Fiction: Andrea Kneeland’s “Side Effects”

Scene 73: Check-in

When no one is looking, I pry nails from the wall with my bare hands and I tuck these in my pockets. When they ask if I have any sharp objects with me, I hand them the nails. I got them here I say. They were in your wall I say, which proves I’m smarter than them. If I want something badly enough, I can’t be stopped. I don’t want anything. I want sometimes to jump out of the car. I want always to disappear. They also take my deodorant and my lipstick and my cigarettes. I flirt with a nurse who gives me extra cigarettes and lets me have my lipstick back. My roommate screams until they come to get her and they put her in lockup. They strap her down to a bed. The man three doors down is called King Jesus. It’s dangerous if you don’t call him King Jesus. There’s an eighteen-year-old boy with white-blonde hair and a Weezer sweatshirt. I want to fuck him, but we build a puzzle in the hallway instead. After lights-out, I write obscene things all over the walls of my room with the lipstick. Oh I think after I’m done. This is why they didn’t want me to have the lipstick. And that’s when I realize giving up the nails had been my biggest mistake.

 

Scene 114: Group Therapy

I want to fuck all of the girls in my group therapy except for A, who is the therapist, and K, who is anorexic. She’s probably seventy pounds. She’s an attention-whore. Half of the day is spent cajoling her into drinking one can of Ensure. There’s another therapist who isn’t a woman and he tries to impress us by telling us he used to be Kurt Cobain’s therapist. He specializes in addiction. I think it might be more unethical to lie to a medicated person than to an unmedicated person. I wonder if he wants to fuck all the girls in the class the same way I want to fuck all the girls in the class. I decide he can’t want it in the same way since he has a penis and I don’t. I want him to disappear. I hurl insults at him when I’m forced to speak. I grind my teeth and hide my face against L’s shoulder.

 

Scene 86: I’m a Bad Person

The psychiatrist tells me I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I tell her to go fuck herself. She tells me I’m incapable of ever forming a real and meaningful relationship with another human being. I tell her again to fuck herself. She tells me my response is symptomatic. I apologize. She tells me I’m trying to manipulate her. I agree. This is probably true.

 

Scene 20: Fear

I’ve never taken the bus by myself. I’ve never been on an airplane by myself. I’ve never been to a movie by myself. I’ve never lived by myself. I’m terrified of the entire world because everything in it can and will hurt me. I stick a constellation of push pins in the tops of my thighs. Sometimes I gather an armful of my clothing and walk down the street and my husband follows me for three blocks in the car until I get in because I don’t know where else to go. When we get home I scream at him to stay away from me and when he touches me my arms and teeth spasm until he stops. Then he tells me I’m crazy. The pastures on either side of the housing complex smell like animal feces. The power lines cut through the sky and I can hear them humming from the window.

 

Scene 150: Public Restroom

I have too much medicine inside of me. Everything feels sick all the time. Plants I know are green look blue. They let me return to work. I work as a receptionist in the same office as my husband. I’m allowed to drive a car. I take six pills a day. I can’t drive a car. At lunchtime, a co-worker I’m friendly with gets in the car I’m allowed to drive for some reason. I take us to a park. I drive down the wrong side of the road because, like I said, I can’t drive a car right now. There’s medication everywhere. Things are not swishing. Everything rolls. Everything moves slowly so I know we’re safe even when the car is on the wrong side of the road. She screams, but then she laughs because she sees I’m calm so she must know everything is okay. She takes low-grade methamphetamines and diet pills. She has a tattoo on her hand. She has roses around her stomach. The roses are faded and covered with stretch marks from her pregnancy. We stumble into a bathroom stall and barely bother to unzip our pants before wriggling our hands between fabric and skin. Our work is sloppy and if a man had done to us what we’re doing to each other, we would’ve complained about his incompetence. I suck at her tits. We manage the whole thing without falling down. We’re impressed with ourselves. I couldn’t have an orgasm if I tried. I get us back to work without an automobile accident or feeling a thing. Risk has been eliminated. The world is groggy. I take another Klonopin. They’re better than the Valium I used to steal from my mother.

 

Scene 36: Uncertainty

Almost before the thought is conceived, it’s aborted. This growing list of possibilities floating in every space like a comfort, like a painless happiness, and in an attempt to define these possibilities, it’s discovered the list is a list of only one item, and that item isn’t a possibility, but a consequence. And instead, substitute: where has everyone gone?; why can’t; is this all; where have you gone?; if nobody is at home today?; if I am not ever home?; everyone is gone, except

 

Scene 60: War

I wear a handmade thrift store dress three sizes too big. Adjustments are made to the cloth with binder clips and safety pins. I’m blue and flowers and white tights everywhere. I bring the newspaper in and talk about the same thing every week. When she asks me about anything, I talk about the war and cry. When anyone asks me about anything, I talk about the war and cry. We discuss sex abuse for five minutes and then I unfold the front page of the paper and show her color photographs, tell her that the war is what’s making me crazy, and I talk about the war and cry. My psychologist is an old black woman who will die from kidney failure in less than a year. I love her in a way I’d love someone real if I were capable of it. When her husband calls me to tell me she has died, his voice is clogged with tears and then I feel grief in the same way I felt love. I watch the emotions with a passive interest, through a dirty aquarium glass. I read about the war and cry. The world floats along.

