The clock ticked away, quiet and slow. White walls, white floor, white ceiling. Bars on the window, a guard at the door. Fluorescent lights overhead. Bare table, naked metal chairs. All bolted to the ground, of course. Mirror on the wall — fake. People on the other side, clipboards and notebooks in hand.
Silence in the room.
“How’s she doing?”
“Is she safe?”
“She’s somewhere safe.”
The doctor nodded. “A nice family.”
“What are their names?”
The doctor shook his head and groaned. “Now, Mary, you know I can’t tell you that—”
“Just their first names? No last names?”
The doctor grimaced and gave his head a slight shake.
Mary slumped back into her chair, arms folded. She eyed Harris.
He sighed and cleared his throat. “Do you know what we’re doing here, Mary?”
Her gaze penetrated him. She said nothing.
“We’re determining whether you should be reconsidered for transferal.”
“To a prison.”
Harris nodded. “To a prison. But away from here. No drugs, no sedation. No straight jackets, no padded walls. Would you like that?”
Mary looked down and glanced away.
“Or, rather, would you prefer that to this?” The doctor gestured around the room.
Mary didn’t need to say anything.
“There’s just something you need to do—”
“We’ve had this conversation before, Dr Harris.”
“Then why haven’t you given it proper consideration?”
“Because it’s bullshit.”
“It’s not—” The doctor clenched his hands and then released them. “Mary, it’s not real. This creature, this demon—”
“Yes, Min Glaud. It doesn’t exist. You know that, surely?”
Mary’s eyes drilled into Harris.
“It’s just a fabrication you made up. To cover up what you did.”
“And what did I do?” Her tone of voice low, monotone.
The doctor flopped his clipboard into his lap. “Do I really have to say it?” He tilted his head. “Why don’t you say it for me?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
Harris slapped his hand down on the table. “You killed your daughter!”
“I did not!” Mary’s words hissed through her teeth. “The demon did. I saved her sister.”
“You would have killed her too, had your husband not caught you in the act. The crime scene was so horrific it left him traumatised and barely functional. Listen to yourself, you can’t even say their names.”
“It’s called grief.” Mary looked at the doctor up and down. “Maybe that’s something you don’t learn from medical school.”
Harris leaned forward. “It’s called demonomania.”
Mary guffawed. “Everything’s a mania to all you psychiatrists.”
“It’s a well-documented delusion. Often, it’s a belief that the person in question is possessed by evil spirits.” His voice softened. “In your case, you believed that your daughters—”
“No, he only invaded the one.”
Harris waved this away. “Pedantics. In your case, you believed it was your child who had been possessed, rather than yourself. This belief, this—” he groped for the words “—toxic notion, this poisonous thought… pushed you into killing your child.”
Mary leaned forward, fingers arched on the table, eyes wide, pupils dilated. “I. Did. Not. Kill. My. Daughter.”
“For goodness sake, Mary!” Harris threw his clipboard onto the table. A picture of her, from the front and the side. Black and white. A criminal’s mugshot. Dead eyes. Blank face. Lots of text, some of it in red, some of it in all-caps. “Demons don’t use knives!”
“He was inside her. But it wasn’t her, not anymore. Her spirit, her soul, her essence… it was gone. It’s not dead, I’m sure of it. But her vessel — it wasn’t her inside it anymore.” She dropped her eyes, voice quiet. “He would have taken them both if I hadn’t.”
Harris sighed and ran a hand through his thin hair. White lab coat, green scrubs beneath. A pen in his breast pocket. Mary eyed it. They should have taken that before he came in. Something they missed. Someone would get a slap on the wrists for that. Maybe even fired.
“You know that if you stop this charade, they might actually allow visitation?”
“Not your daughter. Your mother perhaps. Or even David.” They locked eyes. “He still calls, asks about you, you know. He’s doing better, these days. A steady job, his own place.”
“He said he wanted me to rot in hell.”
Harris pulled a face. “People say a lot of things. Things they don’t always agree with, later on down the line.” He took in a deep breath and let it out. “Why don’t you stop the lies, Mary. It’s been long enough.”
Mary sniffed. “I won’t lie. I’ve been through too much to lie. I’ve given you my truth.” She shrugged. “What does it matter if you don’t believe me?”
“You could get transferred to a different facility.” The doctor pointed to the CCTV. “I’ve been watching you. You’re not like the others. You don’t belong here. Not anymore, at least.” His shoulders rose and dropped. His gaze fell on her hospital clogs. “With good behaviour, minimum security. Perhaps a place where they let you have proper shoes.”
Mary shuffled her feet and crossed her legs. “I won’t pretend. I’m not a killer.”
“Don’t you realise how much harder you’re making this for yourself? Why don’t you want to make your life better? Insofar as it can be, within the prison system. People live happy, productive lives behind bars. But,” Harris leaned forward, licked his lips, “let’s be honest. This place? This facility? It’s not a good place to be. That’s why I got into this gig in the first place, to help. To integrate people back into society—”
“Back into hellholes behind bars.” Mary glanced to the window.
“What are you getting out of this? I can tell by how you act, by your words.” His gaze was unflinching. “You suffer from no mental illness. I’m sure of it.”
“So let me go then.”
“But you have committed a crime.”
A pause. The clock tick-tocked. Sunlight, rich and golden, filtered in through the window. The bars cut black silhouettes into the glow.
Mary sniffed. “I’ve done my duty as a mother. I saved Angie’s soul.” She raised her eyebrows at Harris. “See? I can say her name. And I protected the physical body of Jess. What you do to me? What happens to me? What kind of building you keep me locked up in?” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll be behind bars all the same.”
The doctor said nothing. He regarded her with steel-blue eyes.
Mary edged forward on her chair. Her fingers balled into fists and scrunched up the paper on the doctor’s clipboard. “But you will not make me lie. You will not make me confess to a crime I did not commit.” She swiped the clipboard off the table with the back of her hand. It clattered to the floor.
Harris watched this. His countenance indicated nothing but mild curiosity. Slight resignation.
“Now, if you wouldn’t mind.” Mary got to her feet. At the door, the guard shifted, edged closer.
Harris remained seated. He looked up at her, face open and attentive.
“I’d like to go back to my room, doctor.”
29th November 2020
Written for Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Contest