The women resided in their room, which lay on the second floor of the white ward, one of three floors reserved for women at the South Carolina State Asylum. Their small room was dim, the minimal light stemming from the barred window on the wall across from their beds. Though reminiscent of a closet, it was spacious for a state hospital room in 1903.
The older patient, a woman of about forty-five, stood facing the window, strapping her hands to the right side of her body to keep from touching anything. Her eyes fell upon the courtyard just below, watching the male patients enjoy their leisure time, hideous, filthy people, she thought, menacing over them like a perched crow.
Her counterpart sat reading, disregarding her company. Though thirty-eight, her lighter features and lean frame made her look about eight years younger. Her lighter, blonde hair hid the number of grays she had; her face without a blemish. She sat poised, paging through her copy of Edgar Allan Poe. It was only when her roommate crossed the room to the sink that she even batted an eye.
Careful, Lucille, she said, her emerald eyes hardly shifting from the page, you’ll give Lady MacBeth a run for her damned estate.
Macbeth? Lucy replied, scrubbing her hands relentlessly, Macbeth? now that has got to be the one about that harlot runnin’ oft with that young man. God done killed them because they had relations, you know… before marriage.
The younger woman, amused, set down her book and leaned toward her contender. Well bless your heart, Lucille, she said. I should’ve expected you wouldn’t understand my reference, seein’ you are about as dim as a perishin’ firefly in the heat of Ju-ly. But no, you’re thinkin’ of Romeo and Juliet, who did not, by the way, have ‘relations’ prior to marriage. I tremble at the thought of what your god would do to them if it had been premarital.
Lucy edged across the room toward her Bible, picking it up and cradling it like a newborn. the lord God shall smite the wicked before they enter his gates. you shall see upon your judgement day, johanna leonard. why, your wickedness will’t surely be rewarded by the fires brought on by the devil himself.
Say it ain’t so, Lucille? Johanna smiled, a humorous vein painfully evident. And your fate is so rest assured? I can’t imagine as to how you shall be dealt with. She paused momentarily, visibly imagining Lucy’s demise. I do like to imagine, if there is a god, that his plans for you are nothing short of a happenin’ in Mr. Poe’s most gruesome of dreams. Have you sent any cats to the gallows lately
If? Lucy drew her Bible closer to her chest. iI? there is no question of God’s presence in our lives. ‘remember lot’s wife!’ luke:32. ye that has of little faith, miss leonard, shall turn into nothin’ but a pillar of salt.
Johanna nodded, feigning to consider the thought. I suppose I’d rather be a pillar of salt than havin’ my flesh devoured by bloodthirsty dogs. She now crept toward Lucy, bridging her back in the impression of a wolf ready to pounce.
Was that not the fate of dear Jezebel?
Lucy slowly backed away. don’t touch me, you evil witch! don’t you touch me! Her yells were loud enough to be heard down the corridor.
What? Johanna said, pawing at her prey. Are you afraid of contact? What will you do when god embraces you in the kingdom of heaven?
Just stay away! Stay away you wicked thing! Johanna reached her victim, giving her a good look over before the attack. She studied Lucy, who shielded her face with her arms, her eyes squinshed shut. Johanna smiled as she poked Lucy in the arm, then awaited the reaction. Lucy crumpled to the ground, writhing as if in pain. you witch! you terrible witch! i shall bathe for months!
Johanna admired her work as three nurses rushed into the room. They attempted to calm her, seizing her arms in effort to raise her from the ground, which caused her to cower and flail further. Her screams pervaded the halls, causing a number of patients to follow the sound toward her door. The women gawked, standing just beyond the tiny door frame, fidgeting and observing as one of their own fought an imagined pending doom. In the heat of battle, one of the nurses turned to Johanna in a fury. You did this! How did you do this, what did you do?
Johanna merely shrugged, leaning against the wall in a move of disregard. Lila you know Lucy here ain’t the affectionate kind. But leave it to you to make things worse.
Why would you to this? Lila grabbed Lucy’s arm in an effort to restrain her, only to be swatted away and kicked in the stomach. What did you do?
Johanna casually walked over and picked up her book. I didn’t do nothin’ and you know it. Just leave her be or take her to the showers; I could hardly care. She glided past the chaos evolving before her, paving her way through the amounting crowd outside her door. She stopped a moment to look back, then turned to one of the other patients at the end of the mass. Whoever said nothin’ interestin’ ever happens around here?