Case 442

Running, running, running, circles in a dark room. Carpet worn in rectangular circle where the girl of fifteen has been running running running all night and all day for a week now. Mumbling to herself in the darkness, I hear her from behind the safety of the mirror-window, dimmed now on the advice of the head nurse. The monitors behind me glow an eerie blue, accompanied by the hum of the video recorders under the table. The red light flashes on and off and on and she is still running running running.

Her feet are bloody, the beige carpet is coated in a brownish stain that circles the room. The walls are white, padded for her safety. Necessary, given the number of times her speed has been too much for her and she has slammed into the wall, fallen, and resumed. The doctors come in and out of my observation room, asking me what has happened in the last few hours. I say nothing, they sip from their coffee cups, white porcelain stained blue in this alien light. My face reflected in their glasses, my face behind their eyes.

She sounds orgasmic as we near 3:30 am. I shift in my seat to settle my uncomfortable condition. Her hair is damp with sweat, she will need a shower when the new shift of nurses come in at 5:00. Running in a circle, running into the walls, running into earlier images of herself that don’t fade out as the light moves past them. I see her in all places at once, not locked on to a single image, eyes out of focus as she dances and sings in my periphery. Her moans, the parlance of some erotic language, speak to me. I shift again.

Tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap, running running running. The sound is putting me to sleep as we near 4:45. The nurses will be here soon. I can barely sit up in my chair. On the back of my eyelids a pair of invisible feet are running a circle of small white footprints on the empty black slate of space. The moaning has stopped, someone should really tie her to the bed. Tap-tap. My eyes are half open. Tap-tap. My eyes are half closed. Tap-tap. The footprints turn red.

Roller-rink, 1976. She’s the star of a show that will never end, as long as that disco ball continues to spin, scattering the light in every direction, exposing the lovers in the shadows. I can skate too, very low, limbo contest. The music halts. She has stopped, standing face to face looking at her. She is looking down. I look down. Her feet are covered in blood, it is soaking through the leather of her skates, sliding down the metal bottoms, and settling into the pocks and grooves in the plastic of her wheels.

I shake myself awake, nearly falling out of the chair. Silence silence silence. Her face, pressed to the glass, staring at me, looking directly at me. Impossible I say, I stand, move across the room, but her eyes follow. Impossible I say louder, did she hear me? Blue button, next to the red one. Blue button if you need a nurse, red button if you need Security. Pounding the blue button, her fingers are tapping the glass. Tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap. I open the door, run out into the hall, Nurse, Nurse I say!

They are huddled around the nurses’ station. The most amazing thing, I say. Come quick, I say. Two come, the others stay, running behind me. Through the sterile white halls and blinding fluorescents, I can see the open observation room with its black-blue soul fighting back the light. As we approach the room, I hear it even above the stampede of nurse-hooves. Tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap. Bloodied feet hitting a carpet with the rhythm of someone running running running. You don’t understand, I say. Get some sleep, they say. Relief coming at 6am, Doctor Stevens will be here.

Back to my seat, back to the show. I can’t watch, I turn away from her. Every time I think the tapping stops, I turn slowly, hoping she won’t be watching me through the mirror. I study my desk, computer on, her file open. Case #442, Elizabeth Olsen, fifteen, parents deceased, two brothers deceased. Tap-tap. Humming. Video recorders, VHS, Beta. Proof! I stand, walk across the room, reach under the table where the recorders are spinning. Eject, I command! Nothing. Silence.

Tap-tap. I slowly turn my head, that didn’t sound like feet. Tap-tap. Too hollow to be fingers. Tap-tap. I identify the sound, plastic hitting glass. She is looking at me, through the mirror. Through impossibility, I say. I yell at her, pounding my fists on the glass closest to her face. She smiles, a first, a breakthrough! Blue button, blue button. A flash of blue light in her room, not lightning, more like flickering. Flicker. She is two feet back, a trail of fresh blood marks her path. Flicker. She is holding a tape with two hands, out in front of her body. Flicker. Ripping, tearing, gnawing, the ribbon comes out. She rips it in half and holds a strand in each hand. A smile, a breakthrough, blue button!

