Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Making Her Home – Her Institution

Making Her Home Her Institution

It had been bad enough seeing all her designer stuff go off in bin liners to the charity shop, screwed up like so many worthless rags, things her doting father had bought her.  The more everyday items had gone up in smoke in the incinerator; she’d been made to toss them in herself.  She’d put up a fight, mainly verbal and accompanied by much foot stamping and histrionics, a struggle from which her bottom was still paying the price, the throbbing bee-sting of twelve red-purple welts, the aftermath of not one but two sessions with the cane, each a no-holds-barred six-of-the-best thrashing now indelibly etched in her mind like a scar.

She’d been pulled back in to the room by her ear, painfully twisted, like a miscreant child, her new room, this new room which had been prepared for her right at the top of the house, tucked away at the back behind a whitewashed barred window, a plain institutional looking room with a hospital style bed and a child’s combined desk and chair abutting a wall and very little else – and pushed towards her new things, the pile folded upon the rubbery gloss of the PVC covered mattress.   

They’d stood there, the two of them, arms folded, while, visibly shrinking in defeat like a wilting shrub and stiff with pain and still disbelieving the situation, she had dressed in the unfamiliar garb, each thread seeming as she was drawing upon herself an ever increasing burden of humiliation along with the fabric. 

They’d smiled when she’d eyed the sturdy lock on the door, a square slab of bronze coloured metal inset within a door which, although like any other in that part of the house from the outside, being of heavy oak, was lined with beige steel on the inside framed within a trim of broad-headed rivets like a prison door – there was even an inset eyehole, disguised on the outside behind a rectangular brass plate marked ‘private’. And this new ‘bedroom’ she had been assigned – two floors up from her old one, when she had used to stay here - was indeed ‘private’; crushingly still, agonizingly quiet, oppressively close-walled, mind-numbingly bare and bereft of decoration.  Removed from mainstream education before having had the chance to sit those all-important final exams, and no longer at an age obliged by law to attend any particular establishment in any case, this was where her schooling was to recommence she had been told.  Or rather, her schooling would recommence in the rooms adjoining this one, the small cluster that sprouted off the top landing, the whole being self-contained and set aside from the main house by the door at the foot of the stair, itself a daunting obstacle of reinforced oak and furnished with a heavy duty lock.       

When she’d winced at puling up the knickers ‘skirt first, dear, knickers after’, the chill of crinkling plastic stinging like ligament or a spray of nettles over the inflamed pulsating furrows left behind by the cane, her already plump and full bottom having seemingly swollen to twice its normal size, at least in her mind’s eye, both women’s smiles had broadened.  Their smiles had broadened still further, to Cheshire Cat ear-to-ear lip-splitting grins, her guardian’s amusement particularly ill-disguised, the woman barely stifling a snigger, when she’d shuddered, visibly cringing, on setting eyes on one of her new ‘bedroom’s’ very few forms of ornamentation, the cane, heavy leather strap and Scottish two-tongued tawse which hung side by side on their wrist straps on the wall at the foot of the bed, where she would see them first thing on opening her eyes.

Then she’d tried to make a break for it.  But the door had been locked of course; it had locked automatically behind them; if she’d thought about it she’d have realised she’d heard it click.  And one of the women, the new woman her guardian had employed, this tall woman with her hair up in a bun in that old fashioned way and dressed head to foot in a nurse’s uniform seemingly from a past gone age, had stepped forward, still smiling sweetly.  She remembered how the woman’s slender fingers had been playfully toying with the keys dangling from a chain hung from a chromed clip on the side of her elasticated belt, the belt’s filigree butterfly-styled ball-clasp buckle starkly glistening under the fluorescent lighting, her other hand raising the thin bamboo cane she still held by her side, using its tip to point to the bed, taping its slender tip, the message loud and clear, against the PVC mattress, her starched white bib apron crisp against the blue and white checkered pattern of her uniform dress, rustling like damp leaves, her dark stockings – seamed, ‘fully fitted’ nylons; another element from a bygone age -  hissing together, the woman, big breasted, broad hipped, even though probably in her early thirties at most.  Yes, that had been her third caning – her guardian anchoring her over the side of the bed by the shoulders and flinging up her shaming, humiliatingly juvenile pleated skirt and yanking down those ridiculously horrid high-waisted, plastic-lined short-legged bloomer-style interlocked cotton school knickers that she had only just pulled on, with her other hand.        

