Fiction: Marie (Padmini Krishnan)

Marie stood in the basement, inhaling the scent of petrol and the new paint. She wanted to lose herself in the depth of darkness, rather than go home to her studio apartment.

“Good Morning, Miss”, a cleaner walked past her, pushing his trolley. Marie stared at his back without responding. She was sure the waste holder in the trolley had brushed her hands. She hurried to the nearest washbasin and rubbed her hands in the water, standing there for 5 minutes.

Marie was in no mood to enjoy outdoors or the refreshing breeze as she ran to the bus stop. She sat near the window, her ears acutely taking in the sound of the wheels as they crushed the ground. Marie buried her head in her hands, an unknown fear of the sound creeping into her heart. The bus screeched in her stop and she got down. Marie entered her office in the secluded area of the town. She did not understand why all the eLearning firms were situated in the suburbs. She sat in her desk; her dull tired face hiding her fear and tension. She remembered the day she told her mom. “Nothing is wrong with my daughter”, her mom had cried to her father.

“Great! Now I have to spend money on a psychiatrist. Your daughter has always been a trouble-maker.”

Her dad always spoke about her brother who was born with complications and died 2 months after birth. Marie felt that her dad’s capacity to love had died too. He displayed a restrained affection for her and poured out his acute disappointment over her slightest shortcomings. Her mom was an uncertain woman who would do anything to keep her marriage alive even if that meant cutting Marie.

Her mom looked artificially calm that night as she handed Marie a cup of hot chocolate. “These things happen to everybody, Marie. Just pretend as if nothing happened. It will go away.” Marie suffered in silence for 7 to 8 months. She would fear the sound of a ceiling fan for a few days. This fear would be replaced by a disturbing scene from a movie. Then the fan would no longer be a threatening object. One day, her disturbed mind noticed a few baby birds and nature’s morning glories. The ‘curse’ slowly broke and she found herself getting back on track. Her mind started working in a ‘normal’ manner. She did not know how some simple imagery could break into a distorted mind and get it back on track. Or perhaps, providence had decided to let her go and not to torment her anymore. The demons had kept away for 5 years just to attack her now that she was in the probationary period of her first job.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the buzz on her laptop. She hurried to the oval-shaped conference hall. Her colleagues, Gina and Kelvin, and the project manager, Sam, were already seated. 

“Please sit, Marie,” said Sam, irritably. “I was just telling Gina and Kelvin about the new project for Felix Systems. Gina will be going onsite to discuss the project with their Systems Head. After she gets back, I want you to prepare the Instructional…”

“Sam, Can I wash my hands?” Marie asked, panic in her face.

Sam looked up, surprised. “Yes. Sure.”

Gina snickered. Marie experienced the sensation of worms crawling in her fingers as she rushed to the washroom to clean her hands. She rinsed her hands for 5 minutes until they felt like wet tissues. Then she returned reluctantly and knocked on the door to the meeting hall.

“Yes, Marie, come in. I want you to train the Media Developers on Captivate.” Sam announced.

“What!”

“We installed Adobe Captivate in your system a month ago, remember? I hope you have practised and mastered it.”

“Yes. I am trying…”

“You can start training next Monday.”

Marie felt the sudden urge to throw the paperweight at Sam. She tried to focus on what he was saying, but her mind relentlessly played the image of her picking the paperweight and tossing it at the Project Manager.

“Sam,” she choked. “I want to…”

Sam looked at her, irritated. “With this, the meeting comes to an end,” 

“A word with you, Marie,” he said, as they were leaving the room.

“You just have 2 more months to ago. You need to get your act together and prove your worth.”

“The man is crazy. Why does he want you to train the Media Developers on Captivate?” 
Kelvin realized that he was talking to himself, for Marie was not listening. 

He was her only friend in the office and knew most of her story. The others knew her ‘symptoms’ too. The malicious Gina had made sure of that. Marie looked around the cafeteria, at the yellow and red tables, almost designed in kindergarten colours and patterns.

“Did you go to the psychiatrist?” Kelvin asked, suddenly. 

This caught Marie’s attention and she looked at him. “Yes, I did. The psychiatrist had two interns with her to ‘study’ me. I almost felt like a lab rat. Then she told me that ‘normal’ people do not think like that and gave me some medication.”

“You did not take them, did you?”

“Nope. I am worried about the side-effects.”

“She would not have prescribed anything with severe side-effects, I suppose…” Kelvin hesitated, for he was not sure, too. He looked at Marie to see a dull and sad face. He did not realize the terror created by her brain and her day-to-day struggles with life. He was shocked when she had told him about her condition a couple of months ago. He had just known her for 2 months. Kelvin encouraged her to seek help, but he now felt helpless that she refused to take her medication. He badly wanted Marie to succeed and realize her potential. 

They went back to their desks. Marie grappled between her newfound fear for her parents’ safety and learning Captivate. Her brain showed her the image of her father’s bike being hit by a racing car. Marie wanted to call her dad. She wanted to pace around the office. This was when she heard a feeble song breaking through her thoughts.

It's only words and words are all I have to take your heart away

Marie felt her fear flying away and her heart turning light. She felt a strange euphoria. She had heard that song long ago.

The song suddenly stopped. Marie looked up to see a woman in her late twenties walk to her. She had a headphone.

“Marie, this is Julia, our new Editor.” The HR Assistant introduced them. “She will sit next to you.”

Julia smiled warmly at her and took her hand. She saw something in Marie. Something that parents were afraid to see, Sam had no time for, Gina and a few others could only scorn at and Kelvin had tried so hard to fathom. Julia understood Marie’s suffering behind her disturbed countenance. And Marie immediately identified a fellow survivor. She knew she was far from being normal yet. But, the song had given her a ray of hope as had the person listening to it. Marie knew that everything would be alright, even if it would take time. She would feel like how she used to feel before her brain went out of control. Marie smiled genuinely after 6 months.
***

Padmini Krishnan was raised in India and now resides in Singapore. She writes free verse poetry, haiku, and short stories. Her recent works have appeared in The Heron's Nest, Stardust Haiku, Ariel Chart, Mad Swirl, Page & Spine, and The Literary Yard. She blogs at www.call2read.com.

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