ROSES OF SHADOW

By Richard Lawson

Part Seven: Letters From Inside

---

"How do you operate this device?"

"Just turn the dial."

"I did. It merely made a hissing sound."

"Hmm. Try pushing that button."

"Which one?"

"The one that says 'Ignite'."

"Yaah!"

"Wow, that was neat. Say, your hair's on fire."

"By my ancestors! I cannot abide this abomination."

"It's just a stove."

"Even so."

"Okay, put this pan on it."

"And?"

"And this oil... uh, maybe these vegetables?"

"They would need to be chopped first."

"No problem. YAAAAAA-tatatatatatatatatatata."

"As impressive a display as that might have been, I do believe it may have been better for you to wash them first."

"Oh. Well, we're going to fry 'em anyway. Here we go."

"Ouch!"

"Wow, look at it splatter. That looked like it hurt."

"And it is spoiling my raiment."

"Hmm, maybe we should have been wearing those aprons after all. Okay, spices."

"I am not so sure we should attempt to use these spices."

"Don't be such a wuss. Hmm... hemlock. Sounds good."

"Is that not what Socrates drank when he ended his life?"

"Oh. Uh, well, I'm gonna look for something non-deadly, then. Hold on. And watch those vegetables; don't let 'em burn."

"Urm. Hmm. Yes, this does smell nice. If a bit... charred. Ho! I say! Stop this instant!"

"Huh? Whatcha shouting about? I found some stuff in the pantry- Aw, man! I told ya not to let em burn!"

"They would not heed me."

"Shut it off, shut it off! No, turn it the other way."

"It appears we should eat our meal elsewhere. I have heard that a new okonomiyaki restaurant is opening nearby."

"Naw, not today. I'd prefer a hamburger."

"That is not food fit for ones such as ourselves to consume."

"Ones such as ourselves can't take care of ourselves to save ourselves' lives. C'mon, they know me pretty well at McDonald's. I think the manager has a crush on me."

"Do not forget that you are engaged to my sister."

"Trust me, it's always on my mind."

"Good. That reminds me; this arrived for you today."

"Oh."

"Will you read it?"

"Don't rush me."

---

Dear Ranma-sama,

Three days I have been here. Three days I have been on medication. Many, many different kinds of medication. There's the medication that will eventually stabilize me - maybe. There is the medication that sedates me until that happens. There are the sleeping pills I have to take every night - insomnia is not an option.

Everything is muted. I know how I *should* be feeling - I want to laugh, I want to cry, I want to attack everyone in a rage. But I can't. I cannot seem to find the means to get worked up. A layer of gauze has been wrapped around my brain, and it is driving me crazy. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I want to rip open my veins so that the drugs will flow out and I'll feel like myself again. Yet somehow, I cannot work up the energy to do that, either.

The people who are here with me have interesting scars. This is the only place I've been where people cheerfully compare the scars on their wrists from previous suicide attempts. There is much animated discussion on which method is quickest, easiest, and least painful. Slitting the artery vertically with a razor blade seems to be the agreed-upon method. One unfortunate soul cut his wrist with a broken beer bottle. He didn't succeed in killing himself, but he did sever a tendon.

The days around here are frantic. The goal appears to be to keep us as occupied as possible. Individual therapy, group therapy, art therapy, occupational therapy... I am always being bustled from one time commitment to the next.

After dinner it is different. The second shift comes on duty, and their focus is on keeping us as quiet as possible. A large TV is turned on, and many of my fellow inmates crowd around it. I have no interest in joining, nor am I interested in conversing with those who like to talk whether someone is listening or not.

One woman in particular is fascinated with me. Kimiko is her name. She is over fifty and one of the oldest among us. I am quite clearly the youngest, and she can't seem to understand why I am here. She keeps asking me where my mother is. Part of me wants to hit her over the head with a club. Fortunately or not, depending on your perspective, all of my weapons were taken from me when I was admitted.

I want to write more, but I cannot focus my thoughts. I am tired and drugged and I must remember these drugs for my own use later - alas that they are prescription only. Still, there may be ways around that.

Do not try to write me back, they will not allow a letter to reach me. No outside contact for me until I am stabilized. I am not sure if this letter will reach you. They have promised me that it will but they also lie.