Running running running. What is it, asks the nurse. Look, there, the tape, I shout. The nurse squints in the faint light, trying to follow the young girl around the room. I see the tape, glistening at every corner. Doctor Roberts, please, she says, get some rest. No no no. I’m going to get Doctor Stevens, he should be on the grounds now. Hurry, I say. I grab at the tape with my mind, I see only her small hands, small fists, gripping the proof. I stand at the window, palms flat against it, watching watching watching.

6:30 am, Doctor Stevens pulls me out, you’ve served your country son, your family is waiting. In his office, we discuss the girl. I tell him what has happened, concern is plainly written across his high forehead. Yes, I’ve been getting enough sleep. No, I’m not having any problems at home. The nurses didn’t see anything? Of course not! The tape? She has it! The girl. In the room. I don’t know! He asks if I wouldn’t mind waiting in the other room while he takes a phone call. I exit the room.

I sit in the waiting room, between a pregnant woman and a young boy and his father. The boy is chewing gum, smack smack smack. The man is tapping his foot, tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap. I hear her, moaning over rustling of old magazine pages the pregnant woman is flipping through. Doctor Stevens is still on the phone, I walk down the hall, the observation room door is open, is someone in there? Knock-knock.

She is sitting in my chair, moaning wildly. Her feet are propped up on the desk, legs spread, one hand holding a remote control and the other hidden beneath her hospital gown. She is watching a video, she does not notice me. I see the images, a man, older man, sitting in a chair, watching something. Her moaning is echoing in the small room. Uh-uhhhhhh. On the monitors, me, watching her. Uh-uhhhhhhhh. Me watching her watching me watching her. Uh-uhhhhhhh! I scream, running to the chair intent on choking all life from her body. I crash into the empty chair, falling over it and onto the floor.

I look up from the floor, she is watching me from her room. Impossible! I stand, grab the chair, swing it as hard as I can against the glass. The chair breaks apart in my hands, she shows no surprise. My screaming grows louder, fuck you fuck you fuck you! I lift the computer monitor over my head and hurl it at the glass. The sparks illuminate her eyes, for a moment her expression changes, but as the sparks fade so does her face. I throw the camcorders, the video recorders, tapes, pencils, folders, papers. Nothing breaks the glass. I pause to catch my breath. She moves her fingers in rhythm. Tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap. I am trying to pry the desk from the floor when two orderlies grab me from behind and push me up against the wall. Doctor Stevens asks, what the hell is going on. I look over my shoulder, she is huddled in the corner of her room, crying.

Fired, maybe, suspension, definitely. Take a vacation, come back in six months, maybe you’ll feel better then. I try to explain. I smashed all the tapes, he says. If there was proof, it is gone now. She has the tape, she kept it safe, running it around the room. He doesn’t believe me, I am to be escorted out of the hospital. Betty, can you do me a favor and fill this prescription for Doctor Roberts? Betty will bring you some pills, then you go home. You can wait in here. He leaves.

The early morning sun is straining to enter through the blinds on his window. I get up and rotate the curtain rod. It makes a small squeak with each rotation. Squeak-squeak. More light, my eyes adjust quickly, wanting to look beyond the walls of the hospital. Squeak-squeak. Fully open, I see the parking lot, beyond that, hills, roads, trees, air, life. Squeak-squeak. Darkness returns, the room fades out of view. In the dim light, I sit on a leather couch under the windows. I rest my elbows on my knees and bury my face in my hands.

My fingers open slightly and through them I see something on the floor. A footprint. Red footprint. What is this? I reach down to touch it. Wet, sticky, bloody. I look up immediately, fear wraps itself around my throat and makes it difficult to breathe. I stand. Impossible, I say. I look down again, another footprint. I step on it with my polished shoe, trying to blot it out. Another, I put my other foot on it. The room grows darker, accented by a blue tint. I have walked halfway around the room when I reach a footprint, but this one is backwards, facing the other way. After that, the room is empty.

I turn around slowly, tears forming at the corners of my eyes, my heart racing dangerously fast. She is there, looking up at me. Her hospital gown is hanging off one shoulder. I open my mouth to speak, but before I do, her hand comes out from behind her back. The tape. Black, intact. Give it, I say. A smile, a breakthrough! She takes a step back, I take a step forward. Give it, I say. She takes a step back, I take a step forward. GIVE IT! She turns to run, I follow. One of her gown ties has come undone, it floats in the air behind her as I chase. I reach for it, but I cannot run fast enough. I can only continue to chase her, in the darkness, in the blue, running running running.

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