It’s strange when somebody calls you ‘their little Angel’ as you lie on two armchairs put together because when they brought you here late at night, there were no beds available. You could sleep and sleep, but it’s not possible. Shush-shush-shush, lines of soft slippers polish the floor in the corridor, taking breaks only for meals and sleep. You can’t get out of here, because somebody’s stolen all the door handles. Bitchy nurses drag the patients away from the windows, God only knows why, since everything is barred anyway.
“You, ill ones, come get your pills. Open your gobs, don’t hide the tablets under your tongues.” Nurse Kazia is the worst. “Maryśka, swallow. It must go down, I want peace and quiet at night. Ulka’s swallowed everything today, so she will get a reward. Mrs Władzia, stop chewing your pills, you are making me sick. Drink some water and they’ll go down. Yes, just like that!”
Władzia has something Spanish about her and a lil’ moustache. Six boyfriends bring her sweet doughnuts, each on his own day. But Władzia’s Sundays belong to us – she made pictures then, breaking coloured pencils all the time. And swearing. She is perfectly healthy, but every now and then has a spout of breast cancer, always on Dr Jurek’s shifts. Every time he makes his round, she asks him to find the lump. Poor Jurek, always embarrassed, kneads Władzia’s huge breasts while she winks at us. During the visit of the young priest, who comes to see his mother once a week, Władzia always has a public confession in the common room. She commits hundreds of sins, most of them quite fleshy, dripping with sex. The priest crumples his cassock, sweats and blushes. And so do the other visitors. But Władzia is in heaven. The patients love her, because at least things happen – to them and around them.
“Why does Zosia crow like a rooster, Little Angel?” Krysia keeps following me and asking about everything.
“Shush. Don’t shout at her. She used to have a chicken farm and the chickens outgrew the poor woman. Come, let’s hug Zosia. And don’t jerk Julka, she’s asleep, even though her eyes are open. She is a famous singer. They are probably applauding her now, ‘cause she is smiling and waving. Promise me you won’t sprinkle sugar onto Ela’s bed sheets again.”
“She is such a smart arse. Despite being a murderer.” Krysia dabs her eyes with a tissue.
“But Ela didn’t want to kill all those cats. It was somebody else, somebody inside her. He told her to do it.”
“Don’t know. Perhaps they’ll find him here, in the hospital.”
“I’ll pray so that they find him.” Krysia crosses herself. “And strap him forever. I will whack him on the kisser and spit at him.”
Krysia is still professionally active, albeit with some exceptions. In autumn and springtime she wilts, wanting to kill herself and suspecting everybody of everything. Her husband takes her then to see her psychiatrist and she spends a month in the hospital. Once a week her family comes to see her – her daughters and husband, loaded with goodies. They sit close together, hug each other and prattle. After those visits Krysia stands for a long while by the window and bites her nails. And then she comes to me for a cuddle.
I’m only on observation in this loony bin and I don’t take any medication. Nurse Janka suggests that I help her with shopping. These are special shopping trips, only for the patients. I’m glad I will have a chance to breathe the urban stench again. I have to get all the girls together and write down their orders.
“Little Angel will go shopping with Nurse Janka today. What shall I get you, darlings? The list is long again! Seven lipsticks and two black eyeliners. No, I can’t get you a nail file, but I can get you some nail varnish. Tights, times three. I won‘t earmark deodorants, we will draw lots later. Two cartons of smokes.”
“Little Angel, get me a notebook and a pen refill.” Basia raises her finger like a well-behaved pupil.
“You’ve already filled the thick one?”
“Long time ago,” she replies with pride. “And now I can’t finish my story.”
“Then I will get you two notebooks, so that you can write a really long fairy tale. That will give us something to read at night!”
They say that I didn’t have to come here after the accident. They let me out two months in, too early. I don’t want to leave. I must say goodbye.
“Come, precious ones, let’s cry together before I go. I will be back with you as soon as I can. No, I won’t stay; they don’t want me here anymore. Władzia, dear, keep the peace, won’t you? Don’t let anybody hit Zosia. And please don’t fight amongst yourselves. I will miss you too. I might be back for longer, who knows. Doctor tells me that I’m highly inclined but, you know, life plays tricks sometimes.”
I take a taxi back to earth, my tears dripping onto the upholstered seat. The driver turns around, worried.
“Shall I take you back there?”
“Oh, I’d love that, Sir, but I have to get unwell first.”
MIRKA SZYCHOWIAK is a Polish poet and short story writer. So far she has published four poetry collections (Człap story, Jeszcze się tu pokręcę, Proszę nie płakać and Gustaw znikąd). Jeszcze się tu pokręcę was nominated for the Nike Award (Polish equivalent of the Booker Prize) in 2011. Szychowiak was also awarded numerous other literary prizes in Poland. Her poems have been translated into English and included in the Free Over Blood anthology published by Off_Press. She has just published her first short story collection called Gniazdozbiór. She lives in Księżyce near Wrocław in Poland.
About the Translator:
ANNA HYDE (Anna Blasiak) has translated over 30 books from English into Polish (mainly children’s books, including Anthony Horowitz’s South By South East) and fiction from Polish into English (Mariusz Czubaj, Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Jan Krasnowolski. Kaja Malanowska, Daniel Odija, Anna Augustyniak and Mirka Szychowiak). She has also translated Maria Jastrzębska’s, Mary O’Donnell’s and Nessa O’Mahony’s poetry into Polish. Apart from translating, Anna has worked in museums and a radio station, run magazines, and written on art, film and theatre. She helps run the European Literature Network. She writes poetry in Polish and English.
Read more work by Mirka Szychowiak:
Fiction in B O D Y