Please don't forget to feed Midorigame. I miss him so.

Love,

The Black Rose

---

"We've got to get some servants. This is ridiculous."

"The Kuno family has survived for the past few years without such strangers in our house. It will survive longer still."

"The Kuno family survived because one of its members used housework as a way to deal with her mental illness. I do not want to have her come back and feel like she has to spend hours once again cleaning up after us."

"She has never complained -"

"Dammit, Kuno-sempai, do you want her to fall back into the same old patterns as before? Including her little stays in that room of hers in the basement?"

"O-ours is the tradition -"

"Let me put it this way. You hire some servants or I will beat you to a bloody pulp every day until you do."

"Threats do not become one who is to be a member of our family, Saotome."

"That's the only way I know how to get through to you! Dammit, listen to me. We've got to do this for your sister's sake. You said you were giving her into my care. Well, believe me when I say this is necessary."

"Your... passion does you credit. Very well, I will do this. Let us hither to the bank. I will add you as a signatory to our accounts. Spend our money as you see fit."

"Hey, I don't know nothing about how to handle money."

"I trust you will learn. I also trust you to be responsible and not to spend our money foolishly. While we have a great deal of it, it is not limitless. The interest we earn is more than most families make in a year, but chip away too much at the base and we can become penniless faster than you can know. If we do, I will bear you ill will."

"Okay, okay, don't get over-excited. I'll handle hiring the servants and stuff. You don't mind if I get some help with that?"

"How do you mean?"

"I was thinking of asking Nabiki to give me a hand. She knows about money."

"Indeed she does. I would have no objection. Just please be sure she doesn't gouge us too deeply with her fees."

"Uh, yeah. Any mail?"

"Yes. Another letter from Kodachi."

"I was afraid you were going to say that."

---

Dear Ranma-sama,

Our rooms have been carefully sanitized. Nothing is easily detached; everything that could conceivably be sharpened has been padded or dulled - even the bolts that keep the beds from being moved. The bathroom door has no knob. There are no electrical outlets.

No easy way out.

I had a long talk with the pharmacologist today - Tohru, he insists I call him. I had all sorts of questions about my medication. He answered them patiently; in fact, he told me more than I probably should have been told.

Apparently, he and my psychologist had a disagreement over my medication. Tohru wanted to have me use other drugs in combination - I won't bore you with the details, Ranma-sama, but I found them fascinating. However, my psychologist insisted that my treatment begin with lithium.

I can't tell you how much that alarmed me. Lithium, I know, is poisonous. I mentioned this to Tohru, but he calmed me down. He told me that the reason they were drawing blood from me twice a day was to carefully monitor the amount of lithium in my bloodstream. The level used to stabilize my mood swings is very close to the toxic level; part of what they will accomplish here at the hospital is to figure out how much lithium to give me, and how often.

It disturbed me profoundly, to find that I am being fed poison on a regular basis. Hoist by my own petard, if I may indulge in some of my brother's Shakespeare usage. I now know how you and my brother felt, and it is not pleasant.

Time for occupational therapy. How gluing pieces of macaroni to paper can possibly help me in my future endeavors is quite beyond me, but I don't argue. I've seen what they do to people who argue too much, and I have no desire to see that happen to me.

I think of you often.

Love,

The Black Rose

---

"Do we need so many?"

"Trust me, the Kunos can afford it several times over."

"Without, er, cutting too deeply?"

"Whoever set up the Kuno accounts knew what they were doing. The money is self-perpetuating. A nice mix of high-yield, moderate-risk investments with long-term interest-bearing accounts and bonds. We... that is, the Kunos can pay all of these new salaries and still have more money at the end of the year than they began with."

"Does that include your fee?"

"Of course, silly. By the way, thanks for throwing this business my way."

"Er, well, you're welcome. Thanks for helping."

"This was fun. Now, it's important for you to be firm with these servants. I know you like to make friends with everyone, but don't keep them from their tasks. If they seem to be not accomplishing the work they need to, don't hesitate to call the agency. Or let me call them for you."

"Um, okay."

"And Ranma-kun... don't feel uncomfortable having them serve you. If you do, Kodachi might feel obligated to resume her duties as scullery maid."

"Uh, yeah, good point. Say, when did you get all sympathetic?"