But that had all been days ago, a lot of days ago – they’d said they’d leave her for a bit, give her a ‘cooling off period’, let her ‘settle in’.  Not that she’d be seeing much of her guardian; the woman had told her she had a lot of travelling to do ‘on business’ and in any case, her office space was down on the ground floor, and she doubted she’d have much time or inclination to make the stair climb up to the top floor very often; “…perhaps once a month once I’m back I might pop by, perhaps every couple of months… Who knows?”  . 

And she was never truly alone:  “bed is for sleeping on, the desk is for sitting at – you do not sit on the bed, and you sit up straight at the desk… bed at night, desk in the day, that’s how it works.”  She DIDN’T know how it works.  She didn’t know how, if she sat on the bed during the day, or got up from the desk to stretch her legs, they could know – or someone would know – and very quickly the door would burst open to admit a bustling uniformed figure brandishing the cane, or on occasion selecting the strap or the tawse from their respective hooks, slamming her broad behind down on the mattress with a hissing of escaping air from within and that odd rubbery squeaking the thick PVC made, the bed’s side rails – the side rail being folded down when the bed was not in use – rattling like discordant bells, and patting her apron-covered lap… and as she now knew, and already at some level partly accepted, god forbid that she should refuse to simply flop herself across the woman’s knees, her palms and toes touching  the floor.  A strapping, hand spanking or the tawse – even if hard – was infinitely more bearable than one of the woman’s ‘good hard canings’ or ‘six of the best, touching your toes’.

 And if she thought that getting her back in school uniform had been triumph enough for this pair of implacable women who had now ‘taken her in hand’ she was sadly mistaken.  She was beginning to realise that, as crushing to her self-esteem as being put in school uniform undoubtedly had been – especially as she had not worn a uniform when she actually HAD been at school; a ‘progressive’ establishment forever trumpeting the benefits of ‘free expression’ and decried by her new legal guardian as a ‘pampering waste of space - it had been merely the first step in her guardian’s scheme.  Now she had that woman standing over her, that stern, busty woman in her hospital nurse uniform, white cap on her head, starchy white cuffs stiff around her wrists contrasting with the pale-blue and white check of her long-sleeved dress, a disposable white plastic bib apron today, with her white elasticated crepe belt fastened over the top, the butterfly buckle like burnished frozen quicksilver, brandishing an equally silvery pair of chromed scissors, her intention all too obvious, even without her words.

“Time for a trim, hmm?  Or should we take some carbolic to that face again first – you can always trust carbolic soap to give a patient that well-scrubbed fresh faced look.  Why, I do believe that even after all THIS time I can STILL detect a trace of makeup – this really won’t do… this won’t do at all!  And we’ll have to cut those nails – we can’t have a patient harming themselves – a patient with long nails is a danger both to herself, and others.  But first we’ll get that hair cut – a proper regulation hospital cut, quick and simple and above the ears.  Don’t you fret, honey, it’ll be nice and even – see I’ve brought a bowl… We’ll just plonk it on your head and cut around it, just like we did in the hospital I worked at; we didn’t stand for any nonsense there, I can tell you.”

Why did she keep referring to her as her ‘patient’?  Somehow it was even more galling than the situation as it was – and that was bad enough.

“Didn’t your guardian tell you I’m from a psychiatric nursing background?  No?  Well I have a LOT of experience dealing with recalcitrant patients, and believe you me they all learn to do as they’re told in the end…”


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