles (coming every day)—in alphabetical order.
Anxiety Bedlam Controversy Disorder […] Traffic Unreality Vacuousness Weather Xenophobia Yahoos Zillionaires.
A woman breaks in, face ecstatic, loudly proclaiming her overwhelming delight at how her brand of laundry detergent removed even the toughest stains. Her whole family gathers in loving unity around the fresh smelling stack of towels.
The breakfast bell rings. The television goes black.