"I'm doing this for the same reason you are. The sooner we get Kodachi stabilized, the sooner you can get away from her."

"And back to Akane? How's she doing?"

"I'm still working on her. Sometimes the best thing to do with her is to say the same thing over and over. It's like water dripping on stone; eventually, the stone will wear away."

"Yeah. Good analogy."

"Okay, anyway, they'll start coming tomorrow. The cook will be here at six to prepare breakfast. The rest will arrive at eight. There will be someone to serve you until nine at night; after that, you're on your own."

"Gosh, well, I'll survive somehow."

"I guess you will. What's that in your hand?"

"A letter. From Kodachi."

"Oh."

---

Dear Ranma-sama,

In group therapy today I learned a new term: normies. It's what people afflicted with mental illnesses call those who are not. Normies are so far outside their experience, they cannot relate. One person in my group therapy put it this way: "I mean, can you imagine never, ever considering suicide? It boggles my mind."

That bothered me, for while I have flirted with the idea of suicide, I can also clearly remember the days when I never had such thoughts. I want them back, I want those days back so badly I can taste it. I don't want to be here, among the people who carry on conversations with people only they can hear, who sit and stare at nothing for days on end, who scream and rage and cry.

I myself am crying. Tohru tells me I am just experiencing a period of depression, that it's to be expected with the drugs. He's been giving me an anti-depressant along with the lithium. A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Does that mean anything to you, Ranma-sama? I had Tohru explain it to me in great detail. I found it fascinating. He says that it takes time to work, that if I am patient I will be cured of my depression. He was quite passionate about it. I think he's rather smitten with me, even though he's twice my age. An interesting and fascinating man, but he does not compare to my fiancee.

My personal therapy went poorly today. I'm being forced to recall things I'd rather not. The sensei is quite confrontational. He says he has my best interests at heart, but I think he enjoys being cruel, it's why he became a psychologist in the first place, so he can put people in this hospital and torture them.

The hell of it is, I committed myself. I could walk out just as easily, no one could stop me. I could cease taking my medication, I could go back to feeling the way I felt before, which was so alive and free and wonderful.

And yet, I see your face, looking at me with such hope and concern. And even anger, anger that I resisted seeking this treatment. That anger stabbed me in the heart, and when you began walking away I felt like I was losing you forever and I could not bear that. I would do anything for you, Ranma-sama. Even undergo torture.

Oh God, I want out out out out. I want the poisons gone from my blood from my body, they are entering my soul and eating it away.

Kimiko is sitting across from me and trying to pat my head, she sees that I am upset and crying. She would make a wonderful mother except she keeps hearing voices that tell her to do bizarre things, like take off her clothes and try to burn them. She wants me to be her daughter, and I like her and am repulsed by her and I want out.

I want to be a normie.

It that how normies think of me? Do they see me as someone to be avoided, my illness too bizarre, making them too uncomfortable? I am looking at Kimiko and I wish I had a mother like her.

I will try to be nice to her. I will overcome my revulsion. We should not be grouped into "normies" and "wackos", but people. Just people.

Noble sentiments, eh, Ranma-sama? Yet, you believe them too, don't you? You said something about my illness being no different from someone having a cold. Oh, if only that were true. You and I both know that the reality is different, that my behavior repels you, that you shudder sometimes at the sight of me, that you ran away, that you wanted to leave me behind. Just like Mother. Just like Father. Just like everyone I've ever loved in my life. They all left me.

And yet, you came back. I must remember that. You try, you honestly try to see past the illness and see who I really am. I want to be worthy of you, Ranma-sama. It is why I am here. I will come out of here all better and you will like me and maybe even love me as much as I loved you before the lithium.

It is just a fantasy, I know. A dream that will never be. But it sustains me. You sustain me. Please, let me live my dream a little longer.

I looked up just now into Kimiko's eyes. She smiled at me, a smile of love and compassion. I smiled back and held her hand for a while. Maybe the prozac is finally beginning to kick in after all these days. Wonderful stuff, these drugs. If only I didn't feel so tired and nauseous and cramped all the time.

If only. Sad words, aren't they?

I will finish now, and talk to Kimiko, and try to give her the love she deserves. That we all deserve, normies and wackos alike.