 

Scene 103: Cigarettes

I haven’t smoked for over a year, but every forty-five minutes they let us go outside and everyone here is a smoker. If you weren’t a smoker when you came in, you were a smoker within the first week. It’s unlikely, though, that you weren’t a smoker when you came in because everyone who is crazy is a smoker. I’m not making this up: this is science. Ninety percent of schizophrenics smoke and seventy percent of manic depressives smoke. It isn’t called manic depression anymore; it’s called bi-polar disorder. Your dad may have been a Negro and my dad may have been a Manic Depressive, but that’s not how the world works today. Everything changes all the time and no one can keep up. Most of the time the world passes by and I feel a swishing motion in my head, but sometimes if I smoke enough cigarettes with a large enough group, I can sync with a tiny piece of the world and the swishing stops. Also, there’s nothing to do during the ten-minute breaks but coffee and cigarettes. The Styrofoam cup I drink the coffee from is the same white as an egret and each time I look at the cup I feel sick.

 

Scene 32: Photograph

When was that picture taken? I scream but I’m screaming this happily and in my head I’m laughing and maybe I’m laughing outside my head a little bit, too, because it’s ludicrous, this person who is me, who I’ve never seen in my life, and completely serious, he turns to me, he asks What? and I say to him, I say I’ve never had orange hair, did I dye it for the weekend? I don’t remember and his voice is flat, he says You had your hair like that for six months.

 

Scene: 115: L

I have a relationship with L. She’s fat and has bad hair. I think I’m in love with her. I write her letters I never give to her. She disappears. Our affair was limited to hysterical phone calls and manic embraces during therapy sessions. Trips to the liquor store to buy cigarettes. She was in love with her father who tried to kill himself when she was a teenager. One night she comes to my house. I get her clothes off and manage three fingers into her pussy. It was ruined before I even turned around to see my husband at the side of the bed, standing over us naked and jerking off. I hate him like I have never hated anyone. She and I both laugh but it’s also another reminder I’m probably dead, and then I fall asleep before she does, my head cocked between her stomach and the mattress and my hand still inside of her or almost inside of her. I know now that it wasn’t love because I remember her name and have never looked for her on Facebook.

 

Scene 48: Ambulance

I don’t remember much about the ambulance ride, but I see now that I’d managed to carve “WHOORE” along my inner thigh before they picked me up. I won a spelling bee in third grade, so there’s a gray sort of math here that might indicate how many pills I’ve taken.

 

Scene #84: In-patient Facilities

Maybe half an hour past dusk and I’m crouched down against a patch of cement, staring at the man standing over me. He’s also staring. He’s smiling. He’s talking but I can’t hear him. The man above me I think might be about fifty-something and I don’t know what he’s saying. I don’t care. I’m focused on: inhale/exhale. He’s becoming angry, he’s raising his voice, it’s impossible to: inhale/exhale. I wonder where the nurses are. He’s large and he’s above me. I want to run. Instead, my body stiffens. I curl up fetal, knees tucked inside one arm; the only thing I can do is stare into him, grin. I can hear him now: I shouldn’t be here I don’t know why I’m here I’m talking to my daughter all I’m doing is talking to my daughter I don’t know why I get these headaches and I see the red my daughter was screaming and all I could see was red it’s just I get so angry and then everything goes red and all I can see I don’t see nothing else he’s pleading with me, yelling, and there’s nothing I can do for him, I can’t even try, so what else can he do but become angry with me? I understand how much he loved his daughter, how she was the center of everything in the world and a blanket of nausea moves over me. Whatever happened to his daughter, whatever he did to her, I can only think: at least she isn’t here.

 

Scene 89: Side Effects

Body aches and pains; runny nose; voice changes; nonmenstrual vaginal bleeding; double vision; vomiting of blood or material that looks like coffee grounds; crying paranoia; memory loss; cold sweats; confusion; mutism; rapid worm-like movements of the tongue. There are more, but I can’t remember them all.

 

Scene #48: Lunchtime with E and L

At lunchtime, the three of us pile into his car: a rust-brown Pinto that smells like smoke. We’re driving down the street to pick up Chinese food and more cigarettes. I lean into the back seat, my head lolls against the window and I listen to you talk through closed eyes. There’s a familiar click, hiss, a crackling of paper. The smell of it fills the tiny car, thick and heavy like sleep and I think about all the good things I’m missing and all the things I want. I think the reason I don’t have those things is because I’m here and if I’m not here I’ll have those things, but I don’t really know where here is and whether or not leaving means going away somewhere or refusing to ever go anywhere again. My thoughts that I can see are tiny dots of light and there are so many, they’re overlapping, they’re converging. The car pulls in front of a manicured lawn adorned with several life-sized deer statuettes painted like paper maché and both L and E have become excited. Holy Christ, look at the fucking deer! L can’t talk, her laughter is hysterical, it sounds like she’s screaming. Look at the deer, Jesus Lord, look at the fucking deer! she’s screaming. She turns to me, she’s sweaty, her hair is sticking to your pinkish face in clumps. Later, on the phone with me, she screams the same way, while E tries to break through her door. She calls me before she calls 9-1-1. This is why out-patients are not allowed to date other out-patients.

 

Scene #211: Reflection

I see all of it. Every single, separate thing that’s beautiful. Escalation and erosion in between, and: if I can catch that same spark of beauty in the flint of her hair.

***

Andrea Kneeland’s first collection of short stories, How to Pose for Hustler, was published in 2015 by Civil Coping Mechanisms. She also has a collection poems, The Translations, out from Sententia Books and a collection of fairy tales, the Birds & the Beasts, is forthcoming from Lazy Fascist Press.

Photo credit: mensatic, morguefile.com

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