Reasons to Admit
by Gabrielle Griffis
Iris had a sixth sense. She could read other peoples’ thoughts, so she never went out in public. She spent her days in the garden, cutting flowers, gathering herbs.
Her father was an architect. He built asylums, traveling the East Coast, overseeing the construction of brick institutions.
She was fixated on irrevocable spite. Her mind stuck in loops of disdain. Judgments hurled at her existed under the surface of everything. Unkind thoughts were like insufferable wounds.
Iris played the same song like a talisman. Her fingers ran over piano keys. The notes intermingled with bird calls.
As a child, Iris’s father took her to the asylum to tour his handiwork. They walked under vaulted ceilings, through corridors and rooms intended to soothe the sick. Wires fractured sunlight through the windows. Iris could hear the drafts of winter down the hall.
The rooms felt strange, oversized. Chairs cast shadows on the floor. Pipes groaned. The sleeping quarters stretched on, bed after bed after bed.
Her father kept a list of reasons for admission in his desk. Iris ran her finger over the index. She could be admitted for any number of reasons: novel reading, grief, superstition, remorse, trouble. The terms were vague.
Her neighbor Jonas was admitted for “overstudy of religion”. He spent his days pouring over iconography, his pupils grew large and inky in the dim light. He was obsessed with miracles. He had a painting of the crucifixion of Saint Cosimo and Damiano. In the picture, one of the Arab physicians knelt blindfolded. Blood poured from the other saint’s decapitated body. Their haloed heads radiated gold even in death.
Jonas claimed Cosimo and Damiano invented a drug for paralysis, a sticky mix of water and honey. Iris thought of the yucca plants growing in rural graveyards. Their white flowers falling like ghosts. She thought of the latex milkweed emitted to epoxy insect mouths shut. Iris liked Jonas. His head was full of martyrs.
Iris filled her thoughts with plants, the soft green leaves grew through her mind in wordless revelry. She stuffed jars with weeds. Pressed flowers into books.
Jonas didn’t study saints for the sake of God. He thought there were answers in levitation and bleeding palms. He wanted to understand what compelled people to devotion. Iris understood what he was doing, tuning out the immediate world. His internal narrative soothed her.
Ravens perched in leafless trees as they drove him away. Iris laid between clean cotton sheets. The gray landscape was a watercolor beyond her window.
Paper headlines decried men institutionalizing noncompliant wives, assault, electroconvulsive therapy. Images of straitjackets and hospital facades filled front pages. They cleared forests to build state hospitals. Replaced soft moss with hard surfaces. Isolated patients from the sounds of birds and insect wings, the rustle of wind through the trees.
Iris cut dahlias and pasted orange and yellow petals on a wooden canvas. Flowers littered the floor. In the image, a man stood in front of the asylum. Marigold blossoms formed a halo around his head. Blood trickled from his temples. She called it the death of Saint Jonas.
When she finished, Iris left scattered flower stems to shrivel. Diurnal shadows stretched across the floor. She played the piano. The notes drifted over wildflowers and porcelain vases.
At twilight, Iris went into the woods to pick the roots and shoots of mayapple. She dug her fingers into the cold soft earth, lifting and cutting the plant’s rhizome. Dirt fell from the roots, staining the white linen towel. Iris wrapped the stems and carried them inside. Her skin itched. She rinsed cuttings and sat at the table, stuffing them into her mouth and chewing them one by one.
Gabrielle Griffis is a multimedia artist, writer, and musician. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Wigleaf, Split Lip Magazine, Monkeybicycle, XRAY, *Matchbook*, Okay Donkey, and elsewhere. She works as a librarian on Cape Cod. You can visit her website at gabriellegriffis.com.
Photo source: Liviu Florescu/Unsplash