Love,

The Black Rose

---

"How fares my sister?"

"I... I dunno. She's... she's doing okay, I guess."

"Your expression belies your words."

"Dang, it's hard. She's having a tough time at the hospital. I think she's getting better. I think."

"She... she will be okay. My sister was always stronger than I was."

"Yeah?"

"Yes."

"I dunno. You can be all right, too."

"This food is excellent."

"Uh, yeah, it is. Y'know, though, dinner ain't as interesting without the poison."

"You complained vociferously about the poisons, as I recall."

"Strange how you miss stuff after it's gone."

"Yes. I hope my sister returns soon."

"So do I."

---

Dear Ranma-sama,

I apologize for my last letter. I can't clearly remember what I wrote in it, but I am certain it was filled with self-pity and laments. Those were merely a by-product of the depression I was feeling at the time. Tohru explained it to me again, adding more details. The brain is a fascinating organ. Infinitely complex, capable, and fragile.

Kimiko doesn't leave my side any more. She loves me as a daughter, and has become quite dependent on me. I fear what will happen to her when I am discharged.

My sensei believes that will be soon. The lithium has worked well, he says. I am fortunate; that is not always the case.

I will continue my personal therapy, but I will be glad to be out of the group therapy. It has accomplished nothing for me, and I haven't been very helpful with the others. As sick as I am compared to you, Ranma, so they are to me. There are levels and levels to mental illness, and I am barely on the first plateau. In that sense I am fortunate; the disease could be much worse.

Tohru came by to explain how to medicate myself when I leave. He was awkward and stumbled over his words a lot. I think he wanted to ask to see me after I check out. It probably didn't help that I mentioned you, Ranma-sama. He asked who I was writing to and I told him, "My fiancee." The expression that crossed his face was sad to see.

Seeing others in pain used to be exciting. Time was, I was in pain so much that I wanted to see others in pain as well. This made my pain more... common. I think that is why I kept poisoning your food, Ranma-sama. Please believe me, I regret that terribly. You above all people did not deserve that.

My feelings are so confused these days. I don't know how to respond a lot of the time. I have to stop and think it through, decide what the right thing to feel is. I'm not sure that's good. Both Tohru and my sensei say that, in time, my body will adjust to the lithium and I'll be able to have more natural reactions.

Time, it's all about time. I feel... not miserable. Just... muted. Vaguely sad or vaguely happy, but that's about it.

I'm stable.

God help me.

Love,

The Rose of No Color

---

Ranma stood in the hallway, looking at the set of double doors at one end. Beyond them was another set of double doors, and beyond those doors, the psychiatric ward. He could see through the reinforced glass, but only in a narrow field of vision.

He kept jumping from one foot to the other. With an effort, he stilled himself and maintained his vigil. He could see the occasional person passing by the windows, or sometimes entering or leaving the ward. They had to be buzzed into each set of doors. It struck Ranma as being very like a prison.

After several hour-long minutes, he saw a flurry of activity. People gathered just beyond the second set of double doors. He couldn't make out any faces. He briefly caught sight of one person with long hair in a ponytail tied to one side. That person was just straightening from a bow, then moved over to hug someone else, thus moving out of Ranma's sight.

Ranma noticed idly that his heart was beating rapidly. He ignored it and focused on the windows again.

Finally, the person with the ponytail straightened and turned to face someone else, a young doctor. Ranma could see his face, see the wistful expression it contained. The doctor smiled, bowed, and straightened. For a moment, his eyes met Ranma's through the glass; then he moved away.

Ranma heard a buzz, and the first set of double doors opened. Out of the group gathered there, only one person moved through the doors. That person paused and waited for the second buzzing. It came, the doors opened.

Ranma looked closely at the person with the ponytail. She was wearing the clothes he'd last seen her in - elegant white shirt, sophisticated black slacks. Only her face was different. It was devoid of both makeup and expression. The eyes were focused - indeed, they seemed relaxed, as Ranma had never seen them before. They were examining him as well, moving around his body and face as if trying to take in every last detail.

Finally their gazes met. Ranma held it for a minute, then bowed slightly. "Hello, Kodachi."

A ghost of a smile appeared on her face. "Hello, Ranma-sama. I am ready to go home."

~*~

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